Differences from Birth: Responding to the Temperamentally Difficult Child - Guidelines for a Proactive Approach
Temperamentally “difficult” children may show some or all of the following behaviors: they are not easily satisfied, often feel adults are unfair, view the glass as half or totally empty, typically overreact to situations, are inflexible and unwilling to compromise if they do not get their way, and are prone to tantrums and outbursts. While some people have found the word "difficult" too negative and have applied other labels such as the "challenging" child or the "spirited" child, the fact remains that for most parents the task of raising these youngsters is more demanding and more emotionally draining than raising a temperamentally "easy" child.
There are actions that parents, teachers, and other adults can take to help temperamentally difficult children lead a more satisfying, optimistic life. These actions include: (a) becoming as knowledgeable as possible about temperamental differences in children so that we do not blame them (or ourselves) for causing their behaviors, (b) learning to accept our children for who they are rather than what we want them to be in order that we establish what is called a "goodness-of-fit" between our expectations and our child’s temperament, and (c) moving from a "crisis intervention" or reactive approach to a "crisis prevention" or proactive approach. A proactive parent consistently asks, "What can I do in advance to create an environment that will minimize my child’s difficulties and help my child learn more adaptive ways of handling problems?"
In this article I will articulate what I believe to be some of the main guideposts necessary to develop and implement an effective proactive approach at home and at school.
I should emphasize that the ideas articulated in this article are intended as general guidelines to be modified and applied based upon the particular characteristics of the child as well as the style and values of the parents and other adults in the child’s life. It is not an exhaustive list but hopefully will provide key guideposts for interacting with temperamentally difficult children.
One other preliminary point before reviewing these guidelines. I believe that if your child’s temperament is causing you and your family ongoing stress and tension, it may be helpful to seek assistance from a mental health professional who is well-versed in the pressures of raising these challenging youngsters. I should emphasize that in my clinical practice I often spend less time with the child and more time with parents and teachers. I do this since I have found that temperamentally difficult, inflexible, rigid children are less likely to change unless the adults in their lives are willing to make some initial changes.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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