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How to Love a Challenging Child

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My challenging child and I were at it again. I asked him to clean up the mess he made, and he responded with eye rolls, heavy sighs, and comments about it not being fair. “What’s not fair?” I asked. “You always make me clean up the mess, and you never make the others clean up the messes they make,” he responded. I inwardly groaned.

This was our ongoing battle. He always felt like he had to do more and received consequences more. This was partly true because he challenged me and acted out more than the other two. Life with a challenging child can be, well, challenging. My son knows exactly what buttons to push to irritate the stuffing out of me. I love him, but every day, it’s tiring. It requires a conscious effort to respond with grace and love. I fail a lot, but it’s possible. Here are 5 ways to love a challenging child.

1. Respond by example.

It’s easy to respond with frustration and revenge when I’ve been hurt. Why can’t my kid just do what he’s told? It’s exhausting being challenged all the time and having to stay strong without losing my cool. Sometimes I fail miserably. It’s a daily battle to remind myself I’m the parent and need to lead by example.

If I want my child to respond to a frustrating situation with a positive attitude I need to teach him how. And the best way to teach him is by being a role model for him. Responding to his difficult attitude with calmness shows him how to do it in the future.

2. Put yourself in time out.

Sometimes I get so completely frustrated and irritated with my child that I have to walk away. Sometimes I send him to his room to cool off and think about his behavior. Other times, I put myself in time out. I’ve found that putting one of us in a “think about it time” can really help de-escalate things.

Before harsh, hurtful words are spoken, take a moment to step away and get a few deep breaths. When I put myself in time out, I take a few minutes to do something I love like read a few pages of a book. It helps to refocus my attitude and I go back to the battleground a much calmer, kinder parent.

3. Reaffirm your child.

A while ago, my challenging child told me he thought I loved my other two kiddos more than him. He noticed that the others weren’t disciplined as often as he was, and he interpreted that as me loving them more. Talk about a sucker punch.

After his tearful confession, I remind him often that he has a very important role in our family, and our family would be incomplete without him. My challenging child needs to know I love and value him. I never want any of my kids to feel unwanted in my home. If they do, I have failed as a parent. My job is to love and nurture them.

4. Sing your child’s praises.

Family dinner is very important to me. During dinner, we try to have meaningful conversations. Sometimes we play fun word games. Other times we share something we’re thankful for. During these dinnertime talks, I try to praise my kids for things they have done well that day.

It’s important for all my kiddos to hear me praising their siblings—especially my more challenging child. My two “easier” kids need to hear my “not as easy kid” receive praise. This reaffirms his value within our family.

5. Ask for help.

If you find yourself having negative thoughts and feelings toward your challenging child, ask for help. There’s nothing wrong with talking to a counselor or therapist about a challenging child. Just like spouses, parents sometimes need a counselor, a neutral party, to give a fresh perspective on a relationship with a difficult kid.

My kiddo and I saw a counselor for six months. I learned I needed to do better at showing empathy to my son. When he said and did hurtful things to me, I shut down and refused to be empathic toward his emotions. Maybe I would have come to that conclusion on my own, but I know the counselor helped me reach that discovery a lot sooner. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. It’s so much better to seek help before you say or do something that could cause irreparable harm to your relationship.

What are some ways you show love to your challenging child?


What is one thing you did today that you’re proud of?

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