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Understanding Your Challenging Kid

The most important first step toward helping you parent your challenging kid is helping you understand your challenging kid. At Think:Kids, we have a certain perspective on how challenging kids come to be challenging, and it’s a far cry from how many folks think about challenging kids. (Of course, the way most folks think about challenging kids often isn’t very helpful, but you already knew that.) Once you understand your child better, how you help him overcome his challenges becomes much clearer.

Research in the neurosciences has proven that challenging kids lack important thinking skills. Researchers have learned a lot about children’s brains over the last 30 years, and a lot of that research suggests that challenging kids came up on the short end of the stick when it comes to certain skills…for example, flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem solving (and a bunch more). So in the same way that kids who have trouble reading lack skills related to reading, kids who are challenging lack skills related to handling life’s social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. That’s why your child is crying, sulking, withdrawing, screaming, swearing, spitting, hitting, destroying property, and all the other things challenging kids do when they don’t have the skills to do any better.

Now, this is a very different perspective for a lot of folks. In fact, some of the books you’ve read…and TV shows you’ve watched…and mental health professionals you’ve consulted…might have convinced you that your child isn’t motivated to behave adaptively, simply “knows what buttons to push,” is manipulating you, is testing your limits, and is seeking attention. You may also have become convinced that your child’s difficulties are the result of your poor parenting, and that the best way to fix that problem is to teach your child who’s the boss and give him or her the incentive – through sticker charts, time-outs, and other rewards and punishments – to behave more adaptively.

Don’t believe it. At Think:Kids, we know if your child could do well, he or she would do well. We know that poor parenting isn’t why most challenging kids are challenging. And we know that reward and punishment programs don’t teach challenging kids the skills they lack and often don’t durably get the job done.

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