I spoke to a mother recently who was struggling to parent her 8-year-old. After telling me what he was doing and where they were at as a family, which was ‘desperation’, she added the comment: “he’s fine when he gets his own way. When he doesn’t it’s on”. This resonated with me and immediately I knew she was dealing with a ‘tricky kid’. These kids are not easy to parent and, at times, it’s certainly difficult.
Andrew Fuller is a psychologist who has written a book aptly called Tricky Kids – a fantastic read for struggling parents (great for teachers too). Andrew was once himself a tricky kid and says that basically there are two types of kids: the loveable, likeable, friendly and compliant kids and the fiery, feisty ones with a mind of their own. If you have a compliant child parenting is easy and just flows, however with tricky kids it’s a whole different matter. As a parent of a tricky kid you need to learn how to manage their style or else it will exhaust, stress and make you doubt yourself.
Sound familiar? Tricky kids love intensity and are very, very talented at creating drama. It’s not that they are bad kids, it’s just that they have a particular method of interacting – being difficult – and use it again and again. A parent of a tricky kid needs to get them to change this way of interacting or their family will live in torment for years. And no, they will not grow out of their wilful personalities.
On a positive note – tricky kids have been found to be great leaders. They will apply their same determinedness, wilfulness, argumentativeness and stubbornness in the future to change the world. You just have to survive them first. Think of some of the great leaders’ names in history – Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc and Queen Victoria to name a few.
Here are Fuller’s tips for parenting such kids:
- They will outlast you for energy so just pick one behaviour to start on and stick to it for six weeks.
- Their brains are not reasonable in an argument so trying to lecture or rationalise your point means you are wasting your time.
- Don’t argue with them – they will try to draw you into an argument and will be very happy at the drama they’ve created. Avoid anything that can lead to an argument.
- Don’t punish them for poor behaviour by taking away family rituals like Friday’s movie night or Saturday’s pizza night – you need to do these rituals even if their behaviour has been downright terrible.
- Make sure they know you love them.
- Before they go to sleep make sure they feel loved regardless of the day’s dramas.
- Get to know their friends, have their friends over and feed them.
- Look for the right time to start a conversation.
- Make sure they are in the right mood to start a conversation.
- They need you much more than other kids – much of their forcefulness is camouflaged fear and worry about not being loved enough.
Bottom line: don’t give on up on these kids. Parenting them is certainly difficult, however once you know how to sidestep them and the drama and let them know you do love them, change will flow.