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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Disgruntled Kids and School Shootings: Warning Signs to Look For

Every year there are tragedies in which kids shoot and kill classmates and teachers after making threats. When this occurs, everyone asks, "How could this happen?" Most threats made by kids or teens are not carried out – it’s just the youngster's way of talking tough, getting attention, or a reaction to a perceived hurt. But in too many cases, the threats are clear “red flags” for impending tragedy.

Mental health professionals agree that it is very difficult to predict a youngster's future behavior with complete accuracy. However, there are certain indicators that parents and teachers should be on the look-out for. What are the red flags that may indicate a disaster-in-the-making?  

The presence of one or more of the following increases the risk of violent or dangerous behavior:
  • a pattern of threats
  • access to guns or other weapons 
  • being a victim of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect
  • blaming others and being unwilling to accept responsibility for one's own actions 
  • bringing a weapon to school 
  • bullying or intimidating peers or younger kids 
  • cruelty to animals 
  • delinquent behavior
  • disciplinary problems at school or in the community
  • family history of violent behavior or suicide attempts 
  • fire-setting behavior 
  • involvement with cults or gangs 
  • little or no supervision or support from the mom or dad 
  • meltdowns that continue even into adolescence
  • mental illness (e.g., depression, bipolar disorder)
  • past destruction of property or vandalism 
  • past suicide attempts or threats 
  • past violent or aggressive behavior
  • poor peer relationships
  • preoccupation with themes and acts of violence in TV shows, movies, music, magazines, comics, books, video games, and Internet sites 
  • recent experience of humiliation, shame, loss, or rejection 
  • social isolation 
  • themes of death or depression repeatedly evident in conversation, written expressions, reading selections, or artwork 
  • uncontrollable angry outbursts
  • use of alcohol or illicit drugs 
  • witnessing abuse or violence in the home

When a youngster makes a serious threat, it should not be dismissed as just idle talk. Moms and dads, educators, and school counselors should immediately talk with the youngster. If it is determined that the youngster is at risk and he refuses to talk, is argumentative, responds defensively, or continues to express violent or dangerous thoughts or plans, arrangements should be made for an immediate evaluation by a mental health professional.

Evaluation of any serious threat must be done in the context of the youngster's past behavior, personality, and current stressors. If the youngster refuses help, it may be necessary to contact local police for assistance. Kids who have made serious threats must be carefully supervised while awaiting professional intervention. Immediate evaluation and appropriate ongoing treatment of kids and teens who make serious threats can reduce the risk of another tragedy.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Single Mothers and Parental Stress: Taking Care of Yourself

While parenthood brings much joy, pride and personal growth, it can also bring a lot of challenges, and these challenges can take a toll on single mothers.

Research shows that single moms have significantly higher levels of depression than married couples or those who do not have kids, and in many cases, the depression doesn’t go away when the children grow up and move out of the house! Researchers believe that this is because mothers still worry about their kids and how they’re getting along in the world throughout their lives (e.g., their adult child’s employment problems, marital conflicts, financial difficulties, etc.).

To make matters worse, many single moms are often relatively socially isolated and don’t always have support from the community – or even their extended family.

If you have kids, and you are raising them with little or no help from their father, you've probably experienced your share of parenting stress. Thus, it’s time that you fully comprehend that you really need to take care of your own emotional well-being for a change – and find enough social support for yourself and your family.

Here are some important tips that single moms can use to “begin taking care of themselves”:

1. Raising a youngster is expensive! The financial cost can take an emotional toll in the form of money worries. Thus, learning better money-management tips can give you more financial choices and keep you less stressed about your budget and your future.

2. Getting organized is a crucial skill for single mothers. If, for example, you're able to anticipate that potty-training accident on the way to daycare, keep an extra change of clothes in your car at all times. If you plan ahead and restructure your routines, there's less fussing, forgetting things, and stressing-out as you move through your hectic day.

3. To maintain the kind of stamina and focus required to do your best as a single mom, care for yourself in the same way you care for your kids (e.g., get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods, make room for some "down time"). It's also important to enjoy positive feedback (e.g., hugs from children and kudos from work) to avoid work-related burnout. It may be difficult to fit all of this into an already-busy schedule, but proper self-care will help single mothers to be more efficient in their lives.

4. Only concern yourself with the things you can control – and forget the rest. For example, no one can force your ex to visit. It’s not your fault if he doesn’t show up for your youngster’s birthday party or big game. These are his issues – not yours. Don’t lose sleep over it.

5. Keep your kid's stress in mind, too. Even younger kids can benefit from stress relief practices (e.g., deep breathing, quiet time with mom, massage, etc.). Because mothers and younger kids are so attuned to each other, reducing stress in one helps both mother and youngster.

6. Don’t forget that there are people around to help you – if you just ask. Some extended family members (e.g., aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.) may love to step-in more often to lend a hand. Friends and next-door neighbors may also be rallied. Supportive networks can be formed. Also, there are ways to hire affordable help for extra things (e.g., cleaning, cooking) to make a working mom's lifestyle less frenzied. In addition, the option of delegating tasks at work is often overlooked. Enlisting help is a smart way to make life less anxiety-ridden.

7. Never forget to thoroughly enjoy your children throughout their lives and yours. Hug them often. Tell them you love them – and what you love about them. Enjoy them. Learn from them. Don’t let a day go by without finding the positives!

8. Learn to say “no” to activities that aren’t a top priority. This will open-up more time for family bonding, relaxation and sanity.

9. In today’s world, family members live further from each other, and mothers work more and have less time and energy to spend with their kids, which leaves single-parent families with fewer resources and less emotional support. But, if you make an effort to develop a supportive network, you can still find these benefits. Even though you may not get these benefits from extended family and neighbors like families in the past did, you can still find individuals with similar needs and values to network with and share support. They can help you feel nurtured and supported for years to come, buffering you from some of the factors that contribute to anxiety and depression in single mothers.

10. Simply said, prayer and meditation can work wonders in your mental health. Being a part of a church family wouldn't hurt either.

11. Find some role models. Make a list of single mothers (or kids raised by a single mother) who inspire you, and refer to it when you’re having a rough day. For example, President Obama was raised by his single mother. President Clinton was brought up primarily by his mother. Discovering a few wonderful success stories provides proof that single parenthood is not only manageable, but an incredible gift that allows you to shape your children into wonderful human beings.

12. Taking care of your body can have lasting physical and emotional benefits. For example, eating a healthy diet can stabilize your blood sugar levels and help keep mood swings at bay. It will also keep your body healthier so you’re sick less often, have higher self-esteem, and live longer. Maintaining a regular exercise program provides the same benefits (e.g., releases endorphins and other positive emotions, helps you release tension, lowers levels of stress hormones like cortisol).

13. When stressed-out, single mothers often find themselves less able to connect with their kids or focus at work, which may lead to defiant behavior in children, time-consuming mistakes at work, and other problems that increase anxiety-levels for all the family members. Thus, taking a proactive stance on stress-reduction is very important. Have several “short-term” stress-relievers on hand (e.g., breathing exercises, reframing techniques, methods for looking at a stressful situation differently), as well as “long-term” stress-reduction techniques (e.g., regular exercise, meditation, a hobby, a supportive social circle, etc.).

14. Remember that kids who feel neglected tend to act-out more, and single mothers who feel they aren't giving enough time to their children tend to feel anxious and guilty. So, maintaining a strong connection is both emotionally beneficial as well as pragmatic. Fortunately, reducing stress doesn't mean giving less to children. Spending quality time together doing an enjoyable activity can be a "multitasking" way to connect and relieve anxiety at the same time.

15. Many single mothers forget to put themselves on the list of people who need to “learn and grow.” Having a hobby or other creative outlet can help you relieve anxiety and depression, and help you maintain your identity as an individual – not just a parent. Creative outlets also help you keep your kid’s lives in perspective.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How to Help Your Teen Prepare for the GED

“My 17 year old son wants me to sign him out of school so he can try and get his GED. He is supposed to be a senior this year but is actually only a second semester freshman in high school. He only passed the first semester of school last year and failed everything the second one. He has been diagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. He refuses to do anything unless he wants to. He refuses to go to school and has been reported to the court system. At this point, I’m beginning to think that a GED would be the best route to go. So my question is how can I help him prepare for the GED?”

Passing the GED test requires knowing basic information such as math, English, and reading along with a few others subjects. If you feel strongly that it would be in your son's best interest to withdraw from high school and pursue a GED, then by all means, go with your gut instinct. There's no shame in going that route!

Here are ten tips for helping your son prepare for the GED test:

1. Have your son prepare for the tests by studying and/or taking a GED study course. Only 30% of all first time takers pass the tests and earn a GED. So, preparing for the exams is very important. There are many services and books that can help – encourage your son to use them.

2. Check the cost of the test. Your local testing center will know the price as it can vary by state and local area.

3. Make a special effort to help your son know fractions, addition, subtraction, and division. Math is the most important part of all the tests since it is quite difficult. So take a few weeks to help your son have a good review of basic math (flash cards are a great way to make learning fun).

4. Let your son know a few tips before taking the test. It will help him get a better score on the test when he answers the questions that he knows the answers to right away without taking a few minutes to figure out the answer, and then save the hardest questions for last.

5. If your son gets overwhelmed or upset during the preparation stage, explain to him that everyone gets anxious before a big test. It is a good idea to study for a while and then do something relaxing, reviewing the study materials every once in a while a few times each day.

6. You can find the location of your local testing center by calling your local high school’s guidance office, even if your son is no longer attending school.

7. Check your local jurisdiction’s requirements for registering for the tests. They will determine what identification your son will need. Also, some testing centers require a pretest or practice tests.

8. Believe in your son and encourage him throughout the preparation stage. Tell him that you know he can pass the GED test, even though it takes a lot of hard work and determination. Help him stay motivated!

9. A good option is to have your son study for the GED at home while watching TV. Many local public television stations offer free GED courses that you can watch on TV. Check your local listings.

10. Check your state’s requirements to see if your son is eligible to take the test. There are age and other restrictions that are different in each state.

11. Consider taking an online GED course. There are several courses available on the Internet that can help your son prepare for the GED. You usually have to pay to take one of these courses, but there are also some free courses online. One of the better GED course sites can be found at www.GEDOnline.org ($65 for a 4-month membership).

12. Be super supportive. Tell your son how much better he will feel about himself after he passes the GED test. Let him know that when he passes the test, it will help him get a decent job and also enable him to go on college if he so desires. Also, let him know that passing the GED test is something to be proud of afterwards since it takes hard work to accomplish it.

13. On the day of the test, help your son review some of the study material a few hours beforehand. It is always a good idea to study notes a few hours before taking the test since the information will be easier to remember.

14. The GED test requires the individual to be able to write an essay as part of the English test. Make sure that your son can write without many spelling or grammar errors. It is important to not get stressed-out over the essay part of the English. The topic of the essay is usually something that is rather interesting.

15. Make sure that your son gets enough sleep and eats healthy the day before taking the GED test. Help him feel less anxious since he is probably going to be nervous about the entire thing. Let him know that he doesn't need to be worry about the GED test, because he can take it again if need be. Simply encourage him to do his best – and forget the rest.

16. Some colleges offer a basic class to help participants be more prepared to pass the GED. So, having your son attend one of these classes at your nearest college might be a good idea. The classes are usually only a few weeks long or so, and are only a few hours long about twice a week. Check out your local college for more information.

Can your son get a job with a GED or attend college just as he would with a high school diploma? The answer is ‘yes’. A GED is the equivalent of a high school diploma. So if you are feeling like a failure as a parent because your son is dropping out of high school – think again!

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Shifting Homework Responsibilities from Parent to Teen

When it comes to defiant teens and homework, I recommend that moms and dads avoid getting involved. Homework is your teen’s job, not yours. It’s common for a mother or father (with good intentions) to supervise their teen’s homework on a nightly basis, making sure that every assignment is done accurately and on time. Oftentimes, they actually “go back to class” themselves, reading the books and trying to learn about the subject so that they can tutor their teenager – and in some cases, they even do the homework for their child.

If you take more responsibility for homework than your teenager does, he will never want to do it. Conversely, the less responsibility you take, the more he will take (eventually). It’s an ownership issue. And the paradoxical approach to helping your teen to do HIS work is for you to “let go.” Less is better.

Tips for shifting homework responsibilities from the parent to the child:

1. Be creative. Sometimes homework battles need some creative solutions. For example, some teenagers who refuse to do homework at home for one reason or another are willing to stay after school to complete it. As long as they don’t have to do it at home, they’re happy and it works for them. Other teenagers are exhausted when they come home from school, and they simply want an hour to unwind before they sit down and do their homework. In this case, let your child decide when and where to do the work.

2. Communicate clearly to your teenager that he is in total control of his life. He has responsibilities that he can choose to accept or ignore. The choices are his, just as the outcomes of his choices are also his. This is representative of how the real world works.

3. Even though you need to back-off with the nagging and over-assistance, you can still make academic performance something that your teen cares about. You can’t give her ambition she doesn’t have, but you can increase her anxiety-level by tying academic performance to the privileges that she enjoys and expects. Teens usually care a lot about having time with friends, a cell phone for texting, money to spend, a car to drive, etc. So if your child’s bad grades translate into a loss of privileges, she will likely start caring about her academic performance (but for different reasons than yours).

CAUTION: When you start withholding privileges, your teen may act like she really doesn’t care what you do to her, and she will initially refuse to do HER work just out of spite. She may even act like a victim and try to blame you for ruining her life. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated in this way. Just follow through the consequences and be patient. Eventually your child will learn that you are serious and that if her situation is going to improve, she will have to start taking her job more seriously.

4. Keep in mind that some underachieving teens may have significant learning disabilities that should be properly diagnosed and treated.

5. Most adolescents that are left alone and not pressured by their mom or dad will do fine in school and require little supervision and extra motivation. If your adolescent isn’t getting As and Bs or winning academic-achievement awards, don’t get panicky. You will NOT turn your average or below-average child into an overachiever by nagging or prodding. In fact, the more you get involved, the greater the likelihood your child will do worse, not better. So if you keep doing what you’ve always done (e.g., over-assisting), then you’ll get what you've always got (e.g., a teenager who is perfectly willing to let you do the work).

6. Rule out any underlying social issues. If your child refuses to do homework, don’t just by assume it’s an act of defiance. School-related stress, bullying issues, a break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend – and a host of other problems can contribute to behavior changes.

7. Sometimes, mental health issues can be a factor in homework refusal. Mood disorders often causes irritability and decreased motivation in teenagers. Anxiety disorders can cause them to avoid doing their homework, especially if they aren’t sure how to do it or are worried they won’t be able to do it right. Thus, rule out possible mental health issues before viewing your child’s refusal to do homework as pure laziness.

8. Tie completed homework to privileges. Let your teen know that he can have access to privileges when he has completed his homework (e.g., “When you’re done with homework, you are free to get on the computer or see your friend”). 

9. Your job is to monitor progress and to encourage from the sidelines. You can certainly care about how well your adolescent does in school, but you should also be smart enough to allow him to do it on his own. Let’s be honest here: Has nagging and complaining and over-assisting worked for you up to this point? I didn’t think so! Unless your adolescent cares as much - or more - than you do, he won’t be motivated to change or to take responsibility for performing up to his capabilities.

10. Your objective is not to micromanage your adolescent. Instead, encourage him by modeling responsibility for him and by providing lots of affirmation. He probably is more ambitious than you realize, even if that ambition is not channeled directly into homework. Also, celebrate successes. Recognize even small steps toward academic success. If your teenager brings a "D" grade up to a "C" – this is cause for celebration.

Moms and dads often struggle raising a teenager with plenty of potential, but little academic motivation. Some teenagers refuse to do homework, never study for tests, and skip school. Others bring home decent grades, but could do much better with a little effort. Although frustrating, the techniques listed above will help you guide your teenager and motivate her to succeed academically.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Preparing Your Older Teen for High School Graduation and College

Another school year is quickly coming to a close. What is your high school senior planning to do next? Anything? If not, uh oh! Shame on you. Preparing your child for high school graduation and then college should begin long before the senior year of high school. Adolescents who are still juniors should give some thought to finishing high school and preparing for higher education or a career.

Here are some tips that moms and dads (who may have procrastinated up to this point) can use to help their adolescents ensure a timely and complete high school graduation, and then prepare for college:

1. First of all, preparing an adolescent for high school graduation and then college is not something that can be done in a month or a year. It is something that moms and dads should begin thinking about - and planning for - emotionally and physically as soon as their teenager is ready. By offering the teen an opportunity for growth and responsibility, parents will find that as college approaches, their teen is ready for life in more ways than educationally.

2. Don’t waste your hard earned money. Many moms and dads are eager to throw their own financial future under the bus in order to fund a long-distance college experience (e.g., having the child attend a college in a neighboring U.S. state, or even in a different country). A better idea (since you’re not 100% sure this college thing is going to work out at this point) would be to have your teenager attend locally at first until he can prove that this pursuit is worth $60,000 per year.

In the meantime, save for your own retirement. Involve your teenager in the financial aid process, payments and costs. While still in high school, encourage him to work and pay for certain amenities on his own (e.g., cell phone, car insurance, etc.). You should not have to pay for an expensive car without your teen helping (that would be a great disservice to him in the long). Learn to say “no” early in your child’s teenage years, insist that he be financially responsible for himself on as many levels as possible, and don’t be a dupe. In this way, you and your adolescent can come up with a financial plan that works.

3. Introduce your teenager to real-world experiences. Volunteer work, part-time summer jobs, a driver's license, etc., all help to round out a teenager's developmental growth and prepares her to take a place in the community.

4. Keep tabs on your teenager's GPA. This will become one of the chief indicators of his academic performance that colleges and universities will consider when deciding whether to admit him or not. Encourage your adolescent to maintain a B-level grade average, and arrange for him to take the SAT or ACT test during the junior year of high school if possible. Study classes are available that can be taken to prepare for the test, and it usually can be taken once for practice and again for a better score. Ask your child’s guidance counselor for more information.

5. Make sure your child completes all required courses. Depending on the school system in which she is enrolled, there are usually a certain number of classes that must be successfully passed in order to be eligible to receive a high school diploma. Meet with the school counselor to go over your child’s transcript and check to be sure all requirements are met (e.g., foreign language class, physical education, certain electives, etc.).

6. Prepare your adolescent for the darker side of college life. No mother or father wants to see their teenager fall into the deep pit of sexual promiscuity, drinking, and drug abuse. Nonetheless, the parent has to remain aware that this world exists – and is waiting for the child in college. Many of the young people who have not had to experience serious negative situations are completely unprepared to face them in real life.

Never think that your teenager would never do something (e.g., some pot) – because he will – and college offers the perfect opportunity. Talk to your child about what is going on in his high school, and remain open to hearing what he has to say about sex, alcohol, and illicit drugs. Be non-judgmental in your conversations and realize that your child already knows more than you are giving him credit for. Of course, DON'T encourage your teenager to drink or try drugs, but DO allow him to make a few mistakes of his own as he navigates the real world. Being too strict or harsh with your teenager through the high school years will likely create a situation in which he goes “hog-wild” once he gets a taste of college-life and the associated freedom.

7. Prepare yourself emotionally. Many moms and dads become sad and feel as though their teenager’s graduation represents a certain end in their life (empty-nest syndrome). At this age, your child is standing at the threshold to the next phase in her life. Part of parenting is realizing that your teen is an individual who has to live HER life. If you have successfully parented your teenager and have built a solid family unit, then you can feel safe in letting her go.

8. Consider the addition of special skills courses. Classes focusing on computer programming, critical thinking, diversity, family management, reading and literature, and writing are some of the newer topics to emerge in high school curricula in recent years. Your teenager will do well to take as many electives as he can successfully manage without compromising his GPA and still maintain a balanced lifestyle. These will look good on a record transcript, which becomes another indicator for college admissions screening.

9. Teach your teen personal survival skills. Learning how to balance a checkbook, cook for yourself, find the nearest airport, pick up after yourself, put air in the car’s tires, financial budgeting and opening a savings account are important tasks that all young people need to master before coming of age and living on their own.

10. Teach your teen how to prioritize and schedule. Stress how important it is to be accurate in her personal planning, and help her understand that the more she plans ahead, the more time they will have for fun stuff (or sleep). Each week – from now until your child leaves for college – make sure she delivers her schedule to you and have you sign off on it. In this way, the two of you can be sure that she is sticking to her own plan (and since it is HER plan, she can take control and ownership of it). If you discover a big miscalculation in her plan, let it be a lesson so that she experiences the consequences and can make appropriate corrections in the future. This is the only way she can learn and prepare for adult life.

If adolescents learn a good portion of the tips listed above, they will be in great shape for graduating high school with a significant degree of knowledge and confidence, ready to go on to college and take care of themselves.

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