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The Impossible Child - Page 2


I am struck silent by these descriptions of Evan. As a child psychologist, I've heard parents of so-called oppositional children describe similar behavior, and I've made scores of recommendations about how to handle these kids at home and at school--how to set limits, define boundaries, support change. My practice is full of parents and children burdened by their individual and shared failures; and I have based my efforts to help them on the unspoken belief that good parents raise good children, despite the inevitable problems that come their way. But, now my child is failing. Now, I'm questioning whether I know how to be a good parent. What can I tell Susan? I'm not the expert here. I have no suggestions to offer about how to entice or coerce my own son to cooperate.

For months, I have been feeling helpless as a mother and utterly without grounding as a psychologist and family therapist. I watch myself get tangled up in power struggles with Evan. I hear myself bully him in ways that I could never admit, let alone recommend, to my patients. I ask myself how I can expect a preschooler to control himself when I'm so out of control. I joke, half-heartedly, that the day is coming when I will have nothing more to offer families than a sympathetic ear and a sad story of my own.

At home, my husband and I constantly argue with Evan about the simplest everyday things: getting dressed, washing his hands, picking up his toys, turning off the TV, taking a bath, brushing his teeth, going to sleep. He ignores us, then complains, whines, resists, falls on the floor, cries, screams. Really screams. We try being firm, we try being playful, we repeat ourselves over and over again. Then we give warnings, threaten, yell.

Nothing is easy at our house. Everything is hard.

Now as I watch Evan with Rebecca, I recognize the battle lines that are being drawn. She reminds him of the rules. He insists that he needs a snack. She bargains with him and promises a break after he does more work. He falls out of his chair onto the floor. I roll my eyes. She asks, "Does it feel good to fall?" He doesn't answer, but the question intrigues me.

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