By Andrew Gibson, Ph.D.,
author “ Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike-A Seriously Difficult Child”
On the web at DrAGibson.com and blogging at Gotanangrykid.com
All Rights Reserved.
The more Spike’s parents understand him, the more they understand that he is in control of them. This isn’t comforting, but it is accurate. The problem is, of course, they don’t understand him at all: he is ten years old, out of control, can’t be governed by reward or punishment and owns the place. Since they don’t understand him, they completely miss the fact that he is in control. But just look at the facts: He draws all attention to himself to the irritation of everybody else. He does outragous things and no one can figure out what to do about them, other than to get angry. He leaves everyone fuming by his antics. He is threatening, disrespectful and often a liar. He gets the school upset, and on and on. We aren’t going to figure out why Spike is the way he is; that is an issue for therapy. If wise, we’ll just accept it. What we will do, instead, is try to understand one of his techniques: his ability to surprise his parents.
Spike seems to be one step ahead of everyone. He is negative, so his parents try to be positive. They end up thinking in opposite directions. As a result, they underestimate him. They struggle to convince themselves that he really isn’t as awful as he is. Except he is. Reality is too tough to bear. Thus, they set themselves up for surprises.
There is no defensible reason why his parents should be surprised by anything Spike does. They’ve had lots of experience with him. But they allow surprise; repeatedly. It’s called denial, caring or wishful thinking. Take your pick. On top of that, Spike’s parents may say, “He can’t help himself. He’s ADHD, you know.”
ADHD may be accurate but any diagnosis tends to give parents something they can hide behind. They say, “ Whew! That’s a relief. He got himself a disease and there is nothing either of us can do about it.” Unfortunately, kids tend to grow into their psychiatric labels, not away from them. This doesn’t mean that parents should give up hope, though many do. It means they need to have their eyes wide open so that hope can happen. Hope based on fantasy won’t work. Hope based on an honest understanding of Spike will.
In practice Spike is able to play his parents. He sees their hesitation, confusion and their wishful thinking. He manipulates them under their noses. Imagine that you are walking up a stairway. You turn a corner, Spike jumps out and says, “BOO!!”
Pretty funny, huh? But Spike’s parents don’t catch on. They act surprised. He thinks they’re stupid and isn’t shy about saying so. But they aren’t stupid. They are frazzled, depressed and snagged by life’s challenges. But they don’t think strategically because they can’t accept him the way he is. They need to. It’s their only hope. When they do, they will prepare themselves for the liklihood of him jumping out and saying, “BOO!” When they do, they won’t be surprised and spike won’t get the satisfaction of watching their reaction.
Spike’s surprises aren’t generally of the “BOO!” variety; they are often acts of simple meanness. He takes things further than anyone else. He reacts quickly and dramatically to small events. He catches his folks flat-footed. Spike trumps whatever his parents do and raise the ante. He knows no limits. Limits are for everyone else. Consequently, he is always one step ahead. Then they get surprised and say that can’t believe whatever happened, happened.
Huh? Can’t believe it? Why not? Becaue they don’t want to. If Spike’s parents understood that he controls everything around him, they’d have a plan. They have to think ahead, understand how Spike is likely to behave and act accordingly. It isn’t difficult but it does take vigilance. It takes accepting Spike the way he is right now while planning for things to be better. Accepting Spike the way he is does not mean giving up. It means beating Spike at his own game.
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, in 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. Her invites you to find him on the web at DrAGibson.com and to visit his blog at gotanangrykid.com.