How to Discipline Your Child - Especially a Difficult One

Why does my three-year-old kid have more temper tantrums than other kids?

I'm sick of my six-year-kid arguing about everything!

My just-turned-teenager says no to everything. I'd like to give up, but I can't.

About 10 percent of kids are difficult. They are crankier than other kids and they don't respond well to typical parenting approaches.

How to discipline your child effectively under these circumstances all too often feels impossible and leads to a lot of hopelessness and frustration. Here are five tips that have been effective for parents throughout my forty years of counseling over 2,500 children (most of them difficult) and families.

1. Work on only one or two problems at a time, and let the others slide for awhile. Difficult kids throw a lot of frustrating situations at parents. Dealing with all of the problems at once is impossible.

2. Don't yak - act. Difficult kids can out-argue adults. Set a firm consequence without a lecture, and then follow through. Your actions (not words) will eventually improve your child's behavior.

3. Use a double-barreled approach: firm consequences and rewards. You need to take away things (video time, iPod) and add rewards (rented video game, money over a two- or three-week period for a Lego set, etc.). Difficult kids need more motivation to change than less difficult kids. This double-barreled approach is a must.

4. Don't yell. I know you're thinking, YOU spend a day with my kid, especially during a Wal-Mart temper meltdown and see how calm you are. You're right; calmness all the time would be sainthood. But, try to leave when you get too upset. (The store's greeter will not take over!) Lecturing and yelling will always make things worse with a difficult child. Come back after you're calm and set the limit. When you're in a store, give your child a stern, brief warning with a consequence. If he keeps it up, head back to the car.

5. Teach your child to express feelings as early as age two. Since difficult children get angry easily, start with the feelings of anger or upset. This will eventually help the child (not completely solve the problem) use feelings words for anger instead of a temper tantrum. As you are directing Amie to her room, point out to her that she's handling her upset feelings by whining. After Amie's calm, you can discuss the importance of using feelings words instead of whining. Talk like this on a regular basis and your child will start saying feeling words within three weeks.

Make sure your child is not experiencing emotional problems. Children as young as three years of age can be depressed. If your parenting techniques doesn't seem to make any difference, seek a qualified child mental health professional.

Using these tips to discipline your child when he or she is difficult will help your parenting challenges be a little less frustrating and move both of you in a more positive direction.

Gary M, Unruh, MSW LCSW, is a child and family mental health counselor with nearly forty years of experience. He also consults with clients' teachers, and administers training programs related to ADHD, bipolar disorder, and behavior management. In his book, Unleashing the Power of Parental Love: 4 Steps to Raising Joyful and Self-­Confident Kids (©2010, $17.95, Lighthouse Love Productions), he offers parents advice from both his professional view - with years of both counseling and personal experience - but also from a personal perspective as a father of four, and a very proud "papa" of seven grandchildren. Read more about the book at

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS


Post a Comment