The Difficult Child – Part 2

This month we continue a discussion that was generated from the below e-mail that I received.

“I just stopped school to come in here to write you. I don’t know what to do, and I am at this awful place with one of my children that a mom definitely doesn’t want to be. I have five boys ranging in age from nine months to nine years. Four of my children are sweet, obedient, in love with the Lord, wanting to sing praises to Him, and wanting to please my husband and me. Then there is my six year old. He is the most difficult child, and I don’t know what to do with him. I have had him memorize Scriptures on obedience. He has more Scriptures memorized than I do—he is really smart. But he is a huge handful. He has no control over his emotions and will strike out at anyone who crosses him.

“Recently he has started back talking me. I’ll tell him to do something, and that is followed by whines and reasons why he doesn’t want to obey. My other kids would NEVER do this. At first I was shocked and talked to him about his attitude and his need to obey me. Then I tried consequences and talked more. He isn’t responding. I love him so much and don’t want to be around him—all at the same time. Am I a terrible mom?”
In Christ,
A struggling mom

Last month I shared about one of our children who was a difficult child, but who has outgrown the problems that were such a struggle for him and for us through his younger years. There was more to cover concerning how we dealt with this son than there was room for in just one Mom’s Corner so this month is a continuation. Here is the link to the previous Mom’s Corner in case you didn’t read the first article.

It was important for us to have set consequences for wrong behavior and then to use those consequences consistently. “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul” (Proverbs 29:17). This was hard for me because John was so frequently doing or saying something that would earn him a consequence. What I tended to want to do was to ignore some of his behavior so that he wouldn’t have another consequence. However, consistency was our ally, and we needed to maintain it. We can’t imagine what John would be like had we given up with him.

In our homeschooling, we needed to be very patient with John, but still hold to the family homeschool standard. Even though John struggled greatly with staying focused on his schoolwork and completing it, he accomplished what the rest of his siblings did. On our part, we continually worked with John to teach him to stay in his place where he was doing his work, to keep him on track with the work he was to do rather than having his mind elsewhere, and to motivate him to complete the schoolwork.

Our attitudes were key in this process. If we were frustrated or impatient with John, he responded with his own level of frustration. The more we were pleasant, gentle, and encouraging, the more we diffused his negative attitudes. In addition, we had consequences for schoolwork that wasn’t done. If schoolwork was not finished during the school day, the child had to stay in to do it after school ended. If it wasn’t finished by Saturday, then Saturday became a school day as well. John stayed in many afternoons doing schoolwork he hadn’t done during the allotted time on the school schedule. However, he only had to spend one Saturday doing school. The afternoons he worked late on school, he was generally more motivated the next day to be diligent and complete his work on time. Here is a link to a Mom’s Corner I wrote on homeschooling a dawdler.

John needed a great deal of love and affirmation. That really isn’t surprising considering how often he did something that wasn’t right and needed to be corrected. We made quite an effort with this child, and then with all the children, to smile at them much more frequently, to hug them, give pats, ruffle the hair, sit close to one for Bible time, and simply to give as much affection as we could.

We discovered that John blossomed when made to feel very special. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Steve made an effort to have one-on-one time with John too. He encouraged him to come and talk frequently. We worked at fostering those close relationships.

Over and over, we modeled for our difficult child how he could have responded in the situation, how he could have spoken kindly to a sibling rather than cuttingly, and how he could have done what he was supposed to do. This son needed extra help to teach him the right responses because they didn’t come naturally to him.

We spoke truth to this child. He would allow his mind to twist his thoughts—even Scripture at times—so that he wasn’t thinking truth. We would lovingly, gently, often with an arm around him, speak the truth to him. We regularly encouraged him on the importance of repentance in his heart over his sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We let him know that sin is something we all deal with, but until he repented, he wouldn’t have victory over his sin. John seemed to always have an excuse for his bad behavior. When spiritual growth occurred in his life and he was repenting of his sin, we saw great improvement.

Sleep was a critical issue for John. He was the most dependent of all our children on getting a certain amount of sleep. Without that amount of sleep, he became almost impossible to live with. The other children would show some signs when they hadn’t gotten a normal’s night’s sleep, but nothing like John. When he was tired, we worked at being understanding; however, he was still responsible for his behavior. We then made an effort to get him caught back up on his sleep.

My prayer is that what we learned with our John will be a practical help and an encouragement to Struggling Mom. I hope that she won’t feel like a terrible mom, but that she will become even more committed to loving her son and helping him through the problems that he presents to the family and that she will have renewed courage and motivation with her son. We are so grateful for the guidance the Lord Jesus gave us through our years of parenting John as we continually cried out to Him, and we desire to see other families look to Him for their strength and wisdom as well.