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Cultivating Resilience: Parenting Tough Kids Isn't Easy

These 7 strategies can help harness your sensitivity, and your child's.

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Parenting a difficult child isn’t easy. Our anxious and emotionally sensitive children can be challenging for anyone, but especially if you are a sensitive, anxious parent yourself. You know you are supposed to be calm, and maintain firm limits, but your child seems inevitably able to push your buttons, and knock you off your game.

Beyond the daily challenges of managing their mood and behavior and your understandable concerns about your child, you are dealing with something really hard and a part of parenting that’s likely not what you expected. And this is affecting every area of your life: your marriage, your extended family, your friendships, and likely, your health.

It isn’t hard to feel stuck, and frustrated, and to lose perspective. Here are 7 key ways to reframe things so you can get back on your game.

1. Take stock of the impact: Parenting an anxious child is HARD. Even if you aren’t prone to anxiety, none of us are immune to the impact. Anxiety can show up as grumpiness and irritability, often because we are ignoring our physical and emotional needs. Where do you feel the most impact – are you getting enough sleep, eating the right foods, having any time to yourself or with your support system?

2. Commit to some form of self-care: There is a reason the airlines tell parents to put their oxygen mask on before helping others; if we don’t, we can’t help others. Wherever you are feeling the most fried is the place to start, even if it’s hard. Self-care isn’t optional. You need it, and your child needs to see you doing it so they can learn to do it too.

3. Beware of shame: you are doing the best you can, and textbook perfect parenting doesn’t exist in most families, even the professionals’. Dr. Winnecott famously coined the “good enough” parent in the 1950s and the concept that good enough is better than perfect has persisted. Perfection sets an unattainable standard for you, but actually harms your child in being unprepared for life’s inevitable disappointments.

4. When you make a mistake, embrace it so your child can feel safer embracing his mistakes too. Mistakes are part of life and provide some of the richest opportunities for growth. Focus less on mistakes, and more on what you do with them when they happen. Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, recalls as a child being asked every week by her father how she had failed, and learning that, “failure is not the outcome; the real failure was in not trying.” We have amazing opportunities to teach, and show, our kids the value of effort, and not taking the outcomes too seriously.

5. Celebrate the positive, where ever it is. Thanks to our negativity bias, and the anxious temptation to overgeneralize, finding and celebrating the positive is likely a whole lot easier said than done. Start small. Try doubling the positive you notice in a day. Or start and end the day with a short list. The more you notice, the more you will find, and practice makes habits. Training our minds to notice the positive is perhaps the most powerful thing we can do to be positive.

6. Self compassion: Compassion for yourself may begin with acknowledging your fatigue and recalibrating your priorities. And it may not be as easy as it sounds. It is easy to be kind to ourselves when things are going well; it’s much harder to this when things aren’t going well. Recognize your struggles, and recognize your progress. Look behind you if you can’t easily identify progress. Your effort is the key.

7. Forgive yourself, and your child: At the heart of forgiveness is empathy. Empathy for both of you. You are sensitive, deeply caring people who feel their emotions powerfully. Anxiety can be an uncomfortable experience, but can also be a great strength. Aim to recognize and harness that very strength.

Rest and recovery are important keys to resilience, but so is perspective. Keeping an eye toward progress, and learning from your challenges, can help keep your attitude strong.

Remember parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. And as one of my favorite colleagues likes to say, we are aiming to raise healthy 25 year olds. Keeping a long view can help you maintain the perspective you need to stay strong.

This post originally published on Dr. Clark's blog.

©Alicia H. Clark, PsyD


To be good enough - PubMed Central (PMC). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in ... (n.d.). Retrieved from