Parenting the Challenging Temperament

Erin Belanger, LMHC

You’re exhausted and the day has just begun. It seems like more days than not, you’re struggling with your child over even the littlest of things. You may find yourself frequently yelling and making empty threats, or pleading with and bribing your child just to get them to brush their teeth or get dressed. Parents of children with difficult temperaments may find themselves at odds with each other, as they may take different approaches to parenting… one may over-discipline and the other may give up trying to discipline all together. These parents typically end up feeling like their child is the one in charge.

Our children with difficult/challenging temperaments tend to demonstrate irregular biological rhythms, high and impulsive activity levels, and negative reactions to new situations where they become easily overwhelmed. These children tend to have difficulty adapting to change and react with high intensity and inflexibility, demonstrating difficulty with self-soothing and frustration tolerance. Once they do adapt to something new, they tend to become “locked-in”. They are either very distractible or very focused, see the negatives before they can see the positives, and tend to be very sensitive to sensory stimuli. Parenting these children can leave parents feeling frustrated and insecure about their skills as parents.

There’s a gentle strength and a patience required to raise our children with challenging temperaments. If you feel like the parent to a child like the one above, even in part (as children can be a partial fit with this category), pay attention to the following in your parenting style to help support their health and development: 

Attunement with accurate feedback will help your child identify strengths, recognize their feelings, develop self-control, and use words to express themselves better… over time.

Set clear boundaries, structure, and have consistency in follow through.

Finally, respect, love, and parent the child you have.

This temperament takes patience, energy, and finesse to parent. Parenting these children is a challenging task. Just like the shy and easy temperaments, though, these children can grow up to be wonderful, productive, and successful adults. If you find yourself having significant difficulty with your child’s behaviors, don’t hesitate to call for family therapy. A good family therapist can help you tease out temperament and identify strategies, along with providing much needed support.