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Three Ways to Encourage Your Challenging Child

Encourage Your Challenging Child


If you have a challenging child in your family, then you know they’re not always easy to connect with. Building and maintaining a close bond with kids who seem difficult to get along with can be, well . . . challenging.

As hard as it can be on some days, though, connecting with the little (or not so little) ones that are capable of pushing us to the brink of insanity is vital. They are brilliant people uniquely designed by God! One of the greatest ways to connect with our challenging children is to encourage them. They possess creativity and drive that we may not fully comprehend, but we should still be their biggest chearleaders.

I am certainly not an expert on dealing with difficult children. I’m not a therapist or researcher; I am a parent. I know my own children – at least on some days! They’re not always predictable. Through trials and failures, I have picked up on a few things that encourage my most challenging child and take the edge off the struggle.

Of course, every child is different . . . these things may mean nothing in your situation. I’d love to hear in the comments below how you encourage your challenging child. My examples will reflect that my current challenger is a pre-school girl, but the principles can be applied at any age.

Three Ways to Encourage Your Challenging Child

Challenge Them

Challenging kids love a challenge! Let them do things beyond what you might normally expect or allow at that age. Give those busy brains and bodies a problem to work through and conquer. The challenge could be:

  • physical – miles to run (my 4 year old would run 2 miles with Dad!), number of jumping jacks or pushups to do
  • mental – various types of puzzles and riddles; an organizational quandry to sort out
  • time-based – beat the timer or a parent while doing a task
  • skill-oriented – master a sport, craft, instrument or life skill
  • involve risk – my challenger loves danger! For her, this means being allowed to help at the stove, carry glass objects, climb high and ride her bike crazy

Praise and celebrate the successes. Encourage and affirm their efforts. The payoff doesn’t have to be immediate. It can be something that they work toward over time.

Give Responsibility

Give them a job and trust them to do it. Challenging kids want to know they’re needed. This is going to look different for everyone. Giving tasks in the moment works best for us right now.

Hey, I’m making dinner. I need you to run downstairs and get me a bag of pasta. Oh, that’s great. Thank you so much. Now I want you to put napkins and forks on the table so it’s all ready for us to eat.

Praise and thank them for making your job easier. Tell others how much you appreciate their contribution to the family.

Find Humor

Start by looking for fun, relatable stories. I was recently at a workshop with Martin Cothran (a respected leader in the field of Classical Education). In the midst of his presentation, he made a comment that confirmed something I’ve noticed here at home.

One of the best things you can do for kids who are a handful is give them books about kids who are handfuls!

Now, I’m not at all a fan of books that magnify or glorify poor behavior. However, we have discovered a few picture books that seem to resonate with our daughter. They manage to capture the essence of her character with humor and understanding without sacrificing respect or consequence.

She loves to hear them read. (So do the siblings who put up with love her!) Laughing at the character’s antics reminds us that we can also look for humor in our own tense situations.  Sometimes, when we’re about to go head to head, we can ease the tension by quoting from a story or saying one of the character’s names.

If I say, “Harriet . . . ,” my challenger will start to grin and say, “You drive me wild!” Then we can all giggle, breathe and move forward without falling apart.

Here are some of our favorites. They obviously reflect the fact that our current challenger is a pre-school girl! If you have suggestions for boys or other ages I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Betty Bunny Series


Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild


Noisy Nora


Connecting with challenging children doesn’t come easy, but every time we encourage them we’re one step closer.

How do you encourage your challenging child?


Shared at: Booknificent ThursdayLiteracy Musing MondayWhat To Read WednesdayGrace & TruthThoughtful ThursdaySaturday SoireeTuesday Talk, Work In Progress, Coffee and Conversation, Women With Intention, Fellowship Friday, Thank Goodness It’s Monday, Art of Homemaking Monday, and Modest Monday.


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  1. I’m having a really hard commenting on this post, but I love it so much so I keep trying. I can’t remember all I’ve said in my other attempts, but please know how much I loved this post. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday this week!

  2. I think these are great tips. I enjoyed reading Gary Paulsen books. They are definitely great for reluctant boy readers. They are full of adventure and challenge. For boy and girl tweens, I recommend the Warrior books by Erin Hunter. Thanks for linking up with us at Literacy Musing Mondays.

  3. Love the idea of Children’s books about kids that were a challenge or thought “different”. I love to read to my children about Thomas Edison, because his teachers told him he was too rattled to learn and sent him home. My most favorite book to read to them is called “On a Beam of Light”. It’s about Albert Einstein from his childhood days. Very inspiring.

    • Thanks so much for the suggestion, Amy. I’ll have to add that to “read-aloud” list. I love to read the kids stories of historical figures, especially when they include their childhood. My 8 year old enjoyed a book by Marguerite Henry about Robert Fulton recently.

  4. Great ideas. I have a challenging child and I also find that praising them for what they do well goes along way. Thank you for sharing. You are being featured this week at What to Read Wednesday on Paradise Praises. 🙂

    • Praise definitely goes a long way to encourage the challenging kids; we must remember to tell them what they do well, not only what has to change! Thanks for the feature, Katie. I appreciate it.

  5. We have a very challenging child. This one takes more energy than the others out together, but is such a blessing to have around. I’m learning to challenge this child by steering the passionate tendencies toward things of the Lord. It keeps me on my toes & has helped me dig my heels into my faith a lot. Watching the little heart be molded by Him is so beautiful. God has great plans for that one! 🙂

    Thank you for sharing at Grace & Truth again! I enjoy reading from you, Abi!

    • Thanks, Kaylene. Yes, our challenging ones sure do have qualities that will be a great asset to the kingdom of God. Pointing their hearts in that direction and praying for His work on their lives is crucial. May God give you grace and strength as you shepherd that little heart.

  6. Our challenger needed us to apply the wisdom of the 5 love languages by Gary Chapman. Once I began to intentionally apply her love language (words of affirmation), her behavior completely reversed!

  7. Brittany at EquippingGodlyWomen.com says:

    I love this! So many times we hear the advice to just let it go and choose our battles–which can be appropriate at times. But sometimes kids really are challenging because they need more!

    • Yep! Put one of the twins in charge of planning, making and serving breakfast for everyone this week – requires a little more of me initially, but in the long run, huge benefits all around.

  8. Great ideas! 🙂 Thanks for linking up at Women With Intention Wednesdays!

  9. So great ideas. One thing I’ve always done with my one son who is challenging is to let him run and run and run. He really needs to let out all of that excess energy.

  10. Thank you for the reminder. I needed it 🙂

  11. Such good advice! I love the positive spin on things!

  12. The Peaceful Haven says:

    Such a great and encouraging post Abi! I totally agree…I especially liked the literature that your incorporated!

    • Thanks, Janelle. I love books (thankfully, my kids do too), so literature seems to figure into a lot of what we do!

  13. Trena Quesenberry says:

    Challenging my oldest child is by far the best way to encourage him. He loves to build things with Legos, and is quite good at it, so I’ll think up things for him to build. He concentrates so hard! He has a God-given ability to work with his hands.

    • It’s great that you can see the unique talents God has given your son and capitalize on those, Trena. Watching how the kids execute a building (or any other) challenge intrigues me. I have a son who enjoys Lego challenges too.

  14. One of my children is definitely more of a challenge. Your suggestions of challenging and giving responsibility work so well with him. To say he doesn’t enjoy reading would be an understatement, but I love how you use humor from your best loved books to break the tension. That’s great!

    • Glad you stopped by, Kamea. Its encouraging to know that you’ve had success with these principles. Hope you can find some humorous books that resonate with your children too.

  15. Love these ways to encourage a challenging child. Many times they are the smartest and most hard-working, they just have to feel needed and that they are important.

  16. A Beautifully Blessed Mess says:

    This is so true! I too find that giving my LO a task helps to keep her focused and feel accomplished. Thanks for rhe great tips!

    • Thanks for visiting, Amanda. Fulfilling specific tasks is a great way for little ones to use their energy, contribute to the family and feel accomplished.

  17. Great tips. Keep them busy and active. I will definitely be using some of these.

  18. So much truth in this! I have used these techniques for 1) when an easy child becomes challenging (aka PUBERTY LOL), and 2) for my daughter with autism. What I love is that these techniques really work and if you make sure to use #3 as much as they others, the tension in your home just disappears!

    • I’m so glad to know that you’ve had success with these principles in a variety of situations, Gina. Humor is the one I need to work on the most!

  19. Yes! as a former teacher I totally agree, esp. with the responsibility one – this is so cruical!!

    • Thanks for visiting, Lindsey. Trusting the kids and letting them “own” a task or chore sure does make a difference. I need to come up with some new ones for those of mine who have mastered their current ones!

  20. These are great tips! Especially “challenging” them, and encouraging them… .AND OF COURSE FINDING HUMOR!!!!! My kids are young adults and I would have never made it through… without the humor! Great post!

  21. Humor I imagine would be a good thing – it works for me 😀

    • I’ve definitely seen humor turn situations around. I often take myself too seriously, so that’s something I’m working on.

  22. I have a 4 yo girl that’s a bit of a challenge! 🙂 Good ideas in this post and thanks for the book recommendations. Pinned!

  23. These are great! I have recently started giving more responsibility and have noticed good results! I will also definitely be checking out these books!

    • Thanks for visiting and taking time to comment, Winter. I’m glad your kids have responded well to taking on responsibility. Hope you get some fun out of the books!

  24. Good advice…Those challenging children are men and women in the making and I have seen the results of this NOT being done… not good at all… and trying to erase “tapes” from childhood is just about impossible. There is something so special about those challenging children and God has a plan for them and we do not want to teach them that they are just problems, not worth anything.. or useless. We have the chance to build into their lives and mold character. Humor (as long as not hurtful/disrespectful) goes a LONG ways… and it helps the person to learn to not be overly sensitive. Great article. 🙂

    • Thank you. We definitely have to remember that these are God’s little people, and He has created them just as they are for His purposes.

  25. This is great. My strong willed child wasn’t didn’t manifest herself until she was in the 6th grade and then WOW was I in for it! I learned through trial and error and lots of communication between us. We are the best of friends now that she is 26 and has her own 18 month old strong willed child. WOW, is he EVER!!! I get to babysit him so I am learning from birth up this time! You definitely have to give them more responsibility, and I love the books idea! Thanks for sharing over at Tuesday Talk, I’m enjoying your site!

    • It’s great to hear that you have a great relationship with your daughter after all of that, Ruthie. I also have twin 5th grade boys that are starting to present some significant challenges as well. Praying that God will keep me humble and willing to learn through it all. Thanks for visiting.

  26. These are great ideas! I really needed this for our son right now. Thanks for sharing this with us for Tuesday Talk! -Jess

  27. Brittany Thomas says:

    I love your little challenger, she is such a cutie! Here are two of my challengers favorites:
    Thomas’ Snowsuit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfaV00ueFZA
    Six Dinner Sid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAljbQCQ8i4

    • It also helps to see our challengers through the eyes of others who love them. 🙂 Those stories were quite funny; I’m going to check the library for them.

  28. What excellent ways to encourage “challenging” children. Thank you so much for these wise ideas, Abi.

  29. Two 2-year-old boys in one of my classes, when heading off to play together, would look at each other and say, “Now don’t get into mischief!” from “Peter Rabbit” (or one of Beatrix Potter’s books; I don’t have them handy to check.)


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