Tying Knots with a “Problem Child”

I labeled my son. I called him a problem child. And, of all places, I did it at a Power of Moms retreat. The minute the words came out of my mouth, I wished I could crawl under my chair. What could I possibly have been thinking? I can tell you, I’ve done a lot of thinking since that moment.

It’s true, I struggle with one son.  I struggle to know how to motivate and discipline him. It’s a constant battle to get homework finished and stay on task. Finishing chores and being kind to siblings is always an issue. He requires a lot more of my time than the other children.

rope knot

Photo by muffett68 at www.flickr.com

For a long time, I’ve looked at this struggle as a fault in our relationship, like a knot in an otherwise straight length of rope. Each struggle or knot seemed to be wasted time and effort. The knots were irritating and frustrating and I viewed it all as one mass of problems.

I’ve been thinking about my attitude and how I’ve been approaching this situation. I realize that those knots can actually be beneficial, and are not just problems. I can build something beautiful out of the situation. Each time I have to spend extra time working on homework or explaining consequences, I have the opportunity to build stronger ties and knots. As those knots build upon each other, our relationship also grows stronger and tighter. In fact, it will actually result in a more secure and unique relationship.


Photo by Sky's the Limit Crossfit at www.flickr.com

Knots In A Rope
I remember trying to climb the rope in elementary school. It was a big, thick rope, tied to something near the ceiling of the gym. I’m not sure what it was anchored to because I never made it that high. What I do remember is balancing on the big knot at the bottom of the rope, thinking, if knots like this went all the way up the rope, I could climb this rope no problem.

Challenges with individual children can be used as knots to propel us higher in our relationship with them. I remember one particular afternoon when my son and I were really struggling to get math homework finished. He had all but given up and had convinced himself that he couldn’t do it and was just dumb. My patience with the whole situation was wearing thin. With great effort, I kept my cool and quietly encouraged him to finish the last few problems.

By the time he had finished, he finally understood the math concept. I made sure to reinforce to him that he can do hard things and I was proud of him. He grinned at me and I knew that he believed it. That afternoon turned into a knot that we could both stand on the next time he struggled with his math homework. It also strengthened my relationship with him and increased his confidence; not only in his own abilities to figure things out but that I would always be there for him.


Photo submitted by Karin Brown

Knots as an Anchor

Anyone who does needlework knows how important a knot can be. There have been numerous times when I’m finishing a hem or stitching a small hole in a sock or shirt and my thread pulls through because I haven’t knotted it securely. It’s important to create secure anchor knots with our children. They need to know that they are anchored and safe and that our relationship with them will not fall through. Challenges with our children turn into anchor knots when we work through problems and come out better friends. When a confrontation with a child is followed up with love and appreciation, an anchor knot is formed that will strengthen the relationship.


Knots Create Beauty
I recently finished a fillet crochet piece. I’ve never attempted this type of crochet before but had a grand goal of making an heirloom featuring our family name. It took a lot of time to find the right pattern and to figure out how to translate the pattern to my fingers and thread. Slowly but surely, I tied my first anchor knot and made my first row of single chains. The next row was built upon the previous row, using each stitch before as a foundation.

Photo submitted by Karin Brown

My husband remarked, “Wow, that’s a lot of knots.” And it certainly was a lot of knots. Knots I had pulled out time and time again to fix problems and work through patterns I didn’t understand. It took quite some time, but I finished it and all those knots turned into something magnificent. I couldn’t have imagined that something so beautiful could have come from just a bunch of knots. The investment of time and effort transformed the mass of knots into an heirloom, something to be treasured for a very long time.


Each knot, each problem that we confront can be made into something beautiful. It takes time, diligence and an unwavering faith that what we are doing is worth it. We are building our family and it is certainly worth our time, effort, and diligence in working through struggles. Those knots, when used the right way, make us stronger and more beautiful and create family relationships that will be treasured for a very long time.


QUESTION: Can you identify any negative knots that may need a little work?

CHALLENGE: Look for opportunities in your relationships to turn challenges into positive “knots.”


  1. slhoopes says

    Karin, this is a beautiful piece, and something I needed to read this morning! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I don’t do needlework or crocheting or anything like that, but I think I can remember this essay when I’m tying shoes :)

  2. brookegross says

    Thank you for this article. I have been labeling my daughter a problem child as well. But after reading this article, I realize that i have been “tying anchor knots” all along with how I am able to find new ways to deal with her and build our relationship. She is only 2, but I know that later on the things I am doing now will help our relationship be stronger and even closer than it ever could have been. I just need to stop labeling and focus on the positives of our relationship and on her learning and growth. Even on the really hard terrible two days!
    Thanks again!

  3. Steph says

    Thank you for this! I have one of “those” children as well, everything seems to be harder with her, and for her. It’s helpful to know that we can build on these difficulties and re-frame them to see them as strengths.

  4. says

    SLHOOPES- Tying shoes, why didn’t I think of that? Great idea.
    Brooke- Terrible twos, independent threes, they all have their own challenges, don’t they.
    Steph- I’m already seeing progress with my son as I re-frame our difficulties. It’s good to know we’re not alone.

    Thanks for all your comments.

  5. Steph says

    I thought of something else that has helped us with my DD. We have instituted one-on-one time with each of our kids, and having that one-on-one positive time with her has really seemed to help. I find her behaviour gets worse when it’s been awhile since she’s had her one-on-one. (We do them once a month, with each parent, with each child).

  6. Cheryl says

    One of the best activities I did with my “firework” child was to write down the things that make me crazy and translate them into positive attributes. Stubborn became determined. Loud and obnoxious became enthusiastic. I discovered that his personality will serve him well in the real world and that he will probably be a very successful child (albeit difficult to parent), if I can tie the knots and use them as anchors! He didn’t change, but my perspective of him did.

  7. says

    Steph – one on one time is such a great idea. We do it but we’re not consistent…for now. Its nice to be able to spend time just having fun!

    Cheryl – I love your last comment. My own perspective makes a huge difference. Thanks for the reminder.

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