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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How To Keep Your Teen From "Dropping Out" Of School

Dropping out of school has become a serious problem for many teenagers today. Your son or daughter may think of dropping out for various reasons. If your teenager drops out, he/she is likely to be under-employed -- or unemployed -- in the future.

Here are some helpful pointers to prevent your adolescent from dropping out before it is too late:

1. Concentrate on your teen's goals instead of focusing on why he/she is unsuccessful in school. Have your teen (a) identify goals, (b) develop a list of school, home, and personal barriers to reaching those goals, and (c) devise strategies to overcome the barriers.

2. Consider alternative school settings. Options include magnet schools, alternative schools, charter schools, work-based learning programs, career academies, and general educational development (GED) programs. Include your adolescent in all discussions with school personnel.

3. Encourage your adolescent to seek out extracurricular activities or employment to develop positive relationships and have success outside of a classroom setting. Many schools provide after-school and summer programs that cultivate new interests. Encourage your teen to participate in at least one extra-curricular activity at school. These activities can help your teen feel part of the group, important to the school, and more motivated.

4. Keep track of the credits your teen needs to graduate, beginning in his/her freshman year.

5. Help your teen explore career options and find out what kind of education is needed to be successful in those careers.

6. Identify goals. What interests your teen? What is your teen good at? Technical training or two-year community college programs are appropriate paths to meeting employment goals. If attending a four-year college is the way to reach your adolescent's vocational goal, put steps in place to make this happen.

7. If you suspect your teen has a problem with drugs or alcohol, contact the school guidance counselor or a substance abuse counselor, help line, or an appropriate organization for information and advice.

8. In some cases, a tutor can help a teen who has fallen behind or who has missed important concepts.

9. Know your teen's friends and their families.

10. Beginning in his/her freshman year, let educators know that you want to be contacted immediately if your teen has problems with homework or behavior.

11. Let your adolescent know that people who earn a high school diploma are likely to earn twice as much each year compared to those who don't have a high school diploma or equivalency.

12. Limit the time your teen watches television and plays video games to no more than one or two hours each day.

13. Find out if your school district has a homework hotline that high school students can call for help.

14. Monitor school attendance. If your teen is skipping school, it may be a warning sign that he/she is having trouble. Also, monitor your adolescent's school performance. Periodically check in with his/her educators to find out how things are going.

15. Sometimes, a teen's personality may clash with that of the teacher or another student. Meet directly with the teacher to determine if there is a problem or misunderstanding. In some cases, everyone may benefit if you request that your teen be transferred to a different classroom.

Graduating from high school is a cornerstone of future success. By staying involved, focusing on individual strengths, finding the right school setting, and holding high expectations, moms and dads can help their teens graduate and prepare for successful adulthood.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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Daughter Is Rarely Home

Question

Our 15-year-old daughter is hardly ever at home. She jumps from one place to the next, so it’s hard to track her. We really don’t know too much about who she is hanging out with. And she’s virtually never available to take part in family activities (we have experienced a lot of this over Christmas break). What should we do?

Answer

A good portion of your daughter’s behavior is part of a normal developmental process called “separation and individuation.” In adolescence, a teenager’s need to identify with her peer group starts to take precedence over her sense of identification with parents and family. This usually concludes with complete separation and independence by age 18 or 20.

You can make your daughter’s transition to adulthood smoother and more navigable if you keep the following suggestions in mind:

1. Though easier said than done, parents need to reassess their own motives. For example:
  • Are you afraid of letting go and seeing her make mistakes on her own?
  • Do you have a hidden emotional need that you’re expecting her to fulfill?
  • Is it possible that you have selfish motives for wanting your daughter to stay close to you?

If so, you need to realize that these are your problems, not hers.

2. Find a way to embrace and affirm the shift that’s occurring in your daughter’s outlook (i.e., allow for separation while simultaneously helping her to realize that she’s wanted at home, too). It’s better to bend with the winds of change than snap under their pressure. Since her friends are so important to her, start thinking in terms of encouraging her to develop a positive social life and form healthy friendships. You can’t actually pick her peer group for her, of course, but you can increase her chances of making good choices by shaping her environment (e.g., help her get involved with a church youth group, or participate in sports, music or drama, etc.).

3. Give your daughter good advice regarding choosing appropriate friends. For example:
  • "Avoid been around negative people who will only put you down or pressure you to get involved with gangs and drugs etc. Instead choose friends that will have a positive effect toward your life …ones with solid character traits like honesty, intelligence, loyalty, and dedication. When you find that person, cherish and seek camaraderie with them -- they are a gift in your life."
  • "Don’t assume everyone you come across in life will become a good friend of yours because they have been nice to you a few times, have a great personality, or share mutual interest with you. Getting the opportunity to meet that type of person is just the beginning of the friendship building process. Believe it or not, the majority of people in your life are only associates or acquaintances – not true friends!"
  • "Don’t rush when choosing friends, or you’ll likely end-up labeling an associate as a friend. Keep in mind that there is a thin line between associates and friends. Confusing an associate for a friend can leave you feeling disappointed later."

4. Host activities for your daughter’s friends (e.g., throw a back-to-school party, or organize a summer barbeque, etc.). This will provide you with a window into your daughter’s peer group as well as a discreet and relaxed opportunity to chaperone her interaction with friends.

5. Encourage her to invite friends to take part in family events. While there’s certainly a place for “family-only” activities, there’s no reason why you can’t devise additional outings of a more inclusive nature. If you go on a ski trip, let her bring a couple of girlfriends along. She’ll be less resistant to family outings if you design them to be more attractive from her point of view.

6. Consider making your home a place where your daughter and her friends want to hang-out. That may mean having exciting videos around, fun activities, and lots of food. This probably means you will have to add the food for 3 -5 teenagers to your monthly food bill, but you are getting away easy. You at least know what your daughter is doing and with whom she is with. Piece of mind is worth a lot.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Rewards vs. Bribes

Many moms and dads describe interactions with their children in which they promised all kinds of special privileges in exchange for good behavior. Moms and dads end up feeling as though they are desperately bribing their kids to comply, and their children can come to expect something extra for simply doing a couple daily chores, which can in turn lead to a huge “sense of entitlement.”

So, what’s the difference between a reward and a bribe …and which one is better?

Rewards celebrate positive behavior. A promised treat for going beyond expectations or a surprise for excellent behavior is a reward. It should never become common, or your youngster will discover that withholding the positive behavior will generate promises of larger rewards. The goal is to reinforce the good to encourage positive behaviors even when there is no likelihood for reward. Rewards are positive responses to positive behavior to motivate future good behavior.

Using a reward for good behavior is no different than collecting a paycheck. Does your employer bribe you to do the work you do every day? Probably not. Your employer plans to reward or compensate you for the work you plan to do for them. Your future paycheck is the motivation for your current work. The effective use of rewards is quite different from bribery, because you are compensating your youngster for his good behavior, rather than being manipulated and extorted.

Bribes reward negative behavior. Whether that is actual behavior or anticipated behavior, bribes provide a reward for it. If you use a treat to end or preempt bad actions, you are bribing your child. Bribes are rewards for negative behavior, real or anticipated, that only serve to encourage more bad behavior in the future. It’s helpful to think of bribing kids as essentially rewarding them for something they haven’t yet delivered. When comparing it to the adult world, it’s like an employer paying an employee to carry out work that they “might” do.

If your 4-year-old is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, and you promise him candy to stop, you have just bribed him – and taught him that the “reward” for a public tantrum is candy. This is reinforcing negative behavior, which will only escalate in the future. In your child’s mind, he’s thinking “if a temper tantrum earns me a candy bar, what will I get for hitting mom with a can of pork ‘n beans …maybe a chocolate cake?!”

Attempting to stop your youngster’s bad behavior by offering a bribe may actually seem like it’s working for the moment. He acts-out …you bribe him to stop …and he stops (based on the promise of a special privilege). But afterward, the parent is left feeling manipulated, and she soon discovers that this tactic leaves her with a sense of powerlessness. This is because the youngster has learned a method of maintaining control called “blackmail” (e.g., “You’d better give me a payoff, or I’m going to make you suffer!”). Children will likely continue to use this strategy as long as it is working for them.

Bribery usually occurs under duress—right in the middle of a situation in which your little Jeckel has turned into Hyde. It happens quickly, when all you want is to change his behavior on the spot, so you offer him something that you had no previous intention of offering. This is a form of over–negotiating, which puts your youngster in the driver’s seat.

To tell if you're rewarding or bribing your youngster, look at two things:
  1. Who is suggesting the trade-off? Usually, when a parent suggests, "If you'll do something for me, then I'll do something for you," the kid interprets it as a bribe. If the kid asks if she can have something and the parent responds with the condition under which she can have it, it teaches values such as "work before play" or "healthy food before sweets."
  2. What is your motive? If you are trying to manipulate, you are probably bribing. 

So how do you break the bribery habit? 
    A youngster who has been repeatedly bribed will tend to “up the ante” for every request a mother or father makes. Here are some things you can do to avoid that problem, or to break the cycle if you feel you've been bribing your kids too much:

    1. Apologize to your kids for having bribed them. Don't get hung up on your own guilt. Instead, be glad you realized what was happening and move on.

    2. Focus your attention on your youngster's behavior instead of the results or the reward. That helps with the transition to the youngster's own internal motivation and sense of accomplishment. If you're concerned about your youngster's grades, for example, praise him or offer other small rewards for daily studying—the behavior you really want and that your youngster can control—instead of waiting for report cards. If you put more emphasis on conveying a sense of appreciation for your youngster's behavior than on the reward, your youngster is less likely to become dependent on the reward. Also, involve your youngster in figuring out a study schedule. That makes him more likely to follow through than if you simply imposed some new rules.

    3. If you want to break the cycle of bribery, do it dramatically. Hold a family meeting announce that there are going to be some significant changes. Be very clear and explicit about the new rules. Explain what behaviors are expected of your kids simply because they're members of the family (e.g., doing schoolwork, setting the dinner table, putting dirty laundry in the hamper, etc.). Explain that there will be no more bribes. Also, go over the consequences of not doing what's expected of them (e.g., "If you don't do your homework, you won't be allowed to watch television or play video games” … “If you don't put your dirty clothes in the hamper, they won't be washed"). Remember that most kids will, within a day or two, challenge these new rules to see if you were serious about change. Be prepared.

    4. Teach your kids that their behavior is a choice. Each choice has an outcome, and most privileges have a counter-balanced responsibility.

    5. Let your youngster know that you are aware of - and respect - his opinions. After all, no one really enjoys taking out the garbage. By stating that you realize it is sometimes a smelly and messy job, you are letting him know that his feelings are valid, but that he must still do his part. If you try to convince your youngster that something is interesting or fun when it isn't, you're telling him that his feelings don't count. You're also lying—and he knows it. The same holds true for doing homework. Acknowledge that sometimes it isn't fun and that it might be more pleasant to watch television, but make it clear that this doesn't mean he can avoid his school assignments. Taking this approach avoids your being sidetracked into name-calling and battles over whether your youngster is lazy.

    6. Remember how tremendously reinforcing some extra attention from you is for your kids. Moms and dads sometimes feel they have to use more and more expensive rewards, when what their kids really want them to do is spend more time with them.

    No mother or father wants to fall into the trap of bribing their kids to behave well. Sure, offering your youngster a special privilege to stop whining, or to stop teasing his sister, or just to stop his incessant demanding, may give you some immediate relief, but it will be short-lived. The bad behavior WILL return. By buying into your youngster’s bad behavior, you are providing him with leverage for the next time he wants something.

    My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

    Scream-Free Parenting

    Why should parents stop screaming at their kids – in all cases – effective immediately? Here are 4 important reasons why:
    1. With parental screaming, your children will learn that they never really have to change their behavior, because screaming is not much of a consequence. Instead, they will just listen to the yelling and do whatever they want to do anyway. And eventually, they will simply tune you out completely.
    2. When yelling becomes your usual method of dealing with problems, your kids are also apt to think that it is okay for them to scream a lot. You’re teaching your children that yelling is an appropriate response when one is angry or stressed.
    3. Screaming teaches that life, in general, is often out-of-control.
    4. Screaming actually empowers your children (but in a bad way), because it gives them the message that you are not in control …and if you are not in control, they assume that they are the ones in charge.

    If you find yourself yelling at your youngster too often, it’s not going to be easy to stop (at least not right away). Learning how to change the way you communicate with your youngster takes practice. You may need a different disciplinary technique, because your children are going to push your buttons to try and get you to lose control (which is what they have been doing for a long time now). But you can learn to stay in control and communicate with them effectively.

    Here are 20 techniques that will help you get the behavioral results that you want from your kids without screaming at them:

    1. After an outburst, even a minor one, immediately ask, "OK, what could I have done to avoid the frustration?" This is a better question to ponder than, "OK, what could I have done to avoid yelling." Accepting that frustration is likely to lead to a conflict helps treat the cause instead of the symptoms. Now, each outburst, instead of being a failure and an opportunity for guilt, can be an opportunity to learn and add to your parenting arsenal.

    2. Because screaming often makes a youngster feel badly about himself, he will often lash back in order to protect himself, and then become revengeful. He may, out of fear and sadness, stop the behavior for a short period of time, however the anger and humiliation he felt will build-up …and soon enough, he will lash out. A good example here is when moms and dads think screaming works when their kids are small, but are shocked when they experience severe disobedience when their kids become teenagers.

    3. Count to 10 while really disengaging yourself from the situation. Walk away, go into a different room, and do a different activity. Even if you don’t have a clue what’s triggering your frustration, if you know that you are over-reacting, then you can try disengaging.

    4. Find a word or phrase to distract yourself from yelling and remind yourself that your youngster isn't trying to drive you nuts -- he's just doing what kids do. "He's only 3, he's only 3," is one example. Repeat it to yourself several times when you feel like you're about to explode.

    5. Find ways to accomplish stressful tasks without your kids in tow. If all of you “lose it” in the grocery store, shop for groceries online after they're in bed -- or even head out to the store after 9:00 PM, when it's empty and you can shop quickly and efficiently.

    6. For some, screaming offers a form of physical release. Jogging in place or doing a jumping jack or two can distract you and give you the outlet you need when you feel like yelling. You probably won't want to do this in public, of course, but at home anything goes. Who knows? You may lose a few pounds!

    7. Give yourself some time to transition when you come home. Take 10 minutes to get into some comfortable clothes, gather your thoughts, and then come out of your room and talk to your children. They’ll act like they can’t wait 10 minutes at first, but they’ll get used to it …they’ll learn to give you your space eventually.

    8. If you get too upset by the situation to maintain control, you are also too upset to figure-out and set long-range consequences for the children. Learn to handle the conflict first - then you get to teach them with a consequence. And if it takes a few iterations before you get the hang of it - fine. When you have successfully handled the problem with patience and kindness, you will usually discover that consequences are simply unnecessary. And on the rare occasion where they are, they should be preceded by long conversations filled with lessons before a consequence should be agreed upon.

    9. If you’re caught in a yelling match with your child, it’s always okay to stop at any point. No matter if the fight is just beginning, if you’re deep into it, or it’s been going on for 15 minutes, you can give yourself permission to stop and step away from the situation. You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.

    10. If you’re trying to get more control and would like to stop yelling, talk to your spouse or your friends, and really acknowledge all of it. There’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about—all parents scream from time to time. Your spouse might have some insights or some ideas of what you can do. Maybe he/she can even step in and help out next time when you start to lose it. He/she also might notice what some of your triggers are that you haven’t noticed yourself.

    11. If you’ve had a bad day, then after the kids are in bed, take a long hot bath in Epsom salts and have a small glass of wine …works for me :)

    12. It is perfectly O.K. to wait ten minutes—or even wait until the next day—to come back and talk with your youngster about her inappropriate behavior. Often times, parent-child conflict is truly not that urgent. Most of us yell about things that are minor if you really think about it. The problem might feel urgent at the time, but that’s only because of whatever we bring to the situation—not usually because of our kid’s behavior.

    13. Lower your expectations. If you find yourself screaming at your children all the time, you may simply be expecting too much of them. Acquaint yourself with what's developmentally appropriate and then tweak your actions (e.g., one hour-long trip to the supermarket rather than hours of errands will reduce whining, and by association, yelling).

    14. Once the conflict is over, make sure everyone is ok …that there is no permanent damage. It isn't just for the children - it's to alleviate the sense of failure, to enable you to shake it off and continue instead of wallowing in guilt and self-pity for the rest of the day. Saying "I love you very much even though I was really mad at you" is a great way to stay in good standing with your child after the dust has settled.

    15. Taking care of your kids can be exhausting to say the least. And yelling is a definite sign of stress and fatigue, which means you need (and deserve) a break! Have your husband or a trusted babysitter step in for half a day so you can get some much-needed time to rejuvenate.

    16. Try whispering. It sounds weird, I know. But if your youngster has to strain to hear you, he's less likely to tune you out. And it's nearly impossible to sound angry (and scary) when you're speaking softly.

    17. Use prayer and meditation during times of stress (usually after the dust has settled).

    18. Walking away from a screaming match will often stop the fight in its tracks, right then and there. Stepping away—taking that time away from the heat of the situation—helps you as a parent to figure out what your response should be. Sometimes this will mean spending some time away from your youngster and then going back later and dealing with the misbehavior.

    19. We all have triggers, and often they’re not very rational. Know what your triggers are and what sets you off (e.g., feet on the couch, backtalk, making a mess in the kitchen, etc.). Teach yourself what you can do when you’re triggered in order to respond more effectively. 90% of the time, the reason parents yell is because they were yelled at as kids. Even though they may have hated being yelled at, it is all they know, and they simply fall into that same pattern during times of stress with their own kids. So, be sure to understand your triggers!

    20. When you catch yourself screaming, change the message to expressing your feelings (e.g., "I am so frustrated right now!"). Don’t make the mistake of simply trying to stop yelling (this will only create pressure and tension). The problem is that you've already lost control - you can't put a clamp on it - but you can give it a healthier outlet, both for you and for the kids who will receive the message, "Mom has emotions" instead of "you are bad."

    Let's face it: Kids can be as exasperating as they are adorable – and parents are only human. But raising your voice is a losing battle. It doesn't discourage frustrating behavior and ultimately gets everyone more upset than they need to be. And then, of course, there's the guilt – and who needs more of that?

    My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

    Preventing Risky Behavior Before It Starts

    There are 5 parts to preventing risky behavior in your youngster: (1) spotting possible problems, (2) working through the problem, (3) being a monitor, (4) being a mentor, and (5) being a role model. Let’s look at each in turn…

    1. Spotting Possible Problems—

    Consider these methods for spotting problems before they turn into full-blown crises:

    • Be actively involved in your youngster’s life. This is important for all moms and dads, no matter what the living arrangements. Knowing how your youngster usually thinks, feels, and acts will help you to notice when things begin to change. Some changes are part of your youngster’s growing up, but others could be signs of trouble.

    • Create healthy ways for your youngster to express emotions. Much “acting out” stems from kids not knowing how to handle their emotions. Feelings can be so intense that usual methods of expressing them don’t work. Or, because feelings like anger or sadness are viewed as “bad,” your youngster may not want to express them openly. Encourage your youngster to express emotions in a healthy and positive way. Let your youngster see you doing things to deal with your own emotions. Once these feelings are less powerful, talk to your youngster about how he or she feels and why. Make sure your youngster knows that all emotions are part of the person that he or she is, not just the “good” or happy ones. Once your youngster knows his range of emotions, he can start to learn how to handle them.

    • Set realistic limits and enforce them consistently. Be selective with your limits, by putting boundaries on the most important behaviors your youngster is engaged in. Make sure you and your youngster can “see” a limit clearly. If your youngster goes beyond the limit, deal with her in similar ways for similar situations. If you decide to punish your youngster, use the most effective methods, like restriction or time-outs. You could also make your youngster correct or make up for the outcome of her actions. Make sure the harshness of the punishment fits your youngster’s “crime.”As your youngster learns how limits work and what happens when she goes past those limits, she will trust you to be fair. 

    2. Working through the Problem—

    Because problems are quite different, how you solve them also differs. To solve tough problems, you may need more complex methods. Keep these things in mind when trying to solve a problem:

    • Admit when a problem is bigger than you can handle alone or requires special expertise. No one expects you to solve every problem your family has by yourself. Some problems are just too big to handle alone, not because you’re a “bad” parent, but simply because of the nature of the problem. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do on your own.

    • Know that you are not alone. Talk to other moms and dads or a trusted friend or relative. Some of them might be dealing with or have dealt with similar things. They may have ideas on how to solve a problem in a way you haven’t thought of. Or, they might share your feelings, which can also be a comfort.

    • Get outside help, if needed. There will be times when you just won’t know how to help your youngster; other times, you truly won’t be able to help your youngster. That’s okay! Someone else may know how to help. Use all the resources you have to solve a problem, including getting outside help when you need it. Remember that it’s not important how a problem is solved, just that it is. Ideas on where you can go for outside help include the following:
    • Community groups
    • Family members and relatives
    • Friends
    • Other moms and dads
    • Pastors, priests, rabbis, and ministers
    • Pediatricians
    • Psychologists
    • Psychiatrists
    • School nurses and counselors
    • Social workers and agencies
    • Support and self-help groups

    3. Being a Monitor—

    Being a monitor means you pay careful attention to your youngster and his surroundings – especially his peer group. Being an active monitor can be as simple as answering some basic questions:
    • Who is your youngster with?
    • What do you know about the person(s) your youngster is with?
    • Where is your youngster?
    • What is your youngster doing?
    • When will your youngster be home/leaving?
    • How is your youngster getting there/home?

    You won’t always have detailed answers to these questions, but it’s important to know most of the answers, most of the time.

    You may also want to keep these things in mind when being an active monitor:

    • Give direction without being rigid. In some cases, not being allowed to do something only makes your youngster want to do it more. Is the answer just plain “no” or does it depend on the circumstances? “Yes, but only if...” is a useful option when making decisions.

    • Know the people your youngster spends time with. Because you can’t be with your youngster all the time, you should know who is with your youngster when you’re not. Friends have a big influence on your youngster, from pre-school well into adulthood. Much of the time, this influence is positive, but not always. With a little effort from you, your youngster might surround herself with friends whose values, interests, and behaviors will be “pluses” in your youngster’s life. Your youngster also spends a lot of time with her educators. Educators play a vital role in your youngster’s development and overall well-being, so get to know your youngster’s educators, too.

    • Know what your youngster is watching, reading, playing, or listening to. Because TV, movies, video games, the Internet, and music are such a large part of many of our lives, they can have a huge influence on children. Be sure you know what your youngster’s influences are. You can’t help your youngster make positive choices if you don’t know what web sites he visits or what he reads, listens to, watches, or plays.

    • Open the lines of communication when your son or daughter is young, and keep those lines open. It seems obvious, but honest communication is crucial. When your son or daughter is young, talk openly about things you do when you aren’t with your youngster …then ask your youngster what he or she does during those times. As your youngster gets older, keep up this type of communication. Both you and your youngster have to take part in open, two-way communication.

    • Tell your youngster what thoughts and ideals you value and why. For instance, if being respectful to grown-ups is an ideal you want your youngster to have, tell her. Even more importantly, tell her why you think it’s important. Don’t assume that your youngster knows your reasons for valuing one practice or way of behaving over another.

    4. Being a Mentor –

    A mentor is someone who provides support, guidance, friendship, and respect to a youngster. Being a mentor is like being a coach of a sports team. A caring coach sees the strengths and weaknesses of each player and tries to build those strengths and lessen those weaknesses. In practice, coaches stand back and watch the action, giving advice on what the players should do next, but knowing that the players make their own game-time decisions.

    Coaches honestly point out things that can be done better and praise things that are done well. Coaches listen to their players and earn players’ trust. They give their players a place to turn when things get tough.

    Mentors do the same things:
    • be a friend
    • develop a youngster’s strengths
    • give praise
    • listen
    • offer advice and support
    • share a youngster’s interests

    Mentors help children to reach their full potential, which includes mistakes and tears, as well as successes and smiles. Mentors know that small failures often precede major successes. Knowing this fact, they encourage children to keep trying because those successes are right around the corner.

    There is no magic wand that turns people into caring mentors. Just spending time with your youngster helps you become a mentor. You can do ordinary things with your youngster, like going grocery shopping together. You can do special things with your youngster, like going to a museum or a concert together. The important part is that you do things together, which includes communicating with one another.

    You may want to keep these things in mind as you think about being a mentor:

    • Be honest about your own strengths and weaknesses. If you know the answer to a question, say so. If you don’t, then say so. To build a trusting, but real, relationship with your youngster, you only have to be human. All humans make mistakes. You have – and your youngster will, too. Your youngster can benefit from hearing about your mistakes, including what you thought before you made them, how your thoughts changed after you made them, and how you changed your thoughts or behaviors to avoid them in the future. A youngster who thinks his parent is perfect builds expectations that moms and dads can’t possibly live up to.

    • Introduce your youngster to things that you like to do. This is a useful way for your youngster to learn more about you. It’s sometimes hard for children to picture their moms and dads doing things that other people do, like playing an instrument, volunteering at a nursing home, watching movies, playing a sport, or knowing about art. If your youngster sees you doing these things, you become more of a “regular person,” rather than “just a parent.”

    • Respect your youngster’s thoughts and opinions without judging them. Even if you don’t agree with your youngster, make it clear that you want to know what her thoughts are, without the threat of punishment. If your youngster is afraid of being punished, she may stop sharing things entirely. Let different points-of-view co-exist for a while. They will allow your youngster to think more about an issue. Remember that there is an important difference between, “I disagree with you,” and “You’re wrong.”

    • Support your youngster’s interests and strengths, but don’t force things. Children spend their childhood trying to figure out who they are, how the world works, and how they fit into that world. Make sure your youngster has enough room to explore. If your youngster has no interest in an activity or topic, don’t push. Your youngster will soon begin to dread the “forced activity” and will find ways to get out of doing it.

    5. Being a Role Model—

    Role models come in all shapes and sizes …they do all kinds of jobs …they come from any country or city. Some kids view athletes as their role models. Other kids look up to authors or scientists. And, believe it or not, many kids see their moms and dads as role models.

    All too often, parenting behavior is guided by parents reacting to their own childhoods (e.g., “I don’t ever want to be like my parents” or “It was good enough for me, so it’s good enough for my children”). Remember that reacting instead of responding prevents you from making decisions that can change the outcome of a situation. To be a more effective, consistent, active, and attentive parent, it’s best to focus on your kids and their lives.

    Does this mean that you have to be perfect so your youngster will grow up to be perfect, too? Of course not. No one is perfect. But, you do need to figure out what kind of example you are setting for your youngster.

    You may want to be the kind of role model who does the following:

    • Be honest with your youngster about how you are feeling. Grown-ups get confused about emotions all the time, so it’s no surprise that kids might get confused, too. For instance, you might have a short temper after a really stressful day at work, but your youngster might think you are angry with him. If you find yourself acting differently than you usually do, explain to your youngster that he isn’t to blame for your change in “typical” behavior. Your youngster can even help you by lightening your mood or altering your attitude. You can prevent a lot of hurt feelings and confusion by being honest with your youngster about your own emotions.

    • Do as you say and say as you do. Kids want to act like their role models, not just talk like them. Kids learn as much, if not more from your actions as they do from your words. Don’t just tell your youngster to call home if she is going to be late. Make sure that you call home when you know you’re going to be late. Don’t just tell your youngster not to shout at you. Don’t shout at your youngster or at others. This kind of consistency helps your youngster form reliable patterns of the relationship between attitudes and actions.

    • Make sure your youngster knows that being angry does not mean “not loving.” Disagreements and arguments are a normal part of most relationships. But many kids can’t separate love from anger. They assume that if you yell at them, then you don’t love them anymore. Even if you think your youngster has a solid grasp of emotions, you may want to be specific about this point. Otherwise, you run the risk of having your youngster think she is not loved every time you have a disagreement. Most of all, try to be alert to changes in your youngster’s emotions so you can “coach” your youngster through moments of anger or sadness without brushing-off the emotion or ignoring it.

    • Pinpoint things that you wouldn’t want your youngster’s role model to do, and make sure you aren’t doing them. For instance, suppose your youngster views a sports player as his role model. If you found out that player used illegal drugs or was verbally or physically abusive to others, would you still want your youngster to look up to that person? Probably not. Now apply that same standard to your own actions. If you don’t want your youngster to smoke, then you should not smoke. If you want your youngster to be on time for school, make sure you are on time for work and other meetings. If you don’t want your youngster to use curse words, then don’t use those words in front of your youngster. Reviewing your own conduct means being honest with yourself, about yourself. You may need to make some changes in how you act, but both you and your youngster will benefit in the end.

    • Show respect for other people, including your youngster. For many kids, the word respect is hard to understand. It’s not something they can touch or feel, but it’s still a very important concept. To help your youngster learn about respect, you may want to point out when you are being respectful. For instance, when your youngster starts to pick out her own clothes, you can show respect for those choices. Tell your youngster, “That wouldn’t have been my choice, but I respect your decision to wear that plaid shirt with those striped pants.”

    Now that you know how to prevent risky behavior before it starts, it’s time to put these ideas into action. Good luck!

    My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

    Dealing with Teen Rage

    There can be no simple solution when facing a raging teen. It is not fair or even effective to expect mothers and fathers to avoid upsetting their teen. Once your teen gets pissed-off, you can’t always make it better.

    Unfortunately, moms and dads can make it worse - and even reinforce angry behavior - if they shout, insult or argue back. Sometimes the best we can do is to not make it worse and then deal with a teen’s rage at a better time in a fair and effective manner. Giving teens a consequence later when you are not upset - and when they are not upset - is always best. They may get upset later, but at least your consequence was not given out of rage. Teens are less likely to "get even" later if you don’t discipline them when you are upset.

    Dealing with Teen Rage: 15 Tips for Parents

    1. In order to come up with a solution that will help, it’s important to first figure out what the problem is—what causes your child’s rage? You’ll be on your way to stopping the tirades once you identify your teen’s “triggers” (i.e., the events or situations that precede the rage). Learning your teen’s triggers is one of the first steps to helping her learn better anger-management skills. When she’s able to learn her triggers, she’ll start to recognize them when they begin to brew. Only when she recognizes them can she start to use a new strategy to manage them.

    2. Actively listen to the emotions behind your adolescent’s rage. Then share observations like “When I become angry, it’s usually because I first feel hurt, disappointed, embarrassed or some other emotions” or “In that situation, I know that I would first feel rejected and then probably somewhat annoyed.”

    3. Adolescents need help in challenging and replacing unrealistic thoughts (e.g., all or nothing thinking like “I need to be perfect or I am a failure”). Help them challenge such thoughts with more realistic and compassionate thoughts (e.g., “Just because I feel like I have to be perfect does not mean it is true”).

    4. Adolescents need to learn skills in body awareness and relaxation in order to reduce the physical tension associated with rage. Simply deeply inhaling and exhaling three times can help an adolescent become relaxed. This approach can be rehearsed when your teen is calm so he easily remembers to use it when he actually experiences rage.

    5. Adolescents perceive things very differently from grown-ups. You might assume you know what happened, but your teen probably experienced it very differently. So ask her about it even if you think you know the answer. For example, you might ask “What were you thinking right before you dropped the F-bomb during class?” Some adolescents have trouble putting their thoughts into words when they are upset. If your teen is still upset from the incident, give her time to calm down before trying to have any sort of conversation about what happened.

    6. All adolescents benefit when they learn healthy rage-management. When they do so, they gain increased self-awareness, frustration tolerance, self-control, competence and empathy for themselves and others. In contrast, adolescents who mismanage rage may exhibit social withdrawal, academic underachievement, substance abuse, bullying, gang participation, prejudice and suicidal behaviors.

    7. Enlist the help of other grown-ups in your teen’s life to observe your teen’s behavior and interactions (e.g., other relatives, other parents, teachers, coaches, etc.). If your teen starts raging while others are around, ask them what they saw happen right before the rage started (e.g., if she starting raging in school, find out what the teacher saw happening or what other students reported to her). Think of yourself as an investigator interviewing the witnesses so that you can piece everything together and start to make connections between environmental factors and your teen’s rage.

    8. Let your teen know what you have observed about the trigger and the subsequent raging behavior (e.g., "I’ve noticed that when you think something is unfair, that's when you start calling me a bitch"). By connecting the dots for her, you are helping her learn what triggers her rage. Then come up with a plan for what your teen will do differently next time she is in this kind of situation.

    9. Observation is one of your best tools for identifying your teen’s triggers, especially with those who have less self-awareness. Simply pay attention and be aware of the warning signs. Watch and listen, whether your teen is hanging out with friends at home, doing homework, or playing video games. You might start to notice patterns emerging. For example, maybe your teen does well with her homework but starts to get mouthy and upset when it’s time to do her chores. That would alert you that there may be a trigger related to chores that you want to explore more.

    10. Often there are physical symptoms that come along with triggers. The nervous system kicks into high gear when a trigger is present and can cause rapid heartbeat, warm flushed cheeks, rapid breathing, cold hands, muscle tension, and a lot of other signals. Ask your teen what she feels in her body when the trigger you are talking about is occurring. When your teen is aware of the warning signs her body gives her, it will serve as a natural cue to put the new plan you came up with during your problem-solving discussions into action.

    11. Partner with your teen to establish some type of cue that you will use whenever she is starting to get upset (e.g., clapping your hands, clearing your throat). Choose one specific trigger to work on, and then come up with some kind of hand signal or phrase that will serve as an alert to your teen that the trigger is present. This allows you to make your teen aware of the trigger subtly in social situations. Once you have alerted her, she’ll have the chance to self-correct. If you cue your teen, but she doesn’t use the response the two of you had planned on, have her take a break from whatever is going on and come speak to you in a quiet place, away from an audience. This is where you step in and help your teen correct her behavior. Let her know you gave her the cue, but you noticed she didn’t respond the way you had discussed. Remind her of what you talked about and let her know what the consequences will be if she doesn’t use the plan the next time you cue her.

    12. We teach "healthy anger" to adolescents by helping them realize they are more prone to experience negative emotions and related rage when they maintain unrealistic expectations and conclusions regarding others and ourselves. Your teenager may be prone to rage when he has rigid expectations (rather than a desire or wish) that he or others “have to” or “should” behave as expected (e.g., your daughter may experience expectations of entitlement that make her vulnerable to rage following the slightest disappointment).

    13. We teach adolescents healthy anger-management when we help them recognize that rage is most often a reaction to other negative emotions such as embarrassment, anxiety, guilt, shame or hurt related to rejection or feelings of inadequacy. Sharing your emotions, unrealistic expectations and conclusions that underlie your rage, helps your teen reflect on the meaning of his rage. By modeling reflection and self-awareness, you also offer your teen permission to candidly and openly accept and discuss his feelings and thoughts.

    14. Visual imagery offers a way towards physical control and relaxation. The following exercise can be rehearsed so that your adolescent can gain physical composure when he actually experiences tension associated with rage:
    • Have him sit in a comfortable chair, close his eyes and visualize a place that is extremely relaxing and peaceful.
    • Suggest he imagine the colors, the sounds, the air quality, the shapes, lines and texture of the objects in his scene.
    • Once relaxed, suggest he shift his attention to envisioning his muscles becoming more relaxed, beginning with his forehead, his face, jaw, neck, shoulders, torso, and down to his toes.
    • Then have him do this once again. By rehearsing it, he develops the capacity to relax his body without having to actually picture the scene.

    15. Healthy anger implies managing it in a constructive way, not denying, minimizing, or suppressing it, nor letting it “all hang out” in the form of rage. Most importantly, we teach healthy anger-management by helping adolescents recognize that anger is a natural emotion. We teach healthy anger-management by helping them to:
    • Recognize and identify the negative emotions behind their rage
    • Identify, challenge and replace unrealistic conclusions and expectations
    • Learn physical relaxation skills to maintain composure
    • Develop problem-solving skills.

    With time, most adolescents not only learn how to respond more effectively when triggers occur, but they learn to anticipate them and even avoid situations that might set them off. They will start to see triggers as real things that they can manage with real tools. When your teen realizes there are things she can do to manage her triggers appropriately, your pay-off is a teen that knows herself well, has improved anger-management skills, and feels more confident about herself. And when you’re able to help your teen reduce her tirades, you’ll feel calmer and more in control too.

    Problem solving skills may involve brainstorming, thinking through alternative ways of managing rage, communicating rage and evaluating effectiveness of strategies for managing rage. While most adolescents benefit from these strategies alone, some may need additional support from professionals. Special support is indicated when your adolescent’s rage is of a long duration (several weeks or longer), is intense (physically or verbally) and is pervasive (directed at many different individuals and in many different settings). Learning healthy anger-management is a process that takes time. It requires commitment, practice and patience – from you and your adolescent.

    My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

    Teaching Problem-Solving Skills to Defiant Children

    What causes defiant behavior? The reason: Because defiant kids haven’t figured-out how to solve their problems yet. If parents don't find out what problem their child is trying to solve with her bad behavior and offer her a good solution, the defiance will continue – and get worse over time!

    There are many different kinds of problems children encounter, and each looks a little different in terms of behavior. These are the three main types of problem-solving challenges parents can expect to experience:

    1. Social problems: Some children have great difficulty getting along well with others, particularly peers their own age (e.g., they don’t know how to handle it if a classmate does something they don’t like). Bullies, in particular, often lack social problem-solving skills and mistreat their peers to compensate.

    2. Functional problems: This is when your youngster has problems meeting responsibilities at home and school (e.g., lies about having his homework done or loses his homework, refuses to do chores, talks back to teachers, etc.).

    3. Emotional problems: Most kids have moments of feeling angry, sad, frustrated, helpless, etc. When you are a youngster who hasn’t figured-out how to deal with these feelings, just having them can bring on defiant behavior.

    Teaching problem-solving skills to the defiant child:

    1. Start by having a conversation with your child about a recent problematic incident in which he exhibited defiant behavior (do this after things have calmed down and before you talk about consequences). Your ultimate goal is to help your child identify the problem, teach him how to solve it, and then hold him accountable. If your youngster refuses to participate in the conversation without being defiant - or refuses to participate at all – withhold a privilege until he cooperates.

    2. Help your child get the facts and identify his feelings. When kids are angry, frustrated or upset, they need to learn how to identify the problem. When asking your youngster to tell you his problems, be calm and nonjudgmental. Kids see things from their own perspectives and may be completely unaware of how their actions affect others. Helping kids identify their own feelings and recognize the feelings of others is an important step.

    3. Help your child to set a conflict-resolution goal and define what he wants to happen in the situation. When kids have clear goals, it’s easier to think of solutions.

    4. Help your child generate alternatives. Help kids stay focused on their problems and ask what they can do to reach their goals. When kids offer alternatives, repeat their ideas and ask them what else could be done. Don’t criticize their ideas. Instead, prompt more solutions by asking questions. If they can’t think of alternatives, ask them to imagine how someone else might handle the situation.

    5. After your child has generated his ideas and alternatives, help him evaluate the consequences (e.g., “What might happen if . . .? Would it be safe? Would it be fair? How would everyone feel?”). Parents should encourage kids to evaluate their ideas and see why they are acceptable or unacceptable.

    6. Ask your child for a decision. After kids evaluate their ideas, parents should restate the problem, summarize their ideas and let kids decide which actions they would like to try. If kids choose an idea that you think will not work, make sure they know what their alternatives are and what they should try next.

    7. Talk about what your youngster will do differently the next time this problem comes up. Allow him to try to come up with an idea on his own (make some suggestions if he’s struggling though). When you ask your youngster what he will do differently next time, he may give you a superficial answer (e.g., "I just won’t do it again" … "I’ll do better"). Superficial thinking indicates that your youngster truly believes he can just do something without really putting thought or effort into it. Get your youngster to be more specific (e.g., "Exactly how will you stop cursing at me? What will I see you doing instead?").

    Other points to consider:

    • Remember that children observe their parents very closely. If YOU yell, but you don’t want your youngster to raise HIS voice, this is a problem. It’s important for you to act the way you want your kids to act. Observation is a key learning method for children, especially younger ones, so be aware of this.

    • Ask questions to identify the problem (e.g., "What were you thinking when…?" or "What were you trying to accomplish by…?").

    • Talk about only one problem at a time. Don’t bring up something that happened last week or something else your youngster did earlier today that upset you. If your youngster brings up another incident, let him know you will talk about that later. Tackling too many issues at once only results in frustration for both parents and children.

    • As you go through the process of having problem-solving discussions, you will notice that your child gradually uses those replacement behaviors more and more with less coaching from you. As children get better at solving various problems on their own, they will start to feel better about themselves. Having strong problem-solving skills improves self-esteem.

    My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents with Defiant Children and Teens

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    Outbursts, rages, and strife become a way of life (an emotionally unhealthy way of life). We set aside our own needs and focus on the needs of our children. But what does it cost us?

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    The Strong-Willed Out-of-Control Teen

    The standard disciplinary techniques that are recommended for “typical” teenagers do not take into account the many issues facing teens with serious behavioral problems. Disrespect, anger, violent rages, self-injury, running away from home, school failure, hanging-out with the wrong crowd, drug abuse, theft, and legal problems are just some of the behaviors that parents of defiant teens will have to learn to control.

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