Reviewed by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
The Difficult Child describes a parenting program developed by the author, Stanley Turecki, M.D., and his colleagues. The program is an outcome of Turecki's work with thousands of families who struggle with raising difficult children, and is based on the groundbreaking New York Longitudinal Study, which defined nine temperamental traits. Turecki has added one more to trait to embrace all aspects of temperament and has modified the definitions to reflect what he's learned from families. These ten traits are: activity level, self-control, concentration, intensity, regularity, persistence, sensory threshold, initial response, adaptability, and predominant mood. According to Turecki, each person displays all ten temperamental traits along a spectrum. Behavior at one end of the spectrum signifies an easy child, while behavior at the other end can indicate a difficult child. Expanding upon that idea, the more traits that fall along the difficult end of the spectrum, the more challenging it is to parent such a child.
Turecki states early on that his intended goal is to guide families in preventing future problems. A questionnaire in the opening pages of the book assists parents to distinguish whether their child has "some difficult features," is difficult, or is very difficult. The questionnaire also helps parents key in on those areas in which their child is most difficult. An important underlying theme throughout the book is that no parent is to blame for the child's degree of difficulty. In Turecki's words, no evidence exists to support the claim that parenting styles cause a difficult temperament. Similarly, children are not intentionally difficult. Oftentimes, parents can feel that their child is acting out in order to "get back at them" or are motivated to "make their life arduous". In order to give parents a better understanding of their child, Turecki educates parents in how to effectively label the child's temperamental traits and then make the connection as to how these temperamental traits manifest into specific behaviors.
From this book, the reader comes to learn an innovative way of viewing challenging situations. As an example of this process (and one that is used in the book), a child begs and begs his father for a new toy, and, in the hopes of making his son happy and veering from the usual response of constantly saying no, the father stops by the store and purchases the toy. Anticipating much excitement from his son, the father gives him the toy only to find that the boy wants nothing to do with the toy - he will not touch it and throws a fit when the father encourages him to play with it. As a result, the father sees his child as difficult and never satisfied. And as mentioned previously, he believes his son is just trying to make his life difficult. On the other hand, readers of The Difficult Child can recognize that his child's initial response (one of the temperamental traits) is to withdraw, but with time and subtle reinforcement, the child will adapt to novel situations and things.
For parents raising a challenging child, it's known that the effects of such behavior are generally not isolated to one arena. The author understands the ripple effect of a difficult child on individual family members, the child himself, family dynamics, as well as surrounding communities, for example the child's neighborhood, church, and school. In fact, an entire chapter is dedicated to a discussion on the ways in which parent-child relations can affect, and be affected by, different environments. Parents are likely to appreciate the conversation regarding the myriad responses a mother may experience as a result of trying to successfully raise a difficult child, ways in which the marriage can be affected, as well as effects felt by the father. This chapter is not only useful exploring "the ripple effect," but also is reassuring to parents who may, conclusively, feel that they are not alone.
With so many current concerns regarding ADD/ADHD, the devotion to a full chapter on this topic is worthy of mention. This chapter, as a stand-alone, is filled with useful information, giving the reader a better understanding of ADD as a phenomenon. Turecki succinctly states that other than insurance, managed care, or class placement, there is no need for an official diagnosis of ADD. Rather, it's more important to understand if the child is suffering and what can be done to help.
A majority of the book discusses the program Turecki has developed for difficult children. He walks parents through evaluating the situation, regaining authority, managing temperament, and putting it all together. It is in these chapters that Turecki shares specific strategies for parents. Each suggestion is useful and applicable and Turecki is thorough in explaining how to utilize his program. Some readers may find the quantity of suggestions to be lacking and find those that are described rather basic. However, more important than the actual specific suggestions, is the description of why the suggested strategies work. Turecki focuses his attention on eliciting an understanding of what is driving the difficult child's behavior, rather than specific "do-this" instructions. As a result, parents are armed with the essential knowledge of how they can effectively raise a difficult child. Turecki importantly includes information on where and how to seek further help from professionals, if necessary.
The Difficult Child is a must-read for parents struggling with their child. Even for those children on the lower end of the "difficult" spectrum, the information included in this book is useful in better understanding any child. Additionally, the book is not exclusive to parents. Professionals working with children and other family members will likely benefit from Turecki's discussion of raising a challenging child.
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