What You Need to Know About Your Difficult Child.

March 16, 2016

Sitting at her table, our hands wrapped around steaming cups of coffee, her story (shared here with full permission and approval) tumbled out.

Their son, a truly sweet kid, had been giving her and her husband a serious run for their parenting money - especially during the past 12 months.

His independent streak is a mile wide, and they were having epic parent/child clashes over matters large and small - all ultimately boiling down to topics revolving around independence and freedom.

They'd tried all sorts of parenting strategies, with neither rewards nor punishments ultimately reaching the underlying issue.

She found herself scraped emotionally raw and particularly vulnerable when issues of parenting comparison were raised, even innocently, by others. She began comparing every other child in their best public moments to her child in his secret worst moments and then counted herself a failure as a mother. 

It was the repeated gentle suggestions of a friend that finally had her picking up the phone and dialing the number of a recommended therapist - just for an informational interview, no promises she would consider anything further.

The therapist returned the call late one evening, and my friend, gripping the phone in her hand as she dashed out of the busy family room with dad and kids, locked herself in the bedroom and began a conversation that changed her life.

After a few thoughtful questions, the therapist began explaining the three primary personalities types found in bright children:

Affirmation children. These are the kids teachers and parents love because they are eager to please, eager to do what is asked, and eager to earn love through pats on the back and verbal kudos. These kids make parenting look easy, and this type of child was the perfect description of this woman's husband as a kid. Their weakness? The Nazi SS ranks were filled with grown up affirmation kids whose need for affirmation overcame their ability to stand against authority when it turned evil.

Social Interaction children. These kids have to be in the midst of the action. They hate being alone and desire to be with friends, family, and everyone else. These kids will do anything you want, as long as they get to be with people. My friend immediately recognized herself in that description - her childhood was spent surrounded by friends from an early age and that pattern had lasted into adulthood. She is vivacious; a woman who makes friends easily and keeps them forever.  The downside to these kids? Gangs and organized crime are filled with adults who were social interaction children and whose desire to belong is stronger than their ability to say no.

And the last, the therapist explained, are the Internally Motivated children. These are the kids who want to decide, from the earliest age, their own path and make their own decisions. They are the most difficult to parent because their motivation comes from internal sources, not external influences. Handled too harshly, these kids turn further inward and rebellious. Handled too gently, they go off the rails and get into serious trouble.

My friend, tears streaming down, whispered into the phone: "That is my son, perfectly summed up."

And the therapist responded, "Can I tell you the best thing about the internally motivated children? These are the adults who transported slaves along the underground railroad to freedom in the North. These are the adults who hid Jews in Nazi Germany at the risk of their own lives. These are the adults who will stand firm for righteousness and will not be swayed by public opinion. They are the hardest children to raise, and yet they are the children who will change the world."

The therapist said lots of other wise words that night, but it was the promise of world-changing potential spoken over her sweet, darling, oh-so-independent child that my friend has clung to in the days and weeks since that conversation.

And it isn't that she believes her son will be famous or "big" in his world-changing. So often, world-changing starts with small acts in quiet spaces. It requires courage and bravery and allowing God to be bigger than our scared little hearts.

It was that my friend finally caught a glimpse of the hope and the future that God has planned for the internally motivated son that he has given to an affirmation father and a social interaction mother to raise. She realized that her greatest legacy might very well reside in that 9 year old's body - and that, raised well, her son might do more wold-changing that his mother and father ever dreamed of doing.

And while not easy, her perspective has shifted and she has been reminded that God stands with us on this parenting journey. He knew, before our children were first placed our arms through birth or adoption, that they would be ours. He knew their strengths and weaknesses, just as He knows ours.

Friends, we do not parent alone. And, believe it or not, He will equip us to parent these crazy, sweet, independent little creatures in ways that exceed our skill sets, if we let Him.

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We would love to walk alongside you in encouragement, inspiration and community.

- Julie, Kendra, and Kristin


  1. "So often, world-changing starts with small acts in quiet spaces. It requires courage and bravery and allowing God to be bigger than our scared little hearts." Really great.

  2. Wow, this is such a powerful post for parents, thanks for sharing. So fascinating about the 3 personality types! And yes, thankfully we do not parent alone :) Stopping by from Tell His Story... blessings to you!

  3. I'm at the grandparenting stage of life, but raised one of the children you just described, who, as an adult, has a ministry in Ghana, West Africa.

  4. Thank you! I needed this today. I have three children. My oldest and youngest are not complient children but they are very well behaved -especially when in public do. My middle child he is a different story. He is 11 and is so selfish. He will ruin every outing we have. He destroys my home with his stuff everywhere and doesn't care. He is internally motivated and I feel he is very selfish. It is such a struggle. I find myself not liking my kid at all but also so happy with how smart and creative he is. I just can't handle the behavior anymore and nothing I do seems to help him change. This blog was helpful to me to know that I am not alone. I have prayed for years that God would help me on this journey. I guess I just need to keep praying.