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Parenting Spike: The seriously difficult child- Dad doesn’t understand why his kid is so awful?

by Andrew D. Gibson, Ph.D.

Frank in Hartford asks, “ My kid is horrible. I don’t understand it. What did we do wrong?” This guy has a ten year old by the name of Spike who is miserable to live with. Frank may or may not have done anything wrong. It is sometimes hard to figure. Take the dilemma to a counselor or therapist and talk about it. They may be able to figure something out. What they come up with may or may not be accurate. It will seem logical, whatever it is but logical isn’t necessarily truth. Frank will probably have some sense of satisfaction that he at least think he know what he is dealing with.

However, knowing the problem is not the same thing as doing something effective about it. Most kids grow into their label, not away from it, because the treatments that they and their families are given are ineffective. It isn’t because people who give out those treatments don’t care; they do. It is just that the problem is tough. Maladjustment is often sort of like a fatal case of cancer; there are lots of treatments that help to keep you comfortable and may be even to slow down the spread but you are still going to die.

It is entirely true, however, that the longer Frank lives with Spike, the worse his son will get. Sounds mean and accusing, doesn’t it? This is not about blame. It means that in an effort to get some controls round Spike, we end up making the situation worse because what we do in the name of parenting enables the problem, doesn’t discourage it. That is because you use techniques (albeit an exaggerated form of them that are best applied to the normally developing kid. Yours isn’t. We frustrated-mancan yell at the normally developing kid once in a while and we get compliance. Same for a rotten tone of voice, or sarcasm or any of a host of other things we do when we get upset. The kid may not like them but he isn’t going to go off the deep end. He will comply. Yet you apply those same techniques to the abnormally developing kid and you’ve got serious problems. It takes a long time to understand this dilemma.

So ultimately, it does not matter what the problem is. Knowing probably isn’t going to change anything. Frank can, if he will, make big changes in his life and the life of his son Spike if he will just learn to back away. He shouldn’t allow himself to get sucked into Spike’s meanness and unkindness. Anytime Frank finds himself returning fire for fire, he has lost. And Spike loses the most. Frank needs to get beyond his own anger. If in reading this over Frank feels blamed, he will never be able to get Spike to overcome himself. If, however, he feels responsibility, he can achieve a lot. Much depends on Frank’s frame of mind.

About The Author

Dr. Andrew Gibson was born in Detroit at the close of WWII. He grew up in the midst of farming country in central Michigan. Both parents were teachers. He keeps a picture of his childhood companion, Wags, to this day (you had to see the tail to appreciate the name). After discharge from the Navy after the Viet Name war, he graduated with a BA and MA from San Diego State University and earned his Ph. D from the University of Connecticut. He has taught at Portland State University, n Portland Oregon, at the University of Maine, Presque Isle and at SUNY New Paltz. He resides in Eastern Connecticut, with his wife of 41 years, where he conducts a private practice in parenting seriously difficult children. His book “Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike-A Seriously Difficult Child’ is the first of a series examining seriously difficult children at various age and emotional disturbance levels. He invites you to find him on the web at

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