When I had my first child she was perfect.  She travelled well, was open to new things and could sleep through beer tent music.  We dragged her everywhere, patted ourselves on the back and decided we were the best parents in the world.

My second child was not like the first. When he was born he squashed his eyes together and refused to open them, for three days. He didn’t like the feeling of clothing on his body. Epic temper tantrums were frequent. He was demanding and exhausting.  He made me doubt myself. He also taught me more about parenting then any one person should ever need to know.

He is an adult now.  Fully grown, has a great job and has friends.  He is making his way in the world and I’m proud. Because it took a lot of effort to get there. Here are a few tips to help you along if you are blessed with one of these strong willed people:

  1. Look to the end game.  When parenting try hard to see the person you are working to develop.  Try not to do too much for your child.  Let them make decisions where appropriate, let them use real tools to do real work. Challenging kids need to have some control over their lives and this reduces their anxiety.  Toddlers can help with portioning food or setting napkins at the table, they can also choose their own clothes.  Older kids can start learning how to do laundry, help find items on a grocery shop or make and save their own money.
  2. Schedule and routine.  Having a set routine about things helps take away the fear of the unknown.  Knowing when food will happen, when it is time to get up or get dressed makes the world more predictable and less scary. Challengers are even more sensitive to changes in the routine.  Know that if you veer too far off course they may have a meltdown.
  3. Pick your battles.  Some kids push at ever step.  Whenever possible choose to say yes.  If it doesn’t hurt someone or do irreparable damage be prepared to let things slide. Let them negotiate with you.  This skill is absolutely necessary as an adult.
  4. Understand that they are their own people.  Disconnect your sense of responsibility for their behaviour.  This is a fine line but if you have a child who acts out regularly you can begin to feel you are a bad parent, that it is your fault.  Other people may even reinforce this.  Remember that challengers are their own people.  Let your child own the embarrassment for their own outburst.  Let your tutu and flipflops clad challenger own their choice of clothing. Support, advise and stand your ground on the important stuff, but let them own the rest.
  5. Don’t forget the basics – sleep, eat and creature comforts. Anyone can be cranky when hungry or tired. Challengers are worse.  Carry food and water at the ready.  Bring extra clothing and diapers.  Do the same for yourself.  Get enough rest, hydrate and eat well.  You need to keep your own stores filled to manage the stress of parenting a challenger.
  6. Take a break.  Sometimes you just need to walk away.  Plan out break times for yourself and leave your challenger with someone who will take care of them well.  Let it all go and enjoy your break.  It can be a manicure, lunch out with a friend or even just a walk in the park.  Take time to decompress often so you are recharged.
  7. See the good.  It can be easy to get bogged down in all the difficulty and turmoil of raising a challenger.  But take time to see the good.  Look for the moments when they show compassion, are focused on a project and succeed, assert themselves in an appropriate manner.  Enjoy them for all their spunky delight.  Know that if they aren’t easy for you to guide, no one else is going to manipulate them into doing anything they don’t want to do.

Remember, this too shall pass.

Sometimes challengers have something else going on. Nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, blood sugar fluctuations and trouble sleeping can all cause people to act erratically and be difficult. (My own challenger was very milk protein sensitive.) A visit to one of our naturopathic doctors can help pinpoint fixable issues. Make an appointment today to see if things can become a little easier.

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