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

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When Parents Disagree About How To Parent


We have a sixteen year old son that fits the criteria for ODD. We have two other sons fourteen and twelve that show no signs of this disorder. We have sought professional help on and off since he was two. The first I heard of this disorder was a year ago when I started researching on the internet for the problems we were having in parenting a child like this. The difference in how we want to parent our son has caused a major problem in our marriage. Dealing with a child with this disorder has to be about the hardest thing I have ever encountered. I am very willing to listen to a professional or follow a program such as your own because all I have read about this disorder as well as your program and advice from the last psychologist we went to points us in the same direction. We have improved our relationship with our son by using similar tactics like your program suggests, but unfortunately my husband has a hard time withholding privileges, setting up some solid rules, and following through with consequences when my son breaks the rules. We are barely talking to each other at this point. I am looking for some guidance to help me get my husband on board, and I believe that if we follow a program such as your own, we can be successful. I would appreciate any help you could give.

Thanks, C.


Hi C.,

It’s not surprising that parents have differing views on the best way to discipline their children. Working out those differences requires clarity and perspective.

Other matters can usually be resolved by compromise or agreeing on which parent will set the rules about particular issues. Even so, forming a united front on discipline is often more easily said than done. Here are some ideas that may help:

· Ask why the other parent wants to discipline in a particular way. Listen to their response without interrupting. Be respectful, caring, and patient.

· Ask yourself why you are opposed to your parenting partner’s method. What are you afraid will happen?

· Be prepared for behavioral problems. Remember that many changes in children’s behaviors are linked to their stage of normal development. It should come as no surprise that your toddler becomes defiant or your preschooler has an occasional temper tantrum. Talk ahead of time about how each of you would handle these predictable situations. That way you’ll have fewer conflicts when they occur.

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

· Don't let negative childhood experiences determine your decision making about discipline. Keep your focus on the positive aspects of your family life in childhood to bring to your current parenting practices. This approach will free you to replace discipline strategies that don't work for both parents because of beliefs based in families of origin with solution-focused practices that respect and continue the positive experiences of both parents' childhoods.

· Explore discipline options, balancing the pros and cons. Decide which responses are most constructive for your parenting goals.

· Find out how the other parent wants the child to behave in the future.

· Find out what the other parent is afraid will happen if he/she doesn’t discipline their particular way.

· Negotiate a Plan in Calm Waters. Sit down with your spouse and try to agree on ways to discipline at a time when nothing is wrong. When you discuss things calmly, you're more likely to come up with a plan you can both stick to. This will allow you to talk about what's best for your child, and not "who's right."

· Present a Unified Front. Kids understand when their parents feel differently about disciplining, no matter what their age. Children will often get away with misbehaving simply by creating an argument between you and your spouse — and this not only lets them off the hook, it creates a problem between the parents. Make sure that your child sees both parents following the same guidelines, no matter what the scenario. Once your kids start receiving the same treatment from both parents, they'll stop using your disagreements as a way to avoid punishment.

· Put your childhood experiences in historical perspective. Gender roles, child safety issues, environmental factors, and cultural norms change dramatically across the generations. What worked for your family 'back in the day' may not transfer comfortably to your current family situation. What are the issues in modern family life that trigger a strong belief that the values and child-rearing practices from your childhood are important to uphold and continue in your own family?

· Recognize that strong beliefs about child rearing may have their basis in childhood family experiences. At the same time, know that your spouse's beliefs have the same powerful roots.

· Recognize What Your Arguments Do to Your Children. No child likes to see his or her parents fight. When you argue about what to do with your kids, you create a troubling environment for them, which could have serious long-tem effects. Fighting with your spouse shifts the focus away from your child — and how they can learn to stop misbehaving — and on to a "parent versus parent" situation.

· Remember the positive experiences from your childhood. Think about your everyday life rather than the major events. What was going on around you during those happy times? It's fun to share these memories with your family, so make them a part of your traditions and family life. What are the positive values and childhood experiences that you want to uphold and continue in your family?

· Have a conversation between parents about the ways childhood histories may be influencing the disagreement about discipline. Take a problem-solving approach to identify:
  1. What is the specific child-rearing issue that is causing disagreement between parents?
  2. What are the feelings and beliefs that each parent has about the issue that may be rooted in childhood family history?
  3. What problem-solving alternatives can each of you commit to that will resolve the disagreement and unite both parents in adapting the beliefs and practices of your families of origin to your family life today?

Lastly, always bear in mind that a weaker parenting plan supported by both parents is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one parent.

I hope this helps,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe we have different parenting styles of dealing with discipline (not always, but sometimes often). I have always dealt with my son differently than he's had to deal with his son (the 15 yr old). I can actually have a straight forward calm discussion even if it involves consequences or punishments he doesn't like - without a "blow up". Which is unlike what happens with his son. I don't always feel a need to "get in his face, yell, get super angy etc" like he does - depending on the situation.

Here's today's issue. Last night, my son stayed with his friend overnight to hang out before school break was over. Well, he called me at 11pm (my husband and I already went to bed). My son told me he had a minor fender bender with the car and another teens car. Basically, he accidental backed into her car and the mirror broke and a scratch on the front fender. OKAY, yes - very stupid move on his part not paying attention to exactly what he was doing - but he claims the car had an issue with the shifter. Yeah. right - we all know that is not particularly the case and a teen is going to make the story sound like it's not really his fault - duh. So my issue is; when I explained it to my husband, my son's version of the story. First thing out of his mouth is; "..sounds like bullshit to me." Okay probably so. But I have a feeling (my my husbands unspoken language) that he probably is not pleased with how I "handled" it. I can just tell. I did not yell, get in my son's face or anything like that. I basically said to him (my son); "this is not good and I we will talk about it tomorrow" when he gets home from staying his friends house (which he was already at for the night). I just felt what could I do it about it then at 11pm at night and why get all riled up over it now? I will deal with him (my son) and the decisions/consequences tomorrow. So needless to say, this behavior from my husband happens often when my son gets in some type of trouble (which, mind you is VERY rare) - not sure why.
I plan to levy consequences today (no driving for a period of time, find a job - have to pay for the damage to the other car, etc). Now, my husband will want to "get on his case" more (or thinks I should)...and try to pound in the issue over and over and over. Sometimes almost seems relentlessly. My attitude is "what's the point, and where does THAT get you". Really?

Bottom line: I feel my son knows consequences (knows he's going to get one for this incident), and I always been able to deal with my son's "stupid mistakes" in a calm, consequential manner - without yelling, "getting in his face", pounding the issue over and over again, etc. It's amazing that my son and I can actually have a civil discussion. Although of course my son, being a teen, doesn't always like the outcome and can get a bit mad, but knows he has to accept it to get the privileges back.
My husbands son on the other hand is completely on the other end of the spectrum. Can't even have a serious conversation without a "blow up".

I'd like to think so far I've done a pretty damn good job with my son raising him on my own (no father at all involved). No defiance, no disrespect (he did a bit in 8th grade), no drugs, takes pride in being an athlete, average grades in school, does what hes' told most of the time. Because his answer to that is "it's not worth it to argue".

So my question is; how do I deal with my husbands "expectations" of what he thinks is the correct way to go about things (in this issue) versus the way I've always dealt with issues with my son? Until these boys are raised and on their own - I don't want this to always be a source of contention with my husband - the difference in the way we handle our own child' issues.

Any thoughts, help, advice?

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