How do you deal with a difficult child?


So your child is being difficult? You’ve tried everything but their behaviour just seems to be getting worse. You’ve banned computer games, you’ve taken away prized possessions, you’ve lectured them, you’ve shouted at them, you’ve offered rewards but still your child isn’t doing what you want. You’re at the end of your tether and you just don’t know what to do.

Sometimes just connecting with a difficult child can improve things.  So how do you connect with your child if their defiant, aggressive and uncooperative?

Instead of seeing yourself as a parent that needs to control your child’s behaviour, see yourself as person who is helping your child to manage their emotions. Shifting your mindset to see yourself as an emotion coach rather than a disciplinarian can change the dynamic.

When children are being defiant, aggressive and uncooperative, it’s probably because they’re feeling angry and unloved. You might say, ‘How can my child possibly feel unloved? I adore them.’ However, if you’re not connecting with your child, they may certainly feel misunderstood.

Mirroring your child’s emotions can help you feel connected. This means that when they’re angry, happy or sad about something, you show understanding and empathy.


Recently, my son seemed angrier and more defiant than usual. It was the end of the half-term at his new school and he was tired. I had also started a new job and was stressed. I decided I needed to spend more time connecting with him. So when he said he was angry that his friends had messed up the Minecraft Lego models that he built, instead of playing it down, I showed him that I understood his feelings. The conversation went like this:

‘Last time my friends came round, they messed up my Minecraft Lego.’

‘That’s really annoying.’

‘Yes, and they took this bit off and I can’t find the piece to it back together again.’

‘How annoying is that.’

‘And now some of my Lego is mixed up,’

‘They mixed your Lego up.’

‘Yes, it was the worst day of my life.’

‘It must have felt like the worst day of your life if all your Lego got messed up.’

‘Yes, I never want my friends to do that again.’

‘Next time your friends come, we’ll have to put any  Lego sets away that you don’t want them to touch.’

‘Yes, we could do that.’


At the end of the conversation, my son seemed satisfied that he’d been understood. Sometimes, when I have tried to minimise any anger or upset he feels, it has fueled his negative feelings rather than diminishing them. Mirroring his feelings helped him to reflect on what he was actually saying and showed him that I understood how he felt.

It is also important to mirror positive feelings. For example, when he said he was excited about going to a restaurant, I showed that I felt excited too. When he talked to me about a computer game, I listened to what he felt about the different characters and tried to connect with what he was saying.

After just a few days, I noticed that he seems more cooperative and happy.


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