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

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What the Future Holds for Teens Diagnosed with ODD

Hello again Mark,

Things are going significantly better... We have been trying your 3-part mantra: poker face, repeat the rule/plan/consequence, no emotion. Not always successfully, but better every day. I'm still very much grieving the child I will never have and would welcome ideas about how to move through this.

But, my bigger question for today is, what is the outlook for teens with Oppositional Defiant Disorder as they move into adulthood? I'm especially concerned that my son is in for a life of turbulent and broken relationships and will likely have trouble holding a job.

I guess I do have another question. Upon receiving his grade card today for the end of his sophomore year, our son declared that he is not a good match for public school and that he will not be going to school in the fall (reminder that his IQ is in the 140s, he scored 32 on the ACT as a sophomore but also has ADD and dysgraphia). Could it be that in his case he really isn't ever going to "succeed" in the system we call public school? And, what is an appropriate response when our child says he wants to quit school? As always, thank you.


Re: What is the outlook for teens with ODD as they move into adulthood?

There are three main paths that an ODD child will take:

First, there will be some lucky children who outgrow this. About half of children who have ODD as preschoolers will have no psychiatric problems at all by age 8.

Second, ODD may turn into something else. About 5-10 % of preschoolers with ODD will eventually end up with ADHD and no signs of ODD at all. Other times ODD turns into conduct disorder (CD). This usually happens fairly early. That is, after a 3-4 years of ODD, if it hasn't turned into CD, it won't ever.

Third, the child may continue to have ODD without anything else. However, by the time preschoolers with ODD are 8 years old, only 5% have ODD and nothing else.

Fourth, they continue to have ODD but add on comorbid anxiety disorders, comorbid ADHD, or comorbid Depressive Disorders. By the time these children are in the end of elementary school, about 25% will have mood or anxiety problems which are disabling. That means that it is very important to watch for signs of mood disorder and anxiety as children with ODD grow older.

Re: Could it be that in his case he really isn't ever going to "succeed" in the system we call public school?

Yes, definitely. I would strongly recommend that you begin thinking about – and planning for – an alternative school setting for your son. Given his IQ, it's possible that he's simply bored with the standard schoolwork and needs to be in a class in which he's a bit more challenged academically.

Re: What is an appropriate response when our child says he wants to quit school?

In many states, once a teenager turns sixteen years old, he or she can drop out of school. By the time a teenager reaches the age of sixteen, half of the battle may already be lost. If the child is struggling with a particular subject or subjects, he may need extra tutoring. As a parent, you can encourage your child by spending time working with him in the evening. If you don’t feel knowledgeable enough to tutor your child, you can arrange for help from someone else.

Many schools now have afternoon tutoring available to help students who are falling behind. Some schools also have “last chance” programs. These programs are typically given at night or on the weekends. They offer students a chance to take a subject or subjects that they have failed, so that they might still be able to graduate on time.

As a parent, you should realize that there may be more serious causes behind your teenager’s lack of ambition. Drug abuse is a real problem among teenagers in today’s society. If you feel that your child is exhibiting signs of drug abuse, you should have him tested immediately. If he tests positive, you will need to decide on a direct course of action.

Never give up on your child. There may be times when both he and you are discouraged about his academic success. Try to hide your discouragement as much as possible, and, instead, let your child see that you believe in him and have high expectations that he will succeed.

Bottom line: Your son will excel at whatever he puts his mind to.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

14 year-old daughter has completely changed for the worse...

"hi mark my name is j____, i have a 14 yr old daughter, we've always been pretty close. since starting 9th grade she has completely changed, ditching class, smoking cigs, experimenting with drugs, disrespectful, lying etc… she’s not happy unless she is with her friends every waking moment. the fist couple of times she told me that she hated me i tried to tell myself that she didn’t really mean it, but each day its getting harder to believe that. the way she looks at me just tears my heart out. ok im not the perfect june cleaver kinda mom, but im not the mom from the movie psycho either.

i have been taking your "out of control teen course" where i have come to find out that i am an over indulgent parent, this is fixable, i just don’t know how to approach someone who {im truly starting to believe} despises me so much. how do i look into those eyes and not only not cry but try to connect with her?"


Hi J.,

First of all, your daughter does not hate you – she is angry with you and probably hates how the relationship has been going (as do you). If you died tomorrow, I’m sure your daughter would be devastated.

If you are a single parent, or if your husband tries to be the “good guy” -- then you are, by default, the designated "bad guy." Your child probably directs most - if not all - of her anger and rage toward you. But her anger is displaced. She is upset about many different things for many different reasons. Thus, as difficult as it WILL be, do not take her attacks personally.

If you dropped out of the picture (e.g., packed up and moved to the moon), I’m sure your daughter would take her frustrations out on the next caretaker that came across her path. Thus, her “hate” and “despising” have more to do with what is going on inside of her rather than what is going on between the two of you.

As hard as it is to do, grieve the loss of the daughter you once had. Work the OPS program one week at a time. And trust that things will work out for the best in the long run.

When your daughter is older and becomes a mother herself, she will have a “change of heart” regarding her connection to you. In the meantime, you take care of you.

Mark Hutten, M.A,

Son began to freak out and kick furniture, throw sofa cushions, screaming, etc...

Hi S.,

I've responded throughout your email:

Dear Mark,

I hope you read this and can help me. This is Sunday 5pm central time. Beginning of last week we started your program. We told our son (D___, 15) the talk about how we have made mistakes and things would be changing with our parenting, and that we'd let him know as they came up. All has been fine til now. Today is the last day of the first week. This morning we asked if he'd like to go to Costco with us and he said he didn't know. We told him to let us know by 10:00. He said he didn't want to go, but when we were walking out the door, he asked us to wait for him to dress so he could go. We told him we had already given him the chance and we weren't waiting. He then began kicking our furniture and we told him he would lose phone privileges for 2 days if he kicked our furniture again. We left and all was fine. That was over and we went out as planned.

Later, he asked if he could go to community center, and we said yes, if he cleaned his pet's cage, which he did (art of saying yes used)!!!

Later today, we told our son today that we would like to help him to earn a weekly allowance. We said we would give him $2 a day to sweep any room in the house each day, and that there would be other ways to earn money by doing chores, but that would be a definite way. This was us trying to implement the 2nd week assignment of allowance for chores. Anyway, right away he asked why we couldn't just give him $20 a week, why are we all of a sudden making him work for money? He began to freak out and kick furniture, throw sofa cushions, screaming, etc.

==> When parents implement these new strategies, it often gets worse before it gets better. That is what's going on here. The fact that it is getting worse is, paradoxically, a good sign - it suggests that the true process of change is occurring.

We kept our poker face and said he would now lose the phone for 48 hours since he kicked our furniture again today, just like we had said before. He continued to scream and yell, slam doors, trying to get us to answer. I continued to say "I won't argue, I won't argue..." He locked our bedroom door so we couldn't get in, he tried to block me from going up the stairs, we then closed ourselves in our office. He then slammed and kicked his bedroom door, he screamed that he hated us and he was going to jump out of his 2nd floor bedroom window. We continued to ignore him; he then broke his bedroom window and we heard him cry that he was bleeding.

==> This is a good example of a natural consequence. His "bleeding" is, paradoxically, a good thing (as long as he doesn't bleed to death).

Finally, about 5 - 10 minutes into this, my husband decided to go out of the office; there was blood all over the hallway, his bedroom window and the bathroom window was broken..My husband then began helping him clean up his finger. This has been about an hour now, and he is finally cleaning up the blood. The entire time he is still out there asking why we are so mean, why is he grounded from phone for 2 days, we are not his friends, he doesn't want to hear our voices, etc.

I am putting all of this into the file for later to deal with it then.

==> Good choice.

But, how do I handle all of this now?

==> Use the strategy entitled "When You Want Something From Your Kid" and/or "The Six-Step Approach" [online version of the eBook].

This isn't the time to talk to him about all this. He won't calm down. The windows need to be fixed; do we do it and have him pay later, what????

==> He needs to help pay for all the damage.

Is all of this window breaking really to be put away for a later consequence and not dealt with now???

==> The "original offense" as I see it is when he kicked the furniture. Everything after that goes into the "Deal-With-It-Later" file.

Believe it or not - you are greatly on track and doing a wonderful job. Hang tough. Keep working the program. You'll be glad you did.

Mark Hutten, M.A.


==> I've responded throughout:

Dear Mark,

First, please accept my apology for my ranting earlier, and for asking for you to "read immediately." I realize I am not your main concern. I was just so confused that I didn't know where to begin.

==> I understand. No apology needed. You needed to vent.

This is the first time we have actually put on our "poker face" during one of these tantrums. It was so hard not to freak out at him for this crazy behavior. This is one of the worst tantrums in a long time. Now that he has calmed down, I do wonder if we handled it correctly. I think I might be getting some of the steps a little mixed up. Either way, we let him have his fit, we ignored him, while he broke windows and in the process got his finger cut. Is that correct, to ignore during all that?

==> You do allow him to make the poor choice, but you also implement the consequence immediately. Tell your son that, in the future, if he chooses to destroy property, then he will choose the consequence, which is (a) the police will be called immediately and (b) an incorrigibility complaint will be filed. The next time he has a meltdown - follow through with this consequence.

After, when he was calm, we sat down and I went through the four steps and said to him...

"When things in our home get broken, it worries us because me and daddy have to then figure out how to get it fixed and how to pay for it, I know you did all that to show how angry you were and that is how you showed your emotions, next time though, I would rather you take a time out, maybe even punch your speed bag, then we can talk about it when we are all calm."

==> Beautiful job here. That was a 5 star move on your part !!!!!

I then hugged him. We then told him he would indeed need to pay for the broken windows. I tried to add humor at that point and I said, "well, at least now you will learn how to fix windows!" He didn't laugh, but I giggled. We've told him to take time outs and calm down when he feels like that, but he is so out of control during these times that he can't even calm down first.

The original consequence for kicking the furniture next time, from this morning, and slamming doors was 48 hours without phone, which I began when he was calm. I will then, at the end of the 48 hours, tell him, next time you break things in our home, the consequence will be to lose all privileges for 5 days.

==> I can tell that you have done your homework. I'm very proud of you. You are doing a class A job here - and this is not an exaggeration on my part.

Mark, I hope I am doing this right. I am committed to doing this consistently, so please tell me if I am on the right path.

==> You are definitely on the right path -- you are also a great role model for other parents who are struggling with the same issues.

Thank you!!



Hi Mark,

Thanks so much for responding. I do have another question. When Daniel's 48 hour phone loss ends tomorrow evening, that is when the plan was to tell him if he breaks things again, he will lose everything for 5 days. The consequence though, that is in your program, that you emailed to me, about calling the police and filing incorrigibility complaint, is where my question is. I think I will have some difficulty making this call. First because I have never called the police on him before, also, I don't think my husband will agree to this.

==> This is a fair and good question. A weaker plan supported by both parents is better than a stronger plan supported by only one parent. Thus, if your husband is not willing to do this, then you'll have to settle for second best.

The reason I mentioned calling the police is because your son broke the law. It is illegal for him to destroy your property. Therefore, the honest consequence should really be to involve the authorities. Be very careful about employing half-measures.

What happens when this complaint is made, does it go on a permanent record?

==> No. The officer will have a talk with your son. You may have the option to have him arrested, but you will want to save that potential consequence for the future should your son continue to have meltdowns. We don't want to pull out all the big guns too early. A juvenile's "record" can be expunged, too.

My husband and I are not always on the same page as to what to do, but we are working on it. If we call and file complaint, do we also take everything away for 5 days, one of these consequences, or both?

==> Yes. He gets 5 days plus faces potential legal consequences. Again, destroying property is illegal. We want to set up a system at home that is representative of the "real world" -- and in the real world, when you destroy somebody's house -- you go to jail.

I don't want to say we will be calling if me and my husband cannot agree, no more empty threats, but I want to do the right thing.

==> I agree. You don't want to make an empty threat. But the trade off is that you will be running the risk of employing a half-measure (i.e., a consequence that is not much of a deterrent for your son).

I am glad to hear you say that this is the part of it getting worse before it gets better. I am looking forward to some happier times for my child.

Thanks again. I'll look for your response to the above question. I do hope I am not asking too many things. It really helps to be able to confirm if I am making right decisions.

==> Thanks for working the program as it is intended.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen

How to Squelch "Attention-Seeking" Behavior in Defiant Children

"We had issues with A___ at home last night that I wanted to talk to you about, and what we could have done. She had been to her Nana's for the day and I picked her up at about 5pm. Normally she is really hyped up 'cause they make cakes and she has more sugar than I'd like. Nana said she only ate one cake but she was behaving as if she'd had 50... She wasn't being abusive (for a change) but she was being incredibly annoying. She wouldn't eat any dinner (that's ok so go hungry), she wouldn't have a shower, she kept grabbing hold of me and laughing (my sore arm and my legs) and wouldn't let go, was swinging off a wooden beam in the kitchen, wouldn't let us eat our dinner (dancing around in front of the TV when we tried to ignore her and put the news on), annoying the cat (she got scratched having not learnt from heaps of previous scratches over the years), wouldn't do any homework etc. etc....

SO after trying to ignore her for a while, we gave her a warning that if she continued she would lose all her soft toys for 3 days (they were packed in a suitcase and locked away) but she continued so the next warning/consequence was the loss of her dvd player (locked away) and no TV for 3 days and she continued and lost some books etc. but then after doing this for 6 hours (it was 11pm by this stage and she wasn't in bed) Martin lost his temper with her (I had been really trying so hard to not get angry) so she then went to bed crying and screaming abuse at us.

What could we have done differently? She didn't start off actually behaving badly per se but she was being unbelievably annoying and it went on for 6 hours!!! Martin lost his appetite and didn't eat anything for dinner and although he congratulated me for not losing MY temper, he still got cross at me when I suggested he go back and read your e-book again so then WE were arguing..... You know the story!"


It's normal for children to need attention and approval. However, attention-seeking becomes a problem when it happens all the time. Even charming attention-seeking can become controlling. Many children make tragedies out of trivial concerns to get your sympathy. Excessive attention-seeking results in a situation where your child commands your life. This can be the seed for discipline problems in later childhood and adolescence.

Your goal is not to eliminate your child's need for attention and approval. When handled correctly, your child's need for attention can be a helpful tool for improving your child's behavior. Eliminate not the need for attention, but those attention- seeking behaviors that are excessive or unacceptable.

How Much Attention Is Too Much? That depends on you. How much attention-seeking can you tolerate? The rule is that children will seek as much attention as you give them. You must strike a balance between how much your children want and how much you can give. Even normal attention-seeking can drive you crazy on some days.

Do not let your children's need for attention turn into demands for attention. When children do not get enough attention, they resort to outbursts, tantrums, nagging, teasing, and other annoying behaviors. They think, "If I can't get attention by being good, then I'll misbehave to get Mom's attention."

Adult attention and approval are among the strongest rewards for children. Unfortunately, parents seldom use attention wisely. There are three kinds of attention: positive attention, negative attention, and no attention.

When you give your children attention and approval for being well behaved, they are getting positive attention. Positive attention means catching children being good. Focus on positive behavior. Positive attention can be words of praise or encouragement, closeness, hugs, or a pat on the back. A pleasant note in your child's lunch box works well. Positive attention increases good behavior.

When you give your child attention for misbehavior, you are giving negative attention. Negative attention typically begins when you become upset. You follow with threats, interrogation, and lectures. Negative attention is not a punishment; it is a reward. Negative attention does not punish misbehavior, but increases it.

What is the easiest way to capture your attention ...sitting quietly or misbehaving? When children do not receive attention in a positive way, they will get your attention any way they can. Do not pay attention to misbehavior. Pay attention to good behavior.

Negative attention teaches children how to manipulate and get their way. They learn to be troublesome. They learn how to interrupt you. They learn how to control you. Negative attention teaches children how to tease, nag, and annoy. It teaches children to aggravate, irritate, and exasperate. We teach this by not paying attention to our children when they are behaving appropriately, and by paying attention to them when they are misbehaving.

I have worked with hundreds of parents who have taught their children to be negative attention seekers. I have never met a parent who taught this deliberately. When you attend to the negative and ignore the positive, you teach your children to behave in a negative way. Your child will misbehave to get your attention in the future.

Do not wait for misbehavior to happen. Do not take good behavior for granted. We do this with teenagers. We come to expect good behavior, and overlook their efforts. When a child demonstrates good behavior, notice it. Look for it. The more you notice, the more you will find. You will get more good behavior in the future. Anyone can catch children being bad. Turn this around. Catch them being good. It's not easy. It takes practice.

Statistics show that the average American parent spends seven minutes a week with each of their children. Do better than average. Telling your children that you love them is not enough. Show them that you love them. Spend ten minutes of quality time with each child every day. No excuses, like I was just too busy today, or I didn't have time. We are all too busy.

In many families, both parents work. Some parents work two jobs. Your most important job is being a parent. When you come home after work, give the first thirty minutes to your children. Do not be the parents whose only hour with their daughter this week was in the principal's office or at the police station. Write your children into your plan book. Make an appointment with each of your children every day. Go for a walk and listen to what is happening in their lives. Turn off the TV for an hour and talk.

When you ignore misbehavior, you are giving no attention. Because attention is rewarding to children, withholding attention can be an effective punishment. Withholding attention can weaken a misbehavior. When your child misbehaves to get your attention, ignore the misbehavior. Ignore your child's inappropriate demands for attention. You will weaken those demands and extinguish the misbehavior.

Some parents find this hard to believe; they think that if a child is misbehaving, he must be punished. This is not true. Ignoring demands for attention is the best cure. When you ignore consistently, you will teach your child that the misbehavior is not paid off with attention. Temper tantrums need an audience. Take the audience away, and there is no point to having a tantrum. Do not forget to redirect. Teach children appropriate ways to get attention. "My ears do not listen to whining. Please ask in a soft voice."

Ignoring does not mean ignoring the problem. It means ignoring demands for negative attention. There are many forms of misbehavior that you should NOT ignore. Some misbehavior should be punished. Deciding when to ignore or when to punish is not easy, and there are no exact rules. It takes timing and judgment. When your child misbehaves to get attention, ignore it. If your child does not stop in two or three minutes, give him a reminder. Tell your child, "I do not respond to whining. When you stop, we'll talk." Wait another minute or two. If he still does not stop, then tell your child to stop or he will be punished: "Stop now, or you will go to time-out."

If you get angry or let your child push your buttons, you lose. If you must use a punishment, dispense the punishment without anger. If you get angry, then your child has succeeded in getting the negative attention that he was after. If you feel yourself getting angry, walk away. Cool off. If you give in, you will be providing your child with an attention payoff. You will be rewarding a misbehavior.

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> Online Parent Support: Help for Exasperated Moms and Dads

Father Lets Son Get Away With Bad Behavior


I have a 14 year old son, and we always seem to be angry with each other. I try to be patient, but whatever I do seems to annoy him and vice versa. My husband takes a different approach than me, and this also causes conflict between us as he lets our son get away with bad behaviour by ignoring it. If our son is rude to me, he doesn't say anything, he just says that I should deal with it. What can I do?


I believe you have mentioned 3 issues here:

1. anger control problems (between parent and child & between wife and husband)
2. father uses an indulgent parenting style
3. husband and wife are not united and bonded on some issues

Let’s look at each one in turn...

Re: anger control –

Power struggles can create frustration, anger and resentment on the part of the parent and the out-of-control kid. Resentment can cause a further breakdown of communication until it seems as if all you do is argue with your out-of-control kid.

In order to end such arguments, it must be the parent that begins to take charge in a positive way. However, the most effective step, to simply stop arguing, can also be the most difficult. It sounds quite simple, just stop arguing, but in reality, it takes discipline and effort to change the pattern of behavior. By refusing to participate in the argument, the power of the out-of-control kid disappears. The out-of-control kid only continues to have power over you if you allow them to.

To stop the power struggle, prepare yourself ahead of time. Sit down, after your out-of-control kid is in bed for the night and it is quiet, and make a list of the times that you most often argue. Is it getting ready for school, doing homework, completing chores, getting ready for bed, etc? For each situation, determine a few choices that you can give your kid.

When preparing the choices, make sure to list only those that you are willing to carry out. If you are not willing to pick up your out-of-control kids and bring them to school in their pajamas, don’t threaten to or they will know that they still have control of the situation. Once you have decided on the choices you will give your out-of-control kid, stick to them and practice your self-control to not yell. Walk away, leave the room, and wait outside if you have to. But an argument can only happen if there is more than one person. With just one person, it is simply a temper tantrum.

Re: indulgent parenting style –

Parenting style has two elements: sensitivity and strictness. Sensitivity refers to the extent to which parents provide warmth and supportiveness. Strictness refers to the extent to which parents provide supervision and discipline.

Categorizing parents according to whether they are high or low on strictness and sensitivity creates four parenting styles:

· Indulgent
· Authoritarian
· Uninvolved
· Assertive

Indulgent parents are more sensitive than they are strict. Children of these parents tend to have high self-esteem, but low motivation (e.g., perform poorly at school, do few if any chores). Also, they are more likely to have behavioral problems at home and school.

Authoritarian parents are very strict, but not very sensitive. Children of these parents tend to have high motivation (e.g., do well in school, do chores at home), but have very low self-esteem. They also have poorer social skills and higher levels of depression.

Uninvolved parents are low in both sensitivity and strictness. Children of these parents tend to have both low motivation and low self-esteem.

Assertive parents are both strict and sensitive. Children of these parents tend to have both high motivation and high self-esteem.

Thus, it might be in your husband’s best interest to adopt a more assertive parenting style -- for his son’s benefit!!

Re: not being united and bonded –

When mom and dad are not on the same page with their parenting strategies, several negative outcomes result:

1. One parent is forced into playing the role of the “bad guy” (this is probably you mom).

2. The child is always able to play one parent against the other (e.g., if he gets a “no” from the more assertive parent, he will go to the indulgent parent to get a “yes”).

3. The child is always able to convince the indulgent parent that the more assertive parent is “mistreating” him.

4. Due to the above outcomes, resentment builds in the more assertive parent, thus creating tension between husband and wife.

Thus, it will be important for you and your husband to sit down together and come up with a united plan. A weaker plan supported by both parents is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one. When husband and wife do not develop a united front, it is often the kiss of failure (i.e., the child continues to suffer emotional and behavioral problems).

Son Is Lazy and Morbidly Obese

“Mark, I have a problem with my 15-year-old son -- he's lazy! He comes home from school, flops out in the easy chair, eats a bunch of junk, and watches TV or plays his video games for pretty much the rest of the evening. My concern is that he has no social life really -- plus he is now grossly over-weight. Any suggestions? Thanks.”

Approximately 30% of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight and 15% are obese. For adolescents ages 12 to 19, 30% are overweight and 15% are obese.

Excess weight in childhood and adolescence has been found to predict overweight in adults. Overweight children with at least one overweight or obese parent were reported to have a 79% likelihood of overweight persisting into adulthood.

In addition to genetics, other factors contributing to obesity are:
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Sedentary behavior (e.g., watching TV, sitting at the computer, playing video games)
  • Low family incomes and non-working parents
  • Consuming high-calorie foods
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating while watching TV or doing homework

First of all, let your son know he is loved and appreciated whatever his weight. Focus on his health and positive qualities.

Next, develop and implement a plan to gradually change your family's physical activity and eating habits. Let your son see you eating and enjoying healthy foods and physical activity. Plan family activities that provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment (e.g., swimming, biking, skating, ball sports). Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities (e.g., watching TV, video games). Reduce the amount of “junk food” you will allow in the house, instead plan for healthy snacks. Encourage your son to eat when hungry and to eat slowly. Eat meals together as a family as often as possible.

In addition, assign active chores to every family member such as vacuuming, washing the car or mowing the lawn. Enroll your son in a structured activity that he enjoys (e.g., tennis, gymnastics, martial arts). Encourage him to join a sports team at school or in your community.

Other points to keep in mind are:
  • Don't place your son on a restrictive diet
  • Avoid the use of food as a reward
  • Avoid withholding food as punishment
  • Encourage him drink water rather than beverages with added sugars (e.g., soft drinks, fruit juice drinks, and sports drinks)
  • Stock the refrigerator with fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Plan times when you prepare foods together
  • Eat meals together at the dinner table at regular times
  • Avoid rushing to finish meals
  • Avoid serving large portions
  • Avoid forcing him to eat if he is not hungry
  • Limit fast-food eating to no more than once per week

This should at least get you started with some behavioral modification strategies as they relate to diet and exercise.

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

Having a hard time with "tough love"?

“Our son ran after having a fight with his father ‘cause he doesn’t want rules, no curfews'. He'll be 18 in March. All he keeps saying is, 'I will NOT come home unless you agree that I will NOT be punished, and I WILL get my car back, period'. This has been going on for 3 weeks. We can't give in, but are having a hard time with the tough love. We paid for the car, insurance, and have his cell on suspension, but he thinks it's canceled. Any advice?”

I would simply say to him something like this:

“Son …we can’t control you. If you really want to run away from home, we can’t stop you. We can’t watch you 24 hours a day – and we can’t lock you up in the house. But no one in the world loves you the way we do. That is why we have established these house rules. Because we love you, we can’t stand by and watch you do whatever you want – whenever you want – without any house rules. Running away from home will not make us change our minds about providing supervision and rules.”

Then it’s his choice to return home under your house rules or continue to attempt to manipulate you into changing your minds. A long as he is safe, I would just let him know that he is loved and that he can return home whenever he’s ready, and that he can take all the time he needs to make a decision. But he will have to follow the plan …period.

In the meantime, catch yourself feeling guilty – or feeling sorry for him – and remind yourself that you are fostering the development of self-reliance in your child. This is for his benefit – not yours.

Should You Keep Rules and Expectations the Same for All Your Kids?

Dear Mr. Hutton,

Well I finally took the plunge and started your program! I am now working my homework for week one. My humble statement was more difficult to deliver than I thought, but I somehow managed to get through it- Family dinner night for week one was minus M___, but I am hopeful he will eventually show as you say.

My questions to you are: I have two teenagers- M___ 17 and M_____ 16. I actually delivered the mission statement to both even though M___ 17 is the one with all of the symptoms of overindulged child. Should I keep rules / expectations the same for both?




Hi M.,

Re: Should I keep rules / expectations the same for both?

Great question.

Answer: No.


Because each child is unique and has a different set of needs.

Your mantra should be: "I love my children equally, but parent them differently."


Thanks for your quick response. How do I handle the fallout from that when M___ sees different rules for his sister ? Wow what a situation- If I keep rules the same for both, the one with less need for stricter boundaries will rebel. If they have different rules M___ will be very vocal and negative with that. Considering that M___ thinks the whole world is against M___ (no personal accountability) this ought to be very painful for all involved. M___ is your textbook overindulged child. I could hardly believe it when I read your list of characteristics, every single one described my child. I was very ashamed of myself. I know, I am working on the forgiveness part and moving forward. This is the first time that I feel that I can help my son. Thank you!




Hi M.,

Re: How do I handle the fallout from that when M___ sees different rules for his sister?

Children are great "fairness detectors" (i.e., always looking for justice whenever they perceive injustice).

When siblings complain about being treating unfairly, parents should NEVER explain themselves. Rather, they simply repeat "I love my children equally, but parent them differently."

Say it with me, M., "I love my children equally, but parent them differently."

Remember this line. You will be using it frequently.

You may have to say this 278 times over the course of the next several months.

Your son will get tired of hearing your mantra around the 300x mark.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Help for Low-Frustration Tolerance in Defiant Teens

Hi Mark,

I was wanting to ask you how we best handle A___'s outbursts of rage and verbal abuse when she is frustrated. She asks for help with a problem (i.e., wrapping a parcel to set up a shop for a game this morning, then refuses to listen to the help to get the parcel wrapped, then starts to scream and abuse us for offering "stupid" help then rips up the paper, throws the sticky tape on the floor and storms off screaming and slamming the doors as she goes). She is then not able to calm herself down for ages and sulks like a 2 year old and this scenario goes on almost every time she can't do something and asks for help. We encourage her and try to get her to do it herself and praise her (on the extremely rare occasion she listens and succeeds) but this just goes on and on and can ruin a whole weekend as it has done yesterday and today.

Thanks Mark,



Hi L.,

What you’re dealing with here is “low-frustration tolerance” (a classic symptom of an over-indulged child). Your daughter gets frustrated …then you seem to get frustrated at her for being frustrated. We all want life to be organized according to our preferences. This surely makes sense! What then is the problem? Unfortunately, we often go beyond just wanting - we believe that things must be our way. This reflects a human tendency called low frustration-tolerance.

I suspect that this tendency is one of the most common, underlying causes of distress in human beings. Paradoxically, it seems to be the one of which people are most unconscious! Low frustration-tolerance arises from believing that frustration is unbearable, and therefore must be avoided at all costs.

Low frustration-tolerance is caused by catastrophizing about being frustrated and demanding that it not happen. It is based on beliefs like:
  • ‘It is intolerable to be frustrated, so I must avoid it at all costs.’
  • ‘Other people should not do things that frustrate me.’
  • ‘The world owes me contentment and happiness.’
  • ‘Things should be as I want them to be, and I can’t stand it when they are not.’

Low frustration-tolerance is closely related to low discomfort-tolerance, which arises from catastrophizing about discomfort (including the discomfort of negative emotions), with an internal demand that it be avoided. The two types are similar and closely related. Frustration is uncomfortable, and discomfort is frustrating. Often one expression is used to refer to both types.

Low frustration-tolerance arises from demands that things be as we want, usually coupled with awfulizing and discomfort-intolerance when this does not happen.

Low frustration-tolerance creates distress in many ways:
  • Addictive tendencies. Low frustration-tolerance is a key factor in the development of addictions. To resist the impulse of the moment and go without is ‘too frustrating’. It seems easier to give in to the urge to misuse alcohol, take drugs, gamble, or exercise obsessively.
  • Anger. Low frustration-tolerance leads to hostile anger when someone does something you dislike, or fails to give you what you want.
  • Anxiety results when people believe that they should - or must - get what they want (and not get what they don’t want), and that it is awful and unbearable (rather than merely inconvenient or disadvantageous) when things don’t happen, as they ‘must’.
  • Negativity and complaining. Low frustration-tolerance may cause you to become distressed over small hindrances and setbacks, overly concerned with unfairness, and prone to make comparisons between your own and others’ circumstances. Negativity tends to alienate others, with the loss of their support.
  • Short-range enjoyment (a common human tendency) is the seeking of immediate pleasure or avoidance of pain at the cost of long-term stress. Examples include such things as alcohol, drug and food abuse; watching television at the expense of exercising; practicing unsafe sex; or overspending to avoid feeling deprived.

High frustration-tolerance means accepting the reality of frustration and keeping its "badness" in perspective. To accept frustration is to acknowledge that, while you may dislike it, there is no Law of the Universe that says you ‘should’ be exempt from it (though you may prefer to be). You expect to experience appropriate negative emotions like annoyance and disappointment. But you avoid exaggerating these emotions (by telling yourself you can’t stand them) into depression, hostile anger, hurt, or self-pity.

Frustration-intolerance Thinking Errors—

· “Because I can’t stand being frustrated, I must avoid it at all costs.”
· “I can’t stand it when people don’t act as they should.”
· “It is awful and intolerable to be frustrated from having things the way I want.”
· “My circumstances have to be right for life to be tolerable.”

 Realistic Thinking—

· “I don’t like it, but I can survive it - and survive better when I don’t lose my cool over it.”
· “If I tell myself that frustration is awful, I’ll only set myself up to get anxious when I think it's coming - and bitter and twisted when it does happen.”
· “It is disappointing when things aren’t the way I’d like them to be, but it is not awful — and I can stand less than the ideal.”
· “Total avoidance would mean a very restricted life. Though I don’t like frustration, I can tolerate it.”

How to raise your tolerance for frustration:
  • A useful technique is rational self-analysis. Analyze your frustration - while you are feeling it, if possible, otherwise, as soon as possible afterwards.
  • Know when you are engaging in low frustration-tolerance behavior. Keep a log of such behavior for several weeks or longer. Watch for things like overusing drugs or alcohol, compulsive gambling, shopping, exercising, bingeing on food, or losing your temper.
  • The technique of exposure is an important way to increase your tolerance. Make a list of things to which you typically overreact -- situations, events, risks and so on. Commit yourself to face at least one of these each day. Instead of trying to get away from the frustration, as you normally would, stay with the frustration until it diminishes of its own accord. You might, for instance, go without desserts for a while, have two beers instead of four, leave the children's toys on the floor, or the like.

Good luck!

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

Parent's Comment: "I guess we could all do with looking at ourselves and trying to keep our own frustration levels a little lower. Your emails are a great leveler and very informative. My husband says you deserve a knighthood for the work you do and the depth and completeness of your email replies! Thanks again until the next time...!"

Tips on How to Stop Sibling-Bullying

I have been listening and reading through your material and, so far, I am impressed. With a degree in special education, I have taken several behavioral management courses over the years and I have read several books. This material seems to be written specifically for my family! My son is 13 and the oldest of 5. I definitely notice a difference in my son's behavior when we focus more on the positive and state expectations clearly and specifically.

My husband and I struggle with the ability to remain calm when the actions of my son affect our other 4 children. I try not to blame or accuse because that just leads to an argument and denial. I have tried pointing out to my son that he is tired and perhaps should stay away from his siblings who are "annoying" him until he is not so irritable. However, my son continues to aggravate and instigate which most of the time leads to someone getting hurt physically and/or emotionally. My question is: How do I keep a poker face and redirect or remove my child from a situation that he is hurting others when he simply does not listen?? After I have tried several attempts, I often lose my temper...which is exactly what he wants!! Should I just remove my other children from the situation and try to ignore my son?

My husband and I will continue to read over and listen to your material. I have every confidence that this program will work for us. It says what I have been saying for child is not is his behavior that needs to be addressed and he needs help in learning how make better choices.

Thank you,



Hi J.,

Re: … my son continues to aggravate and instigate.

While it may be common for siblings to fight, it's certainly not pleasant for anyone in the house. And a family can only tolerate a certain amount of conflict.

Keep in mind that sometimes children fight to get a parent's attention. In that case, consider taking a time-out of your own. When you leave, the incentive for fighting is gone. Also, when your own fuse is getting short, consider handing the reins over to the other parent, whose patience may be greater at that moment.

Whenever possible, don't get involved. Step in only if there's a danger of physical harm. If you always intervene, you risk creating other problems. The children may start expecting your help and wait for you to come to the rescue rather than learning to work out the problems on their own. There's also the risk that you — inadvertently — make it appear to one child that another is always being "protected," which could foster even more resentment. By the same token, rescued children may feel that they can get away with more because they're always being "saved" by a parent.

If you're concerned by the language used or name-calling, it's appropriate to "coach" children through what they're feeling by using appropriate words. This is different from intervening or stepping in and separating the children. Even then, encourage them to resolve the crisis themselves. If you do step in, try to resolve problems with your children, not for them.

Don't put too much focus on figuring out which child is to blame. It takes two to fight — anyone who is involved is partly responsible. Next, try to set up a "win-win" situation so that each child gains something. When they both want the same game, perhaps there's a game they could play together instead. Separate children until they're calm. Sometimes it's best just to give them space for a little while and not immediately rehash the conflict. Otherwise, the fight can escalate again. If you want to make this a learning experience, wait until the emotions have died down.

Remember, as children cope with disputes, they also learn important skills that will serve them for life — like how to value another person's perspective, how to compromise and negotiate, and how to control aggressive impulses.

Be proactive in giving your children one-on-one attention directed to their interests and needs. For example, if one likes to go outdoors, take a walk or go to the park. If another child likes to sit and read, make time for that too.

Don't let children make you think that everything always has to be "fair" and "equal" — sometimes one kid needs more than the other.

Have fun together as a family. Whether you're watching a movie, throwing a ball, or playing a board game, you're establishing a peaceful way for your children to spend time together and relate to each other. This can help ease tensions between them and also keeps you involved. Since parental attention is something many children fight over, fun family activities can help reduce conflict.

If fights between your children are frequent, hold weekly family meetings in which you repeat the rules about fighting and review past successes in reducing conflicts. Consider establishing a program where the children earn points toward a fun family-oriented activity when they work together to stop battling.

If your children frequently squabble over the same things (such as video games or dibs on the TV remote), post a schedule showing which child "owns" that item at what times during the week. (But if they keep fighting about it, take the "prize" away altogether.) Let them know that they are safe, important, and needed, and that their needs will be met.

Make sure children have their own space and time to do their own thing — to play with toys by themselves, to play with friends without a sibling tagging along, or to enjoy activities without having to share 50-50.

Recognize when children just need time apart from each other and the family dynamics. Try arranging separate play dates or activities for each kid occasionally. And when one child is on a play date, you can spend one-on-one time with another.

Lastly, set ground rules for acceptable behavior. Tell the children that there's no cursing, no name-calling, no yelling, no door slamming. Solicit their input on the rules — as well as the consequences when they break them. This teaches them that they're responsible for their own actions, regardless of the situation or how provoked they felt, and discourages any attempts to negotiate regarding who was "right" or "wrong."

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Teens Who Make False Claims That the Parent is Abusive


Last week I signed up to get your ebook and instructional videos. I have a question. My out of control teen has a set of grandparents and a family that she has convinced I am completely abusive to her. I have been turned into the authorities four times now from false allegations and have a meeting for a 'home visit' tomorrow with the latest investigation case worker. My daughter wants to go live with the grandparents and will do whatever it takes to get removed from my care.

My concern is a co-worker I know has a similar situation. Her son turned his mom in making abuse allegations. They didn't 'stick' so the second time he turned her in for alleged abuse he made marks on his body and called saying his mom was abusing him. It stuck that time and his mom, who wouldn't hurt a flea, is now on probation for 17 months for the abuse allegations.

When do I throw in the towel? I am very worried this is going to go the same way for me.......not if but when.




Hi B.,

This is all too common (i.e., the kid has learned that she can duck out off receiving consequences for poor choices by alleging abuse).

In short, I suggest letting your daughter try this new living arrangement with the g-parents (if they are amenable to it) – but – let her know that, in the case she burns a bridge with them and wants to come back to live with you, she will have to agree to abide by a behavior contract (that you draft-up ahead of time).

If / when the g-parents arrive at THEIR wits-end and ask you to take your daughter back, do so only under the understanding that they are not to allow your daughter to run back and forth from one home to the other depending on her mood / attitude at the time.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Dealing with Teens Who Frequently Drop the "F" Bomb

Mark, We are doing the consequence thing (for car use, computer, phone, being able to go out etc.) and he has not had to be grounded from everything in quite a while. What I would like are some suggestions for when he gets mad (while not on any consequence), and does not like the direction of the conversation/limits he has to adhere to and starts to drop the "f" bomb either in conversation or directed at me.

====> The house rule should be "no using the f___ word." Then if he uses the f___ word at any time, just treat it like you would any other rule violation. See "When You Want Something From Your Kid" {Anger Management Chapter - Online Version of the eBook}.

This behaviour is not related to his lap top but I have started to confiscate it for 24hrs at a time. If he can go without cursing for 24hrs he has earned it back, if not the 24hrs starts over.

===> Good. This is mostly on track.

It has gotten to the point where we need to deal with it--the curfew is not much of an issue (may be 10 minutes late but the next time out he has to be home earlier), phone use is acceptable as it must be turned off at 11:00pm on school nights and he does (or loses it for 24hrs), and he gives up the car keys at night and uses the car appropriately (going to/from anywhere only with our approval) or loses it for 24hrs or more. He has not gotten violent in over a month. He continues to push, push, push with the limits, however and we do try to stay strong and unemotional. We are now ready to deal with the smaller issues but need a consequence that is meaningful (him wanting to change behavior) yet connected to the problem. Any ideas?

===> If you want to get real creative, rather than taking the laptop away (which is somewhat unrelated to cussing), you can try the following:

Give him money for chores (e.g., $15.00 a week; to be paid at the end of the week), then charge him a fee for each time he uses the f___ word.

For example, he knows he will be getting $15.00 on Saturday for the chores he has done throughout the week. In that week's time, he says F___ three times. A fee of $1.00 is assigned each time he uses the F___ word. So his total pay after deductions for that week is $12.00.

If he loses all 15 bucks - that's fine. If he uses the F___ word 16 times in a week, he is still only charged $15.00. Unlike the consequence of having computer privileges taken away, once he loses a dollar, that dollar is gone forever.

Fully expect for him to 'burn up' all 15 bucks for a couple of weeks until he gets a grip on how this system works. Allow him to make the choice to cuss, then simply charge the $1.00 fee each time (with your poker face).

Also, what "chore" every day is acceptable? Can it be something really small like to putting clothes in the hamper instead of thrown on the floor, putting his clean clothes away, or should it be something more? I am OK with the smaller stuff for now.

===> Yes! The simpler - the better.

Yes, I strive to tell him something positive everyday and "I love you. His PO feels we (family) are all making progress but when you're living in it everyday it sure may not feel like it.

Thanks again Mark!

===> You're welcome. I'm glad you're on to the smaller stuff.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

How to Deal with Grounding Problems

Hi Mark, I am writing today because we seem to be going backwards and not forwards with the grounding effectiveness. Since the beginning of April we have been implementing groundings and I would have thought by now that they would be having some effect. Meaning that the teenager would be getting the message. Let me help you understand what is happening. The groundings have been around disrespect, spearing, defiance, annoying (big time!) and attitude!!!

==> “Disrespect, defiance, annoying and attitude” are all very vague terms that could mean anything.

He is an only child. We start with a 1-day grounding say for showing disrespect.

==> If I were to video tape him being disrespectful, what would I see? Is he using a particular cuss word? Is he throwing something across the room?

That grounding turns into a 3 day grounding within a few minutes because this child will not close his mouth, will not stop what he is doing and becomes irate and extremely angry to the point that he wants to hurt us or our things!

==> O.K. You are probably going to be a bit irritated with me now – but again, these are all very vague descriptions of behavior (i.e., “…will not close his mouth …will not stop doing what he is doing”). I’m guessing that he probably has NO clear idea of exactly what he needs to do differently giving your loose description of the behavior.

That grounding is then re-started at least 3 more times over the next couple of days because this child just doesn't get it! The light is not coming on! During the groundings the teenager is always bordering on having the grounding constantly restarted. And once he comes off the grounding there is usually only a couple of days before he is grounded again. He has had 4 groundings in the space of 6 weeks. - Each of them lasting about 5 days each. Not only that but the groundings do not seem to be helping him to see that it is his actions that is causing him to be grounded and in fact sometimes the groundings have not effect at all! (A very strong willed child).

Can you please help me understanding how much rope we are to give before we restart a grounding. For example - he shows disrespect - we ground him etc. Do we re-start the grounding the minute he shows disrespect again. This child will go up to the boundary and indeed put his foot over it to see what we will do!! Do we need to come down really hard each time and take no crap for him at all? At first with a one day grounding - we took electronics off him. That had no effect. So the next time when the 1-day went to a 3 day grounding all his indoor and outdoor toys and playing with any friends is taken off him. We have told him that the next time he is grounded everything will be removed! He still doesn't seem to get it. Please help me, my husband and I are going mad! Thanks for your time.

==> Two things seem to be going on here:

1. I think you are trying to fight multiple battles at once. In other words, he gets a one-day grounding for behavior A …then he introduces a new problem by exhibiting behavior B – now he’s receives a 3-day grounding … then sometime during the 3-day grounding he exhibits behavior C – now he’s grounded for another 3 days.

You only restart the 3-day-discipline if the original crime is re-committed. For example, let’s say he gets angry and declares, “I’m going to kill you – I hate you” (this is behavior A and should be the only focus of the 3-day grounding).

When parents issue a 3-day-discipline, it is very common for kids to introduce additional behavioral problems (temper tantrums, threats, etc.) as a way to (a) get the parent side-tracked from the original consequence and (b) get the focus off of them and onto the parent's anger.

If the parent falls for this, she ends up issuing additional consequences on top of existing consequences, restrictions against the kid begin to pile up, and before long, the kid is grounded for 3 months with no privileges -- and both the parent and the kid have forgotten what the original problem was.

Don't let this happen to you. Do not let your son get you distracted from the original problem and the associated consequence for that problem. Here's how you do this:

If your son commits another "crime" (figuratively speaking) during a 3-day-discipline, put this new crime in the "Deal-With-It-Later" file. You literally write the problem down on a piece of paper (e.g., 'son called me a bitch and broke a plate') and put this note-to-yourself somewhere where you can find it after the original 3-day-discipline is completed.

After the original 3-day-discipline is completed, you then confront your son regarding the second problem he introduced by saying, "Just for your information, in the future, if you choose to __________ (in this case, "call me a bitch and break my dishes"), then you'll choose the consequence which is __________ (here you just follow the strategy "When You Want Something From Your Kid" in the Anger Management Chapter of the Online Version of the eBook).

So, does your son get "off the hook" for calling you a name and breaking a plate? In a way, yes -- but only for the time being. He will have to answer to you if the name-calling and plate-breaking occur again in the future.

Pick your battles carefully - but perhaps more importantly, pick them one-at-a-time. Do not try to fight 14 battles at once. You'll just blow a blood vessel in your brain, and your kid will be successful at getting you to chase your tail.

Use your "Deal-With-It-Later" file frequently. You'll save yourself a lot of time and energy that would otherwise be spent in chronic power struggles.

2. Your description of behavior is too vague. You need to describe to him in great detail exactly what he did that caused him to receive a consequence. Do not use phrases like “you were being disrespectful …you had an attitude …you don’t get it”. Also, describe exactly what he has to do to complete the 3-day-discipline (e.g., “you’ll be ungrounded in 3 days if you do not say I hate you, I’m going to kill you"). Then if he goes 3 days without saying this, he’s ungrounded.

Mark Hutten, M.A.


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