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

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

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Parents & Power Struggles

We see the main problem is he has turned on us... he is angry and is baiting us... he just came in from soccer and hit me with a tirade of swearing. He was angry because he wanted takeaway food and he was told that there was food at home. He has now taken off – it is 11pm. How do we make him realise that he needs to conform to our rules. He has no friends and we are the only people who support him. The punching of the walls and threatening to tell people that his father rapes him etc are just his way of punishing us. Will keeping the screws on him keep making the situation worse or will it eventually break him?

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Re: Will keeping the screws on him keep making the situation worse or will it eventually break him?

First of all, we're not in the business of "breaking" children. This implies a power struggle with one winner and one loser. Rather, we're in the business of fostering the development of self-reliance.

Secondly, as long as you are complying with the strategies as outlined in the eBook, you should expect things to get worse before they get better. But hold on a minute…

It sounds like you are in a power struggle here. Power struggles create distance and hostility instead of closeness and trust. Distance and hostility create resentment, resistance, rebellion (or compliance with lowered self-esteem). IT TAKES TWO TO CREATE A POWER STRUGGLE. I have never seen a power-drunk child without a power-drunk adult real close by. Adults need to remove themselves from the power struggle without winning or giving in.

Create a win/win environment. HOW?

The following suggestions teach kids important life skills including self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem-solving skills instead of "approval junkie" compliance -- or rebellion.

1. Ask what and how questions: How will we eat if you don't set the table? What is next on our routine chart? What was our agreement about what happens to clothes that aren't picked up? What happened? How do you feel about what happened? What ideas do you have to solve the problem? (This does not work at the time of conflict, nor does it work unless you are truly curious about what you child has to say.)

2. BONUS: HUGS! HUGS! HUGS! A hug is often enough to change the behavior -- theirs and yours.

3. Create a game: Beat the clock or sing songs while getting chores done.

4. Decide what you will do. I will cook only in a clean kitchen. I will drive only when seat belts are buckled. (I will pull over to the side of the road when kids are fighting.)

5. Distraction for kids and lots of supervision. Punishment decreases brain development. Kids are often punished for doing what they are developmentally programmed to do -- explore.

6. Do it WITH them. You may even want to go to the positive time out area with them.

7. KINDNESS AND FIRMNESS AT THE SAME TIME.

8. Get kids involved in cooperation. Say, "I can't make you, but I really need your help." (10 words)

9. Get kids involved in the creation of routines (morning, chores, and bedtime). Then the routine chart becomes the boss.

10. Limited choices: Do you want to do your homework before dinner or after dinner. Do you want to set the table or clean up after dinner?

11. Make a "Wheel of Choice" together. Draw a big circle and divide into wedges. Brainstorm lots of solutions to problems. Draw illustrations for each solution. During a conflict, invite child to pick something from the wheel.

12. No words: Use pantomime, charades, or notes. Try a hug to create closeness and trust -- then do something else.

13. Non-verbal signals. These should be planned in advance with the child. An empty plate turned over at the dinner table as a reminder of chores that need to be completed before dinner; a sheet over the television as a reminder that homework needs to be done first or that things need to be picked up in the common areas of the house.

14. Positive Time Out. Create a "nurturing" (not punitive) time out area with your child.

15. Put the problem on the family meeting agenda and let the kids brainstorm for a solution.

16. Use reflective listening. Stop talking and listen. Try to understand not only what your child is saying, but what he means.

17. Use ten words or less. One is best: Games. Towels (that may have been left on the bathroom floor). Homework. (Sometimes these words need to be repeated several times.)

Every child needs discipline, and the discipline style can provide connection or disconnection in the relationship.

The goals of discipline are:

1. To instill values.
2. To protect the child.
3. To teach the child lifelong skills for good character, such as responsibility and self-control.

Effective Discipline is:
  • As fair and consistent as possible.
  • Be Proactive. Moms & dads find underlying causes of misbehavior as well as teach future desired behavior. Punishment tends to be reactive and aims to just stop behaviors. Discipline connects the parent and child in their relationship. Punishment disconnects them.
  • Kind, firm and safe.
  • Mutually respectful: "Do unto others as you would have done to you." Although moms & dads have far more experience and knowledge than their kids, both moms & dads and child have the same right of having their feelings and dignity equally respected.
  • Never includes punishment. Common examples of punishment are grounding with no time-limit, unrelated consequences, spanking, and threats of any kind.
  • Ninety percent prevention and ten percent correction.
  • Teaches and guides kids how to think for themselves. It doesn't just force them to obey. The world is a different place than 30 years ago. We don't want our kids to just blindly obey anyone — especially adults that may not have their best interests in mind. We want them to think for themselves and make good decisions.
  • Uses real world "cause and effect" learning experiences.

Re: Power Struggles:

• Power struggles are generally about meeting needs: the needs of the parent and the needs of the child. Both aim to get their way, but at the expense of the other person not getting their way.

• Power struggles are often the result of the use of punishment. Kids will often react to punishment in the forms of rebellion, retaliation, fear, and/ or passive resistance.

• When moms & dads and kids are locked in a power struggle, it is important for the parent to stay calm and let go for the moment. They have more experience in self-control and can switch gears easier. Refuse to participate. The time to re-examine the needs of the moms & dads and child causing the power struggle is later, when the emotional temperature in the relationship has gone down. Be sure to address it though. Don't let it go unresolved forever.

Kids don't really misbehave. They act in inappropriate ways to get their needs met. The job of moms & dads is to meet those needs and teach kids how to get them met in socially appropriate ways. Kids are like icebergs. We see the tip of the iceberg (behavior) protruding out of the water. Most of the time, we don't even look at the massive ice part under the water (which are the needs and feelings) that supports the behavior. As moms & dads, we need to jump out of the boat, and into our submarine to look at what's happening with the child underneath the iceberg tip. Once the underlying needs and feelings of the child are recognized and addressed, the behavior often improves.

The most effective discipline tools used for older, school-aged kids and teens are active listening, "I" messages, time in, changing the environment, modeling, related consequences, and problem solving. Family meetings are also especially effective for this age.

A crucial discipline tool often overlooked is meeting the needs of moms & dads. Moms & dads who are hungry, tired, stressed, need support and a time-out don't often make their best parenting decisions.

You can't raise a child in a dictatorship and expect them to function as an adult in a democracy.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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