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

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The Holidays and "Disneyland Parent" Syndrome

Will your children be spending a good portion of the holidays with your ex-spouse? If so, you may find yourself dealing with “Disneyland parent” syndrome…

What is “Disneyland parent” syndrome? One possible reaction of an ex-spouse with part-time custody is to spoil the kids, ignore family rules, and become the “fun” mother or father in an effort to alleviate guilt, win the kids over, or make the ex-spouse look bad.  After divorce, it is common for one of the parents to feel guilty and think that her/she has to buy the youngster’s love and affection. In many cases, it is the nonresident parent who feels this burden so that his/her youngster will look forward to their time together.

Some Disneyland parents may only see their children on holidays, but when they do, they make up for lost time and may take their children on extravagant trips, ignore bedtimes, eat cupcakes for breakfast, or skip from one adventure to the next. When they are away from their kids, they may send expensive gifts that were not agreed upon by the other parent. Simply stated, these ex-spouses are focused on what their children want – and not so much on what they need.

While nonresident dads are often perceived as “the Disneyland parent,” nonresident moms are generally considered to be more involved in their kid's daily lives. However, research suggests that nonresident moms and dads exhibit a similar pattern of participation in activities with their absent kids, controlling for socio-demographic/family characteristics.

Most nonresident moms and dads either engage in only leisure activities with their kids – or have no contact at all. Only about 1/3 of Disneyland parents mention school among activities they participate in with their youngster. These findings indicate that nonresident “parent-child interaction patterns” may be the result of circumstances surrounding the nonresidential role rather than the gender of the ex-spouse.

Tips for ex-spouses in dealing with the “Disneyland parent” issue:

1. Be sure that you and your ex discuss a list of family rules that are enforced at both homes.

2. Don’t focus on material goods or having every holiday being an exciting vacation. Instead, listen to your children, understand their needs, and focus on spending quality time with them.

3. It is important for the nonresident parent to call as much as possible. This lets the youngster know that, even though you can’t be around every day, you are still there for them and they can talk to you any time of day.

4. If you are the nonresident parent, it will be natural for you to want to spoil your youngster if you haven’t seen him/her for an extended period of time. But it is important to remember your youngster still needs boundaries when he/she is with you. Setting boundaries will help your youngster respect you instead of seeing you as just a “buddy with money.”

5. Never complain about your ex-spouse’s issues with your kids or make your kids take sides.

6. If you are the resident parent, try giving your ex-spouse more responsibility during the kids’ visits (e.g., getting them haircuts, taking them clothes shopping, etc.).

7. Understand that your divorce was likely necessary and that your children will be happier IF you and your ex-spouse are happier apart.

8. Understand that your ex-spouse is probably displaying feelings of deep guilt about the divorce, as well as not being able to be with his/her children full-time. Have an open and honest conversation with your ex regarding the issue, and reassure your ex that he/she doesn’t have to bribe the children for love.

9. When the children return home after visiting the nonresident parent, have a one-hour “transition time” where the kids just go to their rooms and unwind, unpack and have a snack. They don’t have to talk about the visit, chores, homework, or anything else. They just relax and re-acclimate to their home-environment. After an hour or so, meet with the children to set-up some structure for the night (e.g., homework, chores, TV time, bedtime, etc.). Also set-up some structure for the week (e.g., getting up, getting to school on time, etc.). Structure helps kids feel safe and content.

10. You don’t have to buy your kids lavish gifts every time they come to visit in order for them to enjoy their time with you. The small things are often THE MOST important things (e.g., leaving a note in their lunch box, watching cartoons together, walking around the park, etc.).  It’s the small things that convey to your kids that you still care about them.

Avoiding Homework Battles with Teens

Most moms and dads find it difficult to tolerate an adolescent that they feel isn't trying. And unfortunately, often times the parents' attempt to motivate the teen actually backfires. In other words, the teen still refuses to do homework, but now parent-child conflict enters the picture; her refusal to do homework is often an indirect way of expressing anger. So how can parents get their teenager to be responsible for homework - but at the same time - avoid a knock-down drag-out fight? 

Here are some tips for motivating your teen to do homework without the power struggles:

    1. After an elapsed time, encourage your adolescent to do something she enjoys. Having her do something in which she excels will help bolster the confidence she needs to try school challenges.

    2. Arrange for a peer study group. Encourage your teenager to form a study group of friends or neighborhood peers. Research shows that when teens study together, it can improve retention. It makes learning 'active' rather than 'passive' - and encourages communication. However, moms and dads should be aware of what is happening within the study group; study groups need to be monitored.

    3. Before trying any “remedies,” get a second opinion. If your adolescent's teachers feel she's doing pretty well (and if they have the test scores to prove it), it is worth listening.

    4. Bring their backpack to them. This may seem ridiculous to you, but it can work. Adolescents are lazy by nature. It can be all the more difficult to get them to work if what they need is downstairs - and they are comfortable on the couch upstairs. Sometimes, adolescents will forget about work, simply because it is not in sight.

    5. Consider whether your underachiever has hit a downward spiral because he's disorganized or just doesn't know how to cope with a busy schedule with several subjects to work on every night.

    6. Discuss consequences. If they are planning on going out with friends, don't nag them to get the homework done before hand, but let them know that if they fail any assignments, they will not hang with friends outside of school for a week. The same applies if they want to do something like go skateboarding or something like that. Allow them to go, but with conditions.

    7. Don’t argue or bargain. Teenagers will try to bargain their way out of homework. If they are able to get out of it once, they will keep trying. Let your teenager know that there is no room for negotiation. Don’t let procrastination turn into a bad habit.

    8. Find a homework tutor. Many moms and dads feel frustrated when they can’t help their teenager with homework. A helpful resource can be a tutoring center (e.g., Sylvan Learning Center).

    9. Help your teenager prioritize assignments. In high school, there are many long projects and papers rather than short worksheet assignments. This can be overwhelming, especially if your teenager procrastinates. To avoid this, help him prioritize assignments based on due date, length, and the percentage of the final grade.

    10. If grades are failing or falling, take away screen time so your teenager can focus and have more time to concentrate on his work.

    11. If you feel yourself getting reactive or frustrated, take a break from helping your teenager with homework. Your blood pressure on the rise is a no-win for everyone. Take 10 minutes to calm down, and let your teenager do the same if you feel a storm brewing.

    12. If your adolescent is simply being lazy, ask him to get up and do something that he will enjoy for a few minutes. Once he is off his butt, it might become much easier to get him to go and get his homework.

    13. If your school system provides an online grade book, take advantage of it. Check up regularly (at least twice a week), and notice when grades rise and fall, as well as missing assignments. Work with your adolescent to come up with plans to raise grades and do well on tests.

    14. Make it the rule that weekend activities don’t happen until work is completed. Homework comes first. The weekend doesn’t begin until homework is done.

    15. Make sure that homework is done in a public area of your house if your teen simply goes through the motions of completing homework, but in reality, is just goofing off.

    16. Instead of telling your teen to "go start your homework," bring him to the computer or his work space and sit down next to him. Don't give up and walk away. Just sit there next to him and violate his personal space until he opens the notebook or laptop and start the work. Watch to make sure that he really starts. Sometimes, it is a simple push that he needs. Once he is on a roll, you can walk away and let him continue.

    17. Monitor their computer history. If they are working on a computer, watch to make sure that they don't stray. You can also set parental controls and restrictions on their internet access.

    18. Progress may be exceedingly slow, but express pleasure in anything. An improvement from a C to a C+ is a good start. A few forays into grades of B- and above will prove to the underachiever that she is capable of better work, and nothing terrible will happen if she does it.

    19. Provide a good atmosphere for studying. It’s hard to study if someone is in the next room watching television. Set a good example and read a book of your own while your teenager is studying. The more you minimize distractions, the easier it will be for her to finish homework quickly and accurately.

    20. Relate assignments to the bigger picture. You’ve probably heard the questions: “Why do I have to do this?” or “When am I ever going to use this?” Explain how different assignments are applicable to real life and how they are used by people in various careers.

    21. To adolescents, the most important things are friends and hobbies. Homework is a byproduct of school, and nobody likes it. Undoubtedly, your adolescent will have peers that completely blow-off all of their work, and this can be a negative influence. Show them that they can be cool and have good grades, not one or the other. Do this by telling them stories about when you were a child, tests that you failed, and homework that you did not turn in. Don't make it seem like you are encouraging not turning in the work, but your adolescent will look at you differently when he knows that you were just like him at his age.

    22. Remember what worked in the past. Think about a time when your teenager has gotten homework done well and with no arguments. What was different? What made it work that time? Ask your teenager about it and believe what she says. See what works and motivates her.

    23. Responsible grown-ups were not necessarily responsible adolescents. Remember those days when you were going through the same thing? Allow your adolescent to learn from his failure, which is an excellent motivator. Just keep track of his progress to make sure that he does not fail too much.

    24. If your teen is an A+ procrastinator, you will want to see to it that homework is done at the same time each night.

    25. Since underachievers generally have low self-esteem, offering emotional support helps immensely. Show acceptance and affection for your teen, and make certain that she knows you love her no matter what her academic standing.

    26. Sometimes, one of the best ways to help an underachiever is to not get directly involved in homework. Find out how much time she should be spending on homework every night, and then require that that amount of time be invested. Make sure she touches base with you to show that she made an effort to do her work. Then check to see that the work makes it into the backpack, because doing the work - but not taking it to school - is another form of self-sabotage for the underachiever.

    27. Try to understand why your adolescent does not want to do homework. There are many reasons why adolescents may not want to do their work. Are they absorbed in some other task? Are they planning on going out with friends? Or maybe they're just obsessed with playing a video game. Whatever it is, knowing the cause is the best way to counter.

    28. Adolescents can feel loved "conditionally," which means that they only think you approve of them when they do a good job. This can lead to depression and bitterness. Thus, try to be as positive as possible. If your adolescent tells you that he failed a test, be understanding. It took a lot of courage for him to work up the nerve to tell you this, and the cooler you are with it, the more likely he is to come and talk with you on a regular basis.

    29. When you start over-focusing on your teenager’s homework, pause and think about your own goals. What are your life goals, and what “homework” do you need to get done in order to achieve those goals? Model your own persistence and perseverance to your teenager.

    30. When your adolescent simply dislikes the subject, confide in her that you will do it for her if she brings it out. Have her bring it to the couch where the two of you can sit together and work. Judge the scope of your adolescent's understanding, and then sort of trick her into doing the work herself. Tell her you have to use the restroom, and just walk away. Before you go, ask her to do two or more on her own.

    If none of the tips above help, consult a professional. Underachievement often has deep psychological roots, and if you're not making headway with your adolescent, you would be wise to contact someone who can help discover what's bothering her.

    My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

    Aggressive Male Teens: Tips for Single Mothers

    Your teenage son is becoming more and more aggressive toward you. He is quickly developing the habit of getting in your face and yelling when he doesn’t get his way. He has even threatened to hurt you if you don’t let him do what he wants. To make matters worse, he is taller and stronger than you, and you’re a single mother who gets no protection from your son’s father since he is rarely – if ever – around to intervene. What is a single mom to do?!

    Aggressive male teens emotionally abuse their single mothers in an attempt to control them. Emotional abuse is considered domestic abuse, and it is just as harmful as physical abuse. Domestic abuse is defined as any instance when one family member begins to dominate the other member. Your aggressive son abuses you emotionally so he can get complete control over you – your thoughts, beliefs and concept of yourself – in order to be able to do what he wants, when he wants, and without any consequences.

    Emotional abuse is often the prelude to physical abuse or domestic violence. If your teenage son threatens you with physical harm, don't take this as an idle threat. He won't play fair in his efforts to get his way. Listen to other family members, coworkers and friends when they express concern for you. Learn about the cycle of violence (i.e., a cycle your son follows as he continues to bring you ever more under his control).

    Here are some tips for single moms who are dealing with a violent teenage son who can easily overpower his mother in the heat of the moment:

    1. Break the silence on this issue. You need to let others know about the abuse. Talk to a female friend whom you trust and let her know what's been going on. If you have a healthy relationship with your ex-husband or his parents, tell them about your son’s abusive behavior.

    2. Talk to a counselor. Make a plan for how you will communicate with this person. Ask him/her to only call you while your son is at school or out with friends – or to wait for you to call, since your son may become more abusive if he finds out you're talking to someone. Depending on your situation, the counselor may recommend a formal "intervention" involving friends, family members, and perhaps even your pastor. During this meeting, this group of individuals will back you up as you confront your son about his abusive behavior. Tell him that you are not going to allow him to abuse you anymore, and insist that he get counseling for his anger problem immediately.

    3. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE for information and referrals in every state, crisis intervention or safety planning.

    4. File a protective order. Go to the court clerk's office in your town to file a request for a restraining order, requiring your son to stay a certain distance away from you.

    5. If friends, relatives or co-workers tell you they suspect you're being abused by your own child, don't be afraid to admit it.

    6. Make an escape plan in the event your son becomes violent (e.g., pushes, smacks, hits, throws things at you, etc.). Leave as soon as you're able, and call the police. At the first sign of rage, leave the house and go a prearranged place where you will be safe. That could be a friend's home or your parents’ home. It's also a good idea to have some extra clothing and toiletries in the trunk of your car.

    7. Realize that you're involved in a very disrespectful relationship and your child is abusing you. Even though he hasn’t used his hands against you (YET!), his words and put-downs are just as damaging.

    8. Recognize you have the right to be safe in your daily life. If your teenage son threatens physical violence against you, start filing police reports so you create a paper trail and obtain a restraining order so law enforcement can help you. With a trusted friend, develop a safety plan so you can get away with as little disruption of your life as possible.

    9. Your self-esteem may become affected due to the emotional battering you've been subjected to. You loved, provided for, and raised this child – and now he is treating you like a junkyard dog. Locate a therapist so you can begin individual therapy and start the healing process. Look for a therapist or clinical social worker who specializes in working with victims of domestic abuse or violence.

    10. Your son is able to control his behaviors. When someone interrupted one of his abusive episodes (e.g., his father, a teacher, a police officer), he switched from being abusive to being calm and charming. Talk to your therapist about this ability and observe this switch so you can gain new insight about your son, especially if you can't bring yourself to kick him out of the house. 


    My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

    How to Give Your Teenager an Attitude Adjustment


    Once a youngster reaches adolescence, many moms and dads may think it is too late to help him or her change a negative attitude. This is not the case, and while it may take longer, it is possible to help your youngster develop a positive attitude. Having a positive attitude is essential to your child’s happiness and success. A negative attitude can result in him or her feeling unloved, frustrated and easily led.

    How to Give Your Teenager an Attitude Adjustment:

    1. Avoid harsh criticism, especially if it includes humiliation and mockery. Sometimes it will be necessary to provide “constructive criticism” to your adolescent, and as a mother or father, you are right to do it. However, if the criticism is harsh, this will have a negative effect on the adolescent's attitude. The way you word constructive criticism is important. Using "I" instead of "you" statements is a good way to communicate with your child. For example, "I would like you to clean-up your room" is better than "You never pick up after yourself." The result should be the same; however, the first statement is more an opinion, whereas the second is negative and insulting.

    2. Encourage your teen to do something good for herself. It could be going for a run, reading a book or seeing a movie with a friend.

    3. Encourage your teen to take up new hobbies or pursue new interests. This gives him the opportunity to do something by himself and encourages him to work toward achievements. The fact you trust him to be independent will make him feel positive. Doing something he enjoys will also increase his confidence, especially if he receives any official recognition. Activities based on cooperation or working together rather than competition is also a good way to build a positive attitude.

    4. Encourage your adolescent to display cards and gifts from friends. Re-reading cards or letters from good friends can remind her that plenty of people like her.

    5. Encourage your adolescent to write down his good qualities. He should include qualities that others like about him, too.

    6. Encourage your teenager to surprise someone else with a thoughtful gesture. She could take cookies to a new mother or an elderly neighbor. Delighting another person is always a good way to feel better about yourself.

    7. Evaluate your own attitude. A youngster's attitude is a learned behavior. Adolescents watch their moms and dads and how they react to certain experiences and events. Kids learn a good portion of their belief system from their moms and dads. Therefore, a parent's attitude and a loving home environment are important to help develop positive attitudes in adolescents.

    8. Give your teen a sincere compliment a few times each week – and don’t let her brush it off.

    9. Let children know they're nearing the disrespectful zone with some pre-arranged signal. This red flag gives them a clear warning that more-drastic action will follow if they don't stop what they're doing, and, in public, it also allows them to save face in front their friends, which makes them more likely to be compliant than if you had barked out a direct order.

    10. Let your adolescent select the chores for which he will be responsible. He should then pick something he doesn't mind doing and something that fits with his time schedule.

    11. Offer leniency. If she has finals, give her a week off from her chores. Keep in mind that today's adolescents are often as strapped for time as we are.

    12. Praise your child when he deserves it. Show him you appreciate him and recognize when he makes positive choices. Most adolescents will bask in their parent's praise, so be sure to give credit when credit is due. Your adolescent's attitude will be much more positive if you also show him respect as well as command it from him.

    13. Set up a natural reminder system – a chart or a note left on the kitchen counter for the adolescent. Unemotional memory jogs will help him succeed at his chores.

    14. If your youngster doesn’t respond to some of the more gentle methods, step-up your response. Spell out the consequences of breaking the rule beforehand, and make sure that you can – and do – follow through.

    15. Teach the chore. You may think an adolescent has watched you run a garbage disposal a thousand times, but some of them won't have paid any attention.

    16. Teach them how to do positive self-talk. This is the little voice in our heads which we use to communicate with ourselves. Positive self-talk will have a direct influence on how positive a person's attitude and actions are. Tell your adolescent instead of using negative statements, replace them with positive ones. For example, "I can do this right, I just need to concentrate" is much better than "I failed again, I never do anything right." If you promote positive self-talk you should notice a distinct change in the child’s attitude.

    17. Teach your adolescent to aim high, while showing her how to acknowledge her limitations. There is no problem having dreams and aspirations, as long as they are realistic. If your adolescent wants to achieve the impossible, this will only make her feel negatively when she fails to do it. Unrealistic expectations are one of the biggest causes of negative attitudes in our kids.

    18. Teach your adolescent how to laugh at himself. People who are too serious tend to find something negative in everything they do. Having a sense of humor will encourage positivity.

    19. Understand that your teen is going through a difficult period of physical and emotional changes. Be patient as you help her learn to respect grown-ups and avoid growing weary or irritated if she slips up. Instead of growing angry if your teenager is disrespectful, use the moment as an opportunity to teach her further. Talk about ways she can respond the next time the issue comes up and talk about why she responded the way that she did.

    20. Use the BAM method. BAM stands for (a) Build on strengths, (b) Awareness, and (c) Model:
    • Build On Strengths: In discussions with your teenagers, begin by building on the strengths that they have shown, the positive behaviors in which they have engaged, and how to improve the undesired behaviors.
    • Awareness: Talk with your teens at those times when they demonstrate behavior that is less then respectful. Showing them in the moment is most beneficial. 
    • Model: Show your teens how to respect by interacting respectfully with your spouse and with others.

    My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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