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The 6 Stages of Parenting a Child with Challenging Behavior


There is a process of parenting a child with challenges.

Whether your child ends up diagnosed as being “on the spectrum”, or if your child has an extreme and intense personality, is beside the point.

At the end of the day, we have an opportunity to celebrate all these differences for what the qualities really are – superpowers.

At least that is how I like to think about it.

The 6 Stages of Parenting a Child with SPD

My process of parenting a child with an explosive, angry, aggressive, and rigid personality went something like this:

The 6 Stages of Parenting a Child with SPD

#1 – Denial

At 2 years old – “Huh, THIS is the terrible twos, ” I thought to myself wondering why his older brother never had “tantrums” that lasted more than an hour. I called this phrase “denial” and perhaps there was a bit of denial at the end but really it was me not having a clue about what the behavior meant or how to help him. I am being truthful.

#2 – Self-Doubt

At 3 years old – I felt all eyes were on me in every part of my life no matter if we were at the grocery store or at home with extended family, I internalized every single one of his meltdowns as my failure as a parent. No matter if it was my sister, my mom, my husband – his behavior was a direct result of me totally screwing up. #truth

#3 – Anger

Somewhere between 3 and 4, I began to become more and more angry at my child and at myself. I couldn’t understand why he behaved in these extreme ways and I had zero ideas for how to respond to him effectively. Not to mention the impact he was having on our family and his siblings, especially. I don’t remember much about this time because, well, we all know what anger does to our brains, right? I just remember feeling helpless, resentful, and full of shame.

#4 – Knowledge

Around the same time, I began to gather lots and lots of information from the blogosphere, therapies, books, friends, and online forums. This stage was all about educating myself and building a supportive community around these parenting struggles. We’ve explored a variety of therapies and parent coaching over the year. I wanted knowledge and communication tactics for my back pocket.

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#5 – Acceptance

Around 5 years old, I experience an acceptance I didn’t anticipate. This is the “it is what it is” stage. I could either play the cards life handed me, or I could be miserable, unhappy, and closed in my relationship with my spouse, my kids, my extended family, and my friends. So, I chose to embrace his qualities as gifts. The challenges he faces day to day are difficult but the qualities that drive him to this behavior are what makes it unique and great. He is fiercely loyal, detail oriented, organized, and has executive functioning skills off the charts. His ability to read people’s emotions is undeniable. These qualities translate into an adult being able to make thoughtful decisions, to have conviction, and to advocate for himself.

Related Post: What I Learned from Raising a Challenging Child

#6 – Empowerment

This stage is the fun one. After accepting the situation in the previous stage, I felt more confident than ever in parenting my son. Now, my goal is to train him on the FACT that his extreme qualities that bring obstacles to his daily life are the same qualities that will bring him success and happiness in life. Without acceptance of these qualities and celebration of these qualities, there is little chance of becoming a happy, well-adjusted adult. I will find ways to embrace his extreme qualities time and time again.

In fact, I already have a set of “back pocket” responses when encountering one of these extreme qualities. Take the negative and turn it into a positive, the challenges into strength, and the obstacles to opportunities.

I will share those ideas with you in the next post.

A few resources to help you guide your child with extreme behavior

Thanks for reading!


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