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

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

She gets very angry and frustrated when things don’t go her own way...

Hi Mark

First of all thank you for your programme – from my (albeit limited!) experience we are finding it well constructed, full of common sense and very supportive.

I have a question of how to deal with an aspect of my child’s behaviour in this fairly early stage of the programme:

We are implementing Week 2 (we started 3 weeks ago but my daughter was away for most of last week). Z__ is the 2nd of 3 girls. The eldest is nearly 14, Z__ is 11, and her younger sister is nearly 8. For a number of years we have gone through periods of time where Z__’s behaviour has been very difficult. She gets very angry and frustrated when things don’t go her own way, and we have put it down to “middle child syndrome”, although (of course!) we try to treat them all very even-handedly. As these phases have come and gone, we have not taken much action to try to amend our own behaviour. Of course we have tried to analyse why the dynamic has been so difficult. Our eldest child has never been difficult, she is quietly self-confident, mature and quite a calm character. She is also very bright and repeatedly excels in everything she takes on – this in itself is a very difficult act to follow. The youngest still enjoys being the baby of the family, at the same time being very competitive and so always trying to emulate both sisters in both achievements and basic rights (such as bedtimes, etc)

Z__ is a very different character, with different skills and personality. She is not academic in the same way as her older sister, but she is still slightly above the average in class achievements generally. She is a funny, articulate girl who has lots of friends, and is often the centre of the party. She wants to be an actress and is always a star in school drama and speech. At the same time she is quite a shy and not-very-confident person.

Over the last few weeks/months her increase in age (and therefore perceived independence) have lead to an acceleration of difficult behaviour. Having read everything in Weeks 1 and 2, plus a little of 3, I recognise now much of what is going on. She does crave attention of any sort, she goes out of her way to create an argument. We have been over-indulgent of her (well, all 3 really), not so much in terms of “stuff” but mostly allowing them a lot of slack on helping around the house and taking responsibility for themselves and their things. Difficult behaviour has also resulted in us treating her differently – mainly out of trying to avoid the fights but as I can see now, counter-productive. This has of course lead to accusations of us not loving her, the other two being favourites, she has no-one to turn to, etc. I’m sure you’ve heard all this before. Her behaviour is primarily initiating heated verbal arguments with my husband or myself, in which she is extremely articulate if one-sided and ignoring many facts. She does also fight, mainly verbally but also some physical, with her sisters. She does throw things and has maliciously damaged a number of household items as well as sisters, although at this point we have not had to contend with major issues in this area. She has “run away” a couple of times, but this has been posturing more than anything and she has not left the square where we live. Obviously we are anxious that we resolve these issues before things become really destructive.

I am happy following the programme, which has given me a much needed boost in confidence about the path we have to follow. I can see that it will take time, but that with persistence and consistency we will get there. I have also seen that I am not always great at dealing with each situation in the best way/with the right precision of words, and so have missed opportunities already (hopefully I will learn fast!). However, what I would like your advice on is how we deal with the Post-Argument, calm, contrite discussion, which is initiated by her, where she is looking for help and/or an apology, and also probably using it as a guilt trip as well.

During these discussions I have tried to avoid:

1. responding too much to her accusations of our deficiencies

2. pointing out the exaggerations and sweeping generalities she applies (don’t want her to lose face)

3. obviously – getting angry. My poker face is fairly well in place

4. arguing back (very easy for it to deteriorate into a slanging match again)

I have, however, tried to:

1. listen – to always be available to her, not to brush her off with “its way past your bedtime” etc

2. ask lots of questions about what she has said, to try to probe

3. try to reiterate that we do love her, we do support her, she can come to us with problems, etc

I have found that it is all too easy to get into “explaining” my side of a particular issue, in order to try to make her see a different angle. This tends to fail, and then risks becoming a row again.

She point blank refuses to believe that anything we do is with her interests at heart, and although secretly she may know this is not the case, she is resolute at the moment that everything we do is against her. She only picks up on the negatives, refuses to acknowledge any positives.

Should I enter these discussions at all? I don’t feel very equipped to find a win-win resolution currently. One of the difficulties is that most of the issues are quite soft, emotional ones. There are few tangible, factual disagreements that we can easily work on together to find a solution. As most of her stated issues are exaggerated (yes, I do really think that most are), it is difficult to resolve them as they are actually hot air held together with an ancient parental mistake and a good waft of paranoia!

I’m sorry to go on at such length, and I hope it makes sense. If you can help with any tips or pointers I’d be very grateful.

My thanks again and best regards

L.

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Hi L.,

For many years now, you have managed most aspects of Z__’s life. But she is about to reach puberty, and as a result, she will be firing you as her manager any day now (and maybe already has).

Based on what I’ve read in your email, I think you may be trying too hard to save Z__ from emotional discomfort. I would encourage you to ask yourself the question, “Am I taking on too much responsibility for Z__’s feelings and behavior?” She may be milking your kindness for everything it’s worth.

Attempting to “reason with” a strong-willed child is just another traditional parenting strategy that tends to make a bad problem worse.

Your assignment is quite easy to execute:

1. Respond to her appropriate behavior with acknowledgment and praise (i.e., accuse her of being successful, responsible, respectful, pretty, smart, etc.)

2. Respond to her inappropriate behavior with a poker face and a consequence

No lectures …no heart-to-heart talks (unless initiated by her – but even then, don’t “explain” yourself) …no trying to “reason with” or rationalize …no “defending” your position …no repeated and redundant reassurance that she is loved …no “feeling sorry” for …no “feeling guilty” about …etc. When parents do these things, they are in effect providing a lot on intensity and attention at the wrong time, which reinforces the child’s desire for more of this kind of parent-child interaction.

Mark

Online Parent Support

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