Recently I just finished up a three-week class I teach for a Bay Area parenting-resources provider.
The parents really liked the class, and as we were all saying our goodbyes and making some final comments at the end of the last session, one parent said, “Nobody I’ve ever talked to talked positively about my child.” She was referring to the fact that in the class, I DID talk positively about her child, and this was new for her.
I think this is so sad! But it doesn’t surprise me at all.
In my coaching practice I see a lot of uncooperative, oppositional, downright defiant, emotionally dysregulated, and/or physically aggressive kids. And I’ve discovered that most grownups see the really strong-willed, oppositional kids as problem children.
And I get it. Doctors and therapists diagnose them and medicate them, and if they haven’t had their diagnosis, teachers, school administrators and other parents ask why not. Medicalizing problem behavior is a big industry nowadays, and if the child has a medical condition, well, something’s wrong, right? Their behavior is really disruptive, AND there’s something wrong with them. Where’s the positive in that?
But in my experience, first, there isn’t much that’s actually wrong.
I’m absolutely convinced that, most of the time, kids’ oppositional behavior and big feelings stem, not from a psychiatric or medical disorder, but instead from personality (or “temperament”), combined with a lack of the right kind of training.
Some kids are temperamentally predisposed to place a very high value on autonomy and control – and emotional intensity is another temperament trait. Of course, this in no way means we should just accept oppositional behavior, defiance, and aggression. We can and we should teach these kids to play well with others. But because they haven’t yet learned HOW to work with you, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them.
And also, just consider these strong-willed kids’ strengths! Kids who need to be in control are POWERFUL. They have energy. They have drive. They have incredible focus – even the kids with ADHD can focus just fine on something that’s important to them!
Strong-willed kids have the potential to be strong leaders and strong problem-solvers, and this is actually one of the core reasons why I do what I do: I LOVE strong-willed kids’ strengths (I love their personalities, too :)), and I HATE to see all that power and all that potential for good wasted because we have an incomplete and often inaccurate perspective that prevents us from really reaching them.
Now, if your child is out of control, you may object to this positive view. “There’s nothing wrong with your child” and “Your child has some incredible strengths” might be reminiscent of other parenting strategies that ask us to be positive with our kids without also holding them accountable to listen, take responsibility, and express emotions safely.
But I’m not asking this. What I’m talking about today is just one piece of my work with parents. It’s not the whole picture, but it’s an important foundational piece. This positive perspective makes it easier on a practical level – as an example, it makes it easier to communicate with and set boundaries with your child without engaging their resistance, thereby “adding fuel to the fire.” And at the end of the day, it’s a whole lot easier to do the sometimes-difficult work of teaching your child to change their behavior when your goal is not just to put an end to the problems, but also to help them reach their real potential.
A lot of we don’t like in the strong-willed, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer, I’m-gonna-do-it-no-matter-
Are you feeling stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed by your child’s behavior?? Wits’ End Parenting can help.
At Wits’ End we are parenting- and child behavior experts who specialize in strategies that work with strong-willed, oppositional-defiant, or aggressive kids. We have over 20 years’ experience with kids at the far end of the difficult-behavior spectrum, and we’ve helped hundreds of families solve behavior challenges like “not listening,” outright defiance and aggression, impulsivity, emotional volatility and intense anger, ADHD-related behaviors, and others.
What sets us apart? Wits’ End specializes in solutions for parents who have already “tried everything”; the tools we provide are tailored to your child’s particular temperament; and our tools are designed to go the distance, so you can put an end to the endless search for the next best parenting strategy.
Want to find out more about our programs and how we can help? Give us a call or shoot us an email and let’s schedule a free needs assessment!