Teens & Peer Pressure

Hi Mark,

I read your book about a year ago and have been referring back to it when I have needed it. My communication with my daughter has improved greatly. Unfortunately, she is still making bad choices. As far as I know, it is only occasionally, but could be more and I am just not aware of it. A few months ago we pulled her out of traditional school and enrolled her in Independent Studies. She goes to school (which is a class at her regular school) once a week, receives work, checks in her homework and takes her tests. Her grades and homework have improved significantly. When I took her to school on Monday, I was supposed to pick her up around 10-11, she was supposed to call (she had her cell phone taken away at the time.) I called the teacher around 12 and she informed me she had checked out at 11:30. To make a long story short, she finally called me at 3:00 (I was at the school looking for her) and was there. I did not talk to her because I was too angry. She proceeded to come home, eat one thing after another for over an hour then went up stairs to bed. I told her Dad he needed to drug test her (we are divorced.) He called last night and said when he told her she needed to take the test, she admitted to smoking pot a few weeks ago. My problem is her low self esteem and wanting to fit in. She was on the school volleyball team until she got kicked off for bad grades. I have offered for her to do ANY other activity and she refuses. It seems she only wants to fit in doing bad things, which I assume makes her feel “cool.” How do I get her to do things that are positive when she only WANTS to do destructive things?




Hi W.,

Peer pressure is more than just a phase that adolescents go through. Whether it leads to extreme hair and clothing, tattoos, or body piercing, peer pressure is a powerful reality and many adults do not realize its effects. It can be a negative force in the lives of kids and adolescents, often resulting in their experimenting with tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.

Adolescents want to be with people their own age. Kids, especially during adolescence, begin to spend a lot more time with their friends, and less time with their family. This makes them more susceptible to the influences of their peers. It is important to remember that teenage friends can have a positive influence on a youth. During teenage years, adolescents are more accepting of their peers feelings and thoughts. Peers can and do act as positive role models.

Parents, teachers, and other adults should encourage adolescents to find friends that have similar interests and views as you a parent, educator, religious and community leader are trying to develop in the teen. The critical adult views including doing well in school, having respect for others, avoiding drug use, smoking, drinking and other risky behaviors.

Adolescents put into practice risk-taking behaviors as they are trying to find their own identity and become more independent. This makes them very vulnerable to experimenting or becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, sexual activity, and defiance of authority, especially if there is peer pressure to do so. Adolescents who use drugs are also more likely to become involved in gang activity, have low self-esteem, behavior problems, school performance problems, and depression.

Parents, teachers, religious and community leaders want to promote positive peer pressure among teens. Parents and other adults often believe that adolescents do not value their opinions. In reality, studies suggest that parents have tremendous influence over their kids, especially adolescents. No matter the age of their kids, parents, caregivers and other adult role models should never feel helpless about countering the negative effects of peer pressure.

What parents can do:
  • Ask questions and enjoy listening to adolescents as he or she talks
  • Avoid attacking the teen’s friends- criticizing an adolescents choice of friend can be perceived by a teen as a personal attack
  • Avoid criticism that takes the form of ridicule or shame
  • Be an involved parent
  • Establish and maintain good communications
  • Get adolescents involved in youth groups, community activities and peer monitoring programs
  • Help the teen understand the difference between image (expressions of youth culture) and identity (who he or she is)
  • Monitor your teen’s activities
  • Nurture strong self-esteem
  • Role-play peer pressure situations
  • Talk openly and honestly about stealing, alcohol, illegal drugs, and sex

Peer pressure during childhood and adolescence equips adolescents to develop healthy friendships, self-identity, self-esteem, and self-reliance. It is healthy for everyone to talk about how they feel what they need, desire and want. Parents mistakenly assume that their teen does not want to talk to them, but it may just be that the teenager does not want to talk about his or her bad grades, their bad behavior and how much trouble they are in. Usually adolescents are more willing to talk about something they are interested in or something positive that is about them.

Develop a habit of talking with your teen every day. Building a strong close open relationship with him or her while they are young will make it easier for your teen to discuss problems, concerns and other sensitive issues associated with school, relationships, and other life stressors.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Teens & Alcohol

As a responsible, caring parent, I want my children to make responsible choices regarding alcohol use that are consistent with my beliefs and values. But it’s not a simple issue. We have alcohol in our home and with meals, but don’t want the kids to drink before they are adults. In the midst of these issues, our children see and hear numerous ads that promote alcohol. They may be curious, and—particularly as they grow older—face pressure from their peers to drink. How do you deal with this issue in a positive, healthy way?

Click here for my response...

Teens & Curfew Violation

My daughter is having great difficulty getting in by curfew. She always says things like, “It’s so unfair! All my friends get to stay out later than I do. I don’t need a curfew. Just call me on the cell when I need to come home. Don’t you trust me?” Any advice?

Click here for my response...

Following the “Fighting Fair” strategies...

Dear Mark,

It has been a very progressive few days. My husband and I are following the “Fighting Fair” strategies and are making headway. It was wonderful to see my daughter go straight to the dishes and do them moments -- not hours, but moments -- after I expressed what I wanted from her in an assertive, loving way. I was in amazement, mostly because I felt I accomplished something I should have been doing for years. I showed her respect in what I asked her to do and she is showing us respect in return. She also opened up about several issues she hadn’t talked about for years. This is truly a small miracle. Thank you, and God Bless you Mark in your service to parents.


Online Parent Support

Assertive Parenting

Hi Mark, In your article about Permissive Parenting under the conditional permissiveness I am confused---as you have said to make the kids EARN EVERYTHING---yet in this article it sounds like that is Conditional permissiveness and that is supposed to be a bad thing? Can you help me clear that up please? Thanks.

Click here for my response...

The Worst Mistake That Parents Make

Don't try to resolve a dozen child-behavior problems at once. Here's a great example of what I'm talking about (email from parent):

"Our out of control daughter that is 16 years of age has been grounded for numerous reasons over the past two years. There have been periods of time in the two years that she has not been grounded although these times are not for very long. Some of the things that we have been dealing with are as follows:

Sex (suspect once in 07) ( now, since September 08) still seeing boyfriend at school. HAVING PROBLEMS COMING UP WITH CONSEQUENCES

Drug use (Marijuana)( first time not sure, but first time found “potato head” pipe in room April 09) HAVING PROBLEMS HERE TO

Retail Theft (Jan 09) (she paid fines and is attending theft class this weekend for it. We added an additional com service for church until end of school.)

Theft at her place of work ( Dec 08) she paid for it(her $), made amends and did 24 hours community service. (She seems sorry but still don’t trust her

Back talk (getting worse in 08 - 09) HAVEN’T ADRESSED THIS YET, well we have, but very badly apparently

Cutting (1st time with boy friend may of 07) got counseling and body checks thereafter, seemed to go away) she seemed healthier after break up with boy friend may of 07)caution

Attempted running away (twice in 07 )let go of this one too

Talk of suicide ( mostly in 07 – 08) let go with caution

Alcohol use (dabbled since 07) spot checks started and continue now and then ever since but let go with caution

Failing grades in school (since 07) WE ARE LETTING GO


Cigarette smoking (started in 07, got worse) WE LET GO OF THIS ONE

Lying (since she turned 12 and has gotten worse over time) HAVING PROBLEMS HERE TO

Trust is a big issue!!!

Present boyfriend is also doing drugs.

HELP!!! What can we do?"

When parents chase their tails trying to find solutions to multiple problems at once, they become so scattered and confused that their ability to problem solve is greatly reduced.

==> PICK YOUR BATTLES CAREFULLY -- but perhaps more importantly -- PICK THEM ONE AT A TIME !

Here's the good news:

Let's say you have 10 behavior problems that your child is exhibiting. If you will tackle the most pressing issue first (first things first - and keep it simple), then you can move onto the second issue with a lighter load on your back. And by the time you get to issue number 3 or 4...

...you will find that issues 5 through 10 have taken care of themselves !!!

HELLO... Did you get it?!

Let me say it again:

By the time you get to issue number 3 or 4, issues 5 through 10 will have taken care of themselves.

So you see, when you try to fight 10 battles at once, you (a) fight all 10 and (b) run a huge risk of not solving even one of them.

On the other hand, when you only fight 1 battle at a time, you end up only fighting 3 to 4 total -- not 10.

Here's to working smarter rather than harder,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

Toddler Discipline

For a normal toddler, discipline problems may be easier to prevent than to deal with once they have started. A hungry, tired, off-schedule or starved-for-attention toddler is more likely to act up. Of course, very young children cannot be expected to behave all the time, but behavior problems can often be prevented and temper tantrums can be cut short when parents pay attention to their child’s needs and refuse to reward bad behavior.

Young children thrive on routine. Once a baby progresses beyond the initial months and begins to sleep more during the night than during the day, having a set bedtime and a bedtime “ritual” is extremely helpful. For instance, a nightly bath or storytelling session helps calm the child down and signals that bedtime is near, which lessens the battles you’ll have to face once it’s time for the little one to go down into the crib. (And telling your toddler what comes next in the routine – such as “We’ll have supper, and then you’ll take your bath, and then it’s pajama time” – also helps him or her prepare to learn about time and sequences of events.)

Not only the bedtime ritual, but also the amount of sleep once the little one is in the crib or toddler bed, is vital for preventing behavior problems. A 2-year-old who doesn’t take a nap during the day can easily sleep for 12-13 hours at night; one who does nap needs less sleep at night, but only an hour or two less.

Paying enough attention to your child and making sure your toddler receives adequate stimulation during the time he or she is awake is also vitally important for avoiding bedtime showdowns. A child who attends (and enjoys) playgroup or preschool has a chance to exercise and socialize with other toddlers, and will often sleep well at night.

If your child stays at home with Mommy or Daddy all day, make sure to work in some exercise – whether it’s a walk around the block or a session of silly dancing in the living room with the child’s favorite music – and provide mental stimulation as well, by reading books or playing games together. The most important thing is to give the child undivided attention at some point so he or she will feel loved and secure enough to part from you at bedtime.

If your child is well-rested but is beginning to act up more than usual, make sure it hasn’t been too long since his or her last meal or snack. Your toddler may be hungry without realizing it, and if this is the case, a healthy snack may be all that is needed.

Sometimes, however, you’ve done everything right and your child still has a temper tantrum. If you’re at home and your child throws himself kicking and screaming on the floor because you stopped him from drawing on the walls, just walk away calmly and say that you’ll come back when he stops screaming (or something to that effect). The important thing in dealing with a toddler tantrum is to remain calm and unflappable – so the child will soon see that his performance does not have its desired effect.

Other bad toddler behaviors, such as refusing to be buckled into the car seat or defying parental orders, require a different strategy. Try a bit of humor, if the situation allows. For instance, if your toddler has reached the boiling point because she doesn’t want to put on her pajamas, offer to put them on the family dog or cat or Daddy instead – this silly suggestion may just give her the giggles long enough for you to squeeze her into the PJs. Or she might suddenly become very possessive of the PJs – “No, mine! I want to wear my pajamas myself!” Either way, you’ve won and the pajamas go on without tears.

If the child is behaving badly because he’s overtired, keep in mind that he’s having a very hard time controlling himself. Keep your own calm, as difficult as that may be, and talk to him quietly until he calms down – or put him down for a nap in a quiet room if you are unable to calm him. He may cry for a while, but he has most likely reached his threshold of stimulation and nothing you say will help the situation; sleep is what he needs and he will eventually calm himself down.

Deciding whether or not to spank your child is a very personal matter, and one that also depends on your family, the child, and her response to gentler forms of punishment. No matter which punishment you choose – whether spanking, scolding or time-outs – it is absolutely vital that you administer the punishment calmly and with love. Make it clear that you don’t enjoy punishing the child and you would rather reward her for good behavior. Tell her you know she’s a good child who just needs to act better. And finally, remember that the toddler years, as difficult as they are, don’t last forever – and you may just miss them when they’re gone!

The following lists out some ways for toddler discipline:

Time OUT. This is one of the most common toddler discipline method. Keep the time brief around one minute per year of age. Toddlers don't usually stay in the corner so it means stopping what you are doing and standing over them with your side or back to them so that they can't engage your facial/body language. Once time out is over, you can remind them what they did wrong in very simple language and then if they do it again (as most toddlers will immediately do upon being released from time out until they have the concept) they go back into the corner. Discipline must occur at the time of the action and not an hour or longer after. So even if you are out of your home, you must be prepared to discipline them. Be discreet, and remember always NOT to do it in front of others to avoid bringing down his self-esteem. Remind toddlers of the rules frequently when out on an outing or in the house if necessary.

Distract and divert. The best form of toddler discipline is redirection. First, you have to distract them from their original intention and then, quickly divert them toward a safer alternative. Give them something else to do for example, helping with the household chores and soon they will be enjoying themselves rather than investing a lot of emotional energy into the original plan.

Ignoring temper tantrum. Ignoring the behavior or making statements such as when you throw a tantrum I can’t hear you or I don’t like watching temper tantrums so let me know when you are finished and we will talk, will both show and tell the child that their display of temper tantrums will not gain them control over the situation or the parent.

Temper tantrums are usually dramatic, intense and full of emotion. With a little practice and persistence, parents can learn how to stop the drama of a temper tantrum and change the situation to a calm, quiet discussion. Keep control and keep the peace.

Encourage cooperation. Your child is more likely to do what you say if you uses soft approaches like these: - Ask rather than tell. Say "Would you give me the book, please?" instead of demanding "Bring me the book."

Set Limits. Much of your toddler discipline depends upon your ability to set limits. Boundaries provide security for the child whose adventurous spirit leads him to explore, but his inexperience may lead him astray. For example, your toddler doesn't want to hold your hand as you cross a street or parking lot together. You firmly set a limit: street or parking lot crossing is only done while holding hands. There is no option. We need to achieve the right balance between freedom and constraints for our toddlers.

Limit-setting teaches a valuable lesson for life: the world is full of yeses and nos. You decide what behavior you cannot allow and stick to that limit. This will be different for each family and each stage of development. Toddlers want someone to set limits. It makes them feel secure and loved, and helps them to understand boundaries. As a parent you have to ensure that the rules you set are simple, easy to understand, and consistent.

Provide structure. Set up conditions for toddler discipline that encourages desirable behavior to happen. Structure protects and redirects. You free the child to be a child and provide the opportunity to grow and mature. Structure creates a positive environment for the child. By a bit of preplanning you remove most of the "no's" so that a generally "yes" environment prevails.

Structure changes as the child grows. At all developmental levels restructuring the child's environment is one of your most valuable discipline strategies. When your infant reaches the grabby stage, you are careful to set your coffee cup out of his reach. When your toddler discovers the toilet, you start keeping the lid latched or the bathroom door closed. The preschooler who fights going to sleep at night gets a relaxing bedtime routine. The nine-year- old struggling to keep up with her homework gets a quiet, enticing place to work in, as well as firm restrictions on school-night television. Structure sets the stage for desirable behaviors to override undesirable ones.

Positive reinforcement. Studies show that toddler discipline using positive reinforcement works far better than punishment. Rather than focusing only on those things that irritate us and becoming habitual scolders, "catch your kids doing something right and reward them."

Remember that toddlers tune out a lot so if you are always saying "No", "Don't touch this", "Don't go there", then all they hear is NO. You want to try and give them lots of positive feedback. Examples of positive feedback are to let them know they did a 'nice job following directions' or 'good job playing', with lots of hugs and kisses. Try using other "No" words like stop. You don't need to yell but you do need to put firmness 'don't mess with me' tone in your voice.

There is certainly no magic formula to toddler discipline but it is imperative that you establish the guidelines for behavior in your house as quickly as possible.

Whatever you do, make sure you are consistent in your toddler discipline. If you tell a child no and then eventually end up letting the child do what he wanted in the first place, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Even if you have changed your mind and decided that what the child was doing wasn’t so bad after all, you need to stick to your decision and let the child know that you mean what you say. If he gets his way after a minute or after an hour, he will know he’s got you pegged. As such, the key to toddler discipline is consistency!

Online Parent Support

Oppositional Defiant Behavior & Genetics

Hi Mark

Thank you for your parenting therapy online workshop. I have found it extremely useful, at the moment I am still on assignment one, but it has made a great difference to how I think about things and how I handle situations with my son, C___.

The peculiar thing is that when I did the over indulgent parent quiz with regards to my 15 year old son, I scored 89 out of 100, a really high over indulgent mark, which was not good! Out of interest, I then completed it on how my husband (my son's stepfather of 10 years) and I had been with my daughter when she was 15, (she is now 22). That time I had scored 59 which was exactly where the quiz stated we should be aiming for.

Amazingly, or I guess not so amazingly, she was a grade A student, we never had any problems with her, she doesn't smoke or drink particularly as she doesn't like it much. She has also never taken drugs and has never committed a crime. She has a good J___b and is studying to be an accountant, plus she is buying her own flat.

I feel that we brought them up the same, but my son has always been shall we say 'a little devil'. But if I had done the test when he was 12 then the score would probably have been around 59 for him. But when he hit 13, he was misbehaving at school, then he started running off over night and we wouldn't know where he was. So gradually things started to spiral out of control with him. He smashed my husband’s car window, and at the beginning of this year, he smashed up his bedroom badly and part of our kitchen, he also went for my husband with a knife, and they have always had a good relationship up to now. The police were called and he ended up going to court.

Things have settled down again but we do have the Youth Justice Services involved with C___ and we have been to parent groups for help and support with him.

We have never indulged him with material things in the past, and I never ever imagined him coming home whenever he wanted, J___, my daughter used to be in at 10.30 p.m. But because we found with him, if we had said to him be home at that time, he would just have not come home, consequently we found by letting him stay out later, he did at least come home.

He feels that he doesn't want to be controlled. We don't want out home smashed up again, so he comes and goes as he wants, but when he was younger he never had this freedom. He drinks, takes drugs (ecstasy) when he goes out partying.

In one of the chapters on self reliance, you mention him earning his money, which I agree with. A few months ago he was saying he can't wait to hit 16, then he could get a weekend J___b, he's still a student at the moment. Now, he's found he can make more money by committing crime. So now he won't work, and if he wants to go ice skating for example, he doesn't ask for money, but we tend to give him some so that he's not doing any wrong doing. I would like him to stay away from the people he's hanging out with, but I know it's not all down to them. Frankly, I know what my son is like, I told a friend the other day, that if I had had a good son I wouldn't have wanted him hanging around with a boy like him.

But part of me wonders, is there any hope? Is some of it down simply to genetics? His father was a bad sort, been in prison and generally not very nice, taking drugs, committing all sorts of crime. He never saw C___ for a few years as C___ decided at ten he was fed up being let down by him and didn't want to see him. Shortly after this, his dad went to prison. C___ decided to start seeing his dad last year, but they had a big argument and he doesn't want to bother with him now. But my son has the same hot bad temper that his dad has, and more and more I have started noticing that when you look at kids and their parents, genetics of their personalities has a lot to do with it. It scares me at times, because even though he didn't have much to do with his dad, he is so alike, plus that has probably contributed to my feeling scared of my son when he's aggressive, because his dad used that same aggression on me but physically. At least my son has always said that he would never hit a woman.

But I want to know, do you really think when there is hope, my son evens says its his bad blood in him, because his father also told him about my son's uncle, who also is a very bad person, in prison, hitting women etc. My son seems to think that he can't help it now more or less, he doesn't seem to care about anything or anyone. This was a boy who would do charity runs with me, and raise money for third world countries. He would never have sworn at me once, now if he's been drinking, twice he has on the phone been so verbally rude to me, calling me a f...ing c..t

I used to feel resentful, because I used to love being a mum, I was always very involved, on the PTA, taking them out for trips, helping with homework, cooking with them, I even did childminding so I could be around them. I loved it. But he has made me hate it at times now. I remember years ago, a woman saying to me "if I had my time again, I wouldn't have kids." I was so shocked I had never ever had that thought. But now when my son is so horrible to me, or aggressive, or constantly in trouble, he has been to court now 6 times in 5 months, I just think how good my life would have been if I had only had my daughter. It used to make me feel so sad, and I would try and keep that thought in my head, but now I can easily write it. I used to resent him for making me feel that way. Now I am just accepting of the situation.

But that is where your therapy has helped, especially where it mentions that if you accept the situation for what it is you can then start to move forward, which I have done to a certain degree. I have also tried to not take it personally like you say to do and keep my 'poker' face.

Well sorry my email is so long, I just felt I needed to fill you in on a few details, but I would be especially interested to hear your views on the genetic side of things.

With thanks for your help.



Hi S.,

The exact cause of oppositional defiant behavior (ODB) is not known, but it is believed that a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the condition.

Some studies suggest that defects in or injuries to certain areas of the brain can lead to serious behavioral problems in children. In addition, ODB has been linked to abnormal amounts of special chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other. If these chemicals are out of balance or not working properly, messages may not make it through the brain correctly, leading to symptoms of ODB, and other mental illnesses. Further, many children and teens with ODB also have other mental illnesses, such as ADHD, learning disorders, depression or an anxiety disorder, which may contribute to their behavior problems.

Factors such as a dysfunctional family life, a family history of mental illnesses and/or substance abuse and inconsistent discipline by parents may contribute to the development of behavior disorders.

Many children and teens with ODB have close family members with mental illnesses, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders and personality disorders. This suggests that a vulnerability to develop ODB may be inherited.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

It is slowly working...

Thank you Mark.

Just knowing that I can ask you questions and get a response is really helping me through this difficult time.

My son only doesn't want to do chores because he hasn't needed to as I did everything for him in the past. However when he complains I explain that I made a mistake, - I thought he was still young and forgot he is growing up and that at 14 it is time to learn to do things for himself. It is slowly working as he unpacked his weekend table tennis bag instead of emptying it upside down.

Many many thanks.

Kind regards.


Online Parent Support

Teens & Body Piercings


Could you please give me some advice on how to deal with my 14 year old daughter who continues to pierce herself. She has already pierced her own belly button, and then about 3 weeks ago pierced the top of her hand, Now today she self pierced her lip. I told her to take it out or she would be grounded from her cell phone. She did eventually take it out, but I need to know to better deal with this.


Body piercings (not tattoos though) fall into the “pick-your-battles-carefully” category. I’m sure you have bigger fish to fry than worrying about a piercing. Save your energy for the more important issues. A body piercing is not really a behavioral issue per say (such as skipping school, violating curfew, drinking alcohol, etc.). As long as it is not done excessively (we can talk about what would be excessive some other time), a piercing should be allowed for a 14-year-old -- but it should be earned!

I know you can have the child take the ring or stud out of their skin – but this does not stop them from getting a piercing in the first place (they just don’t wear it when they are around the parent).

Don’t get into a power struggle that you cannot win.

Why permit a piercing but not a tattoo?

A child can simply remove the ring or stud if she does not want to wear it anymore (the scar heals up). But a tattoo is permanent. If a child wants a tattoo, she can get one when she turns 18.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

My kids have been resistant and overindulged for so long...

Thanks Mark for the advice. I am constantly reading all the information in relation to session 1. I have first made a commitment to myself to self care and protect myself. My kids have been resistant and overindulged for so long that I don’t want to start something and then not follow through. I am on holidays at the moment so I am in the process of taking care of myself but also developing positive contact with my kids. we recently bought a table tennis table and boy that has been a great investment ...getting along positively with each other and surprisingly enough reduces conflict and I get to teach them qualities such as good sportsmanship, they are improving and so is our relationship. I love all the stuff in your Ebook and sessions and looking forward to making changes. Just using my poker face as resulted in less conflict in the house ...but they are resistant little buggers and your PowerPoint on resistant children was very useful. I am so thankful for your website...


Child Emancipation in Canada...

Hi Mark,

My husband and I have not yet been able to implement the information from your sessions, as I had mentioned, our son is not living at home. We are trying to get him back, but he is living in a house with a bunch of kids who are influencing him in a bad way. My son is now talking about emancipation; he will be 16 years old in 2months. My husband and I will not agree to this. Anyways, if you have any insight or advice it would be appreciated.




Emancipation varies between provinces:

Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and PEI is 18.

BC, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Yukon, Nunavut, Newfoundland and Labrador and NW territories is 19.

I don't think he can get it done even with your permission since he's only 16.

In any event, running away is not considered as a crime in Canada.

Out of the 60,360 reported missing children in Canada in 1999, 47,585 were runaways (78 %). British Columbia had the highest number of runaways, with 14,999 cases, followed by Ontario with 12,290.

Youth runaway for many reasons, including to rebel, assert their independence or to flee an environment of abuse. The Webster dictionary defines runaway as to leave quickly to avoid or escape something. Most of the time, youth believe running away is the best solution to a seemingly unbearable situation. According to many experts, running away is not part of an adolescent's normal development.

A definition of runaway is given by the Missing Children's Registry :

A runaway is a person under the age of 18 who flees home for an indefinite time. Generally speaking, the child leaves voluntarily without the permission of the parent or guardian.

The profile of a runaway is : 14-15 years, mostly female, from all ethnic groups and all social classes, often come from dysfunctional families, depressive and tend to have problems in school.

I'd say the hands of Canadian parents are pretty well tied when it comes to teen run-aways.


My Out-of-Control Teen

How to Get Grown Children to Leave Home

The empty nest is no longer guaranteed for moms & dads of adult children. Statistics show adult children living at home is quite common. Moms & dads feel differently about such situations, but most agree getting the adult child to leave home takes some finesse. After all, you want to keep your relationships intact while gaining the freedom of the empty nest stage.

Step1 —

Look at the reasons the adult child is at home. There are plenty: finances because of a tough job market or economic setback; general malaise about moving on with life; divorce; personal problems, and all of the above.

Step 2—

Discuss ways of resolving the main issues with your partner. Money, counseling or tough love are all solutions depending on the situation and your abilities.

Step 3—

Talk it over with the adult child. This is the first of several discussions, so do it in doses without laying out all your issues and setting a move-out date right away. Focus on the fact that it's time to leave, and ask for concerns or problems.

Step 4—

Respond to concerns and problems with ideas, but empower the adult child to find solutions at the same time. This can be where you offer helping with finances—careful on this one—or finding an apartment, for example.

Step 5—

Set a move-out date, and request a plan. Keep kindness and compassion in the tone, continue to offer help and support, if you can. But again, be firm that you expect the date to be honored.

Step 6—

Make home less comfortable. Charge rent if you aren't already, add on prorated costs for cable, Internet and phone services. No one wants to leave a great deal.

JOIN Online Parent Support

Empty Nest Syndrome?

Hi Mark,

Recently I purchased your Ebook, and I can't help but think we're too late to do anything about our son.

We live in Australia and our son turns 18 in 3 weeks time, this is the legal age in Australia for accessing Alcohol etc.

He has left school and was going to Tafe studying computers (but dropped out). He has an older brother in the ARMY living in DARWIN, thousands of kilometers away. My marriage is very stable so he has/d 2 parents living with him. We always wanted to know where he was and what time he would be home, this always seemed too restricting to him.

In a nutshell, our Son has now left home (quit his job) to live with friends. The motivation behind this is to collect unemployment benefits from the government. (he can't do it under our roof because it's means tested, yes thats right the government splits up families this way!) Approximately a month ago he had a job delivering pizza's which used to fund his loan repayment to me ($1000 for his car) and petrol for his car to get to his job etc.

Then he started hanging around with some old school mates (buddies) and I can't help but think they brain washed him into quitting his job because he will be better of on benefits. Also most of these mates have lost their license for driving offences, and he taxis them around everywhere now. During one of these episodes my son got busted for curfew and no P Plate display so he too will lose his license soon.

We raised him to be a kind considerate responsible person, but most of this has gone out the window since meeting up with these old school mates. (Still kind and considerate(to his mates) but responsible has gone)

Currently he still isn't on benefits, because you have to say your parents are abusing you, to get benefits under the age of 18, and I don't think he can bring himself to tell this lie, as we've always loved and supported him.

We feel so helpless, we spent 17 years bringing him up to be independent and seek employment etc. and in the first 2 week hanging around with these friends they convinced him to ditch everything. (we can't help but thinking they are preying on his kind nature, because he's always running them somewhere in his car. When we suggest they may be using him, he says they pay him petrol money, and won't listen any further.)

He still comes home for the odd meal (we usually coax him, because we miss him and want to see how hes doing, but he has not slept here for a month.

At the beginning of all this he also split up with his girlfriend. I don't think he's emotionally mature enough for any of this stuff thats going on, everytime we try to speak to him about any of it he more or less blocks his ears, and storms off.

We are toughing it out not giving him any money, (hoping he will come home to survive), so he comes home and gets stuff to sell. It's only stuff he's has bought himself from his job and he sells it to get petrol and maka's money. He loves his driving and freedom.

We don't think he's doing drugs, however he has recently taken up smoking and drinking alcohol.

Our main concern is in 3 weeks he will be eligible for unemployment benefits living at another address(without having to lie about abuse). We are concerned that once he starts he will get stuck in a rut, and not be able to get out of it, like so many young ones do these days. Another concern is he may have the opportunity to apply for an apprenticeship this week, but we now have zero control over his wearabouts etc. and are afraid his so called mates may talk him out of it, so he can get benefits for nothing in 3 weeks.

He is a bright kid with lots of potential, in a way he seems to have given up on himself. He always struggled with school as he never was interested, however he can build a computer from parts and install all the necessary software etc. no problems.

We had him tested for adhd years ago it was negative, however reading your Ebook, I can answer yes to just about all questions, appart from violence. However it also seems to describe most teenagers to some degree. He's has had several jobs already and is a really likeable guy, he gets bored easily with the jobs however. We always made him do jobs for pocket money etc, as I was bought up fairly strictly I guess.

What do we do? We know where he's staying. Should we continue to tough it out, or go around and drag him out kicking and screaming, actually that would be hard he's 6 foot 2 and bigger than me :-) What other strategies are there to try to get him on the right path again. I get the feeling he thinks he was causing us some money problems, and this is helping us. (I don't know how he can't afford the car payments any more) I could sell the car as it's in my name and still half the money owing to me, but this will just enable his unemployment situation with a lack of transport. In fact he has suggested to sell the car, it wouldn't worry him. His attitude is "I'm living the life that I want to."

Sorry for the size of this Email, but in a way it only scrapes the surface.

Best Regards .... G.


Hi G.,

It sounds like you may be experiencing Empty Nest Syndrome, which refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by moms & dads after teens come of age and leave their childhood homes. Women are more likely than men to be affected; often, when the nest is emptying, mothers are going through other significant life events as well, such as menopause or caring for elderly parents. Yet this doesn't mean that men are completely immune to Empty Nest Syndrome. Men can experience similar feelings of loss regarding the departure of their teens.

  1. Full-time parents.
  2. Those who struggle with menopause, retirement, and aging parents.
  3. Those who feel their child is not ready to leave home.
  4. Those who have difficulty with separation and change.
  5. Those who feel their child will be in “harm’s way” while out in the “real world.”

There are practical steps you can take to help you feel better:

• Buy some pay-as-you-go mobile phone vouchers or prepaid calling cards for your son so that keeping in contact is financially viable.

• Explore alternatives, such as spending some time with a relative or taking part in a supervised summer work project. Discuss other options, such as spending several weekends away instead of the same number of days in a row.

• Help you’re your plan his time away from home. This gives him the message that you have faith in his maturity—something most adolescents are desperate to hear. It also helps you ensure that his plans are reasonable and safe.

• Make care packages for your son with anything from groceries to a set of towels for his apartment (or wherever he resides). Try not to overdo it in the beginning, and don't attach any strings to the gifts.

• Renew close relationships, such as those with spouses, partners, other family members, and friends.

• Send your son brief e-mails of what's happening at home.

• Stay in close touch with the people your son will stay with. Explain any special concerns you may have. If the stay is for more than a few days, agree on ways to communicate regularly with your son.

• Time and energy that you directed toward your son can now be spent on different areas of your life. This might be an opportune time to explore or return to hobbies, leisure activities, or career pursuits. Realize that a loss can actually be a gain.

• Try to schedule a weekly chat on the phone.

• Lastly – let go. Remember that the more resistant you are to your son's emotional growth, the more of a struggle it will become. Some parents have a very difficult time giving their adolescents enough opportunities to make their own decisions. Being too restrictive can provoke the rebellious and possibly dangerous behaviors you're trying to avoid.

This marks a time to adjust to your new role in your son's life as well as changes in your identity as a parent. Your relationship with your son may become more peer-like, and you will have to get used to giving him his privacy.

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

JOIN Online Parent Support

Time-Outs for Kids: Ages 2-5

Time-out is a way of disciplining your youngster for misbehavior without raising your hand or your voice. Time-out involves removing your youngster from the good stuff in life, for a small amount of time, immediately following misbehavior. Time-out for kids is similar to penalties used for hockey players. 

When a hockey player has misbehaved on the ice, he is required to go to the penalty area for two minutes. The referee does not scream at, threaten, or hit the player. He merely blows the whistle and points to the penalty area. During the penalty time, the player is not allowed to play, only watch. Time-out bothers hockey players because they would rather play hockey than watch. Keep this hockey comparison in mind when using time-out for your youngster. 

Kids usually do not like time-out because they would rather play than watch other kids play. So when you use time-out in response to a misbehavior, remove your youngster from whatever he or she is doing and have him or her sit down.

Where should the time-out area be located?

You do not have to use the same location each time. Just make sure the location is convenient for you. For example, using a downstairs chair is inconvenient when the problem behavior occurs upstairs. An adult-sized chair works best, but a step, footstool, bench, or couch will also work. Make sure the area is well-lit and free from all dangerous objects. Also make sure your youngster cannot watch TV or play with toys.

How long should time-out last?

The upper limit should be one quiet minute for every year your youngster has been alive. So if you have a 2-year-old, aim for two quiet minutes. Keep in mind, kids do not like time-out, and they can be very public with their opinion. So it may take some time to get those two minutes. This is especially true in the beginning when kids do not know the rules and still cannot believe you are doing this to them. For some reason, the calmer you remain, the more upset they are likely to become. This is all part of the process. Discipline works best when you administer it calmly.

So, do not begin the time until your youngster is calm and quiet. If your youngster is crying or throwing a tantrum, it does not count toward the required time. If you start the time because your youngster is quiet but he or she starts to cry or tantrum, wait until your youngster is quiet again and then start the time over. Do not let your youngster leave time-out unless he or she is calm; your youngster must remain seated and be quiet to get out of time-out. Some programs suggest using timers. Timers can be helpful but are not necessary. If you use one, remember the timer is to remind moms & dads that time-out is over, not kids.

What counts as quiet time?

Generally, quiet time occurs when your youngster is not angry or upset, and is not yelling or crying. You must decide when your youngster is calm and quiet. Some kids get perfectly still and quiet while in they’re in time-out. Other kids find it hard to sit still and not talk. Fidgeting and “happy talk” should usually count as being calm and quiet. For example, if your son sings or talks softly to himself, that counts as quiet time. Some kids do what we call “dieseling,” which is the quiet sniffling that usually follows a tantrum. Since a “dieseling” youngster is usually trying to stop crying but cannot find the off switch, this also should be counted as quiet time.

What if the youngster leaves the chair before time is up?

Say nothing! Calmly (and physically) return your youngster to the chair. For kids who are 2 to 4 years old, unscheduled departures from the chair are a chronic problem early in the time-out process. Stay calm and keep returning the youngster to the chair. If you tire or become angry, invite your spouse (or any adult who is nearby) to assist you as a tag-team partner. If you are alone and become overly tired or angry, retreat with honor. But when help arrives or when your strength returns, set the stage for another time-out.

What if my youngster misbehaves in the chair?

Say nothing and ignore everything that is not dangerous to youngster, yourself, and the furniture. I repeat: Say nothing! What do I mean by nothing? I mean not anything, the absence of something, the empty set, the amount of money you have when you have spent it all, the result of two minus two or what zero equals. I mean nothing. Most of your youngster’s behavior in the chair is an attempt to get you to react and say something, anything. So expect the unexpected, especially if you are a nagger, screamer, explainer, warner, reasoner, or just a talker. And I mean the unexpected. They may spit up, wet, blow their nose on their clothes (you may be tempted to say “Yecch” but…do not), strip, throw things, make unkind comments about your parenting skills, or simply say they do not love you anymore. Do not worry. They will love you again when their time is up, believe me.

When should I use time-out?

When you first start, use it for only one or two problem behaviors. After your youngster has learned to “do” time-out, you can expand the list of problem behaviors. In general, problem behaviors fall into three categories: 1) anything dangerous to self or others; 2) defiance and/or noncompliance; and 3) obnoxious or bothersome behavior. Use time-out for “1” and “2” and ignore anything in category “3.” If you cannot ignore something, move it into category “2” by issuing a command (e.g., “Take the goldfish out of the toilet.”). Then if the youngster does not comply, you can use time-out for noncompliance. Be sure to use time-out as consistently as possible. For example, try to place your youngster in time-out each time a targeted behavior occurs. I realize you cannot be 100 percent consistent because it is in our nature to adapt. But be as consistent as you can.

In general, immediately following a problem behavior, tell your youngster what he or she did and take him or her to time-out. (With older kids, send them to time-out.) For example, you might say, “No hitting. Go to timeout.” Say this calmly and only once. Do not reason or give long explanations to your youngster. If your youngster does not go willingly, take him or her to time-out, using as little force as needed. For example, hold your daughter gently by the hand or wrist and walk to the time-out area. Or, carry her facing away from you (so that she does not confuse a hug and a trip to time-out). As I suggested earlier, avoid giving your youngster a lot of attention while he or she is being put in time-out. Do not argue with, threaten, or spank your youngster. And what should you say? Hint: Starts with “No”’ and ends with “thing.” Answer: Say nothing!

What do I do when time is up?

When the time-out period is over, ask your youngster, “Are you ready to get up?” Your youngster must answer yes in some way (or nod yes) before you give permission for him or her to get up. Do not talk about why the youngster went into time-out, how the youngster behaved while in time-out, or how you want your youngster to behave in the future. In other words, do not nag. If your youngster says “No,” answers in an angry tone of voice, or will not answer all, start time-out over again. If your youngster chooses to stay in the chair, fine. It is hard to cause real trouble in time-out.

What do I do when my youngster leaves the chair?

If you placed your youngster in time-out for not doing what you told him or her to do, repeat the instruction. This will help teach your youngster you mean business. It also gives your youngster a chance to behave in a way that is good for business. If he or she still does not obey the instruction, then place him or her in time-out again. In addition, add in a few other easy-to-follow, one-step commands. If he or she does them, praise the performance. If not, back to time-out. Generally, use this opportunity to train your youngster to follow your instructions when those instructions are delivered in a normal tone of voice without being repeated.

The general rule for ending time-out is to praise a good behavior. Once time-out is over, reward your youngster for the kinds of behaviors you want him or her to use. Catch them being good.

Should I explain the rules of time-out to my youngster?

Before using time-out, you should explain the rules to your youngster once. At a time when your youngster is not misbehaving, explain what time-out is (simply), which problem behaviors time-out will be used for, and how long time-out will last. Practice using time-out with your youngster before using the procedure. While practicing, remind your youngster you are “pretending” this time. They will still go “ballistic” when you do your first real time-outs, but you will be reassured that you have done your part to explain the fine print.

  1. Be specific and brief when you explain why your youngster must go to time-out.
  2. Catch them being good.
  3. Choose time-out areas.
  4. Do not talk to or look at your youngster during time-out.
  5. Explain time-out.
  6. If you wanted your youngster to follow an instruction, give him or her another chance after time-out is over. And, in general, deliver a few other easy-to-follow commands so your youngster clearly learns who is in charge and who is not.
  7. If your youngster gets up from the chair, return him or her to the chair with no talking.
  8. Use time-out every time the problem behaviors occur.
  9. Your youngster must answer yes politely when you ask, “Would you like to get up?”
  10. Your youngster must be calm and quiet to leave time-out once time is up.

JOIN Online Parent Support

He got upset and started doing bad things...

Hi K.,

I’ve responded throughout your email below:


Last two days, my son was behaving well. It seems your methods are working the magic, for two days at least.

Tonight, my son didn't take care of bath room well and he floor was wet after his use. I asked him to wipe the floor. He shouted "later!" by which he meant he wanted to do his activity (has his mom take his picture in his new shorts) first. But I insisted that he wipe the floor first because I wanted to take the bath and he made the mess in the public area. He called my name with clear intention to ignore my order. I told him that if he does not wipe the floor in three minutes, he will not be allowed to access the computer for 24 hours.

Here, my wife questions whether this is the right thing to tell our son when he is upset and doesn't seem to understand what I am telling him. Would you agree?

Partially … see below—

After he calmed down a little bit, I talked to my wife in front of him, that she should not allow him to access her computer for 24 hours. At that late stage, he got up and tried to go to the bath room. I stopped him and told him that it is too late because he didn't do it within 3 minutes, and I already wiped the floor.

(Should I have allowed him to wipe the floor anyway and let the consequence away?)

Not necessarily…

He got upset and started doing bad things including scratching walls, throwing things, lightly punching me on my shoulder, name calling etc. I could ignore name calling, but what should I react to his punch? Should I let him punch me as long as it doesn't really hurt me?

No. Absolutely not!

Prevention Methods:

First of all, come up with a plan where your son takes a bath/shower without getting water all over the floor (e.g., “…put a towel on the floor before showering and stand on it when you get out”). This could save an argument from happening in the first place.

Second, when your son is calm, give him the following warning [with your best poker face]:

“If you choose to ignore a request to clean up after yourself, you will choose the consequence – I will do your chore for you and you will lose computer privileges for 24 hours. In the event you become physically violent, you will lose computer privileges for 3 days – and run the risk of having the police called because battery and destroying property is illegal.”

Re: Did I apply "When You Want Something From Your Kid" properly?

I’d say you are largely on track.

Keep up the good work,


Online Parent Support

Last night was a tough one...

Hi Mark!

Thank you for the welcome!

In desperation we search for answers… last night was a tough one. I have already applied some of what I read. Of course I created scenarios in my head (using the details you suggested). They all had a happy ending. It did not turn out quite the same in reality but there were no tempers and messages were passed.

I appreciate knowing you are there. I will be starting the video tomorrow.


Online Parent Support

Antisocial Behavior in Schools: Help for Teachers

Discipline should be viewed as an instrument with its primary purpose to allow effective instruction and learning. Proactive approaches are essential. This translates into knowing your children and staying ahead of them and their problems with positive and constructive problem solving that serves to prevent problems before they get out-of-hand. This means the use of learning objectives which provide the child with new and appropriate skills to replace the problem behaviors and lots of positive reinforcement for both the absence of the problem behavior and the exercise of the new adaptive skills.

• Accountability for outcomes is mandatory for any positive program to work with antisocial children. Any plan must include a systematic data-management program to provide such accountability.

• Clear, functional rules and expectations that make sense, improve the learning environment and which have positive benefits for the child if followed are essential.

• Maintenance of a consistent, predictable school environment is essential to any progress for antisocial children.

• Setting high expectations for the children. One of the most serious mistakes is becoming acclimated to the problematic behavior and children and attributing their behavior to outside factors over which they have little or no control. Setting high standards and taking responsibility among teachers sets a model for the children and children usually perform substantially better as a result.

• Support across teachers in implementing discipline is essential. This means that teachers do not ever undercut each other in front of any children.

The first suggestion is that a set of rules be developed for any classroom that has antisocial children. These rules must be promulgated clearly to each child and posted visibly within the room itself. I usually offer a set of 4 such rules (no threats or violence, no drug talk, no sex talk, and no profanity) as the absolute minimum starting point. Often, the teachers ask if it would be appropriate for the children to be solicited for input on additional rules. I caution them that they do not want too many such rules but that 1 or 2 additional child generated rules might well increase the acceptance of these new limits. Guidelines for developing such rules are:

1) Limit the number of expectations initially to four to six:

• State the expectations in positive terms using Clear, Concrete, and Concise language using as few words as possible.
• Identify specific behaviors to illustrate the range of acceptable variations.
• Identify clear positive and negative examples to illustrate each expectation.

2) Define a process and time lines for identifying expectations:

• Specify who participates in the development if expectations
• Specify how suggestions are to be offered and worded
• Specify how each expectation is going to be agreed upon and how everyone involved will learn about the meaning of each.

The second broad suggestion for the antisocial classroom is that a variety of privileges be identified. It is essential that these be framed for the children as earned privileges and not as lost rights. Such privileges must be both short term/immediate (that day), intermediate (weekly), and long-term (quarterly) to be maximally effective and allow the child the opportunity to test limits and still be able to recover. During my visits I spend a good deal of time observing and asking lots of questions so that I might suggest one or two obvious privileges for which appropriate behavior can be required of the children. A variety of privileges must be identified in order for there always to be a motivator for each children appropriate behavior. Only the teachers, administrators, and children know the circumstances well enough to decide what the range of such privileges might be at any given school. Frequently, in addition to the privileges, there is a list of proscribed behaviors which always "drop" a child immediately to the lowest level (often called "Red" or "Restricted" level), these often include:

• Harming Self or Other
• Leaving School Grounds
• Physical Aggression or Threats (there is no such thing as a threat that is a "joke")
• Property Damage
• Tobacco/Drug talk, use, or possession
• Verbal Aggression or Threats
• Weapons
• Other Behavior determined to be dangerous or harmful

Third, the combination of privileges and a level system means frequent and objective feedback is required for each child regarding their behavior. Many schools divide the day into hourly segments (and in some instances even ½ hour segments) with points across 5-6 classroom-wide goals and 2-3 personal goals. Typical classroom wide goals include:

• Demonstrates Honesty
• Exhibits Safe Thinking/Behavior
• Follows Rules and Expectations
• Maximizes Abilities/Independence
• Shows Respect for Self and Others

Additionally, personal goals for each child should be added to tailor the system and are typically based on a combination of long-standing needs on the part of the child and recent areas of concern/failure. Examples include such things as "no talking out", "keeping hands/feet to self", "respect for authority", and "absence of abusive language".

Providing adaptive strategies for the child to meet their behavior goal/expectation is the first point of intervention. However, if a child continually has problems with a particular goal or expectation there are a number of strategies, in addition to the privileges discussed above, which may be employed - some of which include:

• Change teaching strategy
• Corrective action plan (agreed to by child)
• Time out
• Separation from peers
• Removal of adult attention
• Redirection
• Deliver a warning and offer the child a choice with consequences for each explained
• Individual child conference (hallway 1:1)

Fourth, physical arrangement of the classroom significantly impacts the success or failure in achieving your behavior goals. Examples include:

• A notice board (not the blackboard) should be in a highly visible high traffic area of the classroom, but should also be positioned so it does not divert attention from instruction.

• Independent work requires an area with minimum distractions, therefore your use of individual desks is important.

• Storage of materials is a problem in all classrooms. Materials should be placed in low traffic areas to avoid distractions but allow relatively free access.

• The teacher’s desk should be out of the flow of traffic and allow for the maximizing of both personal safety and confidentiality of materials.

Fifth, transitions are very difficult for antisocial children. Transitions are frequently a time of little or no structure and ambiguity for the child. In order to minimize behavior problems a variety of mechanisms for increasing structure for transitions often help.

• Establish a schedule, not merely for block or class changes but for transitions between types of activities for each period.

• Post the schedule so that children know what to expect.

• Establish procedures for how each transition is accomplished and make certain that the children are aware of these expectations.

Sixth, antisocial children are often seen as low in "self-esteem". One method of addressing this is to offer frequent, realistic, and constructive feedback on both successes and areas of concern. Actual mastery of a goal and the appropriate acknowledgment of that success by a adult will lead to the development of genuine "self-esteem" or a sense of accomplishment and go a long way to improving "attitudes" among antisocial children. A caution here is that antisocial children are accomplished at sniffing out BS and therefore you must focus only on real accomplishments. Perhaps the most powerful strategy for implementing classroom expectations is to frequently reinforce children who exhibit appropriate behaviors. It is essential that the teachers clearly distinguish between cooperation and acquisition of academic skills - both forms of achievement need to be equally acknowledged with antisocial children.

Finally, all correction interventions with antisocial children should contain a series of steps in which the least intrusive step is followed first and more intrusive measures come into play only if the problem behavior persists. Children, particularly antisocial children have a real need to be able to predict what an adult’s response will be (within a range). An example of such a plan:

1. Remove attention from the child who is displaying low level inappropriate behavior, and acknowledge other children nearby who are exhibiting the expected behavior.

2. Redirect the child to the expected behavior with a gesture or verbal prompt, cite the classroom rule being violated, and be sure to acknowledge subsequent cooperation and displays of the expected behavior from the child.

3. Secure the child’s attention and clearly inform him or her of the expected behavior, provide immediate opportunities for practice, and acknowledge the changed behavior when it occurs.

4. Deliver a brief warning in a matter-of-fact manner by providing the child an opportunity to choose between displaying the expected behavior or experiencing a penalty or loss of privilege.

5. Deliver the penalty or loss of privilege in a matter-of-fact manner and do not argue with the child about details of the penalty.

The suggestions offered have the best chance of working and are the most fundamental to decreasing suspensions within the antisocial classroom.

Behavior Problems & Head Injury


Have you ever heard where a blow or brain injury can cause behavioural problems and will show up on a QEEG (quantitative EEG)?


Yes. Head injury survivors may experience a range of neuro-psychological problems following a traumatic brain injury. Depending on the part of the brain affected and the severity of the injury, the result on any one child can vary greatly. Personality changes, memory and judgment deficits, lack of impulse control, and poor concentration are all common. Behavioral changes can be stressful for families and parents who must learn to adapt their communication techniques, established relationships, and expectations of what the impaired child can or cannot do.

In some cases extended cognitive and behavioral rehabilitation in a residential or outpatient setting will be necessary to regain certain skills. A neuro-psychologist also may be helpful in assessing cognitive deficits. However, over the long term both the survivor and any involved family members will need to explore what combination of strategies work best to improve the functional and behavioral skills of the impaired child.

Even a child who makes a “good” recovery may go through some personality changes. Family members must be careful to avoid always comparing the impaired child with the way he/she “used to be.” Personality changes are often an exaggeration of the child's pre-injury personality in which personality traits become intensified. Some changes can be quite striking. It may be, for example, the head injury survivor used to be easy going, energetic, and thoughtful and now seems easily angered, self-absorbed, and unable to show enthusiasm for anything. Nonetheless, try not to criticize or make fun of the impaired child’s deficits. This is sure to make the child feel frustrated, angry, or embarrassed.

In some cases, neurological damage after a head injury may cause emotional volatility (intense mood swings or extreme reactions to everyday situations). Such overreactions could be sudden tears, angry outbursts, or laughter. It is important to understand that the child has lost some degree of control over emotional responses. The key to handling lability is recognizing that the behavior is unintentional. Parents should model calm behavior and try not to provoke further stress by being overly critical. Help the child recognize when his/her emotional responses are under control and support/reinforce techniques that work.

Provided a situation does not present a physical threat, various approaches may be used to diffuse hostile behavior:

• Coping with behavior problems after a head injury requires identification and acknowledgment of the impaired child’s deficits. A comprehensive neuro-psychological assessment is recommended. This may help both the survivor and the family to better understand neurological and cognitive deficits.

• Do not challenge or confront the child. Rather, negotiate (e.g., if you don’t like what’s planned for dinner tonight, how about choosing Friday’s menu?).

• Help cue the child to recognize thoughtlessness. Remind him/her to practice polite behavior. Realize that awareness of other people's feelings may have to be relearned.

• Help the child regain a sense of control by asking if there is anything that would help him/her feel better.

• In some cases, it may be easier for the family caregiver to recognize personality changes than to resolve the problem behavior. Targeted strategies may be used to deal with specific behavioral issues.

• Isolate the disruptive impaired child. Consider you own safety and his/hers. Treat each incident as an isolated occurrence as the survivor may not remember having acted this way before or may need to be prompted to remember. Try to establish consistent, non-confrontational responses from all family members (children may need to learn some “dos” and “don’ts” in reacting to the survivor).

• It is critical that family members seek and receive support (family, friends, support group, counselor) in dealing with their own emotional responses to caring for a head injured loved one.

• Offer alternative ways to express anger (e.g., a punching bag, a gripe list).

• Remain as calm as you can; ignore the behavior.

• Seek support for yourself as a caregiver. Support groups, professional counselors, and, if necessary, protective services or law enforcement may be contacted.

• The child who has survived a head injury may lack empathy. That is, some head injury survivors have difficulty seeing things through someone else's eyes. The result can be thoughtless or hurtful remarks or unreasonable, demanding requests. This behavior stems from a lack of abstract thinking.

• Try to change the child’s mood by agreeing with the child (if appropriate) and thus avoiding an argument. Show extra affection and support to address underlying frustrations.

• Try to understand the source of the anger. Is there a way to address the child’s need/frustration? (e.g., make a phone call, choose an alternative activity).

• Validate the emotion by identifying the feelings and letting the child know these feelings are legitimate. Frustration over the loss of functional and/or cognitive abilities can reasonably provoke anger.

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

How do I get my over-achieving daughter to slow down?

"I have taken the quiz and surprisingly found that I was a severely over indulgent parent. This angers me because I didn't think...