A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book Review: The Difficult Child Part 1

(I anticipate that this will be the first of a series of reviews on this book)

I don't read that many parenting books. I'm not sure why. I have a vague sense that I probably should but then there are so many interesting books out there that I tend to avoid self-help screeds. Plus I know a genius child health nurse parenting mentor that I regularly badger with questions. Perhaps for a few years now I haven't had that sense of desperation that drives people to seek answers... that is, until quite recently.  Still, I've read a handful of parenting books in the last 9 nine years and all of them have been helpful in varying degrees. But I've never experienced so many light bulb moments as I have with The Difficult Child.

[Update: It's an unfortunate title really, because I think, as YN says below, that every parent could really benefit from reading this book. It's a very practical behaviour modification resource.]

It isn't even that everything in the book is earthshatteringly new but the notion that one should parent according to temperament is not something I've heard a lot about or thought much about. While the Love Languages series is terrific and has at its heart sound principles of relating to those closest to you, it doesn't necessarily deal with a specific kind of child. A child who doesn't quite respond to the usual parenting tricks. This is where Stanley Turecki's book comes in.

To understand the premise of the book, it is crucial to engage with the simple but insightful questionnaire that forms the basis for the author's approach. I have reproduced it in full here and linked to Turecki's website.

FAMILY QUESTIONS          Answer “YES” or “NO”
1. Do you find your child hard to raise?
2. Do you find the child's behavior hard to understand?
3. Are you often battling the child?
4. Do you feel inadequate or guilty as a parent?
5. Is your marriage or family life being affected by the child?
The headings below identify possibly difficult areas of your child's temperament (his or her innate makeup). Rate your child, in an overall way, on each item, using this scale:
0 = No problem (never present or just a little)
1 = Moderate problem (sometimes present)
2 = Definite problem (often present)
3 = Extreme problem (nearly always or always)
Rate from 0 to 3 

HIGH ACTIVITY LEVEL: Restless, squirmy, fidgety; always into things, "hyper," makes you tired; "ran before he walked"; easily overstimulated; trouble sitting still or playing quietly; "motormouth"; hates to be confined; easily gets wild or "revved up."
IMPULSIVITY: Acts without thinking; quick hot temper, easily frustrated; impatient, excitable; interrupts, calls out, doesn't await turn; grabs or pushes; can lose con­trol and become aggressive; can suddenly take off~
DISTRACTIBILITY: Has problems focusing and paying at­tention, especially if not really interested; trouble fol­lowing instructions; doesn't "listen," tunes you out, daydreams; disorganized, forgetful.
HIGH INTENSITY: Loud voice; forceful, overwhelming; strong emotions whether miserable, angry or happy.
IRREGULARITY: Unpredictable body rhythms; can't tell when he'll be hungry or tired, resulting in conflicts over meals and bedtime; wakes up at night; erratic toilet habits.
NEGATIVE PERSISTENCE: Very strong-willed, stubborn; goes on and on nagging, whining, or negotiating if wants something; relentless, won't give up, wears you down; gets "locked in"; may have long tantrums.
LOW SENSORY THRESHOLD: Physically, not emotionally sensitive; highly aware of color, light, appearance, texture, sound, smell, taste, or temperature (not neces­sarily all of these); "creative," but with strong and sometimes unusual preferences that can be embarrass­ing; bothered by bright lights and loud noises; particu­lar, picky; clothes have to feel or look right; doesn't like the way many foods look, smell, or taste; feels too cold (or too hot) when no one else does.
INITIAL WITHDRAWAL: Shy and reserved with new adults and/or children; doesn't like new situations and unfa­miliar settings; holds back or protests by crying, cling­ing, or tantruming if forced to go forward.
POOR ADAPTABILITY: Has trouble with transition and change of activity or routine; inflexible, notices minor details; gets used to things and won't give them up; can want the same clothes or foods over and over; "creature of habit"; even after initial response takes a long time to adapt.
NEGATIVE MOOD: Serious, doesn't show pleasure openly; not a sunny disposition.
FAMILY “YES”        CHILD                        CONCLUSION
   0-1                    +    4-7 points              =    Some difficult features
   2-3                    +    8-14 points            =    Difficult child
   4-5                    +    15 or more points   =    Very difficult child

I experienced my first light bulb moment when I completed this questionnaire some weeks ago. The 9 year old scored very highly in the High Intensity, Distractibility and Low Sensory Threshold areas which caused me to recall various incidents during her childhood which had completely bewildered us. Her distractibility I've already blogged about but in the area of low sensory threshold, another penny dropped.
Once while she was about 4, my parents and I took her to see the Chinese New Year festivities at a local shopping centre. Everytime a dancing lion waltzed past us, she clutched onto me in sheer terror for her life. During her preschool year, her teacher told me later that the 9 year old, then about 5, had to be taken out of the Chinese New Year festivities and into the principal's office because she was utterly terrified by loud noises accompanying the dances. Rubbish trucks would drive past our home and she would cry and cower in fear. Same thing every time we turned on the vacuum cleaner -- she would take off like a rabbit into another part of the house and close the door behind her. I've also come to see the rationale behind her incessant blinking with flash photography and her inability to pose for photos without a great deal of discomfort in the sunlight.

The truth is, I never realised that any of this was related to her make-up. I thought she was just being oddly "difficult" (a kink) for the sake of being difficult. I think I needed to know that this was something I had to work around rather than try to fight at every turn. Reading this book has reminded me that behaviour modification is as much important for parents as it is for children.


  1. This sounds very interesting! Looking forward to more reviews! Would be a good read even if one doesn't have a difficult child oneself, but as a good source of background information.

  2. Great review! Parenting to personality and individuality is such a challenge - especially when a child is so different from ones-self.


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