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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Parenting Strategies for “Difficult” Children

(Please note: The following information mainly comes from Nancy L. Thomas in her book “When Love is Not Enough”)

This article is written as a short guide to help parents get control over their parenting with a strong-willed, emotionally damaged, or otherwise challenging child. The information contained is not exhaustive, it is merely a starting point. For a more in depth look at Nancy Thomas’ suggestions, I would recommend purchasing her book, which was written to help parents raising children with attachment traumas.

Discipline:  Discipline is about teaching your child, not punishing him/her. The goal is to discipline your child so he/she can learn self-discipline.

Security: A child feels safe and secure when the loving parent is strong enough to be in control. When the parent sets limits and maintains established limits, the child can learn to trust. When the child thinks he/she is stronger than the parent, he will not learn to trust or feel secure. It is important for you, as the parent, to remind yourself of this reality.

An “out of control” child will learn to feel safe and to trust you the stronger you are and the more capable you are to be in control of yourself and of him/her.

Setting limits: This is the concept of being strong, in control, and being respected by your child. When dealing with a resistant child you will need to learn to dance with the resistance.


Teaching Self-Control to Children

Power Sitting 

Power sitting means STRONG SITTING. The child is in his “think within spot.” You select the spot according to visibility, convenience, safety, distractions, and destructibility.

Body posture must be correct. The correct position is with legs folded, hands folded, back straight, head straight, and nothing moving, particularly the mouth. Facing a blank wall is easiest for children who are easily distracted.

Start with 1 to 5 consecutive minutes of strong sitting, building up to one minute per year of age. If the child has ADHD, then time should be doubled. No more than 20 minutes. This is not a punishment.

GIVE NO NEGATIVE INPUT. Only positive attention is given for the good parts of this exercise. Silence is golden. If the child chooses to lie down or talk, have him go to his room in order to rest and get strong enough for this practice. When he is ready, he can try again later. There will be no privileges until the sitting is correctly completed.

Remember, this is a thoughtful gift of time for your child to think and get control of him/herself.

Do this three times each day for the first 6 months your child needs to have this quiet time in order to learn how to think. They will eventually master this self-control. With each success end with a hug and smiling eye contact.

In order to help get compliance, remind your child, “x minutes of strong sitting,” or “x times 3 of wimpy sitting.” Be prepared for resistance and testing. Have a book to read so that you have plenty of time and patience to get clear to your child that you are serious and that you are willing to wait patiently until they get strong enough to sit right. Have an attitude of “No problem,” and keep your eyes smiling.

Inappropriate behaviors

Always remember when teaching your child a lesson, he/she must work harder than you. No matter what the problem is that your child is displaying, you must not let it trigger you to get upset. Instead, you must turn the problem back on to the child and have him/her resolve it.

For example, suppose your child asks “dumb questions” intentionally and repeatedly.  An example of how to handle this would be to say, “Good question. Now I want you to figure out three ways to resolve this.” Don’t get emotional. Don’t act bothered. Keep smiling. Give all responsibility for resolving this problem to the child.

Remember, the child should carry all units of concern.

No is a complete sentence

If you give your child an explanation it weakens your position of authority. Also, when you say no, your child may think this is a cue to start whining. If this happens, then you need to have time to practice with your child to hear the word NO.  Call this NO Practice. Have your child ask for 5 things and say No to them with loving eye contact. When they are quiet and handle it well, grab them up, swing them around, and say, “Wow! You are getting so strong! I just said no and you didn’t whine or fuss! Great job!”

Teach Basic Skills Before Moving on to Complexities and Choices

Teach your child the basics, such as sit still, stay here, etc. Do this the same as teaching them how to handle the word No. Remember that the basics must be mastered before more complex skills can be taught, such as chores, school, and choice making.

Always remember to do the teaching with loving eyes, enthusiasm, and hugs. This is not punishment, it is education.

Teaching Time Outs

Sometimes parents and children are losing control and becoming too emotional and/or angry. Sometimes everyone needs a time out in order to handle the situation in a more appropriate manner.

Times outs should be taught and practiced when things are not heated or emotional.

Teach your child to “Go to your room,” in order to have them learn how to do it prior to when things become heated. When you see that your child has mastered this instruction, when you are in a difficult situation with your child you can give the instruction when you see that your child’s emotional level is reaching a level of 5 out of 10.

When you see that things could be getting out of hand, say, “I want you to go to your room.” The child and you can take 30 minutes of this time out session to gather yourselves together before trying to tackle the situation with more self-control on both parts.

Note: After reading some of this article you may be thinking, “This stuff sounds awfully controlling. I don’t want to be a control freak! What about giving my child choices or negotiating with my child?”  Remember, this article is for children that are not in control and are disrespectful and disobedient. These strategies will help your child develop self-control and personal containment in the long run. Your ability to maintain your own control over yourself and your child will reap major rewards in the long run.

Thoughts to consider when parenting:

Take care of yourself first. This doesn’t mean to be selfish, but it means, take care of yourself so that you are not an exhausted, irritated, or overly stressed parent. In order to be in charge of your child you need to be in the proper state of mind. The mirror image reflected in your eyes should echo to the child, “You’re okay,” “I love you,” not, “Go away, don’t bother me!” This can only happen if you take care of yourself at all times.

Know when your child is in a reactive state or receptive state. When a child is in a receptive state, he is ready to learn. It is probably not going to be valuable to try and teach your child something while he is in a reactive state.

Also, pay attention to the state of yourself as a parent. Are you ready to teach your child? Is he/she ready to learn? Both parent and child must be in the right states of mind necessary to learn.


Nancy L. Thomas (1997). When Love is Not Enough: A Guide to Parenting Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).

Siegel, D. & Bryson, T.D. (2019). No Drama Discipline.


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Parenting Strategies for “Difficult” Children

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2020). Parenting Strategies for “Difficult” Children. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from