Ever wonder why typical parenting and teaching techniques simply don’t work for some children? This is the tag line I use when speaking to groups about challenging children’s behavior, because it was the question in my mind when I was raising my three wonderful sons, the middle of whom was my challenging child. I wanted parents to know what I now knew about getting the very best from children who could be labeled "challenging."
In 2000, I was working as a school psychologist and was seeing that we just didn’t have answers for challenging behavior. I am not just talking about the routine homework refusal or failure to listen. I’m talking about huge screaming meltdowns that often resulted in children being confined to rooms where they couldn’t harm themselves or others. Seeing first graders suspended from school or asked not to return just tore at my heartstrings. Granted, many were kids in special ed with likely brain disorders, whose parents and teachers were extremely frustrated as to how to interact with them.
But even with everyday kids who were acting out due to family change, or had ADHD and couldn’t concentrate, we were not compassionately handling the behaviors in a way that felt right. We were punishing these kids, depriving them of privileges, hoping for submission, and getting worse behavior in return. And most tragic, the kids were coming to see themselves as little criminals, never able to please the adults in their world, and on their way to fulfilling the prophecies they were hearing about themselves. I knew there had to be a better way. The future of these children’s hearts depended on it.
At that time, I discovered Howard Glasser’s Nurtured Heart Approach, and decided to contact him. He was then a family therapist in Tucson, Ariz., who worked with children and behavior. I brought Glasser to the Twin Cities for a daylong workshop, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. So I decided to start the Center for the Challenging Child as a parent coaching and teacher training operation. I figured parents and teachers of challenging children are loving, caring, smart and definitely wanting the best for the children. If they just had effective tools for turning the behavior around, they could prevent worlds of heartache.
During the past seven years, I have been privileged to work with hundreds of families and train thousands of school and agency employees on highly effective techniques for dealing with challenging behavior in children. Seeing the light in the eyes of a special ed teacher who had 20 years under his belt, and was now energized to keep going to retirement…well, there are no words that describe how that felt. The joy of watching parents grow beyond the need for my coaching because their home lives are now immeasurably improved…I can’t put that into words, either.
I can say that, beyond raising my own three great guys, empowering adults around children’s challenging behavior is the most rewarding thing I have ever done!