Dealing with Challenging Children

A mother I know described a challenging situation involving one of her children. Without relating to the specific issues, I decided to post some general suggestions for surviving tough times.

  1. Let go of the guilt. Yes, we all make mistakes, big and small, and need to improve, but guilt feelings interfere with our ability to make changes. Similarly, embarrassment about the the child’s behavior shows our children that we care more about what others think than about them. Both of these emotions can also lead to avoidance or denial.
  2. Our husbands are our partners in parenting and we need to let them share the responsibility. Mothers tend to blame themselves when things go wrong, but the father plays an important role too. Also, at times like these a partner’s support is crucial. [I address this point to the mothers because they tend to be more involved with parenting and form the majority of readers here. Fathers, and those without children, are welcome to read the blog and comment too!]
  3. Make time for yourself. When problems crop up we tend to feel that we must put even more energy into the family than we already do (because we feel guilty), and end up neglecting ourselves. Choose enjoyable, energizing or relaxing activities (and people), and minimize the rest.
  4. Don’t allow emotional or physical abuse, whether by siblings or parents.. It’s bad for the “bully” and bystanders, as well as the victim, and must be dealt with effectively.
  5. Maximize the time the child spends on positive relationships with family and close family friends, to give everyone a break from the family tension. I’m not talking about “sending the child away” if he’s not yet ready to be on his own; the parent can still be present. I also don’t mean filling up the child’s day with playdates and activities to avoid dealing with the issues.
  6. Find a support group, therapist or counselor if the situation becomes worse.

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image: Alaskan Dude


  1. You have really done a good job of describing how a guilt-0-meter can be filled up very quickly when parents are overwhelmed and unsure of what course of action will work for their family, or aren’t sure about what resources could be available to ease their angst.

  2. Ari Kinsberg says

    “Fathers are welcome to read the blog and comment too!”
    “Yes, we all make mistakes, big and small, and need to improve, but guilt feelings interfere with our ability to make changes.”
    i guess this is harder when the mistakes are more egregious
    “embarrassment about the the child’s behavior shows our children that we care more about what others think than about them.”
    i’m not sure what problems you are talking about. but as true as it is that parents have to block out the external environment, in some communities worrying about what others think is institutionalized. so overcoming this issue should be a communal goal, not just a personal one.

  3. mominisrael says

    Ari, thanks for reminding me that I left out non-parents.
    Guilt has its purpose, but can be taken too far. If guilt is interfering with dealing with the problem or with life in general, outside help is needed. I’m just starting to forgive myself for mistakes I made when my eldest was a baby.
    True about the community, but my attitude towards my children’s transgressions or nonconformity do affect the community on some level.

  4. i think the reason that mothers feel the most guilt is that we cant accept that something is out of our control when it comes to our kids.. we never anticipate that there will be a problem that we cant fix. A feeling that we arent involved in good or bad. as small children we were still one with that child they had something happen were were the first to know and they openly asked for us to help when they stop this pattern we feel excluded and this makes us feel that we must have let this child down in the past for them to stop the chain of coming to us to make it go away…

  5. mominisrael says

    Melissa–I appreciate your taking the time to respond so thoughtfully. Perhaps we did let the child down in some way–I think our culture encourages us to “let go” of our children emotionally at way too young an age. I believe that there are many things we can do to keep the connection for longer and that this can prevent or mitigate a lot of problems.

  6. Ariella. says

    What a radical idea! You mean fathers have parenting responsibilities?! Of course, I’m kidding. Great advice in your post.

  7. often this is a problem as the tension escalates, the issues increase. The suggestion of finding energizing activities – positive experiences, is probably the most important of them all.

  8. Shoshana says

    A top educator (Yerushalmi woman) removed a lot of my guilt feelings very quickly. She said that my disability is not a reason to feel guilty of poor parenting of an ADHD child.

    The world today seems to make all women feel that they are inadequate mothers.

    We need help and support.