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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Helping Children Deal With Disaster

A catastrophe such as hurricane Sandy is frightening to many kids – and even adults. Talking to your kids about the event can decrease their fear.  It is important to explain the event in words the youngster can understand, and at a level of detail that will not overwhelm him or her. 

Several factors affect a youngster's response to a disaster.  The way kids see how their moms and dads respond to such an event is very important. Kids are aware of their parent’s worries most of the time, but they are particularly sensitive during a crisis. Moms and dads should admit their concerns to their kids, and also stress their abilities to cope with the disaster.  Falsely minimizing the danger will not end a youngster's concerns.

A youngster's reaction also depends on how much destruction and/or death he or she sees during and after the disaster. If a family member or friend has been killed or seriously injured, or if the youngster's school or home has been severely damaged, there is a greater chance that the youngster will experience difficulties.

A youngster's age affects how he or she will respond to the disaster. For example, 5-year-olds may show their worries by refusing to attend school, whereas teens may minimize their concerns, but argue more with moms and dads and show a decline in school performance.

Following a disaster, some children may develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is a set of symptoms that can result from experiencing, witnessing, or participating in an overwhelmingly shocking event. Kids with this disorder have repeated episodes in which they re-experience the traumatic event. Kids often relive the trauma through repetitive play. Upsetting dreams of the traumatic event may turn into nightmares of monsters, of rescuing others, or of threats to self or others. PTSD rarely appears during the trauma itself. Though its symptoms can occur soon after the event, the disorder often surfaces several months or even years later.

After a disaster, moms and dads should be alert to these changes in a youngster's behavior:
  • Behavior problems (e.g., misbehaving in school or at home in ways that are not typical for the youngster)
  • Chronic sadness
  • Decreased activity
  • Intrusive thoughts or worries
  • Jumpiness or being startled easily
  • Listlessness
  • Loss of concentration and irritability
  • Persistent fears related to the catastrophe (e.g., fears about being permanently separated from mom or dad)
  • Physical complaints (e.g., stomachaches, headaches, dizziness) for which a physical cause can’t be found
  • Preoccupation with the events of the disaster
  • Recurring fears about death, leaving mom or dad, or going to school
  • Refusal to return to school and "clinging" behavior
  • Shadowing the mother or father around the house
  • Sleep disturbances (e.g., nightmares, screaming during sleep, bed-wetting) persisting more than several days after the event
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

With the occurrence of hurricane Sandy, mothers and fathers – as well as educators – are faced with the challenge of discussing this overwhelming natural disaster with kids. Although these may be difficult conversations, they are very important.  There is no “right” or “wrong” way to talk with kids about such tragic events.  However, here are some suggestions that may be helpful:

1. Acknowledge and validate children’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Let them know that you think their questions and concerns are important and appropriate.

2. Be prepared to repeat information and explanations several times.  Some information may be hard to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may also be a way for a youngster to ask for reassurance.

3. Be reassuring, but don’t make unrealistic promises. It’s fine to let kids know that they are safe in their house or in their school. But you can’t promise that there won’t be another natural disaster.

4. Don’t let kids watch too much television with frightening images. The repetition of such scenes can be disturbing and confusing.

5. Give kids honest answers. Kids will usually know, or eventually find out, if you’re “making things up.” It may affect their ability to trust you or your reassurances in the future.

6. Kids learn from watching their moms and dads and educators. They will be very interested in how you respond to world events. They also learn from listening to your conversations with other grown-ups.

7. Kids who are preoccupied with concerns about natural disasters weeks after the disaster is over should be evaluated by a mental health professional. If worries persist, ask your youngster’s doctor or school counselor to help arrange an appropriate referral.

8. Kids who have experienced trauma in the past are particularly vulnerable to prolonged or intense reactions to news or images of natural disasters. These kids may need extra support and attention.

9. Let kids know that lots of people are helping the families affected by hurricane Sandy.  It’s a good opportunity to show kids that, when something scary happens, there are people to help.

10. Monitor your child for physical symptoms (e.g., headaches and stomachaches). Many kids express anxiety through physical aches and pains. An increase in such symptoms without apparent medical cause may be a sign that a youngster is feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

11. Natural disasters are not easy for anyone to comprehend or accept. Understandably, many kids feel frightened and confused.  We can best help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent and supportive manner. Fortunately, most kids – even those exposed to trauma – are quite resilient.  By creating an open environment where they feel free to ask questions, we can help them cope with stressful events and reduce the risk of lasting emotional difficulties.

12. Remember that it’s best not to force kids to talk about things unless – and until – they’re ready.

13. Remember that kids tend to personalize situations. They may worry about their own safety and the safety of immediate family members.  They may also worry about friends or relatives who travel or who live far away.

14. Some kids may not want to talk about their thoughts, feelings, or fears. They may be more comfortable drawing pictures, or writing stories or poems about the traumatic event.

15. Use words and concepts kids can understand. Gear your explanations to the youngster’s age, language, and developmental level.

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Dealing With The Attention-Seeking Child

Attention seeking behavior is basically your son or daughter regularly misbehaving to get attention from you, the parent. It may be as simple as doing things to annoy you and disobeying any house rules.

Your youngster is acting this way not because he likes to get yelled at, but because he enjoys the attention his misbehavior brings. He knows that you don’t like it when he misbehaves, and there is only so much you can do to stop him. This gives him a sense of power. The problem here is, sometimes moms and dads let the youngster have his way so he will stop acting-out. This is the worst approach since he will then realize that misbehaving also comes with bonus! Therefore the attention-seeking behavior pattern continues and will be used more often.

Here are some of the traits of the attention-seeking child. He or she:
  • Is frequently out of his or her seat at school
  • Is late in getting school assignments turned in
  • May use profanity or crude language
  • Often tries to be nonconformist in order to gain attention
  • Often wears unusual or attention-getting clothing
  • Picks on siblings and other children
  • Responds negatively to authority
  • Says the wrong thing at the wrong time
  • Tries to force his or her way into peer groups
  • Usually asks unnecessary questions
  • Is usually loud

Here is how the attention-seeking child’s behavior affects other people at home and school:
  • The concentration of the teacher and class is often broken.
  • Other kids may begin putting the attention-seeker down or avoiding him or her at every opportunity.
  • Other kids may react by excluding the attention-seeker from peer groups.
  • Parents and teachers are antagonized.
  • Parents and teachers are forced to give additional time to this youngster.
  • Parents often lose track of what they are trying to say.

Here are some ways to deal with the attention-seeking child:

1. Avoid power struggles by picking and choosing your battles carefully. In other words, if you don’t have the time and energy to respond effectively and avoid giving in, say yes from the start.

2. Avoid triggers for the behavior such as the word “no.” Instead of telling your youngster what not to do (e.g., no screaming), tell him what to do (e.g., ask nicely). Similarly, instead of telling him he can’t have something (e.g., we are not playing with toys now), tell him when the desired item will be available (e.g., you can watch TV after dinner).

3. Be constantly aware of the times you give attention to the attention-seeker. Be aware of the youngster's strong need for attention and provide it for positive actions—not just for disruptions.

4. Bolster your youngster's confidence at every opportunity—in a quiet way. You must find a constructive way for the attention-seeker to meet his or her need for attention. Above all, attention can’t be denied, or he or she will go to extremes to get it.

5. Change the timing of specific undesirable activities to come before more desirable activities. For example, if your youngster resists brushing her teeth, plan something fun to do afterward, such as special reading time with mom or dad. When she begins to exhibit resistant behavior, say, “First brush your teeth, then we will read a book together.” If you use a visual schedule, you can say this while pointing to the pictures.

6. Create a visual schedule with pictures to represent your daily routine. Sometimes challenging behavior occurs because young people don’t know what is going to happen next or when the activity or item they want will be available again. Instead of telling your youngster what to do or what he can’t have, use the schedule to show him what he needs to do and when enjoyable activities are available. For example, when your youngster is misbehaving because you asked him to stop playing, instead of focusing on the behavior, direct his attention to the schedule and say, “Play time is finished. It is time for bed. We will play again tomorrow morning.”

7. Give him or her additional responsibilities.

8. Help your youngster find visibility or leadership roles.

9. When the behavior is not aggressive or harmful to others, ignore inappropriate behavior used to get attention or to obtain something that was denied. The benefit of ignoring is that your child will learn that positive behavior has a powerful pay-off, while his negative behavior is ineffective and therefore no longer necessary.

10. In order to keep yourself from going insane, take adult time-outs. Sometimes you need a moment to step away from the situation, take a deep breath, and then come back when you feel calm and in control of our own emotions. Only then are you able to respond and assess the situation effectively.

11. Increase the positive attention provided, especially at times when less attention is usually available (e.g., have him help with dinner preparations or praise him from a distance for playing nicely while you are busy changing his sister, etc.).

12. Make the task or demand easier to accomplish successfully. Sometimes young people misbehave because the task is too difficult or overwhelming. For example, it might be too much to expect a youngster to clean up all of their toys when we ask; however, they may respond very well when we ask them to put one toy away at a time with some praise along the way (e.g., “Please put the red block in the box” … “Great job putting the block away” … “Put the green block in the box”).

13. Model the behavior you want, and speak softly and quietly.

14. Offer choices to increase motivation and interest in performing less desirable tasks. For example, if the youngster usually resists getting dressed, instead of saying, “It’s time to get dressed,” give choices such as, “Do you want to wear a red or blue shirt,” or “Which do you want to put on first, your shirt or pants?” Also, increase your youngster’s opportunity to make choices throughout the day so that he feels more control over his environment and learns to be responsible for the decisions he makes.

15. Reinforce appropriate questions when your youngster asks them. This will help the attention-seeker and your other children to realize which questions are constructive and relevant.

16. Seek help from psychologists and counselors as well as teachers to reinforce changes in this behavior, not only at home but at school.

17. Set aside special alone time with each parent (e.g., ten minutes of special play time per night or a special weekend outing).

18. Take time to talk to this youngster to discover the real problems and insecurities that he or she may feel.

19. Teach your youngster to ask for what she wants in a more appropriate way. If she is seeking attention, teach her to ask you for a hug, help, or a turn playing with you. If she wants an item, teach her to ask nicely. Remember to praise her for asking you for attention or items appropriately, even when it may not be the best time (e.g., “Great job asking nicely. Mom is on the phone right now. I’ll help you when I’m finished”).

20. Watch for improvement, and then relate how pleased you are with the improvement in behavior.

21. You may wish to consult with a mental health professional to determine whether your child’s behavior falls within normal developmental limits and to help you select strategies that may work best for your child.

My Child the "Drug Dealer"

Your child was once loveable, cheerful, and a fairly good student. But now his behavior has changed dramatically. And to make matters worse, you suspect that your child is now using AND selling drugs. No attempts to reason with your teenager have helped. You have scolded, threatened, taken away privileges, had difficult talks with the school and the cops – and nothing works!

You are watching your adolescent turn into a “stranger in your house.” The stakes are high, because he’s engaging in criminal behavior that could cost him jail-time, and he’s putting chemicals in his body that may literally destroy him. What now!? The first step is to recognize the signs of drug abuse and drug dealing. 

Here are some of the prominent red flags that parents should look for:
  • any request for information is met with hostility
  • behavior problems in school
  • drop in grades
  • dropping old friends
  • has become disrespectful and defiant
  • has a sudden influence of a new crowd
  • increased truancy and tardiness to classes
  • is often sleepy and red-eyed when he comes home
  • is wearing the “uniform” of drug users (e.g., sweatshirt hood drawn up over his face, pants hanging low, etc.)
  • losing interest in activities the child once enjoyed
  • old friends don’t call any more
  • personality changes (e.g., a child who was once outgoing is now withdrawn, or someone who is usually relaxed is now fidgety much of the time)
  • refuses to let parents look at his cell phone for calls he has made and texts he has sent/received
  • spends hours in his room, uncommunicative
  • spends hours out of the house, places unknown
  • sudden mood changes (e.g., euphoria followed by tenseness or edginess; paranoia)
  • the friends he is hanging around have reputations for finding trouble
  • when you search his room, you find drug-related paraphernalia or cryptic notes

Why do some adolescents use and sell marijuana and other drugs?
  1. Some adolescents are bored. Playing with criminal behavior is exciting. The drama and risk of getting marijuana, hiding it, using it, and selling it is its own kind of high.
  2. Some adolescents become drug users and dealers because they can’t figure out another way to fit in. The entrance requirements for the drug culture are easy. Just buy, use, and sell marijuana. Bingo! You have a group to hang with. For adolescents who are lonely or feeling they don’t have what it takes to gain membership in another high school group, this is very enticing.
  3. Some adolescents develop an addiction. It’s simply not true that adolescents don’t develop a dependence on marijuana. Some do. It’s also possible that you don’t know what else your child has been taking.
  4. Some adolescents get in over their heads and don’t know how to get out. What started as a way to fit in takes on a life of its own. Other adolescents threaten them if they try to leave the group. 
  5. Some adolescents have the mistaken idea that in order to be “cool,” they have to be better than their peers. They know they can’t compete with the “good peers” in the family or at school. They have the idea that they can’t be a star in any area that counts to their peers. Their self-esteem then depends on finding at least some way to be “better” than their peers. So they become the best at being “bad.” 
  6. Some adolescents think that using marijuana is normal. They have peers whose moms and dads smoke pot with them. They know grown-ups who rationalize their own illegal drug use by stating that it is no worse than alcohol and should be legalized anyway. 
  7. Some adolescents use marijuana for all the attention it gets them. Often times, negative attention is better than no attention. And if your teen didn’t get any of your attention when he was being “good” – then he is probably getting your attention now that he is being “bad.”
  8. Some adolescents self-medicate. Some teens who suffer from untreated depression or anxiety may use drugs to cope.

What Parents Can Do About Drug Use and Drug Dealing—

1. Check your teen’s bedroom. Good places to look for marijuana: under mattresses, under dressers, under cabinets, attached to the back of the drawers, inside pockets of clothes and jeans the teen never wears.

2. Check your teen's attendance record at school. Is your teen skipping school to go get high? Does he leave early, arrive late, and sometimes not show up at all? Does he forge notes from his mom, or steal passes from the school office?

3. Check your teen's vehicle after a Friday or Saturday night. If they were smoking in their vehicle, you can usually smell a strange odor coming out of it. Check for small pieces of joints (green leaf-like particles or seeds on the floorboards or seats). Look for white pasty substances on CDs, CD cases, dashboards, pictures, or mirrors that they might be doing meth, crack, or cocaine off of.

4. Consider finding a therapist who specializes in adolescent substance abuse.  If your child won’t go, go yourself. An experienced therapist will be able to help you figure out how to approach your child and what you can do for him – and for yourself.

5. Consider where they get their marijuana.  Teens usually start by getting their marijuana through their friends, eventually building up a network of dealers whom they meet at a convenient location. Some get their marijuana in parking lots (e.g., fast-food restaurants, superstores, gas stations, movie theaters, etc.).

6. Develop an open, strong and trusting relationship with your teen, one without judgment.  Don't get angry with what your teen comes to you and tells you, or the next time they won't share with you what's going on in their life. Give them advice and maybe they'll make a better choice in the future.

7. Don’t mistakenly pay for your teen's marijuana.  Parents often give their teen money to buy clothes or eat out, but the teen is saving that money to spend on marijuana. If you suspect your teen is using and/or dealing drugs, never give him cash.

8. Don't think your teen is too young to be exposed to marijuana.

9. Double check alarm systems. Even though parents may have an alarm system in their house, a teen is able to find a loophole to get out of the house past curfew time (e.g., fire escape ladder to get out a bedroom window and to the ground).

10. Figure out what you will and won’t do if your teen gets into legal trouble. Will you get a lawyer to help or is he on his own? Calmly tell your teen what those limits are – and mean it. Then be prepared to follow through.

11. Find out who the other moms and dads are. It generally helps when moms and dads band together. There are probably at least a few of his friends with moms and dads who are as concerned as you are. Get together and brainstorm ways to get your adolescents busier with positive things.

12. Get your extended family to help in a positive way. Saving an adolescent is a family project. Can the grandparents take your teen along on weekend outings? Are any of his uncles doing something he’d like to learn?

13. Give your teen a random drug test. Make sure it's after a weekend.

14. Identify the things that are going well, however small. These are the things you can build on to develop better self-esteem and better communication. Does he come to dinner with the family? Laugh at a joke? Anything like this means that he is not totally disengaged from the family. Remember this to give yourself hope and encouragement. Compliment your teen whenever you can to strengthen the connection between you.

15. In spite of the turn of events, this is still your child. Try to find ways to put aside your anger, fear, and disappointment. Let your teen know that the reason you are angry and afraid is that you care deeply about him. Catch him being good as much as you can.

16. Know who your teen's friends are. If a teen won't bring their friends over to the house to hang out with their parents and get to know them a little better, they most likely have something to hide.

17. Let your teen know that you see through the bad behavior to the talented, smart child he once was – and still is. He doesn’t have to meet some abstract standard of perfection or compete with anyone else for your love or attention. He is valued for who he is.

18. Lock your liquor cabinet.

19. Look closely at your teen. To cover up the physical signs that your teen is using marijuana, he might pull his hat down over his eyes, put gum in his mouth, and put Visine in his eyes to take away any redness. When he comes home, he may avoid conversation by giving his parents short yes or no answers. When drug use takes a toll, you may notice a rapid loss of weight, paleness of the skin, discoloration, dark circles under the eyes, shaky hands, dropping grades, more absences from school than you know about, sudden mood changes, and a rise in anger at family members.

20. Check their text messages, and look through their pockets, purses, wallets and backpacks. Ask for permission, but if they're mad that you're looking through their stuff, it may be because they have something to hide.

21. Make an appointment with a therapist for a comprehensive evaluation. Let your child know that sometimes people get involved with marijuana because there is something legitimate going on. You care enough about your teen to find out.

22. Remember that the most trusting parents are the ones who are the easiest to take advantage of. 

23. Remind your teen that it is a parent’s job to help their adolescents grow up physically healthy and emotionally strong and you intend to do your part. You don’t want your teen to go to jail, overdose and get sick, or die. You will therefore never get off his back about marijuana.

24. School guidance counselors have seen lots of adolescents like your child. They have also seen lots of moms and dads who have abdicated their responsibility for their adolescents. They don’t know that you are a concerned parent unless you tell them. There may be a drug abuse program connected to the school. If so, take advantage of what help is offered.

25. Try to get your teen involved with something he likes that will put him into a different group and take up his time in a positive way. He needs new ways to feel good about himself. Work behind the scenes and get someone else to call your teen with an offer or an idea.

The bottom line is this: Parents should step back and analyze what is really going on. Drug use and drug sales are a sign of a much deeper issue. Like most moms and dads, you’ve probably been dealing with the symptoms (e.g., hair, dress, curfews, contraband, etc.), not the deeper problems (e.g., feelings, peer pressures, family dynamics, addiction, etc.). You will be in a much better position to come up with solutions if you have a better idea of what the real problems are.

Why Some Teens Hate Their Parents

One minute, your teenager is begging you to take her to McDonald’s for lunch. The next minute, she’s insulting your intelligence and calling you a “bitch.” If you look closely, you'll notice that you've been through this before: When she was a 2-year-old, she needed you one minute, and was throwing a tantrum the next. She was seeking independence then – and she continues to do so now.

Part of being a teenager is about separating and individuating, and many teens feel like they need to reject their mom and dad in order to find their own identities. Teenagers focus on their peers more than on their parents and siblings, which is normal too.

So, why do some teens lash out and use harsh words like "I hate you"? 

Because they are in a difficult stage of "transition" (oh, and by the way, they don't actually hate you, rather they are simply trying to separate from you and haven't found a tactful way to do it, yet).

Here's a closer look at what's really going on with the "I hate you" line:
  • A teen may lash out at this age to test the “safety net.” A healthy teen feels safely wrapped in a comfortable net of parental-protection and love. Ironically, then, it is sometimes the most healthy teens that experience this feeling of distress when they feel this "net" lifting. The more they venture into the world, the less they feel the comfort of that "net." Thus, they may start to do some strange things to test and make sure it is still there. They may become defiant with the subconscious hope that their mother or father will tell them, "No, you can't do that because it’s not safe.” Or they may say harsh things to their mother or father to "test" and see if the parent’s love is strong enough to endure hardships. Teens may give parents any number of tests. They are not doing this on purpose or with an awareness that they are "testing". All they feel is this subconscious pull to do so.
  • The parent may be preventing the teen from making the transition into young adulthood, which influences the teen to make an extra effort to "push away." A preteen often has a lot of adult capabilities, and mature teens even have a lot of adult thought processes. However, many are still treated like small kids, talked down to, or not given enough responsibility and trust. Teens of this age need many venues in which to experience that they can function on their own and that the people around them believe in their capabilities.
  • They are passing into a time period where they are taking more part in the world around them, and they are learning to function more and more in the "real world.” This can be a scary time for some teens, and they may go through a version of what happened when they were experiencing a similar transition as a toddler.

So what can parents do?

1. A parent can help her teen through this transition by allowing him to take on more responsibility.

2. A parent can help her child through this transition by letting him know that she trusts him to make the right decisions.

3.  Just because your teenager verbally hurls something hurtful at you doesn't mean you should back down. Much like dealing with a toddler in the throes of a tantrum, you need to be consistent and firm. It's hard, but you are the parent, and you get to say what is right for your teen, whether she’s 3 or 17.

4. Let your child know that you love her no matter what, and make sure you set reasonable and gentle limits for her – and that she has consequences when those limits are exceeded. For example, if she has a curfew, make sure she has a consequence if she comes home after her curfew. She WILL become upset and may call you names for enforcing the curfew, but inside she is feeling a strong sense of happiness and security knowing that her mother and father really do care enough to still watch over her in some way and take care of her. Of course, any teen would never admit this at the time. She is in the middle of trying to prove that she is a young adult and can function without her mom or dad. But, she still does need her caregivers.

5. Moms and dads can help their teen through this transition by letting her know they are there for her with unconditional love, and that even if she says mean things to them – they still love her.

6. Reflect back on how your child dealt with that first transition in her life. Did she have difficulty with it? She is probably experiencing that same difficulty now.

7. Regular chores around the house (ones that help a teenager feel he is an important part of the household and is actually helping it run) can help as can giving him more difficult tasks or asking for his help with adult tasks (e.g., changing a tire, assembling furniture, fixing things around the house, etc.).

8. Sometimes moms and dads feel so hurt by their teenager’s treatment that they respond by returning the rejection. Teens know that they still need their mom and dad – even if they can't admit it. The roller-coaster they put you on is also the one they're feeling internally. Parents need to stay calm and try to weather this teen-rebellion, which usually passes by the time he is 16 or 17. But your teenager should NOT be allowed to be truly nasty or to curse at you. If this happens, you have to enforce basic behavior standards. By letting your teen know that you're here for him no matter what, you make it more likely that he'll let down his guard and confide in you once in a while.

9. The parent can help his teen through this transition by giving her opportunities to show and experience that she is capable.

10. The teenager needs to be able to experience things outside the house in the form of field trips with classmates, overnights with clubs, camping trips, competitions or other activities in which he can show he is a strong, responsible "adult.”

11. When teens are at their worst, they need your love the most. We don't necessarily need to like them, but we do need to continue to love and parent them. They may be angry – and we may be angry – but remember that this effort to discipline and guide them comes from your deep love for them.

12. Through these tough conflicts with your teen, you have to keep talking ‘to’ him (and sometimes ‘at’ him). This is an opportunity to demonstrate your unconditional love. Whether it's through the bathroom door, in notes, or in person when your teenager is bummed-out at the dinner table, in every situation, keep the lines of communication open.

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