Problem Child: There’s One In Every Family (Part 1)

I was my parent’s problem child (that’s to say my halo was slightly crooked, not completely broken off). For many years, I had been called “stubborn”, while my youngest sister was called “determined”.  When I asked my mom why she used different terminology for us, she just smiled.

Watching my own children grow, I’ve found that difference.  My offspring all (to varying degrees) have that quiet, inner refusal to budge an inch when he or she doesn’t want to.  Every now and again, a child will use that refusal to quit to accomplish a goal (hello “determined”).  But mostly it seems my husband and I breed mules.

Preschool Teacher:  Number 3 got sent to the office today for refusing to color.  That girl has a stubborn streak as long and as wide as Texas!

Number 3 ended up with several sign-offs a week for refusing to do certain activities she wasn’t fond of.  This is when we began to bribe our kids: If you don’t get any sign-offs in the whole week, you can stay the night at grandma and grandpa’s house.  Problem solved.  Soon, she was going with the flow at school and enjoying herself.  My husband and I congratulated each other on our deft parenting skills, and thanked my parents for offering sleep-overs as a reward for good behavior.

While we were still patting each other on the back, Number 4 entered Preschool…

It’s just preschool, right? These guys are barely potty-trained, and now we expect them to act like mini adults who like to color.  If a three-year-old has a hard time adjusting from being the center of the universe, there really isn’t anything to worry about.  He’ll catch on… right?  Eventually??  That’s what we thought.

Number 4’s misdeeds usually centered around a refusal to stop playing.  The kid was (and still is) a Master Player; he could play with anybody, doing anything, for as many hours as can fill a day.  He wouldn’t stop playing.  I would physically have to stop him from moving (usually accomplished by strapping him into his car seat) in order to get him to take a nap.  At night, he would sleep like a lamp (Brave Little Toaster, anybody? The lamp… he’d just go out… like a light?).

Number 4 was still getting sign-offs more days than not in Pre-Kindergarten.

One day, he cut a snippet out of a little girl’s ponytail instead of the paper the class was given.  Obviously, the kids were all using safety scissors that the teachers passed out for that activity.  It wasn’t a lot, but the girl’s parents freaked out and called to shame me.  My favorite lines were, “What kind of parent lets a four-year-old take scissors to school?” and “I work at the High School, so I know what kind of delinquents boys like your son turn out to be.” From my vantage point, at home with baby Number 5, I was able to giggle at the overwrought mother and her Only Child Problems.

Kindergarten began with the hope that our problem child would be a little more mature and cooperative.  Kindergarten ended with dashed hopes, and his teacher’s early retirement.

Since then, we’ve changed schools, teachers have given him to other teachers in the same grade, and two more of his teachers have retired (one of those in the middle of the school year).  We’ve tried rewards & punishments, bribes & ignoring behavior, psychological testing & reverse psychology.  Teachers who are confident and positive when the school year begins grew quickly frustrated and impatient with his miniscule progress.

If it’s fun, he’s there! If it’s work… forget it.

Don’t get me wrong, Number 4 is a great kid, and an incredible big brother (to his 3 smaller brothers).  He reads to them, blows bubbles for them, plays with them endlessly, and even takes charge of them.  This kid makes us laugh with his witty sense of humor, and even surprises us with his thought process.

“What if people are just dirty germs on the globe?”

“I think when you drink water, it goes down into a dirty dumpster (points to lower abdomen), and comes out yellow.”

Number 4 is also very smart (the psychologist said this is half his problem).  He got the game, Lazer Maze, for Christmas last year, and watching him solve the puzzles so quickly makes my brain hurt (‘course, abstract thinking along the lines of traffic directions is always difficult for me).  This guy is just so lacking in motivation to do anything he doesn’t consider entertaining (the other half of his problem, so says the psychologist), that it’s not even funny.

*PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE*

4th Grade Teacher: Did you do ANY of the division worksheet?

Number 4: No.

Teacher: *sigh* Doesn’t it get boring sitting in class all day doing nothing?

Number 4: Well, somehow, I find a way to entertain myself.

problem child, mom of seven, pirate child

Up until the most recent addition to our family, if something went wrong in our family outings, Number 4 was at the heart of it.  I have stories… lots of stories, but they make me look bad, so you don’t get to hear them all.

Despite his low Give a S#it Meter, our problem child has a BIG heart…

…even when he was diligently repeating the last word in every sentence anyone in the car uttered.  His sister got so annoyed that she threw her volleyball at his head as soon as we were finally released from the car at home.  I couldn’t blame her; I was one more repeated word from being driven to drink.  As I opened my mouth to suggest throwing the ball lower than his head next time, I dropped my keys.  My problem child was there in a flash and picked them up for me; totally redeeming himself in my eyes.  I said, “Thank you, sweetheart!”  He said, “Heart”.

I'd love to hear what has worked for you!