Ok, let me just get this out of the way: of course, I kind of hate this title. To describe my children (or yours) as “difficult” – though they may be – makes me sad. Newer terms like “spirited” may seem on the surface as politically correct mumbo jumbo, but I’m sorry – if my sweet girls heard me describing them as difficult, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t do much to build them up. I’m a big proponent anyway of describing behavior instead of personality (i.e. “what you did was [good/wise/brave/etc]” instead of “you’re a good girl”).
That said, this book – or the first half of it anyway – is an excellent resource. It was recommended (and loaned) to me by the girls’ behavioral medicine doc. It was written decades ago, which is why I pretty much overlooked the outdated thought process and gross oversight on the title choice 🙂
Essentially, this is a book that thoroughly discusses the idea of temperament. We use the words “temperament” and “temperamental” often, but most people who are not pediatricians or behavioral specialists do not fully understand the difference between temperament and, say, mood or personality. A difficult temperament is not a diagnosis or a discipline problem. It has nothing to do with a person’s motivation or environment. It’s all about “how we’re wired”. Dr. Turecki describes the difficult child as one who is “more of everything”.
Over the past several decades – once it was finally determined that yes, some children are “easier” or “more difficult” than others (even in the same family and environment) – there have been several studies on character traits and temperament. These include things like activity level, self-control/impulsivity, concentration/distractibility, intensity, regularity/predictability, persistence (both positive and negative), sensory threshold, initial response, adaptability, and predominant mood. Even reading those, some of you may have been “categorizing” your children (or yourself) – and that’s probably normal, considering we all fall on a spectrum for each one of those traits.
Interestingly, studies have found absolutely no correlation between temperament and social class, birth order, intelligence, etc. Kids just are how they are 🙂 A “difficult” 5-year-old (as described by the book) may have the intelligence of an 8-year-old but the social maturity of a 3-year-old. He or she may have a mood that changes suddenly and for no obvious reason. A vicious cycle may occur because well-known methods of discipline don’t seem to work, causing dissension between children and parents and influencing what may already be a hereditarily low self-esteem.
So, huh. If I have two “difficult” children, what do I do? Let them do what they want because “that’s just how they are”? Of course not. Well, that won’t fly in this family, anyway.
The book – and our lovely therapist, and many other wonderful resources – goes on to talk about working on the “parent-child fit”. How do we recognize these character traits – especially those for which our children fall on one extreme or another? How do we recognize when we exude a different set of traits than our child(ren), and how might that affect our expectations and tolerance of their behaviors?
The second half of the book got into a “program” that, per Dr Bev’s recommendations – and because I could already tell they’d be outdated or perhaps at least not the best choice – I honestly didn’t do much more than skim over.
Overall, the first half of the book is a fascinating read. It’s widely regarded as one of the best overviews of this phenomenon that is incredibly important to understand. Thankfully, doctors, educators and the like are becoming more invested in this idea of temperament versus just medicating or labeling “wild” kids. In time, hopefully they can also educate parents because, as I know first hand, not understanding these things can cause a whole lot of unnecessary guilt and anxiety when you feel you have little control over your kids despite your best efforts.
Keep in mind if you check this one out – as I have mentioned, it is sorely outdated in some regards. The use of “difficult” is not the most offensive non-PC vocabulary choice. Others such as “retarded” and diagnosis-based descriptors (i.e. an “ADHD kid” versus a “kid with ADHD”) are worse, and there are incredible generalities made at times such as young parents struggling more than older parents, etc. Take those things with a grain of salt, and read the medical/scientific stuff that’s still incredibly cutting edge. 🙂
Something else to keep in mind? The book reminds us that Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison were all extremely “difficult children”. If you have a spirited child (or a couple), they’re in good company. 🙂