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

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

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Tough Love for Pot Smoking Teens

No mother or father wants to believe that their teenage son or daughter is using drugs. The fact is that even the most careful parent can't always compete with peer pressure. Adolescents who are eager to fit in with the popular crowd may end up smoking pot because their peers do it or they just want to experiment.

If you suspect that your adolescent is using pot or may be tempted to do so, you need to take some important steps:

1. The first stage of dealing with this issue involves trying to understand what your adolescent is actually experiencing by engaging her in a helpful dialogue. Hold back on your warnings and threats. Instead, approach your youngster as the expert and ask for a greater understanding by asking questions such as: How much does it cost these days? I understand that the current weed is much stronger than what was around in my day …is that true? Is it easy to get pot? What different types of pot are out there now? What is it like when you get high? Why do you like to get high? What are the benefits to you?

2. Once you have a better understanding of the reasons for drug use and the patterns of use, you should express your displeasure in the following ways:
  • It is illegal. Your adolescent needs to be reminded that she can be arrested, and while not much happens to first time offenders, still it's no fun to end up on probation and to have to do community service.
  • Employers now routinely drug test all applicants. Since traces of pot remain in the system for about a month and it is not as easy to hide as commonly thought, your adolescent may be very disappointed when she gets fired from her local, part-time job because of a positive drug screen.
  • It impairs driving skills. If your adolescent has her license, the same rule about drinking and not driving apply to smoking pot and driving. The research is very clear that it delays reaction times and, therefore, increases the risk of accidents. 
  • You do not want illegal substances in your home, nor do you want your adolescent or her friends smoking pot in your home. It makes parents look bad and can get them arrested (contributing to the delinquency of a minor).

3. Express your disapproval of your teen’s use of pot in a calm, firm manner, without hysterics or unreasonable threats. You understand you can’t control her behavior, that if she chooses to smoke pot, you can't really stop her, but you will set some firm rules about this. For instance, if you suspect she is breaking the rule by bringing marijuana into the house, she is to understand that her right to privacy in her room will be suspended, that periodic room searches will take place, and backpacks will be searched.

4. If your teen denies using marijuana, but you doubt that she is telling you the truth, you can discreetly order a home drug test kit online. It can take up to 5 weeks for pot to get out of a person’s system, so it can easily be detected in the urine. While your adolescent is likely to balk at the idea of being drug tested by you, explain to her in a loving yet firm way that this is a new house rule. There is the very real possibility that she may refuse to take the test, but if you tell her that the only other option is taking her to the hospital to get tested, she is more likely to agree to taking the home drug test.

5. Find those occasional moments when your adolescent is actually in the mood to talk about drug use. Typically, driving somewhere together is one of the best times, which also implies that it is better to have only one parent involved in the conversation so it doesn't feel like a 2-on-1 confrontation.

6. Encourage your adolescent to get involved in something positive, such as special groups, sports, band and other activities that can prevent her from being bored and susceptible to negative influences.

7. For some adolescents, smoking pot is purely a social activity, not unlike having a pizza with their close friends when they are hanging out on a weekend night. But sometimes, the kids your teenager gets high with are not her regular peer group – and it's important to know if she's beginning to be influenced by some other adolescents that may be more of a fringe group who don't appear to share the values you and your adolescent have discussed as important. Why is she distancing herself from her usual social group? Are they "not cool" because they don't get high? Has her old group moved beyond her in some way? How much of the marijuana use is based on filling some personal need? Answers to these questions will be crucial in dealing with your child’s drug use.

8. If you discover that your adolescent is using pot, alert her school about her drug use so that teachers and administrators can be on the lookout for any indicators that she is getting high before class or obtaining the drug from other classmates.

9. If you discover that your adolescent is not smoking pot, that doesn't mean that she isn't still vulnerable. Take safeguards (e.g., find out who her friends are, who she is hanging around, where she is going, etc.).

10. Is your teen aware of the ways in which pot negatively impacts users? For instance, because it tends to create a sense of apathy (the "What, me worry?" syndrome), the negative effects of marijuana are often subtle and easy to miss. Research reveals that adolescents who use marijuana on some degree of a regular basis usually get their driver's license significantly later than non-users. This reflects the tendency to put things off and not care as much about things that are usually important. The adolescent that remains focused on her schoolwork, after school activities, and other interests, is clearly at less risk than the adolescent that starts letting things slip.

11. Lead by example. If you are abusing alcohol or smoking pot yourself, don't expect your adolescent to take you seriously when you lecture her about the evils of doing drugs.

12. Let your adolescent know that you are always available if she needs to talk. If you open the lines of communication, she will feel more comfortable with revealing that she is being pressured to smoke marijuana or has tried it. Yelling and scolding will make your adolescent less likely to share things.

13. One of the most frequent driving forces behind abuse of marijuana is when it is a form of self-medication. This is when adolescents who have undiagnosed ADHD use marijuana to calm down, or the depressed youngster smokes pot to shut off negative thoughts and feelings. This group of users is more likely to smoke alone as well as with friends, and that's an important distinction to make. If there is an underlying problem driving the pot smoking, it is important to identify that and encourage getting help for that problem.

14. One good question to ask is, "How would you know when pot smoking not a good thing to do?" This is easily asked when your adolescent is quick to point out she is “not a drug addict” like so and so who's always stoned. This question will touch on how often she actually uses marijuana and under what circumstances. It clarifies her ability to acknowledge that there are risks of abuse – and can she tell the difference? For instance, she may not be aware that chronic users (defined as those who smoke daily for a month or more) typically will become depressed when they stop using.

15. Look for signs that “use” is turning into “abuse.” Is your youngster's behavior or personality changing in negative ways? If you begin to believe that your adolescent is developing a serious addiction, then you can take much stronger steps (e.g., involving the police, requiring routine drug testing, and insisting upon individual and family counseling with a specialist in substance abuse).


My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How To Change Your Defiant Child’s Behavior

"Normal" behavior in kids depends on your youngster's age, personality, and physical and emotional development. A youngster's behavior may be a problem if it doesn't match the expectations of the parents or if it is disruptive.

Normal or "good" behavior is usually determined by whether it's socially, culturally and developmentally appropriate. Knowing what to expect from your youngster at each age will help you decide whether her/his behavior is normal.

Many kids tend to continue a behavior when it is rewarded (with parental attention) and stop a behavior when it is ignored. Consistency in your reaction to a behavior is important, because rewarding and punishing the same behavior at different times confuses your youngster. When you think your youngster's behavior might be a problem, you have 3 choices:
  • Attempt to stop the behavior, either by ignoring it or by punishing it.
  • Decide that the behavior is not a problem because it's appropriate to your youngster's age and stage of development.
  • Introduce a new behavior that you prefer and reinforce it by rewarding your youngster.

One way to stop unwanted behavior is to ignore it. This way works best over a period of time with younger children who exhibit defiance. When you want the behavior to stop immediately, you can use the time-out method.

Decide ahead of time the behaviors that will result in a time-out (e.g., tantrums, aggressive or dangerous behavior). Choose a time-out place that is uninteresting for your son or daughter and not frightening (e.g., a chair or corner). When you're away from home, consider using a car or a nearby seating area as a time-out place.

When the unacceptable behavior occurs, tell your youngster the behavior is unacceptable and give a warning that you will put her/him in time-out if the behavior doesn't stop. Remain calm and don't look angry. If your youngster goes on misbehaving, calmly take her/him to the time-out area.

Try to keep track of how long your youngster has been in time-out. Set a timer so she/he will know when time-out is over. Time-out should be brief (generally 1 minute for each year of age), and should begin immediately after reaching the time-out place or after your youngster calms down. You should stay within sight or earshot of your youngster, but don't talk to her/him. If your youngster leaves the time-out area, gently return her/him to the area and consider resetting the timer. When the time-out is over, let your youngster leave the time-out place. Don't discuss the bad behavior, but look for ways to reward and reinforce good behavior later on.

One way to encourage good behavior is to use a reward system. Defiant kids who learn that bad behavior is not tolerated and that good behavior is rewarded are learning skills that will last them a lifetime. A reward system can take up to 2 months to work. Being patient and keeping a diary of behavior can be helpful to moms and dads.

Choose one or two behaviors you would like to change (e.g., bedtime habits, tooth brushing, doing homework, etc.). Choose a reward your youngster would enjoy (e.g., an extra bedtime story, delaying bedtime by half an hour, a preferred snack, earning points toward a special toy or game, a small amount of money, etc.).

Explain the desired behavior and the reward to your youngster (e.g., "If you get into your pajamas and brush your teeth before this TV show is over, you can stay up a half hour later."). Request the behavior only one time. If your youngster does what you ask, give the reward. You can help your youngster if necessary, but don't get too involved. Since any attention from mom or dad – even negative attention – is so rewarding to defiant kids, they may prefer to have parental attention instead of a reward at first. Transition statements (e.g., "In 10 minutes, play time will be over") are helpful when you are teaching your youngster new behaviors.

This system helps you avoid power struggles. However, your youngster is not punished if she/he chooses not to behave as you ask; rather, the child simply does not get the reward.

More tips for changing defiant behavior:

1. Accept your youngster's basic personality, whether it's shy, social, talkative or active. Basic personality can be changed somewhat, but not very much.

2. Allow your youngster to make her/his own choices whenever possible (e.g., "Do you want to do your homework before or after dinner?”).

3. As kids get older, they may enjoy becoming involved in household rule-making. Don't debate the rules at the time of misbehavior, but invite your youngster to participate in rule-making at another time.

4. Ask your youngster to do a task. Set a timer. If the task is done before the timer rings, your youngster gets a reward. To decide the amount of time to give your youngster, figure out your youngster's "best time" to do that task and add 5 minutes.

5. Avoid power struggles, no-win situations and extremes.

6. Describe your youngster's behavior as bad, but don't label your youngster as bad.

7. Develop little routines and rituals (especially at bedtimes and meal times).

8. Don't criticize your youngster in front of other people.

9. Make a short list of important rules WITH your child and go over them weekly.

10. Praise your youngster often when she/he deserves it.

11. Provide transition comments (e.g., "In 10 minutes, we'll be eating dinner.").

12. Put a mark on a chart each time you see our child performing a good behavior. For instance, if you see her/him playing quietly, solving a problem without fighting, picking up toys or reading a book, you would mark the chart. After a certain number of marks, give your youngster a reward. You can also make negative marks each time a bad behavior occurs. If you do this, only give your youngster a reward if there are more positive marks than negative marks.

13. Touch your child affectionately and often. Kids want and need attention from their moms and dads.

14. Try to avoid situations that can make your youngster cranky and irritable (e.g., becoming overly-stimulated, tired, bored, etc.).

15. When you think you've overreacted to your child’s “bad” behavior, it's better to use common sense to solve the problem, even if you have to be inconsistent with your reward or punishment method. Avoid doing this often though, because it will confuse your youngster.

16. Write a short list of good behaviors on a chart and mark the chart with a star each time you see the good behavior. After your youngster has earned a small number of stars (depending on your youngster's age), give her/him a reward.

My Out-of-Control Child: Help for Kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Teaching Self-Control Skills to Defiant Students

Teaching oppositional, defiant kids to manage their own behavior allows educators to spend more time teaching and less time dealing with challenging behaviors in their classrooms. Managing one’s own behavior is called self-control. Self-control skills are used to help “uncooperative” children to engage in instructional activities, keep track of whether or not they complete tasks, use appropriate play and social interaction, participate in classroom routines, and pay attention to their own behavior.

Kids can learn to monitor their own behavior and control their own actions through using self-control techniques.  In order to help kids learn to monitor their own behavior, educators should ask themselves the following questions:
  • Are there any factors or challenges that the youngster faces that need to be considered before implementing a self-control plan?
  • Is the youngster able to make an accurate self-assessment of his/her behavior? 
  • What goals do I have for the youngster and the classroom or home environment in using a self-control plan? 
  • What is it that interests or engages the youngster that may be used to begin a self-control program? 
  • What is the youngster’s current level of self-control?

Here is how a "self-control skills" training program works:

1. Educators should assess the youngster’s current level of self-control to accurately report on his/her behavior. For instance, the educator may ask a youngster as he sits to eat snack, “Did you wash your hands?” If the educator has just observed the youngster sit at the table without washing his hands, yet he responds that he did wash his hands, the educator will know that the youngster can’t accurately assess his behavior. It’s easier to have kids assess behaviors around activities in which they are currently engaged. Some kids may not be able to accurately assess their own behaviors and may need to be taught how to self-assess prior to using a self-control program. Educators may need to teach kids to correctly report if they did or didn’t perform a task that the educator asked about (e.g., getting a drink of water, putting away a backpack, returning a book to the shelf, etc.).

2. Educators can identify what observable behaviors they want the youngster to learn to self-manage. Each step needs to clearly describe what the youngster should do. For instance, a younger child may be taught that when told to “clean up,” she should stop playing, pick up toys, place them on the shelf, and take a seat in the circle area.

3.  Once the behaviors have been identified, they are visually displayed for the youngster using photographs or drawings on a poster, a sheet of paper, or in a booklet. The youngster is given a way to monitor his/her behaviors using a checklist or chart that shows the activity with a place to indicate whether the youngster performed the step correctly (using a check mark, smiley face, sticker, thumbs up/thumbs down, etc.). Teachers can laminate the chart or checklist and use a wipe-off marker so that it is reusable, or make a chart that the youngster can take home to share with his/her parents. A goal of the chart or checklist is to teach the youngster how to independently engage in appropriate behavior. It isn’t used to punish or withhold activities. It may be used to chart special activities or materials that the youngster earns. Sometimes kids respond well to the use of an earned “special” activity if they complete the chart (e.g., reading a book with the teacher, playing with a specific game, having time on the computer, etc.). If the self-control chart includes a special activity or material, the youngster can choose the special activity. A visual representation (e.g., a photo or picture cut out from a catalog or magazine) of the special activity can then be placed on the chart as a reminder of what the youngster can earn when the chart is complete.

4.  The youngster is taught to engage in the desired behaviors and then to monitor his/her performance. Once the chart is prepared, the educator should review the chart with the youngster after the activity or routine has occurred. The educator can review the steps that are listed on the chart and explain how the youngster’s performance will be marked (e.g., “The third picture shows ‘I put the books on the shelf.’ If you put the books on the shelf, we are going to mark a ‘thumbs up.’ If you did not put the books on the shelf, we will mark a ‘thumbs down.’ Let’s think about what happened. Did you put the books on the shelf? Yes, you did. We can mark a ‘thumbs up.’”). Once the educator has reviewed the system with the youngster and the educator believes that the youngster understands it, the educator should try it out the next time the activity or routine occurs. During the activity, the educator can remind the youngster of the behaviors on the chart. When the activity is over, the educator can help the youngster mark the chart.

5.  The educator should provide positive attention or feedback to the youngster while the youngster is learning self-control. When the educator gives the youngster feedback for using the chart, the educator should praise him/her for engaging in the behavior and the accuracy of his/her ability to self-manage. Over time, the educator can gradually provide less assistance for using the chart. The goal will be to get the youngster to use the chart independently until he/she does the behavior easily and no longer needs the self-control system.

Self-control skills are designed to teach kids how to engage in appropriate behavior, independently. Over time, the educator should decrease his/her assistance and support kids to use self-control skills independently. If a youngster misses a step or does not complete the chart, the educator can gently redirect the youngster to complete the step and encourage him/her to try harder the following day or during the next appropriate activity.

When procedures to teach self-control skills are carefully implemented, positive changes in behavior can be expected. Self-control skills are most effective when the educator implements the self-control program systematically and monitors the youngster’s progress. When a youngster has difficulty with the process or is not making progress, the self-control system must be reviewed, and additional instruction or new procedures may be needed.

When Your Teen's Friends Are A Bad Influence

If your teenager was hanging out with the wrong crowd, how would you know? Have you noticed a change in your teen’s behavior or a lack of respect for what used to be important? Bad influence from hanging around the wrong people shows up in various ways, and peer pressure gives teenagers a new attitude about life that may not be to the liking of all moms and dads. 

If your teenager is associating with the wrong crowd, here are some tips that may help:

1. Come to terms with the fact that you can't pick your teen’s friends. In fact, if you criticize a particular friend – that’s the friend your teen will most likely want to hang out with. Teens are developmentally bound to defend their chosen peer group. During adolescence, your teen’s friends are more important than anybody else – including you! While your goal as a mother or father is to keep your teenager safe, your teen’s goal is to be with people who like him or her.

2. Don’t be afraid to set limits with your teenager. Remember, you have a right and a legal responsibility (at least until their 18th birthday) to make the rules for him or her.

3. Help your teenager find positive activities to engage in (e.g., youth groups or clubs, volunteering, sports, hobbies, etc.).

4. In the process of setting limits, allow your teen some input in establishing the rules. Draw up a written contact to eliminate any misunderstanding, and both of you sign it.

5. It’s important for your teenager to know that he doesn’t have to look a certain way, or act a certain way, or perform at a certain level in order to maintain your love. He needs to know that your relationship with him won't stop if he messes up.

6. Offer your teenager a “cool” activity as an alternative to going out with the wrong crowd (e.g., “movie-and-pizza night”).  If you just say, “You can't go out. I’m going to keep you at home and not giving you anything better to do,” you are inviting rebellion.

7. Open up your home and have your teenager's friends over periodically. Order in some pizzas and spend some time with them. Don't hover, but get an idea of who they are, their personalities and what makes them tick.

8. Parents tend to share their opinions far too often in the teenage years, because they don't want their teenager to make the same mistakes they did. However, it’s best to “back off” and offer your wisdom only when your teenager asks for it. So, be sure to talk with your teenager, but do so mostly with your eyes and ears – not your mouth.

9. Sit down with your teenager and give her reasons why you don't approve of a particular peer she is spending time with. But instead of “forcing” your teen to stop seeing this person, “ask” her to stop. Leave it to be her decision based on your conversation.

10. Understand that if your teen doesn’t feel valued and significant in your home, he will look for value and acceptance somewhere else. There are plenty of peers who can make him feel valued, but mostly from the wrong crowd and with the wrong motives. There are four things you can offer your teen to make her feel valued: your experience, your time, your unconditional love, and your wisdom. Each of these builds value. Being valued makes a teen feel like she belongs, builds her self-esteem, and helps her have the confidence to say "no" to those peers who are a negative influence.

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