Categories: Special Needs

4 Ah-Ha Moments in Parenting a Child with Extreme Behaviors

This post describes four of my biggest a-ha moments of parenting a child with extreme behaviors including anxiety and anger.

I know that many, many parents are struggling, dealing with, or trying to manage a child with these extreme behaviors.

I’ve been in this sensory processing journey for about six years now, and I have learned so much.

I’ve tried this approach.

I’ve tried that approach.

I’ve been there.

I’ve done that.

I have so much to offer you. For those of you who have been following my journey, I have written extensively about it on my blog. Here are a few posts that might interest you:

4 Takeaways from Parenting a Child with Extreme Behavior

#1 – Be an advocate for your child.

If you feel something in your gut, if you feel like your child should be doing x instead of y, if you feel like XYZ is having an impact on the behavior, but your pediatrician doesn’t see it and is kind of rolling her eyes at you, go with your gut.

Be an advocate for your child.

The first time I felt the absolute need & sense of urgency to be an advocate for my was when he was nearly 3 years old. We were at the pediatric urologist’s office, a visit that resulted from a referral I demanded from our pediatrician (and she thought I was nuts). My son was regressing with his toileting and his behavior was becoming more and more extreme. I felt the two behaviors were connected.

This doctor did not want to waste time with us. I had to understand that this urologist is dealing with 8, 9, 10-year olds who are having accidents and have some serious physical & emotional issues as a result. Bottom line: I went to this urologist because I didn’t want my son to have those same issues.

I said, “Listen. I feel like he’s not … I feel like he’s regressed in his toileting and it’s negatively impacting his behavior.”

She, kind of, okay, she literally laughed at me.

Then I talked to her for a minute longer, and she realized, “Okay, this girl knows what she’s talking about.” I advocated, “I would like an abdominal X-ray. I need to know what’s going on inside my baby’s body.”

She might as well have rolled her eyes, “It’s really not necessary.”

I begged, “Please. Please, do this for him.”

She’s pushed back, “Well, you’re probably going to be waiting all day to get the x-ray.”

I responded, “I don’t care. I don’t care.” So, hours passed, the x-ray eventually happened, and I got the bittersweet phone call.

I was right.

My son had a football-sized mass of poo in his little 3-year-old body. 

#2 – It’s a family affair.

It’s not only about your child.

It’s not only about you.

It’s not only about you and your child.

It’s not only about your child and his siblings.

It’s about your relationship with your other children.

It’s about your relationship with your partner.

No person is an island. Right?

The process of helping your child has to be something that your entire family owns. It doesn’t have to be something that your child feels badly about and carries on his shoulders alone.

My husband and I have never kept our son in the dark. We never kept our struggles private.

Our son was always part of the solution.

My husband and I were always part of the solution.

My child’s siblings have always been part of the solution. 

Recently, my middle child skipped the second grade. He has a fourth-grade brother. So his grade acceleration was going to impact his brother in a pretty big way. His brother was not happy about it. His brother didn’t want to answer questions from people. He didn’t want his brother to be that much closer to his space. I got all that, but we needed to be really proactive about it and to address it upfront so that we would be able to handle the issues that would come up down the line.

So we all own it.

I own it.

My husband owns it.

His siblings own it.

My child owns it and my child’s siblings own it.

We’re all in this together. It’s a family affair. 

#3 – Extreme behaviors are opportunities.

The extreme behaviors are what make your child amazing, unique, and what gives your child superhero powers.

These are the kids that are going to change the world.

These are the kids that are going to go against the grain.

They’re going to create things.

They’re going to do good in the world.

We have always viewed my son’s behavior in that way, no matter how bad, how ugly it has gotten. I’ve always viewed his extreme behavior so as not to squash those qualities that will make him a successful, amazing adult. 

This point is all about the behavior swap, a way to think about the behavior differently. Here are a few examples:

Your child is super bossy = Your child is a leader.

Your child has a one-track mind = Your child has conviction and knows how to make decisions and advocate for himself or his peers.

Your child is overly sensitive = Your child has a high emotional intellect & feels the world around him in profound ways.

I view my job as the parent to find ways to help a child manage those extreme qualities, help a child massage those qualities so that they’re used in ways that bring success, joy, happiness, meaning, purpose, calm. and confidence in life today and life as an adult.

Flip the lid on how you describe those behaviors, not as challenges, but as opportunities. View the behavior not as obstacles but as gifts. 

#4 – The solution is holistic in nature.

This challenge is not black and white. The solution is not a one and done application. There’s not going to be one parenting approach that is going to be the magic pill for you and your child. Literally, there is not going to be one medication that’s going to solve it all. There’s not gonna be a single course that solves all your family’s problems. Finding a way of life and learning that works for your family doesn’t happen overnight.

I view it as an à la carte. Read as much as you can. See what works for your family and what doesn’t work for your family, and take a step forward. Rinse & repeat.

Find a support network. Don’t view it just as cognitive behavior and coping skills. The challenging behavior is likely driven by a myriad of factors. Physiologically, eating, sleeping, so on.

Maybe your child isn’t sleeping well?

Maybe you need to get your child to be monitored while he or she is sleeping? Maybe he’s never in deep sleep, that could seriously impact his behavior at school, and his ability to learn, and so on.

Diet, for example, could potentially be a huge driver. We had our middle son’s gut tested. It was a huge move and the results were eye-opening. We discovered that our son’s body wasn’t absorbing iron and zinc. So, no matter how much iron he had to eat, his body was not absorbing iron, which is directly related to mood regulation. In addition, his body wasn’t absorbing zinc. The copper to zinc ratio is directly related to mood regulation, depression, anxiety, etc. The bacteria in your gut speak directly to the neurotransmitters in your brain.

This was another example of having to be an advocate for my son. When I demanded various tests from my pediatrician, she’s responded, “Oh, I’ve been practicing for 20 years, and I’ve never had a child with low zinc…” Not to mention that her assistant had to look up some of the tests.

The results came back and our pediatric nutritionist was spot on. So, we went on a 14-week protocol, eight weeks to clean up his belly, and the last six weeks were to supplement his body with the minerals that he had not been getting, the iron and the zinc. We saw immediate changes in his behavior.

So my point is, the “solution” is holistic. It’s a system. It’s a process that involves many factors: cognitive behavior therapy, coping skills, parent coaching, diet, sleep, emotional & social intellect, cognitive intellect, family, community, and so on.

Most of us who are parenting children that are particularly difficult often feel lonely and isolated. I can’t emphasize the importance of finding a community and support system to share information and to learn as much as you possibly can to help your child.

To conclude, 1) be an advocate for your child, 2) it’s a family affair, 3) view the challenging behaviors as opportunities, and 4) the solution is holistic in style. 

Marnie Craycroft

Marnie hails from Maine where she spent summers buried in sand and winters buried in snow. She is the daughter of a nearly four decade veteran of the public school systems. Teaching has always been a part of her life. She founded Carrots Are Orange in 2010.

Carrots Are Orange is a Montessori learning and living website for parents and teachers.

Marnie graduated from Wesleyan University in 1999 with a BA in Economics. She spent nearly a decade working in investment management. In 2006, she earned her MA in business from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

Marnie moved to the west coast in 1999 and currently lives in Boulder with her husband and three sons. She is Montessori trained. Her work has been featured on Apartment Therapy, Buzzfeed, PBS Kids, BabyCenter, the Melissa & Doug blog, Huffington Post, and WhattoExpect.com. Besides writing, passions include running (usually after her three sons), photography, and outdoor adventures.

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