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“Difficult” Behavior in Children — How Much Is Too Much?

When I worked as a house parent of a group home, a lot of people said to me [after finding out what I did] things like, “Oh, you take care of difficult kids? I’ll go ahead and send mine over to you, then. Haha.”

They would laugh, and I would politely smile, but I didn’t find it particularly funny.

I mean, I get what they were trying to say.

They were trying to commend me for taking care of kids who were too tough for most people to take care of, whereas they were struggling just to care for their own two or three kids without losing their minds (which is normal, by the way).

People, in general, were trying to say, “Wow, dude. Good job for teaching a houseful of tough kids when I feel like I’m failing just with my own.”

I get it—I know they meant well. But what I wanted to say in return was, “Odds are, your children are nowhere near ‘difficult.’ They’re probably just average kids who drive you nuts because they’re your kids, and you’re they’re parents. That’s totally normal.”

What’s not normal is being eight years old and punching your mom in the back every time she tells you no.

Or being thirteen and ripping doors off their hinges whenever your dad says you can’t go out with your friends.

Or being six years old and tripping your peers every time the teacher’s head is turned because you have an impulse to hurt others that you cannot control.

It’s not “normal” (or common) to have anxiety and phobias as a small child,

Or to have anger and aggression to the point of scaring the people around you,

Or to be unable to sit in a chair for longer than eleven seconds as a school-aged child,

Or to turn your conscious mind off and become physically immobile whenever you’re upset,

Or to bang your head against the wall whenever you’re overwhelmed,

Or to lie so well and so often that you convince yourself of your own words’ validity.

None of those things are “normal,” guys. They don’t show up in the average child, and they usually signal something much bigger than a common behavioral problem. They usually can’t be remedied with different parenting tactics.

Most often, they require a doctor, a diagnosis, and a team of people [who have been professionally trained in either mental health disorders, special education, or behavioral disorders] to make things better.

At the group home I was in, almost none of the boys we worked with fell into the “normal” category. They were either severely depressed, extremely aggressive, mentally handicapped, or they had a psychiatric disorder such as pathological lying. If I think back to every boy we worked with, they all fell into one of those categories.

Amazing human beings—honestly, a couple of them were among some of the most incredible human beings I’ve ever met—but they still had some major hurdles to overcome.

When you think about your kid(s) being “difficult,” if they don’t fall into one of the categories I listed above, they might not be as tough as you feel right now. Are they still exhausting, frustrating, and overwhelming? Of course. They’re children. Child-rearing is not for the faint of heart.

But you might not need to lay awake at night worrying about what’s “wrong” with them. You can go to sleep confident that the behaviors you’re seeing in them now will not still be there in twenty years.

Yes, there are children who are more difficult than others to motivate into behaving well, but that’s another topic for another day. If you’d like more info on that, you can look for my next blog titled, “How to Motivate the Unmotivated Child.”

Until then, try not to worry so much!

Catch me next time on “Childhood Behavioral Concerns.”

“Difficult” Behavior in Children — How Much Is Too Much?

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2017). “Difficult” Behavior in Children — How Much Is Too Much?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 15, 2018, from


Last updated: 31 Oct 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Oct 2017
Published on All rights reserved.