Parenting A Challenging Child

Even though your child is healthy, you may seem to have more difficulties with him or her than other parents seem to have with their children. You could blame yourself for being a bad parent. The truth is that some genetic factors may be at work here and by becoming more knowledgeable, you can learn to be more effective with your child.

The Interplay Between Environment and Genetics

During infancy and childhood, your child's brain is still under construction in that it has a whole lot of newly formed neurons that are being guided by genes to plug into their proper locations. The neurons that don't plug in undergo cell death, but this is also a natural effect, because there is a surplus of these brain cells. However, environmental input does affect how much cell loss there is and also fine tunes the process of brain organization.

Brain cells begin making connections with each other as they receive sensory input, and the more input they receive and process, the stronger the connections will be. The information that your child's brain receives is largely determined by you, and the experiences they have will influence these things:

  • Learning,
  • Memory,
  • Cognitive abilities, and
  • Emotional responses.

The fact that genetics and environment both determine brain development means that you do have a great deal of power to help your child reach their full potential.

Sensitive or Highly Emotional Children

Sometimes a child will develop a deficit in the area of the brain that processes emotions and helps them have control over them. You will notice that this child will be extra sensitive to actions by others and will display exaggerated responses to them. They may:

  • Be unusually upset by changes in the environment, plans or routine,
  • Be more easily frustrated and prone to temper tantrums,
  • Have an abnormal sleep pattern,
  • Be prone to moodiness,
  • Not adjust to school very well, and/or
  • Be extra clingy to family.

This behavior can be quite wearing on the whole family. The tendency is to start ignoring the behavior or punishing the child for it. This is a mistake.

What the child needs is extra attention to help them to learn how to handle their feelings. It is a tricky business because you don't want to reinforce poor behavior. You will need to have extra patience with this child and be willing to help them cope with their difficulties with kindness. You will also need to spend extra time teaching them boundaries and giving appropriate consequences for their behavior based on their temperament.

One thing that is particularly important is to help them learn to self-soothe themselves. You do this by touching and holding the child when they are upset so they will learn ways to calm themselves.

Hyperactive or Resistant Children

Sometimes the wiring in the brain gets a little jumbled, or there is a genetically-caused deficit in the area of the forebrain that involves impulse control. The child may have an extra interest in fire, enjoy pestering animals or other children, or be constantly into things they should leave alone. They are restless and easily bored. They have a hard time sitting still for any length of time and they also won't take naps to give you a much-needed break.

One primary thing you will notice is that punishment does not seem to faze these children, but you doggedly do it anyway because you think you should. Discipline is important to every child and they do need to learn appropriate behavior and respect boundaries, but the thing is, positive discipline is going to work far better with these children. It is very important to "catch them being good" and give them attention for it.

This is going to be much more effective with them for shaping good behaviors. You will also need to patiently guide them at times to stay on task when you ask them to do something.

Professional Guidance

To help you develop a specific approach for your child, it is important to seek guidance from a child psychologist early on. It may also be helpful for you to join a parenting group that will help you to feel more supported while dealing with the challenges.

Contact an expert like Paula Conforti, D.C.S., C.Psych. Assoc. for more assistance.