Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

Is your child different?

“Does positive parenting work with a challenging child?”

This is the most common question I hear from parents when I describe my approach to parenting.

Positive parenting is simply parenting that focuses on loving connection with the child rather than using control techniques like punishment and shame, so logically it should “work” with any human.

But with challenging children, parents are often desperate. They see that their child is “out of control” and they can’t imagine that there’s a compassionate way to get their child back on track.

Elaine Halligan’s new book – My Child’s Different – is the answer to this question. Her true story of her family’s journey with a child who is different (her son Sam) engages the reader from the start.

I'm honored to have contributed the foreword to this book and I highly recommend it to any parent who is struggling with a challenging child. 

Halligan's heartfelt account describes many incidents of anguish, embarrassment, and overwhelm, through to gradual discovery and growth, that allows the reader to experience travelling the very potholed road that is living with a child of difference. As this story unfolds, you see the transformation of an angry, struggling child into a capable, reflective, wonderful young man.

What makes that transformation possible is the transformation of his parents, who learn the positive parenting approach that brings out the best in their son. But this story is not just Elaine’s story (or even her son Sam’s). This story has the ability to shape the lives of other families, maybe yours.

If you have a differently wired child, you know it. You also know that your child doesn’t necessarily respond as other children do to the “strategies” suggested by all those well-meaning people who insist on giving you child-raising advice. Maybe you wonder at times how you can teach a child who at times seems impossible to reach? You may have a child who has a sensory processing issue, severe anxiety that leads to rages, or an attention deficit of some kind. Your child may be very bright but underperforming at school or not connecting so well with his peers. Your kid may be the one who is ALWAYS in trouble at school. Maybe she’s highly impulsive and has trouble managing her emotions and lashes out, beyond the age when others seem to manage theirs. Maybe he’s been diagnosed with dyslexia, high functioning autism or oppositional defiant disorder. Or you may not have any of the usual acronyms but your child’s temperament is so intense or sensitive as to set her apart from other ‘easier’ kids.

Children like this get used to constant negative feedback, correction and criticism. It’s not their parents’ fault – these kids are a handful and just getting through the day with them would wear out any parent. But by the time these kids get to school, their self-esteem is already eroded. Then, when they try to cope in school and find it hard – to focus, to learn, to manage their bodies and emotions – their frustration and anxiety explode.

Is there a way to respond to the behaviour of a child like this that helps them manage their anxiety and anger, that motivates them to persevere when learning is tough, that supports them to become their best selves? We know that the conventional parenting approach of reprimands, nagging, lectures, threats and punishment just makes things worse.

In this book, Elaine Halligan describes another way: the positive parenting skills that turned things around with her son. As Elaine and her husband Tony learned to use descriptive praise, Sam’s sense of self-worth started to improve, and as he felt more successful, he became more cooperative. When they began to validate Sam’s feelings of anger, hopelessness and frustration, he felt more connected to his parents and more motivated to follow their rules -- and he gained the capacity to manage his emotions more effectively. As they learned to respond constructively to unwanted behaviours without making Sam feel worse or damaging his self-esteem, he began to take responsibility and learn from his mistakes. And Sam blossomed, into a confident young man who became a leader at school and an entrepreneur in life.

This is a true story of what can be overcome when parents really believe in their child -- and what made the difference.



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