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

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

Speak softly, and carry a big stick...

Hi Mark, I seem to have reached stalemate. We are not having as many arguments as I refuse to get angry and always use my best poker face, however my son has a nasty angry response to every single thing I say, even if it is just hello. The responses are normally "shut up, don't speak to me, I don't want to talk to you, F... off " …I understand this is him just trying to push my buttons, but how can we move on from this. I can't have any conversation. I have tried asking him once per week to join us for dinner, but to no avail (although I will keep going). There is no way he would ever accompany us on an outing. I know we still have a long way to go. Can you point me in the right direction? Thanks. S.

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Hi S.,

First of all, it is not uncommon for boys to have serious power struggles with their fathers – and girls to struggle with their mothers.

Second, I suggest that you stop trying to “bond” with him – that’s right - stop it!

Here’s why:

The true paradox is the harder you try to win-over an intense child, the more you lose him. Teenagers, by their very nature, want to be separate from their parents. But strong-willed, out-of-control teenagers take the term “autonomy-seeking” to a whole new level.

Let’s look into the mind of your son (the bad news first):
  1. He does NOT like you (although he loves you in the deep recesses of his heart, and if you died suddenly, he would be devastated).
  2. He probably thinks that you are a “geek” or a “nerd” – therefore he does NOT want to be anything like you.
  3. He takes the father-son relationship for granted.
  4. He creates distance in order to preserver his autonomy.
  5. The behavior he uses to create distance comes in the form of verbal assaults.
  6. He has no plans of changing this cycle any time soon.

The good news:
  1. This will all change when he leaves the nest and has to live out in the “real world.”
  2. After a few months raising his first child – he will realize that “dad” wasn’t such a “bad guy” after all – that’s right …he will “like you” again.

Back to the paradox—

Just as “the harder you try to win-over an intense child, the more you lose him” - the opposite is true as well. And this is where it may get a bit tough for you.

You should work toward emotional detachment. Once you are truly “emotionally detached,” here’s what happens:
  1. You won’t be as likely to take his attacks personally. Instead, you will view them as an exaggerated need to be independent.
  2. You won’t try harder than your son to preserve the relationship, thus you will be much less stressed out, confused and aggravated.
  3. Your son will stop taking the relationship for granted, thus you will garner more displays of respect from him.
  4. You will spend more time and energy taking care of YOU.
  5. You will be able to cultivate the patience required to ride out the storm.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should be his “whipping post.” You cannot just roll over and allow him to be abusive toward you. This would send a very bad message that "it is o.k. to abuse authority figures."

I’m going to use a very unpopular term here for dramatic emphasis because I want to get my point across in no uncertain terms: You absolutely cannot be perceived as a “pussy” in your son’s eyes. If you display any signs of weakness whatsoever, your son will use you as prey. In the event he is calling you names or using excessive profanity, a consequence (see “When You Want Something From Your Kid” – online version of the eBook) should be implemented. However, this doesn’t mean you should adopt an abusive attitude in return. As the old saying goes, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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