Good Advice for the Parent of A Challenging Child

I get the shudders just thinking about it.

How at only 8 years old, she would sit on our neighbors’ fence. Wait for their horses to come galloping by so she could make the jump. How she would ride bareback through their pasture and how the neighbors never even knew about it.

And neither did I. Not until later when she confessed.

Oh, child of mine.  What am I supposed to do with you? 

Except she’s no longer a child anymore.

She’s in her 20’s now and quite grown up.

She’s a lovely, caring person. A dreamer and a writer. Talented and smart.

But how could I have known all that back then? Back when she was a screamer. A fighter. An unpredictable phenomenon.

I kid you not.

She was a challenge. What some might call “a handful.” A high-maintenance child.

And she was mine.

She’s the one who would fall off her chair in the middle of the room. Plop! Onto the floor. For no apparent reason. She’s the one I’d say, “Focus, dear. Focus!” numerous times every day.

Her happy place was sitting deep in a mud puddle. I would look out in the backyard and feel that twinge of guilt. “You really should call her in,” I’d say to myself.  But I’ll confess that I didn’t want to. She was safe. And better yet, she was surprisingly content there.

And it gave me a break.

What I Wish Someone Would’ve Told Me About the Challenging Child

I used to ask God about her. Mostly wondering what He could possibly have been thinking to make me her mom? And ask Him why she didn’t come with set of instructions? A guidebook of some kind?

Why would He give this no-rules, all-heart, free-spirit child . . . to a structured, organized, pull-it-together mom such as me?

I loved her, of course. But at times I struggled to like her if you know what I mean. I had to pray about that one. Plead with God to help me understand her. To accept her. To truly enjoy her.

But just so you know? I do like her now. Like her and love her. A lot.

She’s one of my very best friends. 

Something I couldn’t have known when she was sitting there happily splashing in the mud puddle. Spontaneously falling off her chair. Or freely riding bareback around the neighbors’ property.

How could I have known back then?

So if you’re a parent of a challenging child, I thought I’d pass along a few things I wish someone would have told me.

Some Good Advice for the Parent of the Challenging Child

Accept your child for how God made him/her.

Don’t try to change your child. Sure, guide them and instruct them. Secretly scratch your head over them, but embrace their quirky, out-of-the-mold selves. Don’t express disappointment or disapproval. Instead, point out the positives and look for bright points. Believe me, there are lots of them!

Gently help your child to learn to function in the “real world.”

Gently. Your child might need some help in the social graces or relationship skills or even the simple basics of doing what needs to be done. So a loving parent will patiently teach those things – possibly stuff that comes more “naturally” to other children. Just don’t squeeze them so hard to try and make them “fit in.”

Determine to laugh more than you cry.

Quite honestly? I wasted tears over this child. Now that we have a younger son who has some similar characteristics, I mostly laugh and hug him a lot. I’m excited to see how his strong personality traits will play out as he grows older—convinced that he’s going to do something really wonderful someday!

Never give up on your child.

I recently asked our dear girl what was the hardest thing when she was a child? She said it was when I threw up my hands over her. When I said things like, “I give up” or other such expressions of despair. And it nearly broke my heart to hear it.

I was so focused on my own frustration that I didn’t realize the impact it would have on her own young life.

So if you have a challenging child? 

Make sure you communicate how thrilled you are with your child. They need to know that you believe in them and have confidence in the plans God has for them. And they need to hear it more from you than from anyone else.

Remember to handle their hearts with care. 

How Do You Love a Challenging Child?

Matt and Lisa are answering your questions about parenting, marriage, and more. Questions such as:  How do you love a challenging child? What’s the best approach for adding a second baby to the family? What happens when you disagree over a major decision? What’s that one thing you wish you knew when you were single? What should you do if you catch your husband looking at porn?

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FAITHFUL LIFE podcast

Matt and Lisa Jacobson, authors of 100 Ways to Love Your Husband and 100 Ways to Love Your Wife, are the hosts of a weekly podcast to talk about what it means to be a biblical Christian in marriage, parenting, church, and culture. Matt and Lisa offer deep encouragement, along with practical steps and true-life stories, as we grow in walking the faithful life together.

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