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3 Tips to Help You Love your Difficult Child (Even When It Feels Hard)

Can we be real for a moment?

Sometimes it can be really hard to love a “difficult” child. You know, the child who yells terrible things when they’re angry, fights with their siblings, or always finds something to complain about. Their actions may feel off-putting, or like they are trying to intentionally hurt you. It can be draining for the best of us.

And as much as you love your child, you may find yourself feeling increasingly embittered toward them or calloused to their suffering. The truth is, it’s exhausting being a parent. And sometimes we just think, “Can’t you make my life easier?!”. It’s easy to see our child as the problem when we have been dealing with non-stop negativity along with all the other pressures of life.

But I’m guessing that’s not what you want your relationship with your child to feel like. You LOVE your kid. You don’t want to roll your eyes every time they call your name. That’s why I’ve come up with 3 tips to help you love your child, even when it feels like they are making your life difficult. These are really reminders to help us distinguish the truth from the negative Nancy narrative in our heads. It turns out when it comes to parenting a spicy child, winning the mindset game really is half the battle.

1. Remind Yourself that Your Child is Hurting

Your child’s behavior is a clue to how they are feeling inside. Meaning, only people who feel crappy about themselves feel the need to make others feel crappy. No one who feels completely safe and loved is going around making life miserable for others. I’m betting that if your child is calling you “Mean mommy!” or screaming that they hate their sister, they are not feeling really good about themselves. They may be feeling rejected, unloveable, or not valued. Just like a wounded animal, your child will lash out when hurt. Reminding ourselves of this truth helps us move from annoyance to compassion.

2. Practice Being Grateful for your Child

I mean intentionally wake up in the morning and make a mental list of 3 things you love about your difficult child. The old mental health adage is true: What we focus on grows. So when we train our minds to notice what is good about our child we begin to notice more of that. This doesn’t mean that we discount our own experiences or hurt feelings, but that we admit to ourselves that there is more to our child than their negative behavior. When we actively look for the good in our child we prime our brain for connection with them.

3. Remind Yourself that their Brain is Still Not Fully Developed

Like seriously, our kids brains don’t fully develop until they are 25 years old. Yup, we got the baby mammals that don’t mature until they look like full-on giants. Sometimes I tell myself this and chuckle inwardly. The laughter and absurdity of it all helps to break the tension. The truth is that our kids cannot always access the calm logical parts of their brains. They’re not wired in yet. And it only gets wired in through our own consistent modeling of calm rational behavior. Which is all the more reason to give them some grace, am I right?

It's easy and dare I say, normal, to blame our kids when they are acting out in less than stellar ways. It takes removing ourselves from the equation a little bit to see our child's behavior as not a personal attack or a reflection of their total character. The more we can depersonalize their behavior and extend compassion the more likely we are to build a solid relationship with these little people we love. Because behind their tough exteriors our "difficult" children are often the most tenacious, funny, determined people we will ever have ever the privilege of meeting.

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