Managing Our Own Emotions in the Presence of Our Child's Challenging Behaviors


Guest post by Colby Pearce

I am the father of 3 boys.

I am also a Clinical Psychologist with more than nineteen years experience in child and family psychology. I have conducted almost 1000 assessments of children and their parents in child protection and child custody matters. I have appeared as an expert in South Australian Courts on more than two dozen occasions. I have treated more than 500 children. I have written two books and numerous articles about child and adolescent mental health, development and parenting. I have trained more than fifty practising clinical psychologists. I am regularly called upon to conduct teaching and training in relation to the care and management of children.

As is the case in millions of other families around the world my children have, at times, tested the limits of my patience and emotional self-control. They have fought with each other and defied their mother and I.

At times I have been unreasonably angry with them. I have ranted. I have said things I would rather not have. And, being fed up with them and with myself, I have temporarily withdrawn myself from them.

Several years ago, I reflected on the matter of my becoming unreasonably angry with my children. In doing so I became aware of a series of related beliefs I had been holding for some time, and which were impacting directly on my emotions and emotional closeness to my children. The beliefs went something like this. “I am a Clinical Psychologist who specialises in children, families and parenting. I should have a solution for all of my children’s emotional and behavioural foibles. My children should be well-behaved.”

The inevitable result of these beliefs was frustration with my children and myself, regretted words and affective displays, and [temporary] physical and emotional withdrawal at times when they simply proved to be just like the vast majority of children growing up in a functional family system.

Readers of my books, articles and blogs would know that children thrive on consistency. This extends to consistency of emotional connectedness with their adult caregivers. Children are also emotionally unsettled by heightened affective displays by their parents. Heightened affective displays by parents and associated emotional distress in children make them more prone to behavioural problems and emotional outbursts.

Hence, my belief system was self-defeating.

More functional [and rational] beliefs are that my children do not have to be perfect, nor do I have to be the perfect parent, just because I am a Clinical Psychologist specialising in child and family psychology. They, like me, need to make mistakes in order to experience life lessons. Amongst other things, they need to learn that family relationships transcend situational conflicts.

Since adopting these more temperate [and realistic] beliefs I have been better able to maintain a consistent emotional presentation and involvement with my children, including in the face of their difficult and challenging behavior. The importance of this cannot be understated. Not only have I modeled emotional self-control under conditions of adversity, I have preserved the strong and secure attachment relationships I worked so hard to achieve for my children.

When all is said and done, it is the relationship we have with our children that is the most powerful determinant of their wellbeing and adjustment.

So, give your children and yourself a break. Be temperate [and realistic] in your expectations of yourself as a parent and your children’s adjustment. It is in their best interests, and your own!

Colby Pearce is a Clinical Psychologist living and working in Adelaide, South Australia. He is the owner and operator of Secure Start®, which is a child and family psychology practice where he provides psychological intervention services to children, teens and their caregivers. He also consults with parents and professionals regarding therapeutic and gentle care practices, trains aspiring psychologists and supervises practising psychologists. He is a published author, blogger, painter, gardener, general builder and F1 enthusiast. Most important of all, he is a husband and father. Learn more about Colby Pearce and his work here: WebsiteBlog, Twitter: @ColbyPearce, SecureStart on FacebookResilience in Children on Facebook,  and Linked In. You can also learn more about his books here:

A Short Introduction to Attachment and Disorder

This book presents a short and accessible introduction to what ‘attachment’ means and how to recognise attachment disorders in children. The author explains how complex problems in childhood may stem from the parent-child relationship during a child’s early formative years, and later from the child’s engagement with the broader social world. It explores the mindset of difficult and traumatised children and the motivations behind their apparently antisocial and defensive tendencies. A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder includes case vignettes to illustrate examples, and offers a comprehensive set of tried-and-tested practical strategies for parents, carers and practitioners in supportive roles caring for children.

A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in Children

A child’s capacity to cope with adversity and ‘stand on their own two feet’ is seen as critical to their development, well-being, and future independence and success in adulthood. Psychological strength, or resilience, directly affects a child’s capacity to cope with adversity. This book provides a succinct, accessible and clear guide on how to promote resilience in children and achieve positive developmental outcomes for them. The author covers three key factors that affect resiliency: vulnerability to stress and anxiety, attachment relationships, and access to basic needs. For each, the author presents practical advice and strategies, such as how to regulate children’s stress and anxiety, how to encourage and maintain secure attachments, and how to assure children that their needs are understood and will be met. The model presented will help parents and carers ensure their children grow up happy, healthy and resilient.


Please follow and like us: