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

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

The Comedic Approach To Parenting

The last thing that most parents consider when they are trying to come up with some form of discipline for their unruly child is “humor.” But, when used in the right way at the right time, the use of humor and playful parenting can be a clever (and sometimes startling) technique.

The most important factor in disciplining a child is the connection between child and parent. While humor is certainly not the only way to make a connection, it's probably the best way since laughter and play appeal to most children.

Use humor to defuse tension. When a youngster has pushed his parents over the edge, humor can be a safe way to regain their ground. By putting a humorous slant on behavior that still must be addressed, parents model effective ways for children to handle feelings.

Turn anger into laughter. Parents who can help an angry youngster see the humor in her position without making her feel ridiculed is showing her how to calm down. When parent and child can laugh together, they become close again.

Here are some examples of parents’ use of humor:

1. Seven-year-old Kayla and four-year-old Michael were in the middle of an argument over a toy at the end of the day when their mom was already stressed-out from a hard day at work. Mom had neither the time nor the energy to put on her coaching cap and provide a lecture about “how to share.” Instead, she grabbed a big toy block and put it on top of her head and started singing, "I am a blockhead …I am going nuts …my children are fighting …I am a block head.” The children burst into laughter and everyone was amused. Mom's clowning around had diffused the children's arguing. Mom then sat down with the children and said, "It has been a long day. We are all tired and hungry. Let’s go fix dinner together.”

2. Five-year-old Randy ran into the kitchen crying because his older brother had just accidently knocked down his barn made of Lego’s. Immediately, Randy's mom pulled out a tablespoon and a measuring cup. "We must get to work and count these tears," she said. "Maybe we can set a record!" Then she began collecting Randy's tears, emptying them carefully into the cup. Soon Randy was laughing. After a minute or so, he had forgotten what he was crying about.

3. While at the grocery store, 4-year-old Kevin bumped his elbow and began screaming at the top of his lungs. Kevin’s dad gave him a quick hug, then pointed to Kevin’s elbow and said, “Oh, did you hurt your knee?” Kevin shifted the focus from tears to getting the right body part identified, and pretty soon he had forgotten the pain altogether.

4. As an argument between one mother and her 13-year-old daughter was heating up, the daughter rudely stated, “Kiss my butt.” The mother calmly replied, “O.K. Move your nose.” The daughter looked as stunned as a deer looking into headlights, and then she busted out with laughter – argument over!

5. One mother (a born comedian) had a list of comebacks for almost any situation. She was known for one-liners such as:
  • Oh bologna, I forgot my “No Whining” sign!
  • Not all children are annoying ...some are dead.
  • Chaos, panic and disorder - my work here is done.
  • You’ve been sniffin’ magic markers again …haven’t you?
  • Don’t laugh …you’ll interrupt my depression.

Not every playful approach parents try will work. Moms and dads will need to experiment in order to find their child’s “funny bone.” Also, parents need to keep in mind that there are some things that just aren’t funny. Injuries, bullying, friend drama, and plenty of other circumstances are not humorous to most parents and kids, especially not at the outset. Down the road the parent and child may find something humorous about the situation, but tread very carefully at the start. Part of developing a sense of humor includes understanding what is not funny, and this is very much a “lead by example” situation. Just as humor can connect parents and children, misused or misapplied humor can have the opposite effect.

All children have a funny bone. They love to laugh, play, and clown around. Humor is a very effective way to get children to do the things they don’t want to do. When moms and dads use silly songs and the element of surprise, children will often comply with little fuss.

Helping Anxious Children With Their Transition To Middle School

So your child is entering middle school this fall, and you are wondering how to manage the transition? The answer is, "very carefully" because his or her life is about to undergo a number of major challenges. The transition to middle school is marked by several significant (and perhaps stressful) changes:
  • This is a time when young teens are most likely to experiment with at-risk behaviors.
  • This complicated period of transition has often been associated with a decline in academic achievement, performance motivation, and self-perceptions. 
  • The transition to middle school comes at a time when kids are also experiencing a host of other changes associated with the transition from childhood to adolescence. They are beginning to mature physically, and to think of themselves as individuals outside of their families. Their attentions turn to exercising independence and developing strong relationships with peers — while avoiding exposure and embarrassment. The atmosphere at home may become strained as both parents and kids struggle with redefining roles and relationships. 
  • The middle school “mission” is different than it was in elementary school. In middle school, educators focus more on the child's acceptable conduct and adequate performance. As one teacher asserted, "We treat students as less delicate and more responsible here. We don't coddle them. We expect them to act more grown up."
  • Social, developmental, and academic experiences are affected, requiring kids to adjust to what they see as new settings, structures, and expectations.
  • Social cruelty gets worse. Both males and females become more socially aggressive with each other as they jostle for a place to socially belong among their independent community of peers. 
  • It is the point at which kids begin to make pivotal decisions regarding their academic and career choices — precisely at a time when they may be distracted or turned off by academic endeavors.
  • In most elementary schools, kids are taught in self-contained classrooms with a familiar set of peers and one or two educators. Once children reach middle schools, however, they must interact with more peers, more educators, and with intensified expectations for both performance and personal responsibility. 
  • Early adolescence often brings a change for the worse. Young teens start pulling away, pushing against, and getting around adult authority in order to create more freedom to grow and to live on more independent terms. Now complaints, arguments, delays, disobedience, and testing limits become part of the child’s repertoire at home and at school.

So how can parents ease the transition and help reduce the friction that comes with this difficult change? Here are 25 important tips:

1. Accompany your youngster on campus tours and orientations offered to moms and dads and incoming students. The better you understand the school layout and rules, the more you can help your youngster.

2. Avoid overreacting to grades. Making sure your youngster gets a handle on how to meet the demands of the new school is the critical factor in the early weeks.

3. Buy your youngster a lock for his locker several weeks before school starts to give him plenty of time to practice opening and closing it. Also, consider whether a combination or keyed lock is best for him.

4. Ease any loneliness in the early weeks of school by helping your youngster arrange weekend social activities with neighborhood, church, or grade school peers.

5. Talk about your child’s concerns and anxieties about moving into middle schools. Be upbeat and reassuring.

6. If the middle school has a homework hotline, make sure your youngster knows how to use it.

7. Encourage your youngster to join group conversations. Discuss how to join in without interrupting, to add something relevant to conversation in progress, etc.

8. Encourage your youngster to join sports teams, clubs, or other extracurricular activities.

9. Explore the school's Web site with your youngster. Search for announcements, schedules, and events.

10. Find out the length of the passing period between classes. Time it out for your youngster. Demonstrate how far he can walk in that amount of time.

11. Get a copy of the student handbook. Review rules and requirements — especially the school's code of conduct, which describes consequences for violations of the most important rules. Ask the school staff questions about anything that's unclear.

12. Get a copy of your youngster's class schedule and mark the location of his locker and each classroom and bathroom on the school map. Tape both of these inside his binder. If your youngster has trouble reading maps, walk the route between classes with him — more than once, if necessary — and note landmarks that he can use to navigate.

13. Get a map of the campus and take your youngster to explore. Pick a time after school in the days just before school starts. Be sure to check in with the school office to get an OK for your explorations.

14. Go to back-to-school night, open houses, parent-teacher conferences and other events where you can connect with your youngster's educators.

15. Help your youngster be his own advocate. Encourage him to discuss problems and solutions with educators on his own, but be ready to step in and help as needed.

16. Help your child with time management skills. Work together on a schedule for study time, break time, chores, etc.

17. If your youngster has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), meet with the middle school IEP team before your youngster enters the new school. Discuss the qualities of the "ideal" teacher for your youngster to help ensure the best placements.

18. Include a couple of your youngster's friends on campus treks. They can boost each other's memory about where things are when school starts.

19. Make sure your youngster has an easy-to-read wristwatch so he can quickly see if he needs to hurry to be on time to class. If he has a cell phone, make sure the time is set correctly and he is in the habit of checking it.

20. Moms and dads need to learn about young adolescents and their developmental issues and stages so that they will understand better this new and wonderful person with whom they live, and be able to interact with her in positive ways that build relationships.

21. Moms and dads should watch for signs of depression and be ready to address them.

22. Practice skills needed for difficult social situations. Talk about social skills. Discuss how words and actions can affect other people. And remind your youngster to make eye contact when speaking or listening.

23. Stay connected to your youngster's school work. Try to teach him to work more independently while supporting him enough to give him confidence.

24. Talk about traits that make a good friend (such as being a good listener).

25. Work out an organizational system with your child. Acknowledge and make allowances for his anxiety. At first, he may need to carry everything for all classes all the time in order to feel prepared.

When Teens Say They Don't Care About Consequences

Mom: “If you don’t stop slamming your bedroom door, you’re going to be grounded for the rest of the week – and the weekend!”

Teen: “I don’t care!!!” (SLAM)

Sound familiar?

If your teenager refuses to follow house rules, and also acts like the consequences for breaking the rules are a joke, then you (the parent) need to change your parenting approach.

There may be any number of reasons why your teenager fails to respect you, your rules, and your consequences. Does he refuse to accept the rules because he considers them unfair? In this case, the teenager's objections – and the parent's reasons – warrant further discussion. Are the rules clear? Important rules need to be put in writing.

Here are some tips for issuing consequences to teens that (supposedly) "don’t care" about consequences:

1. Be assertive without yelling or losing your temper. A willful teenager is likely to think it's funny to see you losing your cool. Disciplining your son or daughter will become a real struggle if you tend to get “bent out of shape” often.

2. Consequences should have realistic time limits (i.e., long enough to teach a lesson, but short enough to give the teenager a chance to move on to more positive things).

3. Consequences work best when they are imposed as soon as possible following an infraction of the rules. If you delay the imposition of the consequences, you're blunting their emotional impact on your teenager.

4. Hit them where it hurts! I often hear parents say, “It doesn’t matter what I take away for punishment. My child simply laughs and acts like he could care less.” If this is the case, then you haven’t found the thing your child likes most. I have NEVER known a teenager who did NOT care about EVERYTHING. Your son or daughter has something very valuable that he/she does not want to lose! Is there a prom coming up? Is he/she about to get a driver’s license? How about that birthday party at his/her best friend’s house this coming weekend? Find out what is going to “hurt” if your child stands to lose it, and you just might have the perfect consequence.

5. In order to deal with teens that don’t care what kind of consequence you issue, you must take a parental position that does not change.  If you bounce around all over the landscape, you only confuse your son or daughter. He/she needs you to be a fixed point of reference. Your teenager is very aware that you are imperfect.  She sees your inconsistencies, your bad habits, and your failures. Teens tend to become critical of parents who second-guess themselves.  As their world expands, they know other parents who are different, who have different rules, and teach different values. However, you can take a position that maintains your authority, admits that you are imperfect, and allows for your decreasing power as the teen grows older. 

6. Many moms and dads don’t distinguish between power and authority, and they assume they have absolute power. But you don’t have absolute power over the life of your teenager.  If he decides to defy you, what are you willing to do?  Lock him in the basement?  Are you willing to call the cops?  Would throwing her in Juvenile Hall solve anything?  You never want to reach the point where you are in a power struggle. If your teen ever decides you are the enemy, control evaporates.  Once you become the enemy, you are the problem in the mind of the teen.  You may be nagging your teenager because you care, but he/she only perceives that “my mom is on my back all the time.”  Thus, the real issue disappears as the teen concentrates on winning through defiance.

7. One of your major goals when issuing a consequence should be to help your teenagers think and learn. Remember that you don’t “own” your teenagers. The goal is not to own or keep them, but to help them learn to be responsible and accountable people in their own right.

8. The severity of consequences should fit the crime. Overly harsh consequences will encourage your teenager to resent the rules and your authority, which will generate more anger and rebelliousness.

9. There is great power in listening, but few parents tap into that source of power. When you really listen to your teenagers, it helps you understand where they are coming from and what they are thinking. It allows you to make better decisions when it comes to discovering which consequences will have a positive impact – and which ones won’t.

10. Ultimately, if you want your rules to be followed, you must enforce them consistently. That means not "forgetting" about them or occasionally suspending them because you feel guilty or because your teenager pressures you to do so. If you make empty threats, you're sacrificing your credibility and undermining your authority as a mother or father.

When Teens Refuse To Come Home

Teen: “Hey mom. I’m spending the night here at Sarah’s.”
Mother: “No you’re not. I told you to be home by 11:00 PM.”
Teen: “But her mom said it was O.K. if I stay here tonight.”
Mother: “I don’t care. I let you go over there because you promised to be home by 11:00. Now, you either come home or you’re grounded for the rest of the week!”
Teen: “Then I’m never coming home!!!” (CLICK)

Sound familiar? For moms and dads with adolescents, setting curfews can be tricky. Adolescents should have curfews because they need discipline and supervision. They're at a point in life where they are experimenting and pushing boundaries. When adolescents rebel against their curfews, moms and dads shouldn't give in. Parents are so easily manipulated by teens when it comes to curfews. It's not just about your teen hanging out with the wrong people or you staying up late worrying where he or she is at. A curfew is about an adolescent understanding that, yes, he or she can go out and have fun, but there has to be “responsibility” alongside this privilege.

What To Do When Your Adolescent Refuses To Come Home:

1. Allow your teenagers to come home after breaking curfew without fear. Discipline is better meted out the day after. Otherwise, they might commit greater infractions out of defiance.

2. Be careful how hard and fast you make that curfew. Allow for a small buffer (perhaps 15 minutes) so that your teen does not drive faster in order to be home by curfew and avoid punishment.

3. Be fair with the amount of discipline you issue for breaking curfew. Avoid becoming radical in your disciplinary actions, as this will only confuse your teenagers and possibly cause resentment.

4. Check local ordinances on curfews. Many cities and counties have mandatory curfews in place for minors of different age groups. Use the laws in your city to help back up your decisions. If it is against the law for your teen to be out after a certain time, let him or her know.

5. Communicate clearly what the agreed upon times are through written and verbal reinforcements. Post it on the refrigerator and reinforce with a verbal reminder (e.g., "I look forward to seeing you around 10:30 tonight").

6. Discuss the consequences for breaking curfew with your spouse. It is important that any actions you take in this regard are decided together when you both have a cool head.

7. Don't wait until your youngsters are adolescents to establish a curfew. Establish the curfew when your youngsters are preteens so that, by the time they reach their teenage years, obeying a curfew has become a long established habit.

8. Execute the consequences of broken rules. When your teen is late, give her the freedom and opportunity to comment and explain. Maybe there were unplanned events (e.g., a flat tire). Try to find a solution to the problem together. If your adolescent still breaks the curfew rule, let the agreed-upon consequences fall into place. Since you and your adolescent have already discussed these consequences and set them up together (e.g., take away car keys, remove home privileges, etc.), you are not forced into the position of playing the "bad guy" or creating a discipline on the spot.

9. Have your teen call as she is leaving her friend's house or an event. The call will give you a heads-up regarding where your teen is and how long it should take for her to arrive home.

10. If your adolescent has missed curfew because drinking or drugs were involved, then the consequences are more serious. Simply enact these more serious consequences that you and your adolescent set-up together.

11. If your teen knows in advance what the consequence for breaking curfew will be, and still breaks curfew, it may be time to re-evaluate the consequence.

12. Instruct your teen to call from her cell phone or her friend's home phone as soon as she arrives at her destination. Double check the number against the number on your list or from the Caller ID.

13. Involve your adolescents in setting their nighttime boundaries. Reach an agreement together as to a curfew time that is age-appropriate. Compromise if necessary. You don't always have to be the "winner."

14. It never hurts to check on your adolescent from time to time. If your adolescent says she is going to be at the coffee shop at 5 p.m. with their friends, drop by and see for yourself. You do not have to even let your adolescent know. If she sees you, just wave and keep on walking. Teens need to know that there will be some unscheduled checking by you. If they are spending the night at a friend’s house, call and ask to speak to your teen at an unusual time.

15. Keep a list of phone numbers for all of your teen's friends. If your teen says he is going to Michael's house, make sure that is exactly where he is going. A networking system with Michael's mom or dad is essential. Call Michael's parents and confirm your son's visit. Find out who will be driving and what the teenagers will be doing. This one phone call can be the first step in preventing a dangerous situation from occurring. If the other parents are not aware of your teen's visit, chances are your adolescent is already planning to do something he shouldn't be doing.

16. Make it abundantly clear that any time your teen becomes frightened while away from home, she can always call you for help.

17. Point out to your teenagers that a curfew expresses your trust in them, not your control over them. If they are breaking curfew, they are only failing to practice freedom prudently.

18. Remember that a broken curfew is not the end of the world, nor does it mean your teenagers fundamentally don't respect you. It is only natural that your teenagers will try to test boundaries to see what consequences they can handle.

19. Remind your teenagers of their curfew before they go out at night. Don’t give them the chance to say they were unclear about the specifics of curfew or the consequences for breaking it.

20. There are times when rules must be broken. Reasons should be emergencies only. Unfortunately teenagers and moms and dads often differ in what they consider emergencies. Lay the rules down long before your teen leaves your home. Curfew can be broken without consequences in rare instances that may arise (e.g., car trouble, a visit to ER, helping a friend, etc.). In the case of an emergency, your teen should be instructed to immediately touch base with you by phone.

21. When your teen obeys his curfew and comes home on time, let him know how happy you are that he's safe and how proud you are to have such a thoughtful and trustworthy teen. Let your teenagers know how worried you get when they don't come home on time, and thank them for saving you the stress of waiting up.

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