HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

He knows exactly how to push her buttons and she gets so upset she usually just explodes in anger followed by tears...

I first want to start out by saying THANK YOU. Although I have only completed the first weeks session I already feel like there is hope for our family.

I have a 15 year old son (will turn 16 in one month) who was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade and diagnosed with Bipolar disorder in the 6th grade. Currently his ADHD is stable with Adderall and his bipolar is being treated with Abilify. I dont think the Abilify is the answer however. I have learned to cope with alot of his 'difficulties" but there are 2 problems that I would call a "emergency."

I also have a 14 year our daughter who is a basket of nerves. My son and her HATE each other. He knows exactly how to push her buttons and she gets so upset she usually just explodes in anger followed by tears. When she is upset there is no reasoning with her until she calms down. I can almost see the "excitement" in my son’s eyes when he makes her cry. She is so vulnerable right now. He knows she is very aware of her figure and looks so he is constantly calling her fat (although she is not fat at all). She then comes back at him with retard and why don’t we "send him away". I fear what this is doing to her self-esteem and emotional needs.

My second problem is his vulgar language. He is constantly using fowl language on a daily basis usually with no rhyme or reason. He just yells out a long string of bad language for no reason. He is also very open about sex. He talks about it a lot and constantly makes "sexual noises".

Please believe me when I say, I will continue with your program but right now I feel like 3 weeks is a eternity and I fear our family will fall apart before I get to the end. Do you have any quick advice to help us cope?

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thanks so much for your help!

C.

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Hi C.,

Re: He knows exactly how to push her buttons and she gets so upset she usually just explodes in anger followed by tears.

You’ll want to use the strategies in Sessions 3 & 4 for this. But allow me to elaborate a bit before you rush through those sessions in search of a magic bullet.

Mothers of teenagers or preteenagers may be troubled by the amount of fighting, both verbal and physical, that goes on between their children. This is a common problem in homes with adolescents and one many mothers find particularly difficult and upsetting. One mother said, "They are constantly bickering and yelling. There's no peace in the house anymore. They won't listen to me, and nothing I do seems to have any effect on them. Why do they hate each other so?"

If mothers experience these kinds of problems and concerns, it may help if they try to gain a better understanding of sibling battles and then develop a plan for dealing with them in their home.

In this society, people have the expectation that they will love and get along well with everyone in their family. They always expect to feel positive toward their mothers, brothers, sisters, spouse and children. Most people, however, have at least some times when they don't feel very loving toward each other.

Relationships within a family are close, both emotionally and physically, and very intense. When the television show mothers have been looking forward to is being drowned out by the cheerleading practice in the basement, or when the turkey leg they were saving for a snack is missing from the refrigerator, or when their spouse is gleefully telling a crowd of friends how they dented the car fender, they are not likely to feel loving. Because they are so close, family members have a greater power than anyone else to make other members feel angry, sad, confused -- and loving. This is as true for children and adolescents as it is for adults.

Most siblings have probably been good friends and good enemies as they have grown. Having a sibling provides an opportunity to learn to get along with others. Especially when siblings are younger, they may fight bitterly, but they will probably be playing together again an hour later.

For example, a child will say something hateful to a sibling, knowing full well they will still be siblings and friends when the fight is over. If the same thing was said to a playmate outside the family, that playmate might take his or her marbles and go home for good. Thus, children learn from relationships with siblings just how certain words or actions will affect another person without the fear of losing the person's friendship.

Siblings fight for a number of reasons:

  • They fight because they are growing up in a competitive society that teaches them that to win is to be better: "I saw it first." "I beat you to the water."
  • They fight because they are jealous: "He got a new bike. I didn't. They must love him more than they love me."
  • They fight because they want a parent's attention, and the parent has only so much time, attention and patience to give.
  • They fight over ordinary teasing which is a way of testing the effects of behavior and words on another person: "He called me..." "But she called me...first."

Children need not weeks or months but years to learn some of the socially approved ways to behave in relationships. Lessons about jealousy, competition, sharing and kindness are difficult to learn, and, indeed, some adults still haven't learned them.

Adolescents fight for the same reasons younger children fight. But adolescents are bigger, louder and better equipped physically and intellectually to hurt and be hurt by words and actions.

From a parent's point of view, they "ought" to be old enough to stop that kind of behavior. What mothers may forget is that adolescents are under pressure from many different directions. Physical and emotional changes and changes in thinking cause pressures, as do changing relationships with mothers and friends.

Teenagers may be concerned about real or imagined problems between their mothers. They feel pressure about the future as adults and about learning to be an adult.

In many ways, teenagers are in greater need than ever for parental love, attention and concern and for a belief that they are as good as their siblings. The adolescent may not recognize these needs or may be too embarrassed to express them verbally, so fighting with siblings as a way to get parental attention may actually increase in adolescence.

In truth, children don't really hate each other, at least not all the time. As children mature and learn to control their energies and anxieties, chances are they will be good friends.

Mothers can recognize the reasons for the fighting and make up their minds that they will not tolerate it. It's not easy to stick to that resolution! However, many mothers have found that sticking to that resolution is the most important factor in bringing peace to their home.

Mothers should tell adolescents that while it's normal to have disagreements, the constant fighting upsets them and they value peace at home. They can say they will no longer be the judge and jury over the siblings' disputes and they will not stand for it! Then, they must stand by the resolution.

One mother reported that every time a fight started, she would say to his adolescents, "You're fighting. I'm leaving." And then she would go out to work in the yard or take a drive or run an errand -- but she simply walked away from the fighting. Another mother used a similar tactic. When the fighting began, she said, "Call me when it's over." Then she went to her bedroom, slamming the door to emphasize her point. Another parent made his adolescents leave the house when they began fighting.

In each of these cases, the mothers demonstrated that fighting would not get their attention and they would not get involved in the fight. Other mothers have had success in imposing penalties for fighting, such as fines deducted from allowances or a certain amount of grounding for each fighter. These mothers are showing adolescents the cost of fighting is higher than the reward. Whatever tactic mothers use, if they are consistent and stick to their guns, they will almost certainly be successful in reducing the amount of fighting between their children.

Living with fighting adolescent siblings is not pleasant. If mothers can remain calm in the face of battling teenagers, if they can retain their sense of humor and if they put up a determined and united front, they will find the war in their living room will end before long.

As a parent, do you:

  • Avoid initiating competition among children?
  • Be sure older children are not usually forced to give in to younger ones because "he's little" or "she doesn't know better?"
  • Believe there can be something good in sibling fighting?
  • Make sure your adolescents realize they are each unique and have a special set of strengths?
  • Praise adolescents for being who they are not just for what they can do?
  • Realize adolescents and younger children need to be given the right to decide not to share at least some of the time?
  • Recognize that each child is different?
  • Set aside some time to be alone with each child?
  • Talk to the adolescents about their fighting?

Here’s some more tips:

  1. Be available to listen patiently to the problem and control your emotions. Typically mothers have more insight into solving a problem, so give them positive suggestions they can use to work the problem out with their sibling.
  2. Don't intervene, but do give them guidance.
  3. Don't take sides -- remain neutral.
  4. Encourage teenagers to work out issues constructively. Do not allow aggressive behavior such as name calling or hitting.
  5. Express to each of your children that you care for each of them as individuals and love them unconditionally.
  6. Give them the opportunity to work out their problems on their own.
  7. Help enforce the rules by outlining consequences when rules are broken.
  8. Help them recognize each other's individuality.
  9. Insist that they try to cooperate first.
  10. Overcome your own competitive nature.
  11. Share an interest in their activities.
  12. Spend time with them individually.
  13. Teach your children good communication techniques, problem solving skills, and the importance of compromise.


Re: My second problem is his vulgar language.

Teens equate swearing to a rite of passage. As parents we can help them learn healthier ways of expressing and developing maturity. The first step to cleaning up teen talk is listening to your teen. When you ascertain in what scenarios and environments he typically swears, you can help him find alternatives to express himself.

Does your son try to project confidence or superiority when he swears? Does he demonstrate anguish, disgust or disdain in himself or peers with cursing? Do you hear your son causally and subconsciously dropping profanities intermittently throughout casual conversations? Knowing the prime times your son swears will help you choose a course of action to clean up the cursing.

Teens frequently opt for strong language as the result of peer pressure. When she asked her fifteen-year-old son James why he selects such strong language to convey his point of view, Julie from Indianapolis was astonished by her teen’s straightforward answer. “I talk just like all my friends. We don’t mean anything and it’s not like adults don’t say those things” was James' enlightening response. Although it may appear cavalier, James' explanation is familiarly synonymous with beliefs of his peers.

Realizing that her son and his friends were trying to out-do each other in a ritual game of whose language packs the most shock value, Julie decided she wanted to break her son’s habit of vulgarity. “We talked about better ways he could grab his friend’s and acquaintance’s attention,” states Julie “I tried to impress that acting older didn’t automatically mean someone would believe he’s mature.”

Many parents like Julie also find explaining that swearing is not an impressive trait or something that is respected and admired provides clarity. When teens realize that vulgarity or excessive slang has an affect that is ironically opposite than their desired perception of maturity, they are less inclined to taint their vocabulary with swearing. Helping your teen find an intelligent means to express himself, and thus demonstrate true maturity, will both curb swearing and help him achieve his desired goal.

I also suggest parents model the language they expect their teens and tweens to utilize. Reinforcing positive expressions of various emotions lets teens know there’s another way to same the same thing. Of course, we’re all human and can possibly accidentally or occasionally let a slang word slip. The frustration of stalled traffic or of dropping a heavy can on top of your foot can cause the most restrained individual to use an inappropriate word.

Acknowledging that you’re aware you made a regrettable word choice helps teens respect the lessons you’re aiming to instill. Demonstrating your remorse for using a curse word offers your teen a glimpse into your humanistic persona.

Additionally helping your teen realize there are consequences to all of his actions -- including swearing -- provides another deterrent. If your teen has to pay a predetermined ‘fee’ or ‘toll’ for every profanity used, he may think twice about spending his hard earned allowance on curse words. A curse word cookie jar worked miraculously for Karen’s son. “After a few weeks of paying for his language, he decided he’s give up swearing. It was just too expensive,” Karen happily proclaimed.

Good luck …stay in touch,

Mark

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