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

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When Your Child Seems Unaffected by Discipline

Mr. Mark, I wrote to you about a month ago very concern about the behavior of my 5 year old daughter. You responded very promptly to my e-mail. Thank you very much.

We adopted 3 siblings in March 2017. They are 2 twins boys 4 yrs. old and their sister 5 yrs. old. They are very bright, smart and intelligent kids and make us very happy. We haven't experience any educational problems with them. They go to daycare and have learned numbers and letters, shapes and colors at the same rate as the other kids in their school. I purchased and have read your e-book "My out of control child" and have found it very useful. You explain to me in your e-mail the behavioral problems that adopted children usually have because of the unknown medical history of their birth parents. I have tried your techniques and procedures explained in your book, but our daughter is still giving her teachers a lot of trouble at school to the point that they don't know what else to do.

When she is with us, she controls herself or at least follows directions, but we have to be with our eyes or her at all times. We praise them (4:1), caught them doing good, and I have a ticket system but nothing seem to work. At school she is always answering back, bossing around, disrupting class and for the last 2 weeks at nap time at school, she starts calling her friends names out loud to the point that they have to pull her out of the class because she doesn't let them rest. Some people tell me to ignore this and let the school deal with the behavior at school. But I just can’t seem to let that go. She knows they tell me about it every time she is been send to the office or put in time out and them talk about it like she is proud of what she have done. I feel that if I don't do anything about it she might think that it is O.K. to misbehave at school. I sit her at home to write numbers and letters and I have taken her toys, TV time and she has not come to family gatherings. Nothing works, she just doesn't seem to care about anything.


If I heard you right, she behaves acceptably at home, but not at school. You will do well to take the lead by attempting to educate her teachers about ODD. I assume (which is dangerous of course) that her teachers are treating your daughter like they would any other girl. This, unfortunately, will continue to waste their time and energy.

Your daughter is not an emotionless robot who is immune to emotional pain. So I disagree with you when you say, “she doesn’t care about anything.” She has something that she really values – but it sounds like you haven’t found what that is yet. Find out what she really values. When you find it, it will be your greatest bargaining chip.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

I had a mother who emailed me with nearly the same dilemma as you. She said she takes her son’s toys away, grounds him for 3 days with no TV, computer, etc. But “he doesn’t care.” All he did was sit on the floor of his bedroom and read comic books. He just hid out in his room and wouldn’t come out. BUT WAIT. He’s isolating in his room and reading? Then there you go! I had this mother ground him FROM his room – which he despised greatly because he didn’t want to be around anyone while on discipline. The mother literally locked him out of his room (except at night to sleep). After he completed his 3-day discipline, his “room privileges” were restored.

As cruel and unusual as it sounds, you have to find out “where it’s going to hurt” (i.e., what will evoke uncomfortable feelings in your daughter when she makes poor behavior choices). Then you implement that “place of pain” whenever she needs a consequence – but only for 1-3 days. I’m not talking about emotional abandonment here – I’m talking about providing direction and support.

She’s never going to work for what you want, but she will work for what she wants.

What does she like the most? Are you pouring on a lot of attention and intensity when things are going wrong? She is getting some kind of payoff for “non-compliance.” How can I be so certain of this? Because all behavior has a motive behind it. And that motive is usually to attract pleasure or avoid pain.

Below is a summary of all the assignments I gave you in the eBook. If parents do not implement most of these assignments, it is often the "kiss of failure." For example, the transmission in your car has hundreds of parts, but if just one little tiny part is not working -- the whole transmission does not work. The same is true with this "parent program." Omit just one strategy, and the whole plan runs the risk of failing.

1. Are you asking your daughter at least one question each day that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or a "no" to demonstrate that you are interested in what is going on in her life? (page 20 of the printable version of eBook)

2. Are you saying to her "I love you" everyday and expecting nothing in return? (page 20)

3. Are you eating dinner together at least one evening each week -- either at home or out? (page 20)

4. Do you use "The Art of Saying Yes" whenever your answer is yes? (page 25)

5. Do you use "The The Art of Saying - and Sticking With - No" whenever your answer is no? (page 25)

6. Do you catch her in the act of doing something right at least once each day? (page 25)

7. Do you use the "When You Want Something From Your Kid" approach as needed? (page 31)

8. Do you give her at least one chore each day? (page 31)

9. Do you find something fun to do with her each week? (page 54)

10. Do you use the "I noticed ...I felt ...Listen" approach when something unexpected pops-up? (bottom of page 50)

11. When you are undecided about what to say or do in any particular situation, are you asking yourself the following question: "Will this promote the development of self-reliance in my daughter, or will this inhibit the development of self-reliance?"

If it is supportive of self-reliance, say it or do it. If it is not supportive, don't!

12. Is she EARNING ALL of her stuff and freedom? (see "Self-Reliance Cycle" - page 19)

If you answered "no" to any of the above, you are missing some important pieces to the puzzle. Most parents DO miss a few pieces initially -- you can't be expected to remember everything! But don't get frustrated and give up. We must be willing to hang in there for the long haul.

I'm talking about refinement here. Refinement is a necessary tool to use in order to truly be successful with these parenting strategies.

HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS: Parents who refine are, on average, 95% - 100% successful at getting the parent-child difficulties reduced in intensity and severity (i.e., the problems are easily managed).

The same can be true in your case. Don’t give up just yet. Please continue to refine by emailing me as needed over the next few months. Refinement is a process, not a one-time event.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Teenage Son Assaults Mother

Hi Mark, I'm new to this site. I have a couple of questions and scenarios that I would like to run by you. I have just charged my 17 year old with assault and put him out of the house, I was informed that he could go to a shelter, however there are no beds available at the shelter and he is now trying to come back home, as he has burned his bridges everywhere else. There is a no contact order in place, he cannot be within 100 ft of the house, and he is only permitted to contact me by phone. This is part of the scenario, there is more involved, I desperately need some advice. Could you please get back to me?"

First of all, I am very proud of you for having the backbone to implement a consequence commensurate with your son’s behavior. You did NOT try to “save” him from uncomfortable emotions associated with his poor choices.

As punitive as it may sound, out-of-control teens need an element of discomfort before they will change. But unfortunately, most parents think they are doing the right thing by rescuing their child from painful consequences, which does far more damage than good.

Just so you’ll know, you are on track! Your biggest battle now will be dealing with feelings of guilt – and having moments where you debate in your head whether or not you have made the right decision. You may also have times when you feel sorry for your son. This is O.K. – it comes with the territory.

Allow his consequence to take its full course. Then at some point in the future (when, in your gut, it feels right), tell your son that he’s welcome to come home – but under certain stipulations (here you will want to put a set of house rules in the form of a written contract).

Stay the course. Just for the short term, he needs to stay away from you. Where he sleeps is his problem. This is tough love (which is often tougher on the parent than the child).

If you backtrack and try to erase your son's current discomfort, you will be sending a strong message that abusing women has no real consequences. This, in turn, sets him up for failure in future relationships with women (his future wife may thank you for sticking to your guns today).

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

"Tough Love" for Unruly teens

"Well, I took the car away because he missed his curfew last night by 50 minutes. Total attitude all day. Now he has packed his things and left - after a big scene. I tried to remain calm, did not chase but am obviously concerned as to where he is. I think I am dealing with a child that is beyond what I can handle. We have tried counseling at a local level and were unsuccessful since he manipulated it. A lot of money and weak results. He refuses to go back. We may need an intervention program/boarding school. Suggestions on how we investigate that? Thank you again."

Welcome to the world of tough love [which is often tougher on the parent than the child].

Counseling for "behavior problems" is just another traditional parenting strategy that rarely [if ever] has any positive outcome.

I disagree that he is beyond what you can handle, and I would encourage you not to entertain the idea of a boarding school at this point. I think you are wanting a quick fix, but as you know, there is no such thing.

I think you handled this situation very well. You followed through with a consequence put on your poker face and did not give your son an unhealthy dose of intensity when he needed it the most. You have been successful with this particular battle. But in order to win the war, you must take things one step at a time. Fight only one battle at a time. And do not allow yourself to roll over and simply accept feelings of being overwhelmed and defeated without challenging those feelings.

If you don't know where he's staying, you should call the police and file a run away complaint (mostly to cover your ass from a liability standpoint; he's still your responsibility). If you do know where he's staying - and it's a safe place - let him discover for himself how it feels to be in a state of discomfort and alienation. Remember, you're in this thing for the long haul.

You son is trying - once again - to dangle a hook in front of your nose in hopes that you'll bite. He wants you to feel sorry for him re-think your new disciplinary strategies doubt yourself. Don't bite! When you bite, he wins - and you have to start all over again.

This is the time when parents are encouraged to hold their ground, to seek the support of other family members/friends, and to cultivate the art of taking care of themselves.

When you son comes to the realization that you're serious about these matters and that you're not going to cave-in [which you may have done a hundred times before], he'll be the one to do some re-thinking.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Daughter Asserts She Is "Moving Out"

"Mark, Thank you for always heading me in the right direction. Our home is really better since following the online e-book suggestions. My daughter turns 18 in Jan. and she has used the 'I am moving out' deal. I am keeping my poker face and letting her know that will be her choice. The thing that I am having a question with is, if she stays in our home and persists to see this boy, who has gone against us and done some pretty awful things, how do we proceed? Also, she is not wanting to get on birth control. How do you feel about the sex issue? Thanks again, M."


Hi M.,

Re: “…how do we proceed?”

First of all, I would encourage her to move out. Talk about it with her …make it sound exciting …it’s a new beginning …maybe go apartment shopping, etc. Remember: self-reliance is key. If she’s thinking about moving out on her own, she’s wanting to develop self-reliance at some level.

You will not be able to keep her from seeing her boyfriend. And, unfortunately, the more you make an issue of it, the more appeal that boy will have in her eyes. Thus, you really only have two options: (a) insist she move out, or (b) let her live at home without trying to control the “boyfriend problem.”

Re: “How do you feel about the sex issue?”

It sounds like she may want to become pregnant. The only person she will truly listen to will be another female approximately her age who got pregnant at an early age. If you know anyone like this, maybe she can fill your daughter in on the huge responsibility associated with early pregnancy (e.g., immature father who bails out of the relationship due to the stress involved, financial strain, inability to further education, etc.). 

Here are a few more facts to share with your daughter:
  • Children born to teen mothers are at higher risk of poor parenting because their mothers - and often their fathers as well - are typically too young to master the demanding job of being a parent.
  • Children born to teen mothers suffer from higher rates of low birth weight and related health problems. 
  • Children of teens are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade, they perform much worse on standardized tests, and ultimately they are less likely to complete high school than if their mothers had delayed childbearing.
  • Common medical problems among adolescent mothers include poor weight gain, pregnancy-induced hypertension, anemia, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and cephalopelvic disproportion. 
  • Despite having more health problems than the children of older mothers, the children of teen mothers receive less medical care and treatment. 
  • Later in life, adolescent mothers tend to be at greater risk for obesity and hypertension than women who were not teenagers when they had their first child.
  • Less than one-third of teens who begin their families before age 18 ever earn a high school diploma, and only 1.5% earn a college degree by the age of 30.
  • Teen mothers are less likely to complete school and more likely to be single parents. 
  • Teen pregnancy is closely linked to poverty and single parenthood.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Out-of-Control Son Goes to Juvenile Detention and Mom is Beside Herself

Mark, Monday evening was hopefully the low point for M. He did not go to counseling. Later on he "stole" my cell phone off the counter and would not give it back (10:45pm). I told him calmly he had until 11:30pm then I would shut off the service and purchase a new one the next day (on his dime) and I would take his laptop until then. He refused, and kept trying to demand things. He started with the F words, then he was told he lost the computer for 24hr (to begin when the swearing stopped). I asked him at 11:30pm for my phone. House phone not working as we believe he tried to hook his laptop to our desktop internet service (cable modem and disabled our house phone) so took husbands cell to call. He now is trying to grab phones. I am leaving the house to move the laptop to safekeeping (not our home). I am in garage and he is trying to come after me. Husband tries to block his exit and gets hit in the eye--a HUGE shiner (he thinks from an elbow). 911 called and now M taken to Juve.

Court yesterday and they obviously detain him. His next hearing is 1/3/19. Whole nuclear family is reeling and the emotions change often. Oldest son now does tell us M has used drugs. He confiscated some vicodin and a short straw from him a week or two ago and caught him another time he thinks rolling a joint with 2 friends (who are NOT supposed to be in our home). He did not tell us because he did not want to be the "snitch" as he feels I betray his confidences (I may sometimes but really try not to). He also had a straw and a bag of pills (the police did not feel they were illegal or rx) when he was caught shoplifting and I also caught him with some pale yellow powder and a straw on Saturday. Now I'm wondering if he is on drugs. Can you tell me any more information on snorting vicodin? His urine test was clean. (dont know what was included or how long vicodin lasts).

Yesterday after court I get a phone call from some woman I've never heard of. She proceeds to tell me M was at her house Saturday night (when he went AWOL), no adults were home, and is told by her son that M (who she had never met before) threw her dog into a wall, broke it's leg and the bill is $500. She is wanting compensation. She says M is denying it. He also was with 2 maybe 3 other boys who I have not met but are bad--into drinking, drugs, fights, gone all night etc. (Don't know them so don't know the home situation). I won't get to see M until Monday, and frankly don't believe a word he says anymore even if I do ask him about it. I have my attorney friend looking into this from a legal standpoint. (Heresay and not 100% sure of the facts etc. do we pay or wait for a police report, etc.) as $500 on top of everything else is almost too hard to take, but if he's guilty of course we would pay.

Mark, what do we do now that he's gone? Yes, we are finally relaxed and safe in our home. We will go see him on visiting days. What do we say? Do we keep it casual, or ask about his school and sessions and how things are in juve? What if he does not want to see us? What do you do/get him for Christmas? What do we tell the relatives (who we really don't wish to share all the details with)?

This is a totally new situation for us and our family as no one in our family or close friends have had this difficulty. Thanks, J.


Hi J.,

First of all, you handled the “cell phone theft” incident very well. That’s you being successful – again!

Re: snorting vicodin—

Vicodin and other prescription narcotics constitute the most-abused group of prescription drugs, according to the National Household Survey, released in 2006. Of the 6.4 million Americans who reported misusing prescription drugs in the previous year, more than 73 percent misused prescription pain relievers.

Vicodin is NOT time released, so people who abuse can swallow the pill or snort it for immediate effects. The risk of both physical and psychological dependence on Vicodin is high. Users may experience withdrawal symptoms after as few as 5-7 days of continuous use. Withdrawal symptoms include chills, irritability, severe anxiety, headaches, and insomnia.

Chemically similar to heroin, Vicodin increases the activity of a key neurotransmitter, dopamine, triggering such an intense euphoria that users keep coming back for more -- and still more, after that.

Re: pay or wait for a police report—

Wait until all the facts are in.

Re: what do we do now that he's gone?

Be thankful he’s where he should be for now. He was about to destroy himself. At least he’s alive!

Re: What do we say? Do we keep it casual, or ask about his school and sessions and how things are in juve?

I think you should say whatever is on your heart – but DO NOT display any emotion of regret, guilt, feeling sorry, etc. Otherwise, he gets a big payoff by knowing he has successfully pushed your buttons (again).

Re: What if he does not want to see us?

Let him have his “mad time.” After he cools down, he’ll have a change of heart.

Re: What do you do/get him for Christmas?

At our juvenile detention facility, kids can have their own toiletries (shampoo, tooth paste, etc.). And these little items mean a lot when one is incarcerated.

Re: What do we tell the relatives (who we really don't wish to share all the details with)?

When family inquires, say “he’s going through some difficult times right now, we’ll have to update you on it later.”

I’m glad your son was given a mandatory time-out before he did some permanent damage to himself or others. Other juveniles who have gone this deep into self-destruction have not been as fortunate.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Grandma Plays "Mediator" in the Family

With Christmas almost here, i was hoping you could give me some advice. I have been trying the tough love approach with my granddaughter, who's 11 and has been a handful. She had been living with her dad in a blended family along with her 9 yr. old sister. They were having week-ends with their mom, which didn't always work out. The last time her dad went to pick her up she refused to go with him, he was getting annoyed and yanked her by the coat sleeve, now the mom and her have claimed that he hit her and have charged him with assault. Until all this is settled in court they can't speak or see each other. The mom is unstable, chronic liar and trouble-maker since day one, i don't think she even has a conscience. She also lets her dress provocatively and she smokes. The whole family has always spent Christmas Eve together at our house so i'm finding it hard. I'm so very tired of all the mom’s games and would like to follow this through ...but i've be told by my oldest son that i might live to regret it. Thanks for any help you can give....


Let me make sure I understand:
  • Your granddaughter and her father are court-ordered not to have contact.
  • Now there is some division in the family.
  • But you want to have the usual Christmas Eve get-together.

Actually I don’t see how this is possible, because someone will have to be left out (i.e., either your granddaughter or her father).

You didn’t mention where your granddaughter is living. Also, is her father your son?

In any event, Christmas time is especially important to children. Therefore, the right thing to do is to work it out so that your granddaughter can spend Christmas Eve with you. Also, you could have 2 get-togethers -- one that includes the father, and another one with the granddaughter (different times of course).

I can see you’re stuck in the middle. Choose to stay out of the business of playing mediator. In situations like these, the mediator tends to make a bad problem worse by attempting to control things that are not controllable.

Mark Hutten,, M.A.

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Son Is In The Juvenile Justice System Now

Mark, Well, it's been 11 days since M has been in the JJS. The visit was awkward to say the least. And our dismay to see that another "friend" who we have been discouraging (and being pretty successful with) was also in!! Needless to say, our emotions are still on a roller-coaster. M has been seen by a counselor while there and FINALLY there has been exchange of information between his counselor and the JSS. (We had been requesting this for over a year/sent in the paper work and still not done). Well, the JJS counselor called me on Tuesday and we talked for a while. She feels M is in a deep depression. He has not felt loved since very small, we love our other children, he doesn't make eye contact, no inflection of voice, apathy, etc. (This is VERY hard to hear). Our regular counselor has recently told us of this too.

==> Not to minimize his feelings, but most “out-of-control” teenagers feel unloved and mistreated – this is nothing new. And of course he’s depressed – he’s locked-up. Who wouldn’t be?

Also, counselors do NOT get a true reading on a child’s general attitude while the child is in a facility. I regularly visit my juvenile probationers who happen to be incarcerated. They all have a different attitude in jail compared to when they are out. When they return home, there’s about a 2-week honeymoon period in which the child behaves appropriately. After the honeymoon though, the child returns to his original problematic behavior (unless, of course, the parent is making parenting-changes on her end).

As harsh as it sounds, out-of-control teens need to feel an element of discomfort before they will change – this is not cruel and usual punishment however – it’s tough love (which is often tougher on the parent than the child).

An easy trap for parents to fall into at this point is to (a) feel sorry for the child, (b) to doubt their decisions and parenting strategies, and (c) to feel like a failure as a parent, etc.

CAUTION: Beware of falling into this trap. Stay the course. Positive change is occurring!

M has been approached about meds and had refused them. The new counselor T (who unfortunately is quitting JJS) has been pretty confrontational with M and really pushed him for answers (not I don't know/care). The regular counselor A has been seeing him for over a year and has not shared that they are doing any of this. What is your advice on the direction this should take? If we need to change counselors we will. This also may be an act. Who knows anymore?

== > Go with the counselors who will challenge your son and who will not fall for the usual manipulations that teens cough-up during these rough times.

Yesterday he was seen by a psychiatrist who has dx him with ADHD and has prescribed adderall. When I re-read the info on it, I can see LOADS of characteristics. We had 1 teacher in elementary school suggest this, but the physician and subsequent teachers did not find any basis to this. Again we feel horrible if this is what is causing his difficulties. She feels the rx may help with the depression also. Again, your input on this would be great.

== > I’m not a proponent for ADHD meds or antidepressants for adolescents. My experience reveals that (a) insisting the child take meds is just another potential battle zone and (b) they end up either selling them to friends or abusing them. Behavioral modification is a much better course than pharmacotherapy.

Anyway, my biggest dilemma is how to handle things when he is released back home (we won't know until 1/3/08 but seem to think from the counselor and M tells us the PO also that he will get "intensive probation" whatever that is).

== > Intensive probation means he will have weekly contact with a PO, possibly have weekly urine screens, have stiffer consequences for violating the probation contact, etc.

My husband wants to give almost everything back (no cell phone or car) as he has "done his time" and to make a fresh start. He would get all of his clothes, computer (no internet), TV/playstation in his room, use of house phone. I am OK with this if this is what should happen. He did not EARN this back in the home, but is staying @ JJS for 24 days enough? Again, we have never dealt with this before and really want to do the right thing.

== > I agree with your husband. Your son has received a “natural consequence.” A fresh start would be in order.

Christmas will be really hard--do we have a "do-over" when he comes home and leave all the decorations up and have baked items, etc? We are not allowed to bring him ANYTHING for our visit on Christmas.

== > No. Missing Christmas is part of the natural consequence. You can give him his gifts when he comes home however. Do NOT over-indulge out of a sense of guilt however.

Bottom line: Your son is developing emotional muscles that he would never have developed had he not gone through this very uncomfortable experience. Remind him that this is just the beginning of his pain [now that he is in the radar of probation] if he doesn’t get with the program.

Thanks for your wisdom and experience and have a peaceful, wonderful holiday. I am sure to e-mail you again soon.

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Is There Such a Thing as Too Many TVs in the House?

I have read through the printed e book and was wondering what you recommend. Terrible to say all of our kids have TV's in their rooms. We have thought about taking them all out and having them earn them during the week for use on the weekends. Our 12 year old is a very good student and has given us NO problems what so ever. I feel that she may think we are punishing her by taking her TV away. The other kids are the one's that are the problem. What do you think?


The number of TVs in the house is not as important as what they are watching on their TVs. The problem with having TVs in the bedrooms is you can’t monitor what they are watching.

Love your kids equally, but parent them differently. Let your 12-year-old keep her TV. The others should “earn” TV privileges as you suggested. If you want to go the extra mile, have only one TV is a central area where you can monitor content.

Children in the United States watch an average of three to four hours of television a day. By the time of high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching television than they have in the classroom. While television can entertain, inform, and keep our children company, it may also influence them in undesirable ways.

Time spent watching television takes away from important activities such as reading, school work, playing, exercise, family interaction, and social development. Children also learn information from television that may be inappropriate or incorrect.

They often can’t tell the difference between the fantasy presented on television versus reality. They are influenced by the thousands of commercials seen each year, many of which are for alcohol, junk food, fast foods, and toys.

Children who watch a lot of television are likely to:

· Have lower grades in school
· Read fewer books
· Exercise less
· Be overweight

In any event, I would strongly suggest that you have only one TV – and have a house rule that prohibits watching programs containing violence. Hundreds of studies of the effects of TV violence on children and teenagers have found that children may:
  • become "immune" or numb to the horror of violence
  • gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems
  • imitate the violence they observe on television
  • identify with certain characters, victims and/or victimizers 

In addition, children with emotional, behavioral, learning or impulse control problems may be more easily influenced by TV violence.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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How Much Does a Divorce Hurt the Kids?

"How much of an impact will divorce have on a 12 year old? Is there an age that is better than others?"

As with most things, there are pros and cons with divorce:


The tide seems to be swinging in the direction that parents in low-conflict marriages should stay together for the sake of the kids. Even a good divorce restructures children's childhoods and leaves them traveling between two distinct worlds. It becomes their job, not their parents', to make sense of those two worlds. 

If you are in a low-conflict marriage, the idea of a good divorce is really very misleading. It makes you think that, so long as you divorce the right way, your children will be fine.

Contrary to the wisdom of pop psychology, it is not essential to your children's well-being for you to have a great marriage. Imperfect harmony in a home allows each parent to love and care for the children full-time. No matter what the level of conflict, a divided family often requires children to confront a whole set of challenges that children in married-parent, intact families do not have to face.


There will always be couples who need to divorce. There are two elements to a good divorce:

1. One is that the parents get along sufficiently well that they can focus on their kids as parents.

2. And the other element is that children continue to have relationships with both parents.

While a great many young people from divorced families report painful memories and ongoing troubles regarding family relationships, the majority are psychologically normal. 

There is an accumulating body of knowledge based on many studies that show only minor differences between children of divorce and those from intact families, and that the great majority of children with divorced parents reach adulthood to lead reasonably fulfilling lives.

It's not divorce that causes all the damage. Children can usually cope with separation and adapt to new living arrangements. It's the ongoing high level of conflict after the divorce that hurts them.

Divorce is a personal issue. Only you will know if it is the right thing to do. Sometimes divorce is a mistake – other times, it is an appropriate and healthy decision. Trust your gut on this one.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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How to Deal Effectively with "Backtalk"

Hi Mark--I will ask a question. I have a 12 year old daughter that we started a behavior contract with because of increasing back talk and not finishing her chores and homework before starting to watch TV. This contract has worked well, so far, I used your example. She also was being asked alot to pick up after herself and once we put that in the contract if she doesn't follow through then we issue a consequence. We keep the consequences appropriate for the incident. My question is, I want to make sure she isn't too young for this? Her older sister has moved out (we asked her to) she was a terrible influence on my youngest daughter and that was one of the reasons we asked her to move out--what I am seeing is that D___ my youngest has picked up on alot of my oldest sarcasm and she uses it often. I have also put that on the behavior contract list. I think it is getting better, but I am concerned I am going to be dealing with the same problems, since her sister was such a problem, any other suggestions you have to avoid, problem child # 2. Since my oldest has left there is a lot more peace in the house, which we all cherish. My oldest daughter often stops by and has made references to how ridiculous the behavior contract is and is just her usual self and of course we tell her to stay out of it. She says all of this in front of my youngest and I am not sure if her influence is something I should be concerned about. One last question. My husband spends alot of time explaining his consequences, as well as listening to my youngest go on and on about how upset she is. I have told him that it should be short and just to implement the consequence since he already warned her once. What advice do you have that I could say to him to support that less is more? Please respond, thanks P.


Hi P.,

Re: Sarcasm...

 I’m not sure that she necessarily “picked-up” your oldest daughter’s sarcasm …she’s probably at the age where she would be doing this anyway (although the oldest is not helping matters any). Sarcasm is normal – and falls into the “pick-your-battles-carefully” category. The more attention you pay to it, the more she will continue doing it.

Conversely, the more you ignore it, the less “pay-off” she will receive, and she will eventually stop it. As long as it is pure sarcasm (and not a house-rule violation per say), I would simply ignore it. You don’t have to – nor should you – include every problem in a behavior contract. When she’s sarcastic, “act as if” you are not offended.

Re: Oldest daughter influence... 

It sounds like you are handling this one just fine. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Again, the more you make an issue of her comments about younger sibling’s contract, the more she will be inclined to comment negatively about it.

Re: Less is more....

Your right! It must be your husband’s style to try to “reason with” your daughter. Unfortunately, “reasoning with” a child is an exercise in futility. Children don’t respond well to ‘logic’ – they simply want things to go their way. It would be easier - and a lot less painful in the long run - to simply beat your head against a brick wall than to make an appeal to your child’s ‘rational mind’.

Share this email with your husband, then let him decide whether or not he wants to continue wasting his time and energy trying to get your daughter to “understand.”

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

"Reasoning With" Defiant Children and Teens: A BAD Parenting Strategy

Children and teens with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) can't be controlled, thus parents should spend their time controlling children's activities and material items rather than behavior.

Parents should neither discuss parenting matters nor attempt to "reason with" their defiant children. To appeal to defiant children's logical mind is an exercise in futility due to the fact that most simply want things to go their way - they are not interested in comprise, negotiation or discussion.

Things are "nipped in the bud" [so to speak] by (a) stating parental expectations, (b) stating the consequence for violating expectations, and (c) following through with the consequence in the event expectations are not met. 

All this must be done with no expression of emotion on the parent's part, because children will continue to "misbehave" when they receive a bigger payoff for misbehavior than they do for desired behavior.

When the parent reacts strongly to "misbehavior" (e.g., arguing, lecturing, threatening, rage, emotional discussions, etc.), the defiant child - who is a very "intensity-seeking" child - receives a highly satiating dose of intensity (i.e., negative attention, which is infinitely better than no attention) from the parent. Thus, misbehavior is once again reinforced.

Defiant children do not seek counsel from parents. Instead, they have fired their parents as managers. Parents can, however, be re-hired as "child-protectors" (i.e., parent's willingness to shift from trying to be the child's 'buddy' to doing whatever is in the best interest of the child)...

...but only by controlling what is controllable and leaving the 'uncontrollable' up to the children (i.e., children get to decide whether or not they lose freedom to engage in activities and/or access to their material items such as toys, games, media, cell phones, etc.).

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Help for Parents of Defiant Children and Teens

Son Refuses to be Grounded

"We have been following you advice about the 3 day punishment, but our son still will not adhere to the rules. He comes and goes when he wants to. Last summer he had a few small construction jobs with my brothers and made a couple hundred dollars. We have been giving this to him in small increments on the weekend. We have asked him to look for a job or join a sport, but as you know, you cannot force anyone (especially a hard-headed 15 year old) to do anything is their choice. My question to you is: should we withhold his money this weekend since he won’t stay in after school for the three days you had suggested? I feel as though he should listen to our restrictions and then he can have back his cell phone and computer privileges along with some of his money. Could you direct us asap?"

I think the best way to answer your question is to offer an example from another mother - and member of Online Parent Support - who was going through the same problem.

Her 16-year-old son simply refused to be grounded. He came and went as he pleased with total disregard for the 3-day-discipline. And this went on for weeks. It seemed as though her son had "won the game."


One day, mom finally mustered up the courage to work the program as intended. She had been a "softy" up to this point.

While her son was out gallivanting around, she confiscated everything - and I mean everything!

When her son returned home, he had nothing T.V. computer iPod DVD player cell phone snack food ...not even a bedroom door - nothing!!!

And to make matters worse, she canceled his YMCA membership (which was where he was spending his time while violating the 3-day-discipline).

Needless to say, he was very angry and threw a huge temper tantrum. So mom told him that the 3-day-grounding would NOT start until he calmed down. He got even more angry and ran his forearm across the end table, which sent a lamp, ash tray, and various other items all other the living room floor. Mom said again, "The 3-day-grounding does not start until all of this is picked up."

Well it didn't get picked up that day. But, when her son came home from school the next day and saw that mom had not picked up after him (like she usually did), he realized that the start of the 3-day-grounding was totally up to him. So he reluctantly picked it all up. And at that moment, mom looked at her watch and started the 3-day-discipline.

He stayed home for 3 days (except going to school of course). After 3 days, mom returned all his items and even re-instated his YMCA membership. She reports that his refusal to honor the 3-day-discipline has not occurred since. In fact, she states she has only had to implement the 3-day-discipline one other time to date.

Some parents choose to do tough love, others don't. The ones who don't keep getting what they always got - a huge amount of disrespect and drama.

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

How To Get Children Up For School In The Mornings

Hi there. I have been working your program for a while now with my now eight-year-old son and while I have had some successes, I am still finding myself not knowing what to do at times. My son has a VERY hard time turning off the Wii, or stopping a game on the Wii before it is over (i.e., football). I give him a set amount of time to play and then I warn him as the ending time approaches, often several times, to prepare him. However, when the time comes (I often set a timer because he argues that the time can't possibly be up), he insists on finishing his game (esp. football - he insists on at least finishing the quarter he is in). Should I let him finish the 2 or 4 minutes or whatever of that quarter (which turns out to be at least double the time because of the clock stopping, as in real football) or should I stick to the time limit? I feel like this may be a place to not pick the battle, but it may be telling him that limits are negotiable and I don't want him carrying it over to school or eventually work. What do you think? I am also having trouble getting him to go to bed on time. I know you say he should suffer the natural consequence of getting up the next morning anyway and going to school tired, but he doesn't get up! He goes back to sleep or stays in bed for another 1/2 hour sometimes. I do tell him that he will go to school with his hair sticking up and uncombed and that he will have to take his toiletries and brush his teeth in the school, or that if he is not ready he will go into the school and tell his teacher why he can't make it to school that day (is that a good thing to say?) but he still procrastinates until he is rushing, rushing, rushing out the door with his sister angry that he is making her late. I drive them 20 minutes to school each day and his sister has to be there 1/2 hour earlier in 2-week intervals because she is on the news team. Any suggestions??? Thanks so much and I do have more questions, but I will spread them out a bit for you!!! Thanks, K.


Re: Should I let him finish the 2 or 4 minutes or whatever of that quarter (which turns out to be at least double the time because of the clock stopping, as in real football) or should I stick to the time limit?

Here are some tips that apply:

Reward your son for not playing a video game for a certain period of time, whether it's per week or per day. This does not mean you should bribe him. However, rewarding him for good behavior every once in awhile might get him a bit more motivated than simply telling them to turn off his favorite game.

Keep the Wii in an area where all members have access to it. If it is in a bedroom - or even your son's room - there is more temptation and availability to your son. If you don't want him playing games on your family PC, make it clear and do not let any other family members play on the computer--including yourself!

Encourage your son to be a bit more active by reminding him of something that he really enjoys. You may also participate with him in an activity other than playing a video game to get him interested in something else. The more you do these things with your kids, the more it will become habit instead of gaming.

Fill the void with something educational and fun. Make it fun for your son when you've taken away an activity that he enjoys, but also incorporate some education into it. There are many different learning tools that are quite similar to video games that would make a great substitute to games.

Cut them off cold turkey. If you simply take away the console or take the game off your computer, there will certainly be some sort of resistance from your son. However, if the temptation is gone, he will be forced to find something else to do. Suggest a few outdoor activities or make plans for him to play with a friend, and soon the other activities will become staples in the house instead of the game.

Re: I am also having trouble getting him to go to bed on time.

Getting your son off his Wii earlier in the evening may help with this problem.

As long as you take responsibility for getting your son out of bed, he will let you do it. It may take a few days for them to get the hint, but once you stop working so hard, he will realize he has to change his behavior, or face certain consequences.

A natural consequence for oversleeping and being late to school is having to make up any schoolwork that was missed. You might also check with the school to see what the policy is for repeated tardiness or missed classes. Don’t protect your son from these consequences by making sure he makes that bus on time. In order to create less dramatic mornings, you have to let your son experience the consequences of not getting himself up and out the door.

You might tell your son: “You seem to have a hard time getting up in the morning, which tells me you aren’t getting enough sleep. You need to be up by 6 am on school days. As of today, we are moving your bedtime back to 9:30 pm on school nights. Once you have shown us that you can get up on time for five days in a row, we’d be happy to move your bedtime back to 11:30 pm.” If your son does not get up on time, simply state: “I know you want a later bedtime. You’ll have to figure out how to get yourself up on time in order to have that privilege.”

It may be hard for your son to go to sleep before 11 p.m. Going to bed by 9:30 PM is going to be a little “uncomfortable” for him. In time, the discomfort and annoyance of having to get into bed with the lights out and no electronics may motivate him to get out of bed on time in the morning. Once he has gotten up on his own for five days in a row, you can change the bedtime to a later hour. If he begins to oversleep again, change it back to 9:30 or 10:00 pm until he improves.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Mom Has a Hard Time "Letting Go"

Hi Mark, I am just into my first week of the course and would like your help in what to do at this point. I have emailed you prior to purchasing your manual about the fact that my son D___ (17 years old) has left home and I need to get him back in order to implement your suggestions and bring us back as a family. I don't know how to go about this. If it sounds as a threat, he will not return. Should I ask him to return for his own safety and our love for him, should I give him an option or tell him he must return. It has now been 6 weeks and I feel he is slipping further away from us. I have like many other of your subscribers, been to counselling and she suggested that hard love was the option and that David needs to return on his own accord and on our terms. But I can see that the longer I leave this that there is a less likely chance that he will ever return.

Just to fill you in a little more, D___ ran away back in August and was gone for 8 days. We asked him to return, but once he had it seemed that D___ was set to do anything and everything to make sure that he gets kicked out. So my husband gave him an ultimatum; live in our house with our rules or get out. So he chose the latter, of course. I feel that my husband made a very bad decision at this point and that we will never get D___ back. He is getting too heavily involved into the heavy metal music culture and has started to get body piercing and wants tattoos, all the things that my husband forbid him to do at home. He has given up school even though he was a great student. Please let me know what I should do at this point, as you know I would not be asking if I wasn't so desperate and feeling so lonely and vulnerable in this situation. ~ S.T.


Hi S.,

My first thought is: Your husband did the right thing. If your son were any younger, giving him the “all-or-nothing” ultimatum would not be appropriate. However, he’s an adult now – literally [although not legally recognized as one depending on what country you live in].

This will be no consolation to you at all - I’m sure, but bear in mind that “self-reliance” in key. If your son is out on his own, he is developing self-reliance. He is growing up quickly and learning how the real world operates. Although this is terribly painful and worrisome for you, the mother, this current situation is largely a positive one.

I don’t expect you to be able to shut your emotions off and somehow muster up the ability to see this dilemma through
rosy lens. But what I would ask you to do is 3-fold:

1. Trust that this will work out for the best in the long run, and do not make yourself miserable in the meantime.

2. Acknowledge the reality that, even if he were to come home today, you would either have to go through all this parent-child conflict again, or simply let him be in charge.

3. Let him know that he is always welcome to come home to visit – and he is even welcome to return home to live, but only if he is willing to abide by a reasonable set of house rules.

This will be much more difficult for you than your husband. You and I both know that this is in God’s hands now.

My prayer for you today is: God grant S__ the ability to accept the things she cannot change, the courage to change the things she can – and the wisdom to know the difference. - The Serenity Prayer

Mark Hutten, M.A.

What To Do When Your Mom Enables Your Defiant Daughter

Hi, I bought your e-book last weekend and found it really helpful. I knew what to do, just didn't know how to go about it. My question to you is about family members. My 13 year old daughter could be the cover girl for your book. So I implemented your plan and had to do the 3 day discipline almost immediately b/c she snuck out of the house. My mother, child's grandmother, feels sorry for her. Helping her clean her room, taking her to the mall, talking to her all the time, etc. I want to get a security system: my mom thinks it is a waste of money. I'm sure you know the whole scenario. Do I let their relationship just be that - their relationship, or do I insist my mom leave her alone? I know my mother means well, but I told her she is rewarding my daughter's behavior just by talking to her about it so much and giving her undeserved attention. I am a single mother with a 5 yr old son as well, and I need my mother’s help at times. I try not to involve her with things, but I don't really have anyone else to bounce things off of. What do?

Another quick question - when you say the child can earn back a day, or get off 3 day discipline - do you mean by doing chores …watching your brother …etc.? Thanks, K.


Re: Do I let their relationship just be that - their relationship, or do I insist my mom leave her alone?

I see this is a bind for you. You need your mother’s help at times, but she is not contributing to the solution with respect to helping correct your daughter’s behavior.

I hope your mother understands that she needs to be on the same page with you; otherwise, you’ll make 2 steps forward and she’ll move you 3 steps back. Plus your daughter will be very successful at playing you against your mother and vice versa.

In this case, the best thing to do is to come up with a set of “discipline rules” that you and mother agree to – make it a contract, write it out, and both of you sign it. In this way, when your daughter does behavior “x” …you and your mother team-up to implement consequence “x” …does this make sense?

If your mother does not abide by the contract, then you may have to be assertive with her and set some firm boundaries (e.g., “when I discipline your granddaughter, you may NOT converse with her, help her with chores, take her to the mall, etc.”).

==> Bottom line: This is serious business, and you cannot afford to waste time spinning your wheels in the mud.

Re: Another quick question - when you say the child can earn back a day, or get off 3 day discipline - do you mean by doing chores …watching your brother …etc.?

Your daughter “earns” her way off discipline simply by not repeating the ‘offense’ (e.g., if she gets a consequence for sneaking out of the house, but does not sneak out during the 3-day-discipline, then she has completed successfully).

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Help for Parents ==>


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