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We had a good bit of what we call “grumping” around our house in the spring and early summer. One of my children, in particular, was struggling with some emotional stability, overreacting to small frustrations and defiantly refusing to do 80% of the things he was asked to do. I was at my wits end!
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I started to write this post way back then, but it seemed unwise (and so like the internet) to hit publish before I had actually seen some progress and come out the other side. 
 
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Here is what I wrote back in June:
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This child seems to go from happy and cooperative to miserable in a second. Playing so well with his siblings, ready to tackle a new challenge, and then suddenly wasting an hour with complaining over a math lesson, not because it is hard, but because his pencil is broken. He’s normally resourceful, but as soon as his attitude starts to decline something small completely derails him. 
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What am I to do?
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I try to coach him through the moments. “Hun, you can just find another pencil, and if they have truly all disappeared you can ask me nicely to get a new one down.” “I know that you’re frustrated right now, but continuing to grumble about your schoolwork is only going to make you feel worse. Come on, try to smile and work for 5 minutes with a good attitude. I bet you’d be finished by then!” Of course, this approach which seems to work like magic with my other kids falls flat with “the grumpy one.”
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Sometimes the best thing to do is leave him alone for a few minutes. To be calm, collected and consistent with the consequences of not obeying. Of course, sometimes, that’s also the worst thing. I’ll check on him 10 minutes later and the attitude is worse then it was before. Sometimes he wants practical help, sometimes he wants to deal with whatever is bothering him on his own. I never seem to know which. 
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Is he acting out because of an unmet need? And if so, what could it be? He gets plenty of time with just my husband, and although I can’t get away one on one with him often, there are plenty of moments throughout the day when I’m available for a chat. Worse still, any extra “treats” and attention seem to make the behaviour worse.
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What am I not seeing? 
 
 
 
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Jesus, you are bigger than this child and his attitude. You are bigger than the circumstances. You love Him more than even I ever could. Can you get through where I am failing? 
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Thank you for the deep breaths in the midst of our hard days. Thank you that somehow I do manage to avoid yelling (usually). Things don’t seem to be getting better, but at least they aren’t getting worse. Please, give me wisdom and patience. Show me what to do next. Show me how to not just modify the behaviour, but reach the heart of a child whose eyes are not fixed on you. 
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8 Resolutions to Help my Grumpy and Defiant Kid

 
 

 

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I Will Eliminate Distractions

 
 
 
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After praying, I felt convicted that I am just too distracted during the day. It is totally possible that I am not listening well, and not observing the warning signs. If I put down the phone, and keep the laptop closed until later in the day, would I be able to intervene before he heads down a sinful path? It is also possible that he doesn’t feel free to ask for help before getting overwhelmed because I am otherwise occupied. 
 
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I need to pay attention! I need to be honest with myself, and realize that I am not a multitasker – If I’m online, I’m not dialed into what’s happening around me until a catastrophe forces me to change my focus. 
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It’s ironic how a little ding on my phone can pull my attention away from real-life, but to go the opposite direction, from the virtual world to real life takes a much greater amount of noise. That’s something to ponder. 
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I Will Stay Calm and in Control

 
 
 
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When I give into anger, I’m really giving him the control, showing that by his obstinance he can get a strong reaction from me.
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I will take the advice of Kirk Martin: remain calm, get lower, speak with control, or sometimes not at all. It’s better to maintain our relationship and let him get away with something once in a while than it is to freak out and damage our relationship. There’s already enough tension between us, I won’t create more. I will even just walk away if I must. 
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I Will Coach Them Through It (but won’t negotiate with terrorists)

 
 
 
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If he is open to being helped through a difficult moment than I will be there for him. However, if he shuts down or snaps I will not let him have the control. I will tell him I want to help and will be ready (when he’s ready) to listen. I will go and do something else, and check in 5 or 10 minutes later. 
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“Oh, I see you’re still not ready to talk, OK, I’ll check again in 5 minutes.” My tone will be firm, calm, and kind. I will think about Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee.
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I Will allow Space, in a Safe Place.

 
 
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The bottom step, a chair in the dining room, his room – when his attitude breaks down I will give him someplace to decompress without commandeering the whole household with his attitude; somewhere safe, within earshot. It’s a time-out of sorts, not with a specific time allotted, but for as long as it takes to gain control of his emotions and be ready to be part of family life again.
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I Will Apply Natural Consequences Whenever Possible

 
 
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If he fails to complete his math in the morning, he’ll need to miss out on free time in the afternoon to get it done. If he fails to complete his chores, he doesn’t get his allowance. If his chores aren’t completed well enough, he has to do them again. If he complains about dinner he gets one warning, and then his dinner is taken away.
 
 
When these consequences fail to produce a change, I will think harder.
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I will take away an anticipated outing in the future (playdates, camp, etc.), or I will confiscate a valued possession – whatever will get through to my child that this behaviour is a serious problem that must be dealt with. After a sober conversation with my husband first, and then the child, clear expectations and consequences will be outlined. I will follow-through, though it’s painful for my child and inconvenient for me. 
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I Will Pray, Pray, Pray

 
 
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Pray for him. Pray with him. Pray that his heart is regenerate. Pray that he sees the truth of God’s love more than his circumstances. Pray that he knows and relies on the Holy Spirit for help. Teach him to pray. When I feel anger rising and the atmosphere devolving, I will stop and pray aloud. I will set the example of relying on the Lord for grace, strength, wisdom, righteousness and all the Fruit of the Spirit. 
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I Will Prioritize Positive Connections

 
 
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On one hand, this particular child seems to behave worse after special attention, therefore I will have to avoid “dates” with ice cream or other treats for a season. 
 
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On the other hand, he needs to experience a positive connection with me. I will invite him to work alongside me baking bread, watering the garden, organizing, running errands. I will make sure I ask him about the books he’s reading and other interests – and actually listen and pay attention 
 
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I will be sure to hug him every day. Invite him to sit beside me for read-alouds and other positive physical connections – even when I don’t feel like it. 
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I Will Model the Gospel

 
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I will, to the best of my ability, love unconditionally. I will forgive freely. I will not bear a grudge. I will gently rebuke the sin while proclaiming love for the sinner. I will endeavor, in Christ’s strength, to show the same love to this child when they are struggling and when they are easy and delightful.
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I will humbly ask the Lord and my son for forgiveness when I fail to parent as I should. I will not pretend to be more holy, right or perfect (pfft!) than I am.
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An Update:

 
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After weeks of consistency, sober talks, consequences and positive connection I can say we are making progress. It is summer, so a little bit of the pressure is off, but I know his attitude has gotten better. Lately, a quick chat and a reminder that a bad attitude will not be ignored is all I really need to do to get him back on track. Thank you Lord! 
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Nonetheless, I know I’m in this for the long haul. It’s going to take time. A lifetime even. We all struggle with our attitude from time to time, why should I expect anything different from my child? All I can do is respond in love, be generous and give him tools to cope. And pray, always pray. 

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Hi, I'm Sara. Pastor's wife, mom to 5 rowdy homeschooled kids, and passionate about the Gospel. Welcome!

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