Do you have a child that’s extra-active, can’t focus, or who has behavior challenges that are unaffected by conventional wisdom? Maybe all three of those things describe your child.
I’ve cried out to God for answers to different things that crop up with exceptionally active or challenging children (and probably many, if not most, families have one or more who fits this category at one time or another). I don’t mean ordinary high energy or strong will. I mean the kinds of issues that literally bring parents to their knees. As I’ve prayed, God has led me to several things that have proven life-changing for our family. We’re still on the journey; we certainly don’t have it all figured out yet. But here’s a short list of things that have helped us dramatically. If you face unique challenges with one or several of your kids and you don’t know where to turn, perhaps these simple steps will help you too.
Are you interacting with your child like Jesus would? Have you reached a place where you actually feel bitter toward your child for being so unmanageable? Have you become emotionally cold toward him? Do you respond to his anger with anger? Do you discipline in anger? Do you take his misbehavior as a personal affront? Do you punish rather than discipline and train? Are you consistent? Are you provoking your children to become angry? (I’m having some personal “ouch” moments just typing this list.)
The Heart of Anger has good insights into the angry child. I’ve never dealt with a child who was angry at heart, but if your child is there, it’s worth a read. Actually, the most beneficial part is the chapter “25 Ways Parents Provoke Their Children to Anger.” Even if you don’t have an “angry” child (perhaps one just given to occasional outbursts), this would be helpful.
Consider environmental sensitivities, especially to food.
This was HUGE for us. In our case, dairy and corn products seem to be culprits. (High fructose corn syrup is a problem for a lot of kids.) We don’t eat many processed or additive-laden foods, but on the occasion that we do, I notice my one of my children doesn’t handle them well either—especially during seasons when they become a more regular part of our diet. When I make sure my little one eats the diet that’s best for her (especially on a regular basis—I’m more lenient for social occasions), she is literally like a different child, both physically and emotionally. I can’t even describe HOW MUCH BETTER things are at our house since we’ve started to figure this out.
This article by Dr. William Sears is a good primer on food allergies. Also, many parents with exceptionally active or ADHD-labeled children have had great success with the Feingold diet. I’ve even read stories of autistic symptoms being improved or reversed with dietary changes. What you put into your body has a profound effect on your brain. I hear that when a child is allergic or sensitive to certain foods or additives, his behavior can spin out of control. Our experience has made me a believer.
Learn to understand and appreciate your child for who he is.
Here I’m talking about two totally different things. Appreciate your child’s uniqueness, even if it’s uniqueness that goes against your grain. If you’re orderly and introspective, an easygoing artistic child might drive you crazy, for example. But recognize that God has given your child unique gifts different from yours. Should an easygoing child learn to be disciplined? Of course. But learn to appreciate the amazing gift of a child whose personality and “bent” is totally different from yours.
In addition, you must understand how your child sees the world. The book Homeschooling the Challenging Child has been a huge help to me in this area. I think it would be beneficial even if you don’t homeschool. (Homework battles, anyone?) When I realized how my child becomes over-stimulated and how she responds to that over-stimulation, I finally “got” why she acted the way she did, and why no amount of consistent discipline improved the behavior I was concerned about.
This book is a little label-heavy in places. I’m very cautious about labeling children—but whether you pursue diagnosis that results in a label, or just look for insights into certain characteristics of your challenging child, it’s worth a read. The book is not decidedly against ADHD medication in all circumstances, but it gives many strategies that might help you keep your child off medication. (A side note: the book Boys Adrift, which I mentioned once before, was enlightening in terms of concerns about ADHD drugs, especially for boys.)
Orient yourself, your home, and your life toward your child in the way that’s helpful to him, as much as possible.
Again, Homeschooling the Challenging Child was helpful to me in regards to practical tools for interacting with my children. For example, I’m beginning to eliminate the visual clutter that can send some kids in to sensory overload. (Who knew?) I’m taking a different approach to the simplest things, like math worksheets. This list of 10 Tips for Teaching the Highly Distractible Child is super, again, even if you don’t homeschool. Once you learn to understand your child, you’re empowered to give him what he needs.
I’m not talking about pandering to character flaws or ignoring misbehavior with a label or an excuse. And I don’t mean to suggest that this approach should be a substitute for normal discipline and training. (By the same token, I’m obviously not talking about the kinds of very serious issues that require professional help–although some of these ideas may help in concert with professional assistance for those who need it.) I’m talking about learning to parent a child or children who truly present unique challenges that defy conventional wisdom. God has great things for our kids. Let’s learn to work with the precious children He gave us to help them be all He wants them to be!