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Dealing With Your Resentful Teen's "Cold Shoulder"

You made the wrong comment, asked the wrong question, or said something you weren't supposed to. The response you get says it all: the cold shoulder! A teenager may use the cold shoulder as a way to shut her parents out, to get them to leave her alone, and to push her parents’ buttons. What most moms and dads don’t realize is that under the surface, something else is going on: the cold shoulder is giving your youngster a feeling of control over you.

The cold shoulder (also referred to as “the silent treatment”) is a common punishment used by teens. It is manifested by a child who completely ignores his parents, going through his typical day as if his parents were invisible or absent, even if the parents are standing right in front of him or talking to him.

What parents need to understand is that the cold shoulder is frequently utilized as a lever to gain control in the power struggles of the parent-child relationship – and it works because most parents react in a way that tells the child she is winning. Never is this more evident than in the conflicts associated with a “resentful” teenager. When a resentful teen uses the cold shoulder, she takes it to the extreme. A resentful teen may refuse to speak to – or even acknowledge – parents for great lengths of time, and may even demand an apology that is out of proportion to the perceived offense.

The cold shoulder is usually used to silently express contempt or disapproval. It is a common response used by teens who can’t tolerate being on the receiving end of a parent’s self-assertiveness (e.g., a parent who is consistent with issuing consequences for misbehavior). The cold shoulder effectually cuts parents off from the teen, and sends a clear message to parents about how insignificant they are and how easy it is for the teen to live without them. This strategy is used by insecure adolescents with a poor self-image who have no other problem-solving skills (yet). When parents do something that displeases the resentful teen, they cease to exist for a certain period of time (and most often, extensive and disproportionate amounts of time).

The resentful teen also uses the cold shoulder to throw his parents off balance. The teen does this to find out exactly how much control he has over the parents. The most typical reason is to “punish” his parents for some good they failed to do, or some wrong they did (and probably are unaware of). Of course, if parents directly ask the teen about it, he will deny it.

The resentful teen also uses the cold shoulder as a way to get a reaction from parents. Typically, parents ask their resentful teen, “What is wrong, why are you ignoring me?” This lets the child know she has been successful in pushing her parents' buttons. It also gives her power to do whatever she wants. If parents don’t accept her behavior, she will then use the cold shoulder again to draw them back in to the cycle.

It’s theorized that the cold shoulder is a learned behavior. A child may observe parents using the cold shoulder and copy it as a way to punish others or get them to comply with his wishes. Moms and dads greatly affect their youngster’s behavior. A child is like a sponge – he models everything his mother or father does and incorporates what he sees into his own life. According to research done by the University of Chicago published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, an antisocial teenager learns his negative behavior from his parents’ examples.

So what is a parent to do about “the cold shoulder” treatment? Just two things really:

1. Model tolerance. If you say something to your teenager, and then get the cold shoulder, simply acknowledge that you noticed this – and move on. Here are two examples:

Example #1—
  • Mom says, “How was school today?”
  • Teenager says nothing and gives mom a dirty look.
  • Mom says, “Looks like something’s bothering you. If you want to talk about it, let me know” (then mom goes on about her business).

Example #2—
  • Arriving home from school, angry teen slams the front door and throws his books all over the floor. Mom says, “Slamming doors and throwing books is not acceptable behavior.”
  • Teen says nothing and heads to his room.
  • Moms says, “I’m sorry if you had a bad day, but you can choose to pick up your books, or you can choose the consequence.”
  • If he picks up his books in a reasonable amount of time (as defined by you), there’s no consequence. If he doesn’t pick up his books, he receives a consequence (again, as defined by you).

2. Let “cold-shoulder behavior” run its course. When you stop responding to the cold shoulder, it will die from neglect—and that’s exactly what you want, but it’s going to take some time. Be patient and ignore it. That’s right! There are no consequences for the cold shoulder (however, other negative behaviors may need a consequence). Giving a consequence for the cold shoulder is synonymous with giving attention to it, which will help it to grow.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

The 3 Worst Parenting Styles: How to Be a Bad Parent

Parental stress can often cause changes in parenting behavior, for example: being more reactive and less proactive, decreased monitoring and/or supervision, engaging in increasingly harsh disciplinary behaviors, inconsistency, increased negative communication, and setting vague rules or limits on behavior. In this post, we’re going to look at “how to be a bad parent.”

Bad Parenting Style #1: The Dictator—

Dictatorial parenting is characterized by high expectations of compliance to rules and directions, while allowing little open dialogue between parent and youngster. Dictatorial parenting is a punitive parenting style in which moms and dads make their kids follow their directions and respect their effort. Dictatorial moms and dads expect much of their youngster, but generally do not explain the reasoning for the rules. The "dictator" is less receptive to his youngster’s needs, and is more likely to ground his youngster rather than discuss the problem.  Dictatorial parenting deals with low parental receptiveness and high parental demand, and the parent tends to demand obedience without explanation.

Kids raised under this parenting style often have less social competence, because the mother or father generally “tells” the youngster what to do instead of allowing the youngster to “choose” by himself. Some kids of dictatorial moms and dads may develop insecurities and display anti-social behavior.

Bad Parenting Style #2: The Over-Indulger—

Over-indulgent parenting is characterized as having few behavioral expectations for the youngster. Over-indulgence occurs when moms and dads are very involved with their kids, but place few demands or controls on them. The parent is nurturing and accepting, and is receptive to the youngster's needs and wishes. Over-indulgent moms and dads do not require their kids to regulate themselves or behave appropriately. This often results in raising children who have a large sense of entitlement (e.g., “The world owes me, I shouldn’t have to work for anything”).

Kids of over-indulgent moms and dads tend to be more impulsive, and as adolescents, often engage more in misconduct. Over-indulged kids rarely learn to control their own behavior and usually expect to get their way. Over-indulgent parents (i.e., those low on accountability and high on nurturing) nearly triple the risk of their teenager participating in drug abuse and heavy alcohol drinking.

Bad Parenting Style #3: The Under-Attender—

Inattentive parenting involves parents who are low in nurturing and accountability. They are generally not involved in their youngster's life, are disengaged, undemanding, low in receptiveness, have few rules, and set very few boundaries. Inattentive parenting results is dismissing the kid's emotions and opinions. Moms and dads are emotionally unsupportive of their kids, but will still provide their basic needs (e.g., food, housing, toiletries, money, etc.).

A youngster whose mom and dad are inattentive develops the sense that other aspects of his parents’ lives are more important than he is. Many kids of this parenting style often attempt to provide for themselves or halt depending on the parent to get a feeling of being independent and mature beyond their years. Kids raised under an inattentive parenting style often become emotionally withdrawn from social situations. This disturbed attachment also impacts relationships later on in life. In the teenage years, they may show patterns of truancy and delinquency.

So, enough about bad parenting. What can a parent do if he or she wants to employ a better parenting style? The answer is: become more “influential.”

A Good Parenting Style: The Influencer—

Influential parenting is characterized by a child-centered approach that holds high expectations of maturity. Influential moms and dads can understand how their kids are feeling and teach them how to regulate emotions. They often help their kids to find appropriate outlets to solve problems. Influential moms and dads encourage their kids to be independent, but still place limits on their behavior. Frequent verbal give-and-take is not refused, and the parents try to be nurturing toward the youngster. Influential parents are not usually as controlling as dictatorial ones, allowing the youngster to explore more freely, thus having them make their own decisions based upon their own reasoning. Often, influential moms and dads produce kids who are more independent and self-reliant. An influential parenting style mainly results when there is high parental receptiveness ALONG WITH high parental expectations.

The influential parent sets clear standards for her kids, monitors the boundaries that she sets, and allows her kids to develop independence. She also expects mature, independent, and age-appropriate behavior from her kids. Discipline for misbehavior is measured and consistent, not arbitrary or punitive. The influential parent sets limits AND promotes maturity, but when disciplining her youngsters, the parent will explain her motive for the consequences. Kids raised under the influential parenting style are more likely to respond to discipline, because it is usually perceived as reasonable and fair. The youngster knows why he is being disciplined, because an influential parent makes the reasons known. The “influencer” is attentive to her kids’ needs and concerns, and will typically “forgive and teach” instead of punishing when her youngsters fall short.

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

When Your Child Deliberately Annoys Others

Do you hear from other moms and dads, educators, or other kids that your youngster disrupts activities and deliberately annoys others? It can be a tough pill to swallow, but the best solution is to help your youngster develop better social skills. When someone says your youngster is intentionally bothering others, it’s common for parents to feel defensive or even angry. However, once you’re done reacting, step back and work on ways to help your youngster correct his/her behavior and improve social skills.

Here are some tips to help your child stop his or her annoying behaviors:

1. When your youngster frequently annoys other children or grown-ups, it can be a frustrating, puzzling circumstance. Some kids do it for attention, while others aren’t aware that they are being a pest. As a mother or father, you may not have all the answers, and that’s OK. Reach out to your youngster’s educators and guidance counselor. In some cases, your youngster may benefit from an evaluation with a child behavior specialist.

2. Be firm and kind. Follow through every time on the natural or logical consequences.

3. Have a few positively stated rules, and explain the reasons behind them.

4. If there are lots of behaviors you want to change, start by focusing on one or two of the most bothersome or dangerous ones. Don't try to make too many changes all at once. 

5. If your youngster struggles with understanding feelings, start with basic terms. You can slowly build your youngster’s vocabulary as he develops more nuanced language about emotions. Using a chart or book with basic facial expressions may help for younger children who are having trouble grasping concepts (e.g., annoying, embarrassed, frustrated, etc.). Some children don’t respond well to explanations. When that’s the case, try to suggest appropriate behaviors instead of explaining why the inappropriate ones are bothersome.

6. Let your youngster make decisions whenever possible by giving her acceptable choices (e.g., “Would you rather have cereal or scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast?”).  This will help your youngster feel in control, reducing stress and frustration. 

7. Come up with a secret signal (e.g., pulling on your earlobe) and tell your child you will “cue” him with this signal whenever he’s being annoying (of course, this only works when you are in the presence of your child). It helps to have a signal with some children, which is a sly way to let them know they are bothering others. Then you aren't calling them out in front of their peers, yet they can change their behavior. Many children genuinely don’t know they are being a pest, and a simple reminder can help. So, let your youngster know when his behavior is bothersome, but don’t talk to him about it in front or others or in an embarrassing way.

8. Praise your youngster for good behavior.  The best kind of praise simply describes what you see that you would like to see more of.  Catch your youngster being good, and tell her you noticed (e.g., “I noticed you put your backpack on the table rather than throwing it on the floor; that’s you being responsible”).

9. Redirect your youngster and help him find a better place, or better way to do what he is trying to do. For instance, if his nose is irritated, have him clean it with a tissue, apply saline nasal spray, and then wash his hands. If he simply must go “digging,” have him do it in the bathroom, not in public, and wash his hands afterward.

10. Try ignoring the annoying behavior. Your youngster will probably outgrow the habit with time.  Giving a lot of attention (even though it's negative) may actually encourage the behavior.

11. Use natural or logical consequences for problem behavior. The purpose here is to get your child to make the right decision, not to bend her to your will. Be patient—it may take time for you to see results.

12. Unfortunately, parents need to understand that, in some cases, it is simply impossible to stop the annoying behavior until the youngster becomes interested in stopping.  For instance, a little boy may actually get enough “benefit” out of picking his nose and wiping his buggers on his friends that he will not be willing to stop. When he gets a little older, though, he may be interested in not grossing-out his peers. Then you will be able to help him quit.

How To Get Defiant Children To Do Chores

Doing chores is a tradition in most families. Chores help children learn responsibility. We all need to feel needed and to know that we're making a contribution – especially children! So how do you get your children on board?  

Here are a few tips:

1. Be precise with instructions. “Clean your room” is vague and can be interpreted in any number of ways. Instead, be specific by saying something like, “Put your clean clothes in the dresser, dirty clothes in the hamper, games in the closet, and dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.”

2. Be consistent. If your children aren't expected to regularly follow through, they might start putting a chore off in the hope that someone else will do it for them.

3. Praise, praise, and praise. Get that praise up and running right away! Don't wait until the chore is done. Praise and encourage the youngster while the chore is in progress. You want to build positive momentum, especially with younger children.

4. Start giving chores at age 2. You might think your youngster is too young, but he or she is more capable than you think. Children can do a lot of chores at an early stage (e.g., getting clothes to the laundry, cleaning up after dinner, etc.). Some parents hold back too long because they think their young children are incapable of following through. But that puts the cart before the horse (i.e., kids learn by doing). A defiant 14-year-old is more likely to complete chores if he or she has being doing them for the previous 12 years.

5. Tolerate imperfection. Of course, no child is perfect, and it's better to have a more relaxed approach to how well your children do chores. Otherwise, you will have a power struggle on your hands (or you might jump in and do the chore for them, which would undermine the whole point).

6. Teach the proper way to do chores. Show your child how to do the chore step by step. Next, let him or her help you do it. Then have your youngster do the chore as you supervise. Once your youngster has it mastered, he or she is ready to go solo.

7. Minimize the use of reminders and deadlines. You want the chore to get done without you micromanaging it. Use the "when/then" technique (e.g., "When the dog is fed, you can have your after school snack").

8. Make a chores chart. Create a list of every task that needs to be done. Have your children pick out the task they would most like to do. Then create a chart. Check that everyone has an age-appropriate chore (see below). Then divide the chart into three columns: (1) one is for the list of chores and whose chore it is, (2) another is for deadlines, and (3) the last one is for making a check mark when the chore is done. Put the chart where everyone can see it and let everyone follow through on their own tasks.

9. Don’t give money for chores. Chores are about teaching responsibility and learning household tasks. True, children need to learn how to handle money, but not by doing chores they are supposed to do anyway. It's especially important to not tie allowances to chores for younger children, because they may be less motivated by money and simply choose to not do them. (Note: There’s one exception. For older children who already know how to be responsible, money can become a nice motivator for doing extra chores above and beyond their usual ones. So, let them bid on those extra chores, and then you pick the lowest bid.)

10. Your youngster can do more than you think. A youngster who has mastered a complicated computer game can easily run a dishwasher. In general, preschoolers can handle one or two simple one-step or two-step tasks. Older kids can manage much more. So, give your children more credit for being smart enough to do what is asked of them, and don’t step in to do the chore for them if they are moving too slowly or are not completing the chore to your perfectionistic specifications.

Here are some suggestions for chores sorted by age...

Chores for kids ages 2 to 3:
•    Dust
•    Fill pet's food dish
•    Pile books and magazines
•    Put clothes in hamper
•    Put toys away
•    Wipe up spills

Chores for kids ages 4 to 5:
•    Bring in mail or newspaper
•    Clear table
•    Dust
•    Empty wastebaskets
•    Fill pet's food dish
•    Fix bowl of cereal
•    Make their bed
•    Pile books and magazines
•    Pull weeds, if you have a garden
•    Put clothes in hamper
•    Put toys away
•    Unload utensils from dishwasher
•    Use hand-held vacuum to pick up crumbs
•    Wash plastic dishes at sink
•    Water flowers
•    Wipe up spills

Chores for kids ages 6 to 7:
•    Bring in mail or newspaper
•    Clear table
•    Dust
•    Empty wastebaskets
•    Fill pet's food dish
•    Fix bowl of cereal
•    Help make and pack lunch
•    Keep bedroom tidy
•    Make their bed
•    Pile books and magazines
•    Pull weeds, if you have a garden
•    Put clothes in hamper
•    Put toys away
•    Set and clear table
•    Sort laundry
•    Sweep floors
•    Unload utensils from dishwasher
•    Use hand-held vacuum to pick up crumbs
•    Wash plastic dishes at sink
•    Water flowers
•    Weed and rake leaves
•    Wipe up spills

Chores for kids ages 8 to 9:
•    Bring in mail or newspaper
•    Clear table
•    Cook simple foods, such as toast
•    Dust
•    Empty wastebaskets
•    Fill pet's food dish
•    Fix bowl of cereal
•    Help make and pack lunch
•    Help make dinner
•    Keep bedroom tidy
•    Load dishwasher
•    Make own breakfast
•    Make own snacks
•    Make their bed
•    Mop floor
•    Peel vegetables
•    Pile books and magazines
•    Pull weeds, if you have a garden
•    Put away groceries
•    Put away own laundry
•    Put clothes in hamper
•    Put toys away
•    Set and clear table
•    Sew buttons
•    Sort laundry
•    Sweep floors
•    Take pet for a walk
•    Unload utensils from dishwasher
•    Use hand-held vacuum to pick up crumbs
•    Vacuum
•    Wash plastic dishes at sink
•    Wash table after meals
•    Water flowers
•    Weed and rake leaves
•    Wipe up spills

Chores for kids ages 10 and older:
•    Baby-sit younger siblings (with adult in the home)
•    Bring in mail or newspaper
•    Change their bed sheets
•    Clean bathroom
•    Clean kitchen
•    Clean oven
•    Clear table
•    Cook simple foods, such as toast
•    Cook simple meal with supervision
•    Do laundry
•    Dust
•    Empty wastebaskets
•    Fill pet's food dish
•    Fix bowl of cereal
•    Fold laundry
•    Help make and pack lunch
•    Help make dinner
•    Iron clothes
•    Keep bedroom tidy
•    Load dishwasher
•    Make own breakfast
•    Make own snacks
•    Make their bed
•    Mop floor
•    Peel vegetables
•    Pile books and magazines
•    Pull weeds, if you have a garden
•    Put away groceries
•    Put away own laundry
•    Put clothes in hamper
•    Put toys away
•    Set and clear table
•    Sew buttons
•    Sort laundry
•    Sweep floors
•    Take pet for a walk
•    Unload dishwasher
•    Unload utensils from dishwasher
•    Use hand-held vacuum to pick up crumbs
•    Vacuum
•    Wash car
•    Wash plastic dishes at sink
•    Wash table after meals
•    Wash windows
•    Water flowers
•    Weed and rake leaves
•    Wipe up spills

My Out-of-Control Child: Help for Parent with Defiant Children

Dealing with Uncontrollable Anger in Your Teenager

Anger in teens takes many forms. It may be expressed as indignation and resentment, or rage and fury. It is the expression of anger (i.e., the behavior) that parents see. Some adolescents may repress their anger and withdraw, while others may be more defiant and destroy property.

Anger is an emotion – not a behavior, and it is usually caused by something going on in the adolescent's life. Treating uncontrollable anger in teens generally involves several types of psychotherapy and training for your teen – as well as for you. Treatment often lasts several months or longer. If your son or daughter has co-existing conditions (e.g., ADHD), medications may help significantly improve symptoms. However, medications alone generally aren't used for anger-related issues unless another disorder co-exists.

Here are 17 crucial tips for dealing with uncontrollable anger in your teenager:

1. At first, your teen probably won't be cooperative or appreciate your changed response to his or her behavior. Expect that you'll have setbacks and relapses, and be prepared with a plan to manage those times. In fact, behavior can temporarily worsen when new limits and expectations are set. However, with perseverance and consistency, the initial hard work often pays off with improved behavior and relationships.

2. Be forgiving. Let go of things that you or your teen did in the past. Start each day with a fresh outlook and a clean slate.

3. Build in time together. Develop a consistent weekly schedule that involves you and your teen spending time together.

4. Assign your teen a household chore that's essential and that won't get done unless the teen does it. Initially, it's important to set your teen up for success with tasks that are relatively easy to achieve and gradually blend in more important and challenging expectations. Give clear, easy-to-follow instructions.

5. Consider individual and family therapy. Individual counseling for your teen may help him or her learn to manage anger and express his or her feelings more healthfully. Family counseling may help improve your communication and relationships, and help members of your family learn how to work together.

6. Employ social skills training. Your teen might benefit from therapy that will help him or her learn how to interact more positively and effectively with peers.

7. Learn ways to calm yourself. Keeping your own cool models the behavior you want from your teen.

8. Model the behavior you want your teen to have.

9. Pick your battles. Avoid power struggles. Almost everything can turn into a power struggle — if you let it.

10. Recognize and praise your teen's positive behaviors. Be as specific as possible, such as, "I really liked the way you helped wash dishes."

11. Set up a routine. Develop a consistent daily schedule for your teen. Asking your teen to help develop that routine may be beneficial.

12. Set limits and enforce consistent reasonable consequences.

13. Research parent-teen interaction therapy (PCIT). During PCIT, therapists coach moms and dads while they interact with their teenagers. In one approach, the therapist sits behind a one-way mirror and, using an "ear bug" audio device, guides moms and dads through strategies that reinforce their teenager's positive behavior. As a result, parents learn more-effective parenting techniques, the quality of the parent-teen relationship improves, and problem behaviors decrease.

14. Take time for yourself. Develop outside interests, get some exercise and spend some time away from your teen to restore your energy.

15. Try cognitive problem-solving training. This type of therapy is aimed at helping your teen identify and change through patterns that are leading to behavior problems. Collaborative problem-solving — in which you and your teen work together to come up with solutions that work for both of you — can help improve anger-related problems.

16. Work with your spouse or others in your household to ensure consistent and appropriate discipline procedures.

17. Get involved in parent training. A mental health provider with experience treating uncontrollable anger in teens may help you develop skills that will allow you to parent in a way that's more positive and less frustrating for you and your teen. In some cases, your teen may participate in this type of training with you, so that everyone in your family develops shared goals for how to handle problems. As part of parent training, you may learn how to: 
  • avoid power struggles;
  • establish a schedule for the family that includes specific meals that will be eaten at home together, and specific activities that mom and/or dad will do with the teen;
  • give effective timeouts;
  • limit consequences to those that can be consistently reinforced and if possible, last for a limited amount of time;
  • offer acceptable choices to your teen, giving him or her a certain amount of control;
  • recognize and praise your teen's good behaviors and positive characteristics; 
  • remain calm and unemotional in the face of opposition, or take your own timeout, if necessary.

Moms and dads must be aware of signs to look for in an angry and aggressive adolescent. It's common for adolescents to fight with their moms and dads, peers and siblings, but certain signs and symptoms are indicative of a bigger problem. When an adolescent appears isolated, spends a lot of time in his or her room, or does not want to participate in typical activities, you may have a reason for concern.

A drop in grades, lack of appetite, sleeplessness or too much sleep is also a sign that an adolescent is troubled. Crying often or constantly finding a reason to argue is also a common trait in an angry adolescent. When an adolescent feels very angry or out of control, aggression can take over. Physical contact, such as pushing or smacking a parent, sibling or peer, is a clear indication that the adolescent needs help.

Although some parent management techniques may seem like common sense, learning to use them in the face of opposition isn't easy, especially if there are other stressors at home. Learning these skills will require consistent practice and patience. Most important in treatment is for you to show consistent, unconditional love and acceptance of your teen — even during difficult and disruptive situations. Don't be too hard on yourself. This process can be tough for even the most patient mother or father.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Defiant Teens and Homework Refusal: 30 Strategies for Concerned Parents

Research suggests that over 50% of moms and dads fight with their teenagers every night over homework, and over 70% of teens regularly refuse to do their homework. Guess who’s winning this war? You guessed it!

If you’re like most moms and dads, you feel overly-responsible for getting your teenagers to take education seriously, and you get worried and angry when they refuse to do their homework. This can easily turn into a power struggle if you feel this is a “war” you have to “win.” It’s very easy to react to your own anxiety about this dilemma rather than acting in a well-planned way that will get your youngster where he or she needs to be academically.

Below are 30 strategies (some of which may be controversial) for parents who want to “influence” (rather than “control”) their defiant teenagers to do their homework. Some of these techniques will work – some won’t. But pick a few that seem relevant and give them a try. You can always come up with “Plan B” if “Plan A” isn’t working so well.

1. Adolescents often feel loved "conditionally" rather than “unconditionally” (i.e., they only think you approve of them when they do a good job). This can lead to depression and bitterness. Try to be as positive as possible. If your adolescent comes up to you and tells you something really terrible, like she failed a unit test or something, be understanding. It took a lot of courage for her to work up the nerve to tell you this. So, the cooler you are with it, the more likely she is to come and talk with you on a regular basis.

2. Bring your teen’s backpack to her. This may seem ridiculous, 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. So, get your teenager started with homework by setting her stuff down in front of her.

3. Doing a good job as a mother or father means that you have done all that you can do as a responsible parent. It does not mean that you have raised a perfect child who has made all the right choices. Once you really get this, you won’t be so anxious about your youngster’s behaviors, actions, and decisions. You will be able to see him objectively, and therefore be able to guide his behavior, because you’ll have seen what he actually needs.

4. Don't "bitch." This will invite adolescents to resist. Be kind, yet firm – and be proactive. How? By brainstorming with your adolescent. She is a lot more inclined to follow a plan that she came up with herself.

5. Getting your kids to listen to you is primarily about setting up the conditions under which they choose to do so. In order to do this, make a conscious effort to sprinkle your relationship with more positive interactions than negative ones (e.g., hug, show affection, laugh together, spend time together, etc.). Point out your appreciations most instead of constantly correcting, instructing, teaching, yelling, and complaining.  While it’s true that you will need to correct and reprimand as a mother or father from time to time, try to make a conscious effort so that every time you do this, you will follow it with many positive interactions. Teens tend to remember the negatives much more than the positives. Most of them will be happy to listen and be guided by the adults in their lives who they like and respect.

6. Have realistic expectations. If adolescents forget certain chores or assignments, it does not mean they are irresponsible – it means they are adolescents. So give them reminders in a good humored way. Use your sense of humor and remind without saying anything. Point, use charades, or write a note and leave it on their door or chair. If you have to say something, ask, "What was our plan?"

7. If you are a single mother or father, read all you can about identifying with your adolescent one a personal level. Adolescents who see their parent as the "annoying grown-up" will be even less likely to listen.

8. If your adolescent feels social pressure to go out and do things with his peers, let him. But make a deal that no matter how late they get home, they will do the homework before the next day. Make a deal and a plan of action. Some adolescents will do their best not to let you down in exchange for going to be with friends. (Disclaimer: As stated at the top of this post, some of these strategies will work for your teen, and some won’t.)

9. If your adolescent is already sitting at the computer, but simply is surfing or doing other things, have her get off. Force her off by standing there and watching her until she turns the computer off. Offer then to take her out to spend some of her money (which usually makes adolescents happy), or take her out for ice cream. It does not have to be a long outing, but getting her out of the "surfing mood” can make all of the difference. When you return home, she needs to start on the homework.

10. 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 of his rear-end, it might become very much easier to get him to go and get his work.

11. If 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 a couch where the two of you can sit together and work. Judge the scope of her understanding on the subject matter, then sort of trick her into doing the work herself (a controversial strategy, I know). Tell her you have to use the restroom, and just walk away. Before you go, ask her to do two or more parts of the homework on her own.

12. If your teen is planning on going out with friends, don't nag him to get the homework done before hand, but let him know that if he fails any assignments, he will not hang with friends outside of school for a week. The same applies if he wants to do something like skateboarding. Allow him to go, but with conditions.

13. If your teen is really struggling to complete homework, call or make an appointment to meet his teachers. Get to know them, make them feel comfortable to get in touch with you. This, of course, is something your adolescent isn't going to like, even if she is a good student. But, the teachers you have called are much more conscious of your adolescent in their class. So, not only does your adolescent know that you care about her education, the teachers do also.

14. Let your adolescent be the one to come up with his daily routine. He is more apt to stick with it this way. But beforehand, set up a consequence if he is unable to stick to the routine.

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

16. Moms and dads of adolescents often have trouble figuring out when to back off. When it comes to education, your adolescent needs to 'hold the bag'. What grades she “earns” in no way should reflect on you as a parent. After you have given her the time, the space, and the tools, she needs to do the learning. In the end, it’ her job – not yours!

17. Monitor your teen’s computer history. If he is working on a computer, watch to make sure that he doesn't stray. You can also set parental controls and restrictions on internet access.

18. Learn how to “inspire” your teenager, not “boss” her. Building a positive relationship with your child is your best parenting strategy. Kids want to please the adults in their lives that they have loving feelings toward. You can’t ultimately make them accept your values, but you can inspire them to do so.

19. Routines make your adolescent feel safe and secure. When adolescents feel safe and secure, they are at their best. Get rid of the 'Did you do your homework yet?' question. Know that from this time to this time, she is working on it. Be available at that time should she have any questions.

20. Responsible adults 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.

21. Depending on the confidence-level of the teen, some difficult assignments might be avoided. Anxiety can be a factor where fear of not doing well paradoxically causes the teen to just not do the work. If laziness or distraction don't seem to be the main factors, consider talking more in depth with your adolescent about what's going on.

22. There are many reasons why an adolescent may not want to do his homework. Is he absorbed in some other task? Is he planning on going out with friends? Whatever it is, knowing the cause is the best way to counter. Remember that a lot of trust is involved with raising an adolescent. Put him in the position where you are trusting him, and if he violates that trust, it is nobody's fault but his.

23. When teens enter high school, they are offered many different activities. Some adolescents try to do it all. This is a good time to explain to your adolescent that there is such a thing as 'too much of a good thing'. See how she handles the responsibility of an activity before allowing her to engage in additional ones.

24. When your youngster's grades slip, or you find that he's not getting his work in on time, “supervise” to help him get on track. For certain periods of time, he will not be able to do anything other than homework. During that time, no games or gadgets are allowed—just studying. In this way, you are providing structure that your teen can’t provide for himself. The time that you set aside for studying should be a time when you will be around to enforce the rules that you have set. Give a fixed amount of time, and once that time is up, your youngster is free to go elsewhere, homework done or not. (Disclaimer: Again, as stated at the top of this post, some of these strategies will work for your teen, and some won’t.)

25. Work to avoid getting pulled into a power struggle. Your defiant youngster will need many more learning opportunities and more rewards and negative consequences—and more time to learn these lessons.

26. You are not responsible for the choices your youngster makes in life. It’s impossible to take on that burden without a battle for control. Measure your success as a mother or father by how you behave—not by what your youngster chooses to do or not do.

27. You can't "program" your youngster to care about her work, but you can create a work environment that promotes a good work ethic. Children who regularly get their homework done do better throughout school and in life.

28. Your adolescent will have friends that completely “blow off” all of their work, and this can be a negative influence. Show your child that he can be cool AND have good grades, not one or the other. Do this by telling him stories about when you were a youngster, 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.

29. Your message to your children (which does not require long sit down conversations) is, “Your job is to take care of your responsibilities, which includes getting your homework done. Once you’ve done that each day, you are welcome to do whatever you want.”

30. The bottom line is this: You can’t get defiant teenagers to do - or care - about what they don’t want to do or care about. Teens have their own genetics, roles, and ultimately their own free will. So, focusing on getting your son or daughter to “change” will not work long-term and will most often turn into a power struggle. Sometimes the best strategy is to simply let him or her feel the negative emotions (e.g., “I’m a failure) associated with the poor choice of making mostly F’s and D’s.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

40 Survival Tips for Blended Families

When families "blend" to create step-families, things rarely progress effortlessly. Some kids may resist changes, while moms and dads can become perturbed when the new family doesn't function like their previous family. While changes to family structure require “adjustment time” for everyone involved, the following tips will help blended families work out their growing pains and live together successfully:

1. Address conflict positively. In other words, view each "trouble spot" as an opportunity to learn and grow together. "Conflict" is a good thing when it is used constructively ...don't view it as something that "shouldn't happen."

2. Agree with your new spouse how you intend to parent together, and then make any necessary adjustments to your parenting styles “before” you remarry. It’ll make for a smoother transition, and your children won’t become angry at your new partner for initiating changes.

3. All siblings have conflict, so don’t assume all family arguments are the result of living in a blended family.

4. As a new step-parent, you shouldn’t step in as the enforcer at first, but work with your partner to set limits.

5. As you merge two families, differences in parenting, discipline, lifestyle, etc. may become more pronounced and can become a source of frustration for the kids. Make it a priority to have some unity when it comes to daily living (e.g., rules, chores, discipline, allowance, etc.). Agreeing on some consistent guidelines will show the children that you and your partner intend to deal with issues in a similar way. This should diminish some feelings of unfairness.

6. Be sure to discuss everything. Never keep emotions bottled up or hold grudges.

7. Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another.

8. Children often feel unimportant or invisible when it comes to decision making in the new blended family. Recognize their role in the family when you make decisions.

9. Create a list of family rules. Discuss the rules with the kids and post them in a prominent place. Also, understand what the rules and boundaries are for the children in their other residence, and be consistent.

10. Creating an honest and open environment free of judgment will help children feel heard and emotionally connected to a new step-parent. Show them that you can view the situation from their perspective.

11. Creating family routines and rituals helps unite family members. Decide on meaningful family rituals and plan to incorporate at least one into your blended family (e.g., Sunday visits to the beach, a weekly game night, special ways to celebrate a family birthday, etc.).

12. Do things together (e.g., games, sports, activities, etc.).

13. Don’t overcompensate by favoring your step-kids. This is a common mistake, made with best intentions, in an attempt to avoid indulging your biological kids.

14. Don't expect to fall in love with your spouse’s kids overnight. Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.

15. Enforce a respectful attitude. You can’t insist all family members like each other, but you can insist that they treat one another with respect.

16. Establish an open and nonjudgmental atmosphere.

17. Establish the step-parent as more of a friend or counselor rather than a disciplinarian.

18. Establishing regular family meals offers a great chance for you to talk and bond with your kids and step-kids (as well as encourage healthy eating habits).

19. Find a step-parenting support organization in your community. You can learn how other blended families address some of the challenges of blended families.

20. Find a way to experience real life together. Taking both sets of children to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. Try to get the children used to your spouse and his/her kids in daily life situations.

21. Help your children feel safe and secure. Kids want to be able to count on their parents. Kids of divorce have already felt the upset of having people they trust let them down; therefore, know that they may have difficulty giving second chances to a new step-parent.

22. If family members can be civil with one another on a regular basis rather than ignoring, purposely trying to hurt, or completely withdrawing from each other, you're on track.

23. If some of the children just “visit,” make sure they have a locked cupboard for their personal things. Bringing toothbrushes and other standard fare each time they come to your home makes them feel like a visitor, not a member of the blended family.

24. Kids may not think they need limits, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal that the youngster is unworthy of the parents’ time, care, and attention.

25. Kids of all ages respond to praise and encouragement and like to feel appreciated for their contributions.

26. Let the biological parent remain primarily responsible for discipline until the step-parent has developed solid bonds with the children.

27. Let the children know that you and your ex-partner will continue to love them and be there for them throughout their lives.

28. Limit expectations. You may give a lot of time, energy, love, and affection to your new spouse’s children that will not be returned immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest.

29. Listen respectfully to one another.

30. Members of your blended family may be at various life stages and have different needs (e.g., adolescents versus preschoolers). They may also be at different stages in accepting this new family. Family members need to understand and honor those differences.

31. Most families have very different ideas about how annual events (e.g., holidays, birthdays, family vacations, etc.) should be spent. Children may feel resentful if they’re forced to go along with someone else’s routine. Try to find some common ground or create new traditions for your blended family.

32. One challenge to creating a cohesive blended family is establishing trust. The kids may feel uncertain about their new family and resist your efforts to get to know them. Learn not to take their lack of enthusiasm personally.

33. Present a unified parenting approach to the kids. Arguing or disagreeing in front of them may encourage them to try to come between you.

34. Set aside time as a couple by making regular dates or meeting for lunch or coffee during school time.

35. Tell the children that your new partner will not be a ‘replacement’ mom or dad, but another person to love and support them.

36. The way a blended family communicates says a lot about the level of trust between family members. When communication is clear, open, and frequent, there are fewer opportunities for misunderstanding and more possibilities for connection, whether it is between parent and youngster, step-parent and step-child, or between step-siblings.

37. Try to spend at least one “quiet time” period with your biological youngster daily. Even in the best of blended families, kids still need to enjoy some “alone time” with each parent.

38. Understand that it isn’t that the children don’t want you to be happy; they just don’t know what it will be like to share their parent with a new partner, let alone his/her children. These feelings are normal.

39. Without the marriage, there is no family. It's harder to take care of the marriage in a blended family because you don't have “couple time” like most first marriages do. You'll have to grow and mature into the marriage while parenting.

40.  Your children or new spouse may put you in a situation where you feel you have to choose between them. Remind them that you want both sets of people in your life.


If, despite all of your best efforts, your new partner and/or kids are not getting along, find a way to protect and nurture the kids despite the difficult environment. Hopefully, if the children see and feel your emotional support, they will do their best with the situation. 

Know that it might be time to seek outside help from a therapist if a step-parent or parent openly favors one youngster over another, a youngster directs anger upon a particular family member or openly resents a step-parent or parent, or members of the family derive no pleasure from usually enjoyable activities (e.g., school, working, playing, being with friends and family, etc.). It may take some time, but choose a therapist that everyone in your blended family is comfortable with. A good connection with a therapist should result in some positive changes right away. You can obtain referrals from family or friends, mental health associations, provider listing from your insurance company, or your family doctor.

How to Stop Arguments With Your Defiant Teenager

Most parents hate having arguments with their defiant teenagers. Arguing is exhausting and time-consuming, especially after a hectic day at work. Are you wondering how to stop it? Follow these tips, and they will help you:

1. The first thing to do is to listen to EVERYTHING your teen has to say. Don’t interrupt, even if she is going on and on. Let her finish, and while she is speaking, make eye contact and let her know you hear her. It’s amazing that even after a long, drawn-out argument, neither person feels really heard, so listen intently. This is the first step to ending arguments before they grow into something unmanageable.

2. As often as possible, try to avoid topics about which you know your teen is passionate about. If you know which buttons to push to get her started, don't push them.

3. Empathize with your teen while she is venting. Say something like, “I’m sorry that things are this way, but hopefully we can settle it once we’ve both calmed down.” Being empathic doesn’t mean you’re taking the blame for the argument, it simply means you’re acknowledging the problem.

4. Identify the reason(s) for the argument. When you know what you’re arguing about, you can begin to work on fixing the problem.

5. Only address the “message” that your teen communicated to you. Take the time to address “what was said” rather than addressing “your reaction to it” or your own personal feelings about it.  Not doing so is how arguments spiral out of control – parent and child react to their own feelings about what the other person has said. Instead, respond only to the message that was communicated. This will diffuse the argument, and your teen will know that she was heard and understood.

6. Save your feelings for later. Take a moment to think about if what you are about to say is something that you should bring up now, or if it can wait until later. After you address what your teen has said, you may decide that you do indeed need to address how her message made you feel or some other feelings you have.  Sometimes a teen’s delivery may have been poor, and you may feel attacked.  Other times, there is something else going on and you also want to be heard and understood. If this is the case, wait until your teen feels understood. You’ll know you’re ready to address “your” feelings when the topic at hand feels diffused and it seems like the conversation could end.

7. Try to discern your teen’s “message” or what she is feeling rather than giving your attention to the reactions and feelings that arise WITHIN YOU as she speaks. This takes practice and patience, but it is really key to understanding the message that is being communicated.  When we, as parents, get caught up in what we “feel” about what our defiant teens are saying, we stop really hearing what they are saying. We take it too personally. This can be a real challenge when how your teen communicates is offending you.  But try to focus on the message rather than on the delivery.  If the delivery angered you, choose to address that later.

8. Wait before you respond. When your teen finishes, don’t respond right away.  Take time to think of what you would like to say.  It’s okay to be silent and thoughtful for a moment. Clear out all those reactions that are based on your own feelings before you respond.

9. Walk away from the situation. Many times, parent and child argue because they get entangled with their anger or the heat of the moment. Walking away to diffuse the situation allows you both to cool off.

10. Try to end on a positive note. Sometimes, not everything can be resolved, and that’s okay. Things can take time.  But as long as both you and your teen feel understood, progress can be made in the days to come.  Try to explain what you’ve understood and what you’ll do different in the future.

Regardless of the real issue, the 10-step mediation process above gives you some ideas on how to handle conflict and start chipping away at the problem. If you try this technique in good faith and it doesn't take the arguing down a notch or two, it's probably time for you and your teen to seek professional counseling.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Butting Heads with Your Defiant Teen: Tips for Parents

The primary goal of adolescence is to achieve independence. For this to occur, they will start pulling away from their moms and dads — especially the parent whom they're the closest to. This can come across always seeming to have different opinions than their parents, or not wanting to be around them in the same way they used to.

As adolescents mature, they start to think more abstractly and rationally. They're forming their moral code. And moms and dads may find that teens who previously had been willing to conform to please them will suddenly begin asserting themselves — and their opinions — strongly and rebelling against parental control.

Adolescence can be a confusing time of change for all family members. But while these years can be difficult, there's plenty you can do to nurture your adolescent and encourage responsible behavior. Use the parenting tips below to deal with the challenges of raising a difficult, defiant adolescent.

40 tips for parents with defiant teens:

1. Avoid punishing your adolescent when you're angry.

2. Avoid reprimanding your adolescent in front of his or her friends.

3. Avoid ultimatums. Your adolescent may view an ultimatum as condescending and interpret it as a challenge.

4. Be a good role model. Your actions -- even more than your words -- are critical in helping adolescents adopt good moral and ethical standards.  If teens have a good role model from early on, they will be less likely to make bad decisions in their rebellious adolescent years.

5. Be concise. Keep your rules short and to the point.

6. Be consistent when you enforce limits. Whatever disciplinary tactic you choose, relate the consequences to the broken rule and deliver them immediately. Limit punishments to a few hours or days to make them most effective.

7. Be flexible. As your adolescent demonstrates more responsibility, grant him or her more freedom. If your adolescent shows poor judgment, impose more restrictions.

8. Be prepared to explain your decisions. Your adolescent may be more likely to comply with a rule when he or she understands its purpose.

9. Be reasonable. Avoid setting rules your adolescent can't possibly follow. A chronically messy son or daughter may not be able to maintain a spotless bedroom overnight.

10. Be specific. For example, rather than telling your adolescent not to stay out late, set a specific curfew.

11.  Choose your battles wisely. Doing themselves harm or doing something that could be permanent (e.g., smoking, getting a tattoo) -- those things matter. Purple hair, a messy room -- those don't matter. Don't nitpick.

12. Decide rules and discipline in advance with the other parent. If you have a two-parent family, it's important for both mom and dad to have their own discussion so they can come to some kind of agreement and stay on the same page. Whether you ban your teens from driving for a week or a month, whether you ground them for a day or a week, cut back on their allowance or Internet use -- whatever -- set it in advance. If the teenager says it isn't fair, then you have to agree on what is fair punishment. Then, follow through with the consequences.

13. Discuss "checking in." Give adolescents age-appropriate autonomy, especially if they behave appropriately. But you need to know where they are. That's part of responsible parenting. If it feels necessary, require them to call you during the evening to check in.

14. Don't impose penalties you're not prepared to carry out.

15. Encourage your adolescent to talk to other supportive adults (e.g., an uncle, older cousin, or grandparent) for guidance.

16. Enforce consequences. Enforcing consequences can be tough — but your adolescent needs you to be his or her parent, not a buddy. Being too lenient may send the message that you don't take your adolescent's behavior seriously, while being too harsh can cause resentment.

17. Give adolescents a game plan. For example, tell them, "If the only option is getting into a car with a drunk driver, call me -- I don't care if it's 3:00 AM in the morning." Or make sure they have cab fare. Help them figure out how to handle a potentially unsafe situation, yet save face. Brainstorm with them. Come up with a solution that feels comfortable.

18. Give teens some leeway. Giving adolescents a chance to establish their own identity, giving them more independence, is essential to helping them establish their own place in the world.

19.  If your adolescent doesn't seem interested in bonding, keep trying.

20. Keep in mind that only reprimanding your adolescent and never giving him or her any justified praise can prove demoralizing. For every time you discipline or correct your adolescent, try to compliment him or her twice.

21. Keep the "communication door" open. Don't interrogate your teens, but act interested. Share a few tidbits about your own day, and ask about theirs. For example: How was the concert? How was the date? How was your day?

22. Let teens feel guilty. Too much is made about self-esteem. Feeling good about yourself is healthy. But people should feel bad if they have hurt someone or done something wrong. Teens need to feel bad sometimes. Guilt is a healthy emotion. When teens have done something wrong, they should feel bad ...they should feel guilty.

23. Minimize pressure. Don't pressure your adolescent to be like you were (or wish you had been) at his or her age. For example, give your adolescent some leeway when it comes to clothing and hairstyles. It's natural for adolescents to rebel and express themselves in ways that differ from their moms and dads. As you allow your adolescent some degree of self-expression, remember that you can still maintain high expectations and the kind of person he or she will become.

24. Monitor what your teens see and read. TV shows, magazines and books, the Internet — teens have access to tons of information. Be aware of what yours watch and read. Don't be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent in front of the computer or the TV. Know what they're learning from the media and who they are communicating with online.

25. On days when you're having trouble connecting with your adolescent, consider each doing your own thing in the same space. Being near each other could lead to the start of a conversation.

26. Only punish the guilty party, not other family members, when punishment is needed.

27. Prioritize rules. While it's important to consistently enforce your rules, you can occasionally make exceptions when it comes to matters such as homework habits, TV watching and bedtime. Prioritizing rules will give you and your adolescent a chance to practice negotiating and compromising. Before negotiating with your adolescent, however, consider how far you're willing to bend. Don't negotiate when it comes to restrictions imposed for your adolescent's safety (e.g., substance abuse, sexual activity, reckless driving, etc.). Make sure your adolescent knows early on that you won't tolerate tobacco, alcohol or other drug use.

28. Put rules in writing. Use this technique to counter a selective memory.

29. Put yourself in your youngster's place. Practice empathy by helping your youngster understand that it's normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it's OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a kid the next.

30. Regularly eating meals together may be a good way to stay connected to your adolescent. Better yet, invite your adolescent to prepare the meal with you.

31. Respect your teens' privacy. Some moms and dads feel that anything their teens do is their business. But to help your adolescent become a young adult, you'll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your youngster's privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it's a good idea to back off.

32. Set a positive example. Remember, adolescents learn how to behave by watching their moms and dads. Your actions generally speak louder than your words. Set a positive example and your adolescent will likely follow your lead.

33. Show your love. One of the most important parenting skills needed for raising healthy adolescents involves positive attention. Spend time with your adolescent to remind him or her that you care. Listen to your adolescent when he or she talks, and respect your adolescent's feelings.

34. Start with trust. Let your adolescent know that you trust him or her. But, if the trust gets broken, he or she may enjoy fewer freedoms until the trust is rebuilt.

35. Talk to adolescents about risks. Whether it is drugs, driving, or premarital sex, your teens need to know the worst that could happen.

36. To encourage your adolescent to behave well, identify what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior at home, at school and elsewhere. As you establish appropriate rules, explain to your adolescent the behavior you expect as well as the consequences for complying and disobeying.

37. Use “active ignoring” during teen tantrums. Tell your adolescent that you'll talk to him or her when the whining, sulking or yelling stops. Ignore your adolescent in the meantime.

38. When imposing additional restrictions, take away a privilege or possession that's meaningful to your adolescent (e.g., computer time, a cell phone, etc.).

39. When showing disapproval, make sure you reprimand your adolescent's “behavior,” not your adolescent. Avoid using a sarcastic, demeaning or disrespectful tone.

40. When your adolescent needs a consequence for misbehavior, have him or her suggest a consequence. Your adolescent may have an easier time accepting a consequence if he or she played a role in deciding it.

Good Luck!

==> My Out-of-Conrol Teen: Help for Parents

Parenting Your Children After Divorce

Some moms and dads think once they are divorced and most of the decisions have been made, the worst is behind them. Unfortunately, parenting after divorce is an ongoing challenge. The success of divorced parents depends on the decisions they make, their attitude toward their situation, and their compassion for their “blameless” kids.

Divorced moms and dads are often overwhelmed by all the changes in their lives. They may be filled with guilt, blame, rage, or grief. Though they love their kids, it is often a major challenge to manage emotions and conflict with their ex-spouse in a way that helps their kids move through the changes and feel loved and secure.

Things to consider when parenting children after a divorce:

1. Children need to feel understood. After a divorce, their feelings may be in turmoil. Listen to them. Don't tell them what to think. Be sure to respond specifically to what they are telling you. For example, say, “It sounds like you are feeling upset about meeting your father's new girlfriend, is that right?” As a mother or father, you don't have to have a solution for your kids’ problems – you just need to listen as they describe their problems. You can suggest they write down their feelings and share them with your ex-spouse (but only if they want to).

2. Even though it might be tempting to do so, never criticize your ex-spouse within ear-shot of your children, because it's a direct criticism of them (who are 50% of your ex-spouse).

3. Teenagers like to feel in control, and divorce turns their world upside down. Don't fall into the trap of sharing divorce details or your angry feelings about your ex-spouse with your teens. Their own anxiety and need for control causes them to be understanding of what you're going through, but you need to be the parent. Get outside help for yourself, get therapy if necessary, and maintain those boundaries. Making your older children your cohort is wrong and does damage.

4. Don’t communicate “through” your kids, which causes undue emotional stress on them and forces them to negotiate a situation you and your ex-spouse couldn’t handle.  Email is an excellent tool to communicate with your ex-spouse. It allows you to specifically discuss the practicalities of parenting without detouring into negative areas and opening old wounds. If you need to speak with your ex-spouse over the phone or in person, be focused and stay on task – and most important, don't swallow the bait if he or she descends into resentment and anger. Take the high road by simply saying, “I appreciate your feelings, but I am here to discuss our child's school assignment.”

5. Alienating a youngster from the other parent is an all-too-common (and often subconscious) tactic that moms and dads may use after a divorce. Alienating is a form of brainwashing where one parent repeatedly insists, to the youngster, that certain facts and feelings exist between the other parent and the youngster until the youngster begins to agree, whether true or not. When alienated long enough, kids may resist any bond with the other parent, and that parent may sever ties with the youngster out of frustration and hopelessness. This is the worst mistake any divorced parent can commit, and it has a name: Parental Alienation Syndrome.

6. Although going through a divorce can make a mother or father feel emotionally needy, this should not be shared with your youngster through action or word. A youngster who feels a parent’s neediness too often will begin feeling guilty or fearful of leaving the parent when it is time to spend time with the other parent. This is a huge burden to put on any boy or girl.

7. Don’t turn any of your youngster’s special occasions into an opportunity to focus on marital hostility. Let sporting events, birthdays, holidays, dance recitals, and school performances all be opportunities to focus on your son or daughter and how proud you are of him or her. Don’t, for example, discuss parenting-time issues, child-support issues, etc. If you have difficulty being civil with your ex-spouse, take turns at special events, or limit your attendance, or attend the event at opposite ends of the room so that your child can interact freely with both sides of the family without fear of chaos and drama.

8. It’s never too late to undo emotional fall-out from a nasty divorce. Kids are remarkably forgiving (at least until they reach their teenage years, when resentment can become more cemented). If you've made some mistakes, simply do the following: (a) explain in detail exactly what you've done wrong, (b) commit to changing your behavior from that moment on, and (c) apologize for your mistakes (saying you're sorry goes a long way).

9. Moms with sons – and dads with daughters – should be particularly careful that they do not put their oldest youngster into the position of “replacement spouse,” “man of the house,” “woman of the house,” or any other misplaced role. Kids need to feel like kids and feel the security of knowing their mother and father can – and will – take care of all parenting obligations.

10. Never put your son or daughter in the position of choosing between households. Most U.S. states have statues that require children to be almost adults before being capable of choosing where they want to live. Some states never allow children this choice. This is because they have a natural, healthy loyalty toward both mom AND dad. Being asked to make any choice between parents (e.g., who has custody, whose house the youngster should spend Christmas at, etc.) puts kids in the awkward position of shifting their loyalty away from one parent in favor of the other. This can leave them feeling regretful, angry and despondent.

11. Asking your son or daughter questions about the other parent (or time spent with the other parent) is a harmful way of putting the youngster in the middle. Moms and dads should always communicate all issues privately between themselves. Any questions or concerns about the other parent’s home or situation should be directed at that parent, not the youngster.

12. Spoiling your kids in order to divert their grief or pain is not a healthy way of dealing with their pain – or yours. If you are the one who has moved away from the original home, you may have an even larger temptation to be an over-indulgent parent since your time together will be so limited now. It feels important to make that time memorable to your youngster – and what boy or girl doesn’t love a new toy? But more than toys, your youngster needs to feel stable and safe. This can be obtained through parenting “as usual,” despite the changes in family life.

13. Treating your youngster like a “pal” and relating to him or her as a peer is a common change that occurs after some divorces. While it may be tempting to sympathize with your youngster since you have both lost something important in your lives, your losses are different. Your youngster is not a mini-adult!

14. Do not share with your son or daughter whether or not the other parent is paying child-support, how much child-support, or when the child-support doesn’t come in – no matter how tempting it may be. Any criticism of your ex-spouse will also feel like a criticism of the youngster and will erode his or her self-esteem.

15. Lastly, if several months go by and your children are still not coping well or adjusting to the new circumstance, please consider family counseling or therapy for all willing parties.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

When Your Ex-Husband Undermines Your Disciplinary Efforts

"How do I get back on track in my house when my son’s father (we are divorced) undermines my disciplinary efforts?"

There are some families in which the parents’ beliefs about changing their kid’s behavior are so different that their attempts at discipline become more of a problem than a solution. A youngster whose mom is strict but whose dad is a consistent pushover, for example, receives confusing information about what’s expected.

A parent who gives in to his kids’ every demand in the hope of satisfying them almost always finds that the opposite happens: Instead of letting up, the kids continue to push for more and more, looking for a sign of how much is too much.

A similar thing happens if the moms and dads can’t decide how to discipline and set limits on their kids. It’s healthy for kids to see how their mom and dad reach a compromise or settle a disagreement if it’s done peacefully and effectively. But if the parents can’t reach an agreement, the kids’ behavior often gets worse as they search for the reassurance of stable boundaries to their lives.

In those situations, the main issue of using discipline to teach kids appropriate behavior gets lost in the battles between the mom and dad for an illusion of control. The kids become confused and respond by continuing to act out, both to assert their own power and to figure out which rules are really important.

Realize that disagreeing with your ex about discipline is normal and inevitable. It doesn’t mean that you are incompatible as co-parents. It does mean that you are not clones of each other. Don’t let “lack of agreement” evolve into more than it is. Agree to disagree.

Unfair fighting is never a good life lesson. Witnessing moms and dads sniping, bullying, screaming or giving the cold shoulder is frightening to kids, and teaches them to avoid or to abuse disagreements. Don’t go there, no matter how tempting it is to hit below the belt.

Decide in advance (as in right now!) what’s really important in your family. I’m sure that you and your ex can agree on at least a handful of issues that you’ll always concur are important and should be handled in a certain manner. Many families consider health (e.g., wearing bicycle helmets, banning substance use, etc.), education (e.g., completing class work and homework in an appropriate manner), respect (at home, school and in the public), and honesty to be “givens.”

The bottom line is that the best disciplinary decision is made – not who made it. This is not about notches in the gun belt — it’s about giving consequences that will lower your youngster’s frequency of inappropriate behavior and raise the odds of acceptable behavior in the future, pure and simple. If you feel that your ex is working against you, try giving a preset signal that means “we need to talk.”

Forming a united front on discipline is often more easily said than done. Here are some ideas that may help:

1. Agree on a signal to alert both of you that the conversation is – or is about to get — too heated and needs to be halted.

2. Make a commitment both to honor and act on the signal. You might walk away and have an agreed-upon cooling-off period …or set a time to revisit your differences in opinion …or write down what you’re feeling and later share it with your ex (who might better understand where you’re coming from).

3. Be prepared for behavioral problems. Remember that many changes in kids’ behaviors are linked to their stage of normal development. Talk ahead of time about how each of you would handle predictable situations. That way you’ll have fewer conflicts when they occur.

4. Create your own family “rulebook.” Write clear, reasonable, attainable rules (for both parents and kids) about what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. Your family, like a football team, will be more successful when you have clear guidelines.

5. Don’t be trapped by your past. That includes both your own childhood and the style of discipline you may have used in an earlier marriage. Look for ways to explore (with your ex) your unquestioned assumptions about discipline. One good way to do that is to take a parenting class together. That does two things: It helps you realize how differently other people respond to the same situations you face as mother and father, and it gives you and your ex a common base of information from which to develop your shared approaches to discipline.

6. Don’t go overboard in trying to avoid arguments. Having small squabbles in front of the kids – and then resolving them peacefully – can actually be good for them. It shows that it’s possible to disagree with someone, and that relationships don’t end just because people are quarreling with each other.

7. Remember your successes. You and your ex have undoubtedly successfully negotiated many situations with each of you both giving and taking a little until you reached some middle ground. You can be successful at ending arguments in front of the kids if you really want to. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding. And your kids will be the ultimate winners.

8.    Lastly, remember that a weaker parenting plan supported by both mom AND dad is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one parent.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Using Reverse Psychology as a Parenting Strategy

In order to really take advantage of “reverse psychology” as an effective parenting tool (and not have anyone catch on to it), parents really need to have a clear understanding of what it is and how it works.

Parents are using reverse psychology when they intentionally argue in favor of a decision or behavior while secretly wanting their child to endorse the opposite decision or behavior. The technique makes use of the psychological phenomenon of “reactance” (i.e., an emotional reaction in opposition to perceived restrictions on a person’s behavioral freedoms).

Reverse psychology is an important tool that parents can use to influence the decisions of their children. The technique tends to work best when parents reinforce independence with resistant teens. In order to reinforce independence in a reverse psychology format, parents argue against themselves versus the behavior they would like their teenager to engage in.

Here are some examples of “good” reverse psychology:
  • You tell your defiant teenage daughter that you can’t make her do anything that she doesn’t want to do – even if you feel you have evidence to back up your advice – and that only she can decide what’s best for her. Now you are arguing against yourself as the “person of influence” – and reverse that to say that your daughter is in the driver’s seat, free and autonomous to decide for herself. If reverse psychology works its magic, this may make your daughter argue in favor of YOUR expertise and the validity of YOUR advice.
  • Your 12-year-old son refuses to eat because he is engrossed in watching television, so you tell him that it’s “bedtime” since he’s done with “dinnertime.” This may spur some positive action from your son who is yearning to have more television time on his schedule. 
  • Your 7-year-old child hates vegetables, so you say, "I bet you can't eat all of those peas in 30 seconds." 
  • Your preschooler doesn't want to take a bath in the evening, so you say, “Okay, let's just go straight to bed then.” This will probably work, because most children would rather do almost anything than go to bed early.

So, you’re basically trying to get your kids to do the exact opposite of what they think you really want them to do.

Here is an example of “bad” reverse psychology:
  • Your trying to get your child to put his toys away, so you say, "I'll put these away for you. You probably don't even know how to fit them all back in the box anyway." Now, even though he will probably insist that he can do it all by himself, you may have also hurt his self-esteem a bit by insinuating that he is not smart enough to put toys away. Make sense?

Reverse psychology often works well with defiant children, because many just want to do the opposite of what parents are telling them. Use reverse psychology techniques sparingly, though. Choose your words and situations carefully. Whatever reverse psychology technique is used, be sure to practice and make it believable. Having a reputation as a “manipulator” is not good.

If you haven’t used reverse psychology on your kids yet, it’s time to add it to your parenting toolbox. Kids are notorious for waiting for you to tell them something – and then doing the exact opposite. They thrive on doing the opposite of whatever they know is expected of them (which may very well be a version of reverse psychology in and of itself).

By telling your kids the opposite of what you want them to do, they may (after being slightly confused) do exactly what you want them to. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that kids are very impressionable. Only use reverse psychology in special circumstances, and avoid using it in ways that could harm your youngster’s self-esteem.

No matter when or how you decide to use reverse psychology, know that there is a major difference between psychology and manipulation. Using reverse psychology every once in a while is okay (so long as no one is going to be injured by it). If you take it too far, or use it too often, you will quickly become known as a manipulator. Remember that once tarnished, your reputation is something you can never get back. Also, if you are dealing with compliant kids (as opposed to resistant ones), it may be better to ignore reverse psychology altogether and just be direct.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents


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