A friend of mine linked up to am amazing article in Mothering the other day. Basically, Sarah Clark, the mom writing the piece, has a challenging child. Like many moms of challenging children, people around her offer suggestions for why the child presents challenges and what she might do to deal with it:
Here is the funny thing though- when I mention some of her more distinctive “traits” people are quick to find an excuse for her.
“Maybe she has a gluten intolerance.”
“Could be she has colic?”
“Try taking out the dairy.”
“Get her adjusted.”
“Cranial therapy works wonders.”
“Have you tried wearing her?”
My mom even said once that, “She is only unhappy when she doesn’t get enough sleep,” to which my mother- in-law (who LIVES with us and said child) responded, “She must be tired ALL THE TIME.”
You know what I think though? I don’t think there is anything WRONG with this girl. I don’t think she can or needs to be “fixed” with an adjustment or a diet change or magical technique. I think she is just kind of….hard.
YES! Some kids are just hard. Just like some adults are hard. They’re stubborn or emotional or noisy or rambunctious or argumentative or any of a million things. Because they’re all people and people all have those traits. Traits that, I might add, are not indicative of pathology.
There are so many labels people put on difficult kids, so many diagnoses. While I know full well that some kids really do have diagnosable and treatable issues, others are just kids who require a little more work on the part of the adults in their lives. And that’s ok. Not everything needs to be a syndrome. Some things are just part of what psychiatrist Paul Chodoff calls “the human condition” and not always a mental disorder:
Are all high-strung “nervous” people the victims of an affliction labeled generalized anxiety disorder? And can we reliably distinguish the rambunctiousness and distractibility of many boys from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder? Among the personality disorders—a general category itself of somewhat doubtful validity—the gray area includes the following dichotomies: paranoid personality disorder versus a suspicious turn of mind, schizoid personality disorder versus a preference for solitude, avoidant personality disorder versus a mild to moderate sensitivity to rejection, and narcissistic personality disorder versus a tendency to be self-centered and to show off.
OK, full disclosure here: Dr. Chodoff was my grandfather and one of the smartest people I ever knew. He died in 2011 but not before imbuing me with his opinion that sometimes it’s ok to have hard feelings or behaviors. We don’t need to fix them, not in ourselves and not in our kids. Yes, we might need to manage tendencies to behave in ways that are disruptive but that’s a sight different from trying to alter the underlying fabric of what makes a person unique, whether we try to do it with diet changes, medication, or removing them from environments where they don’t fit in perfectly. Better to accept kids for what they are and teach them to channel their personalities in the most constructive ways possible.
It’s also important to remember that hard kids won’t necessarily grow up to be hard adults. That stubborn streak can mature into useful persistence. The sensitivity can turn into compassion. Rambunctiousness can turn into great energy and creativity. There is a positive side to all behaviors and if we focus on making the best of them, we can give kids a solid foundation for being their best selves.
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