Check Your Perspective

Parents have the responsibility and privilege of teaching children how to make wise choices and express feelings constructively.

For compliant children, this process may be relatively easy and rewarding.  However, for the inflexible and oppositional child, it is very challenging and often frustrating.  Unfortunately, these children get labeled as “bad,” and parents may feel like a failure.

We are admonished in Scripture to “…not exasperate our children.” Ephesians 6:4.  However, the interactions between good parents and inflexible children can be very exasperating for both!  The conflicts and power struggles can lead to irrational tantrums and emotional meltdowns, leaving both the child and parent feeling exhausted and defeated.

During the next several months, in this column, I will be discussing some psychological diagnostic features of inflexible-explosive children.  I will also provide practical guidelines for helping these children to develop emotional regulation skills and effective problem solving.  Although you may not have an inflexible or oppositional child, there will be times when your compliant child may significantly resist you, so the concepts and skills presented are applicable to all parents.

Let us consider our perception and beliefs about children who are inflexible, oppositional and explosive emotionally.  What is your attitude toward them?  How do you label them?

Imagine that you are standing on a busy street corner waiting for the light to change so you can walk across.  Suddenly, someone from behind bangs into you and knocks you off the sidewalk into the street with oncoming cars.  Immediately, you feel anger and with clenched fist, you turn around, ready to bounce the culprit.  Then you notice it is a blind man with a cane who bumped you.  Immediately, your affect and attitude changes, and you even help the man across the street.  What changed in your perception that caused you to move from strong anger to gentle compassion within ten seconds?  When you saw the man’s disability and helplessness, you altered your expectations and lowered your demands.

If you were helping to coach a basketball or baseball team, and a child came to play with only one arm due to a birth defect, would you expect that person to play as well as children with two arms?  In both of these cases, you can see the handicap, recognize the physical limitations, and appropriately adjust your expectations.  You alter your interactive approach according to your comprehension of the child’s limitations.

The children who are inflexible and emotionally explosive also are handicapped in realistic ways.  However, you cannot see it, because the problem resides in the brain tissue.  The child looks normal, and in many physical and social aspects is just like the average child.  But this child’s developmental delays of brain functioning in the precortex and frontal lobes of the brain are different from the norm.  The inflexible children have a very difficult time adjusting to change and adapting to requests or demands.  They are intently focused on a specific task and when interrupted, they adamantly cling to that task, resist change and become highly agitated when external pressure demands some adjustment.  They have a hard time letting go and quickly escalate toward an emotional meltdown.  Most children can adapt, let go and move with the flow.  The inflexible-explosive child can’t do that.  They are not bad, nor are they trying to control the parent.  Punishment rarely helps solve the problem.  It usually makes the situation and relationship worsen.

So, check your perspective.  Try to let go of negative labels.  Accept the reality that inflexible-explosive children are indeed different.  Be open to learning new strategies for helping them to think and act responsibly.  In the next blog, I will discuss some helpful guidelines and principles for parenting in oppositional situations.

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Dr. David R. Leaman

Dr. David R. Leaman is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania and Maryland. He had been in private practice in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania 1981-2013. Dr. Leaman is a frequent lecturer and professional trainer, nationally and internationally. He conducts workshops and seminars on a variety of mental health issues.

Book CoverDr. Leaman is the author of numerous professional articles as well as two books -- Making Decisions: A Guide For Couples; and MY CHILD IS ANGRY...AND SO AM I: Guiding Youth in Expressing Anger Constructively.

Using humor and cogent illustrations, Dr. Leaman presents vital principles for experiencing an emotionally healthy life.  Whether listening to Dr. Leaman as an event speaker, or attending one of his in-depth training seminars, you will enjoy learning about yourself in a gentle way and developing valuable insights for life.

Dr. Leaman and his wife, Joyce, are a dynamic counseling duo. They have been creating and leading family seminars and marriage enrichment weekends for over 35 years. Visit Dr. Leaman's website for more information.