What Do You Do When Your Back’s Against The Wall With Your Child?

It’s easy to feel trapped on this journey with your children. Sometimes the extreme behavior, the anxiety, the aggression, the constantly needing you but then pushing you away, can feel unending. What do you do when you feel like your back is against the wall?

“I feel like my back’s against a wall and I don’t see any end in sight.”

Her words dripped through my computer screen on a cold Indiana morning, like fresh coffee dripping into a pot. I remember thinking, “Boy have we been there.” Feeling like there’s no end in sight, like your child’s behavior is never going to change, they’re never going to get better, and you’re never going to see a brighter day? Yep! We know the feeling.

It’s the feeling of your back being against a wall. No way out. This is the end, or at least the feeling of where you’re going to be for a very long time on this journey with your child. For many of us, it’s not what we signed up for when we began this journey. It’s not anything close to what we envisioned parenthood (even parenting difficult children) to be like.

Even though we jumped in with two feet, eager to love children regardless of their story, their history, or how wounded they were, we find ourselves lost. We find ourselves feeling…well…like our back’s are against a wall and there’s no way our circumstances with our children are ever going to change.

Truth is…they may not. Let me get right to it…your circumstances with your child…my circumstances with my child…may not change anytime soon…or ever. She may live her entire life with extreme anxiety, and you may feel like a hostage in your own home for quite some time. He may constantly flip out and rage over the smallest detail, for the rest of his life. It’s tragic, but true. Our backs may feel like they’re up against a wall for a very, very long time. It’s the reality of parenting children from hard places.

But I believe there is hope. I believe we can find hope in how we respond in these moments.

I believe we find hope, and a little sliver of light here and there, when we…

  1. Remember. If you follow our blog or podcast, there’s no doubt you’ve heard one of us say this before. Remembering your child’s trauma history, the hard place they came from before coming to your home, the abuse, neglect, substance exposure, you name it, helps to re-gear your mind from frustration and anxiety to compassion and love. I’ll be the first to admit it- I kinda sucked at this for a long time. With my oldest son, I allowed my frustration to take full control of me. He did something crazy, or aggressive, or frustrating, I would react in frustration. Sometimes, he wasn’t even doing anything wrong and I would react in frustration. When I finally started to remember his past, and why he’s overly anxious at times, it helped my heart and attitude toward him to change.
  2. Love. This can be a hard one at times. You don’t always feel love for this child, especially when they’re holding your home, and you hostage. It’s easy to forget the feeling you had when the agency first showed you their picture years ago. It’s hard to remember those peaceful loving moments you sometimes share with them. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you love them and that’s okay. This is hard stuff. There’s no one-size fits all protocol for loving a child from hard places. It’s not a gimme. Sometimes you have to work to find love. Sometimes you have to remind yourself. But reminding yourself helps you respond differently.
  3. Ask. This is you asking you, not you asking them. Although a powerful point of connection, often, is to ask your child, in the heat of the moment, “How can I help you?” Ask yourself what has happened in the past, what is happening now, or what is about to happen in the future that may be causing your child to behave the way he or she is behaving. These are questions you can ask yourself in the heat of the moment with your child. They help you to zoom out and see the entire landscape in a fraction of a second. They help you remember that there’s more going on here with your child’s behavior, words, and reaction.
  4. Respond. Your response to your child’s meltdown is crucial for de-escalation. Compassion, calm, self-regulation…they all hold hands with one another in the process of de-escalation. Often times it’s our own emotions that cause added triggers for our children. I hate to say it but we can be the biggest triggers for them. Responding in calm tones, saying things like, “I would love to help you but first I need you to stop yelling at me…stop cussing at me…stop throwing things,” can help to calm a child down. In fact, in those moments where I’ve felt like my back was against a wall, calmly asking a question like the one I just typed, helped me feel less trapped and more connected.

Here’s what I want you to know. This is a journey, not a destination. If, at any point, you feel like you’ve arrived, you’re thinking in terms of destination and disappointment is just around the corner. But if you remind yourself that you still have a long way to go with your child, that’s journey-thinking, and the healthiest way to view your life and theirs.

There is hope friend. It’s step-by-step, it’s moment by moment, it’s situation by situation. If nothing else, it’s a reminder to remember….love…ask…and respond. We are right there with you.

Question: Have you often felt like your back is against the wall with your child? Share your story with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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