My Story: Parenting THAT Child

Dealing with the embarrassment and shame of parenting an eager, hyperactive, and hands-on child

By Laura McElwain Colquhoun, publisher of Macaroni KID Pasadena-Severna Park-Glen Burnie, Md. October 1, 2021

🙋A show of hands, families: Who is a parent of THAT child?

You know, the child who loves to play with other children, but sometimes antagonizes, is hands-on, and pushes other children's buttons too? How about a child who has shown an interest and maybe even talent in music, but has been asked to not return to a music class because he was disruptive socializing with other children? Has your child one minute been playing beautifully with friends and then the next minute out of nowhere pull down their pants to try to be funny?

If these contradictions describe your child, read on. If you've felt YOUR friendships with other parents have been affected because of your child's bad behavior, read on. If you've felt you've been judged by friends, family, and strangers alike for your parenting decisions vis-à-vis your child's actions, I am here for you. 

I've been there for all of it with my 7-year-old son.  

You are not alone in being the parent of THAT child

I know you've read dozens of articles on how to handle bad behaviors. This article is NOT one of those. This article is how to help deal with the embarrassment such behaviors cause YOU as a parent. I know, I've been there for countless incidents, and I have lost friends as a result of my child's miscreant actions. It was an area of parenthood I could have never anticipated.  

A few months ago, I was yelled at by another mother whom I did not know. Our boys had just met on the playground and were playing together. She yelled at me in front of other kids and parents for a perceived lack of discipline when my child was being hands-on. Her harsh tone of voice and not-so-subtle judgment of my parenting left me stunned and later in tears.   

As I have worked through (and am STILL working through) my emotions around all these situations, I wanted to share my experiences and let you know you are NOT alone, all you mamas and daddies. I want to give you hope, encouragement, and love.  

5 coping techniques

I have also turned to my own insightful therapist, whom I have now seen for more than half of my son's life. She has been an incredible resource for me while raising my son. She has offered five coping techniques on how to deal with the humiliation and guilt caused by our children's behaviors and how to handle the friendships that are affected.  

1. We need to normalize the behavior

Children naturally test limits and boundaries. This is developmentally appropriate and important to remember.

2. Talk to a trusted friend — a friend who will not judge

Tell your friend what you need, even if that is just space to vent and have someone to share your experiences with.

3. Know when to take a break and know who you can ask for help

It is understandable that we need a break. Create a plan with your support system (partner, friends, family) to ensure you get time for yourself when possible.‌

4. Know when you or your child needs to leave a situation

It is always an option to end a play date, leave the pool, etc., if you are feeling that you or your child needs to leave a situation.

5. Find coping skills that work for you

This could include regular exercise, breathing techniques, empowering yourself by having a Plan B, or even meeting with a therapist to help manage stress.

‌Let me remind you that your child's behavior is not a reflection of poor parenting. I KNOW you have told your child umpteen times to keep their hands to themselves. Some of them just need to be told hundreds of times before it sinks in. And I also know that consistency can be emotionally draining.

Further, in the case of my child, whose secondary love language is physical touch, telling him to keep his hands to himself is almost akin to telling him to not show love and concern to his friends. Teaching him the proper boundaries is exhausting. I know the struggle well.

Look for the positives

When I'm able to step back and look at these situations without emotions running high, it helps me to keep the number or frequency of bad behaviors in perspective. If I was to be truly honest with myself (and what I would indeed tell a friend in my situation), the number of bad behaviors is actually a very small percentage compared to the number of times my child is sweet, thoughtful, and a good friend to others. Like anything embarrassing, it SEEMS the bad behaviors happen all the time, but in reality, it’s just not true. Also, when there are GOOD behaviors, I am much more appreciative, and I try to acknowledge them to my son to reinforce the good decisions.

To my mama friends who have stuck with me, understood, and loved me and my kid despite some bad behaviors, I see you and appreciate you more than words could ever express. If you don't yet have any supportive mamas or daddies in your tribe, count me as your first! I get you — you ARE doing a great job at the toughest job of all! 💞

Laura McElwain Colquhoun is the publisher of Macaroni KID Pasadena-Severna Park-Glen Burnie, Md.