What are the statistics on ODD?

ODD is the most common psychiatric problem in kids. Over 5% of kids have this. In younger kids it is more common in males than females, but as they grow older, the rate is the same in males and females.

It is exceptionally rare for a psychiatrist to see a youngster with only ODD. Usually the youngster has some other neuropsychiatric disorder along with ODD. The tendency for disorders in medicine to occur together is called co-morbidity. Understanding co-morbidity in pediatric psychiatry is one of the most important areas of research at this moment.

If a youngster comes to a clinic and is diagnosed with ADHD, about 30-40% of the time the youngster will also have ODD.

==> My Out-of-Control Child

Children & Stealing: What Parent Can Do

Hi Mark, It's been a long time since we were last in touch. I'm afraid the relationship between my son and us has completely broken down. We've left London and now live in Leeds, my son K__ didn't want to come with us, so he stayed with his grandmother who has served to cause further damage between us. We've recently started living with one of my husband's two sons, J__.

I was really pleased to be living with him, but he has brought an entirely different problem to us: He steals. From his family. So far he has stolen from four of his cousins and from my mother. He was living with my sister-in-law for a while before my husband and I were able to move to Leeds at the beginning of June. Within three weeks of living with her he had stolen over £100 - he is only twelve years old. He lies and doesn't care about the pain and upset he causes, he will just deny that he has stolen anything for months on end. When he finally admitted to stealing from his aunt's house, he went around there with the intention of apologising for as little as he could get away with. In the end, because I told him I would only forgive him when he made a full apology for stealing from all of the people he had really stollen from, he finally admitted to it and told what he had done with the money, how he had spent it, etc.

He can no longer stay at his aunt's house. So, he is staying with us at my mother's house until our home is renovated (hence him not living with us in the first place). The only thing is, he stole from my mother the very next day after making his "full apology" at his aunt's house. He has not apologised for stealing from my mother, nor has he admitted to it or given the money back. Today, it has come to light that he has stolen from his six year old cousin (on my side of the family) whilst she was staying here at my mother's with her parents and other siblings.

I'm really annoyed with him and by him. He is SO polite all of the time and yet he could steal without the least bit of conscience at all. He told me once that when he steals it's nothing personal, he doesn't dislike the person he steals from. He said that he didn't see the point of apologising or giving the money back because it's like when you squeeze out too much toothpaste from the tube; you can't put it back in so what's the point of trying?

I really don't know what to do about him. I can already feel resentment building because I don't like the idea of bringing a thief into my mother's home so that he can take what he pleases. He has created financial impacts on us because my husband has taken time off work to deal with his misbehaviour (he only gets paid when he works) and we have to pay the money back he keeps stealing because he doesn't get much pocket money. I want his stealing to stop. I know what I would do if he were my son, but he isn't so it's very difficult for me. Do you have any advice? With thanks in advance, N.


Hi N.
Regardless of why kids steal, the stealing itself must be handled by following the steps below. Knowing what lies behind the stealing helps you recognize patterns that may be occurring in other parts of your youngster's life. It also assists you in understanding needs that aren't being met in his life that you can teach him to meet in socially appropriate and effective ways. These are the primary reasons kids and adolescents steal:

• It is a way of seeking attention.
• It is done for revenge or to hurt somebody.
• It may support a drug habit.
• Older kids may like the risk.
• They may not have learned to respect the rights of others.
• They think taking something is the only way they can get what they want.
• They think they can get away with it.


When kids take items like money, toys, pens, pencils and erasers, they think that is the only way to easily get these items. Brainstorming ideas with your youngster about how to appropriately get what he wants lets him know you want him to meet his needs successfully. If he receives an allowance, offer suggestions about how he might earn extra money to buy the school supplies or toys he wants. Assist him in planning a savings budget for wanted items. 
Model for him how to ask for the extra money he desires. For example, you might say, "It is not okay for you to take money from my purse (your sister's room, etc.). If you want or need money, come to me and say, 'I need extra money for pencils', or 'I want money for candy.' Sometimes we might work out a loan. Sometimes I will say that I can't give you the money. When that happens, we'll see if we can create a plan together."

If stealing is done to seek attention, the youngster usually does it in such a way that he is easily caught. Handle the stealing straightforwardly but give no extra attention to it. Do not discuss it past the time of returning or replacing the taken item. Look for positive behaviors the youngster exhibits and begin acknowledging them regularly. When kids feel acknowledged for appropriate behavior, they seek less negative attention.

Sometimes kids steal to hurt their victim or to get revenge. This can be a way siblings inappropriately handle hurt feelings with each other. Their motive is, "I'm going to make you feel as bad as you make me feel." If your youngster wants to hurt you because she feels picked on or misunderstood, she may take money from your purse or wallet. She may take something from your dresser drawer. What better way to arouse your hurt and concern?

Your own injured feelings can be a sign that this was your youngster's motive for stealing. Address your own feelings with her; then explore her hurt. You might say something like, "I feel sad and scared when you take money from me. I know you were angry this morning when I yelled at you for missing the bus. I said some unkind things. Taking my money won't solve our problem. I'm sorry I was mean. I know you weren't feeling well and didn't want to go to school." 
Let her know that she can tell you she is angry. She doesn't need to take your money. If you are wrong about the motive, your youngster will let you know in such a way that you can continue exploring through positive communication. Only attempt this kind of communication when you have time to complete the process.

Kids may steal because they think they can get away with it. This is particularly true when parents are inconsistent in following through with consequences for not complying with household standards or when deviant behavior has been inconsistently addressed in the past. When we are inconsistent in our effective parenting, kids know that they have a strong chance of getting away with inappropriate behavior. In assisting our kids toward appropriate behavior, we must be willing to take the necessary time and energy for following through on set consequences for family standards.

The best way we can assist a youngster in learning to respect the rights of others is to model that respect ourselves. If we take sugar packets from restaurants, don't tell a cashier if we have received too much change or are dishonest in business transactions, we are letting our kids know this behavior is acceptable. If we take items from our kid's rooms or backpacks without asking, we are not respecting their rights. Be a good model. Teach the respect you want your youngster to give to you and others through your own respect for the rights and property of others.

When older kids and adolescents who do not have a criminal history engage in stealing, it may be to experience the high risk factor at play. Like younger kids, the motive is to see if they can get away without being caught. The stakes are high. Shoplifting or taking hubcaps or hood ornaments from cars are common choices. The sooner the adolescent needs to face the consequences of such behavior, the less likely he is to continue in it.

It is important to remember that straightforward and compassionate handling of the problem is called for. Verbally attacking the adolescent will not solve the problem, nor will consequences unrelated to the incident. If the police are involved, the consequences may not be in your hands. You may want to seek professional help if your older youngster or adolescent steals.

Kids and adolescents who are involved with drugs steal to support the drug habit. If you have any reason to believe that this is the motive for stealing, seek professional help immediately. As parents, we don't want to believe our kids use illegal drugs. Closing our eyes to the possibility is not the answer. Neither is demanding answers from our offspring or indiscriminately punishing them. Kids and adolescents who use drugs are hurting. They need guidance beyond what most parents are able to provide. Professional intervention offers the best opportunity for positive outcomes.

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Could you tell me what causes Oppositional Defiant Disorder? Is it inherited? How can you tell if a child has ODD?

No one knows for certain. The usual pattern is for problems to begin between ages 1-3. If you think about it, a lot of these behaviors are normal at age 2, but in ODD, they never go away. ODD does run in families. If a father is alcoholic and has been in trouble with the law, his child is almost three times as likely to have ODD (18% of kids will have ODD if the parent is alcoholic and has been in trouble with the law).

ODD is diagnosed in the same way as many other psychiatric disorders in kids. You need to examine the child, talk with him, talk to the parents, and review the medical history. Sometimes other medical tests are necessary to make sure it is not something else. You always need to check kids out for other psychiatric disorders, because it is common for kids with ODD to have other problems, too.

My Out-of-Control Child

My child has just been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. What is it exactly?

OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER is a psychiatric disorder that is characterized by two different sets of problems. These are aggressiveness and a tendency to purposefully bother and irritate others. It is often the reason that people seek treatment. When OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER is present with ADHD, depression, tourette's, anxiety disorders, or other neuropsychiatric disorders, it makes life with that child far more difficult. For Example, ADHD plus OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER is much worse than ADHD alone, often enough to make people seek treatment. The criteria for OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER are:

A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least six months during which four or more of the following are present:

• is often angry and resentful
• is often spiteful and vindictive
• is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
• often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules
• often argues with adults
• often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
• often deliberately annoys people
• often loses temper

The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

All of the criteria above include the word "often". But what exactly does that mean? Recent studies have shown that these behaviors occur to a varying degree in all kids. These researchers have found that the "often" is best solved by the following criteria:

Has occurred at all during the last three months—

• blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
• is spiteful and vindictive

Occurs at least twice a week—

• actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules
• argues with adults
• is touchy or easily annoyed by others
• loses temper

Occurs at least four times per week—

• deliberately annoys people
• is angry and resentful

If you are not careful, this disorder will destroy you long before it ruins your child. The outcome can be dismal if you do not seek some outside assistance from a professional.

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The Effect of Rage on Families

Family ties are one of the strongest contributors to individual character development. Many of us spend years trying to understand, erase, or copy the influence of our family unit. When Rage is part of a family's tradition, it spreads itself much like a virus to future generations. The wider the spread, the more difficult the Rage is to contain.

The effect of Rage in families is usually apparent in the way that members relate with one another. Our earliest experiences communicating and relating to others occurs within the family. Patterns of Rage in relationships are then taken and recreated in later relationships outside the family. Thankfully, a committed, well-designed treatment plan can repair the damage of having been raised in an hostile family system.

Rage in Relationships—

Rage is one of the most common negative patterns in relationships. Couples sometimes report that it is their Rage that makes the relationship feel alive. Rage takes root in insecure relationships where open communication is absent and the emotion of love is buried beneath years of Resentment. There is typically hopelessness in the present and doubt about the future in these relationships. The good news is that individuals committed to improving their relationships through the hard work of therapy are generally rewarded with a renewed sense of hope. Here are some tips on how to limit Rage producing interactions in your relationships:

1. Always consider individual or family therapy in instances where your Rage feels out of control and/or mysterious.
2. Ask yourself if you have legitimate assumptions about the intentions of others.
3. Before feeling attacked or hurt, make an attempt to give others the benefit of the doubt, especially if you have nothing to lose by doing so.
4. Explore your participation in relationships that repeatedly bring out the worst in you.
5. Keep the lines of communication open. When you feel Resentment building, see if you can journal your feelings and then share your thoughts with a loved one.
6. When you have Rage toward another person, start with an internal check of your own emotional state. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do.

How Do I Know If My Family or Loved One Has a Rage Problem?

Hostile individuals are, in most instances, very aware of their problems in controlling Rage. Unfortunately, too many come to accept their Rage as an unchangeable part of who they are and feel hopeless to change. If you feel that you or a loved one may have an Rage disorder, look for several of the following symptoms happening in your life on a regular basis:

1. Becoming more hostile than is appropriate in regard to mild frustration or irritation.
2. Family and/or friends approach you with the concern that you need help managing your Rage.
3. Having chronic physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, gastrointestinal, difficulties, or anxiety.
4. Having feelings of guilt or regret over something that you have said or done in a fit of Rage.
5. Repeated social conflict as a result of Rage outbursts (law suits, fights, property damage, school suspensions, etc.).

Where to Get Help for My Rage—

Fortunately, the mental health profession has been responsive to individuals seeking treatment for help with Rage. Referrals to treatment programs and services are often available and mandated for those individuals suffering moderate to severe social conflict. Many chronically hostile individuals feel shame and guilt about their Rage. There may be times when a friend or loved one may need to request help or plan an intervention for the hostile individual. In such instances, it is critical to take advantage of mental health professionals with a background in Rage management training.

What Kind of Help Will I Get for My Rage?

An effective Rage management plan can include individual or family therapies, which are some of the more common ways people attempt to deal with chronic Rage.

Individual Therapy—

Individual therapy, which explores the root of hostile feelings and behavior, is traditionally a safer, more secure option to working with the entire hostile family at once. Treatment with individuals helps facilitate a thorough focus on the most important emotions beneath the individual's Rage.

Family Therapy—

Family therapy is a powerful way of repairing the damaging effect of long-term Rage interactions. Over time, chronic Rage drives a wedge between family members, resulting in the members becoming disconnected from one another, or overly involved with one another in an unhealthy manner. Therapy would consider each member's role in the Rage interactions, versus assuming any single member is responsible for the family's Rage.

How Marriage and Family Therapy Helps Control Rage—

More often than not, chronic Rage has a lengthy, definable history. Marriage and family therapists are trained experts in identifying Rage patterns that pass from one generation to the next. Identifying these patterns helps to explore individuals' learned perceptions about the appropriateness of Rage expression and suppression. Encouraging a parent to share how emotions were expressed in his or her immediate family allows other family members to understand the family's inherited concepts about Rage.

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Son Won't Poop In Toilet

"I need information on how to potty training my son. He will soon be five years old. 99% of the time he will use the toilet to urinate. But he will not use the toilet to have a bowel movement. He said he doesn’t want to. I have started taking his toys away from him and trying not to spank him. I am raising my son all by myself. His father hasn't been in his life since he was a baby. My son father wasn't potty trained until he was four and he was very strong will also. I do not have enough emotion support and I have not been very social. These issues could be major factors that have lead to his potty training problems. Please send me any advice you have on this situation"


Your child obviously has bowel control and is very close to being completely potty trained. However, he is uncomfortable sitting on the potty and going number 2, which probably relates to constipation. Sometime in the past when he was potty training, he took a hard poop in the toilet or potty – but he thinks the “hard poop” is related to sitting on the potty and not his diet at the time. His diaper brought him comfort and allowed him to stand in a private place and bear-down when he was ready to poop.

Here’s a 10-step plan:

1. Talk to your child about pooping in the potty but NOT when he needs to go poop. Ask him why he doesn't like to poop in the potty. Tell him that everybody poops in the potty …mommy, daddy, etc. Explain what constipation is and why it happens.

2. Tell your child that he cannot use diapers – so he needs to learn to poop in the potty. Keep conversation light and remind him your there to help him. Don't create urgency and don't create pressure.

3. Pay attention to what you are feeding him and give him lots of stool-softening foods, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, fiber-rich fruit and vegetables, and plenty of water to wash it all down. Limit food-binders that make the poop hard (e.g., too much apple, too much chocolate, etc.).

4. When he is on the potty or toilet, ensure there is plenty of support for his feet and buttocks, because sitting properly on the potty supports the muscles in his abdomen to help him with pushing. He needs a good fitting potty where he can plant his feet firmly on the floor. If he is using the toilet, get a potty seat insert so that he feels safe and is stable – it will prevent him from falling in the bowl. And don't forget to put a stool under his feet for support.

5. Get your child to lean forward as much as possible while sitting on the potty. This will help to open up and relax the pelvic floor muscles which must occur every time you pass a bowel movement.

6. It could also be that your son has gotten into the habit of a bad routine. So when he needs to poop, he goes in his underpants, or you give him a diaper, and the circle keeps going around. You need to wean him away from the bad habit of pooping his underpants or soiling his diaper by establishing a new bowel movement routine that involves the potty or toilet. Rather than yelling at him for pooping in his underpants or giving in to his request for a diaper, invite him to use the potty in a positive way at that targets the time of day he usually goes number 2 – then give positive reinforcement by praising him for trying or when he has success.

7. If your child is afraid of the toilet, take him into the toilet… put the seat cover down… put him on your lap …and read a book. Flush intermittently to get him used to the noise

8. If you have not had him to a medical doctor, do so to rule out a physical reason. Often soiling is due to emotional reasons. You do not want this to develop into a power struggle with your son. If it turns into a power struggle with him, you will really have problems on your hands.

9. If you have tried many things to remedy the problem – but nothing works, you may want to seek out the help of a child psychologist. Your insurance plan can help you find one – or contact your local university psychology department.

10. This problem requires a great deal of love and gentleness on your part. I would not require him to clean himself up. Don’t punish this “behavior.” He is doing the best he can, and anything that involves shame or force will only back fire.


How do I know if my son has an emotional disability?

RE: "How do I know if my son has an emotional disability?"

Here's a check list of sorts:

• Ask your son if something has happened to him. Children sometimes act out in an attempt to draw attention to a problem they are having and are afraid of discussing.

• Ask your son's teacher if problems have occurred in the classroom and what things you can do to help your son at home.

• Beware of changes in environment or life events that may alter your son's behavior. Sometimes moving to a new town or school can cause a son to act out aggressively or overly emotionally in an attempt to adjust to the change.

• Have your son professionally tested if you think your son has an emotional disability or if behavioral problems are creating academic, social or other problems for your son.

• Look for emotional cues. Does your son pretend to be physically ill when confronted with a school event or a social situation? Does your son have excessive fear or anxiety associated with certain activities? Does your son cry excessively over seemingly little things?

• Look for patterns of aggressive behavior lasting six months or longer. Does your son consistently bully others or use aggressive force with other children or animals? Does your son initiate fights?

• Set rules. Look for major infractions of rules such as truancy or running away with older children. With younger children, look for consistently breaking rules, aggression toward siblings, stealing and lying.

• Talk openly with your son about the behavior that concerns you. Explain that you are concerned and want to make changes. Be specific and nonjudgmental.

• Watch your son in social peer situations. Is your son withdrawn or rejected by other children? Does your son dominate play, causing other children to not want to play?

• Watch your son when playing independently. Does your son act violently toward toys and inanimate objects? Is your son self-destructive? Does your son seem depressed or uninterested in activity? Does your son cry or become frustrated easily?

The above items will give you some indication as to whether or not he may have an emotional disability.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Stepfather and stepson ignore each other...

Hi Mark

I have recently joined your online parenting support to help my 14 yo son D___.

At the weekend he had a fight with his stepfather - caused by D___'s attitude towards me, and now his stepfather, my husband wants nothing to do with him. I don't know how to get him to watch your videos or take any interest in D___'s future. This is tearing me apart, they ignore each other or scowl and swear and I love and hate them both for what they are doing. I understand my husband, he has tried so hard to help D___ and he is just nasty to everyone. C___ has been with D___ since he was 2 years old. I don't know what to do. Can I do it on my own? Will the strategies still work?

Please help me… I want to get away from them both. I want to cry all the time (I don't do it but I want to), I totally lose thought when I'm driving and don't know where I am and it frightens me. I am terrified every time they are in the same room together, I don't know what might set them off. D___ is 6 ft 2" with a bad temper and terrible attitude. C_____ now refuses to be left alone with D___ as he may lie about him and get C_____ into trouble with the authorities. This puts the pressure of D___ totally on me.

I have watched your week one and part of week two videos and read all the pages and I know that we/I have done this to D___ and I want to undo it.

Please help me,



Hi J.,

Re: Can I do it on my own?


Re: ...will the strategies still work?


One of the hardest things for a step-father is to figure out his role in the household. Many a stepfather makes the error of trying to come into the household acting like a biological parent. This is a big mistake. A stepfather who tries to assume too much disciplinary authority will create resentment in the kids and become very frustrated over time.

Your husband has a right to be treated with civility, and to expect that the household will be somewhat organized, but you are the kid's mother. It is your role to do the disciplining, and his role to support you and your decisions. It is critical to talk together to decide how you want to handle the worst situations and the things that the youngsters do that are the hardest for him to tolerate. 

However, unlike many biological dads, your husband should not be the 'enforcer.' You two need to come to some agreements so that you can present a united front to the kids. If the youngsters see him as the 'bad guy' and you as the 'protector' this is likely to hurt your marriage by putting you on separate 'teams'.

It also sounds like your husband may not have age appropriate expectations for your kids. It will be very important for the success of your family that you get some help dealing with this issue. Yelling, threatening or intimidating kids will lead to avoidance, fear and anger. I am sure your husband is trying to establish his authority, and that is not inappropriate in itself, but parenting through intimidation will lead to a very unhappy household, particularly when these youngsters enter adolescence and start yelling back!

I would strongly encourage you to get some help from a psychologist or counselor. You and your husband should meet with the clinician as a couple to help you both get on the same page about how you would like your household to be (I would not involve the youngsters in the therapy for some time - if at all). 

Your husband will do a lot for your marriage by learning to parent through positive means (which are more effective than punishment or intimidation). It will probably also help your husband to hear from someone besides you regarding what he can and cannot expect from kids this age.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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Is there still hope for her?

Good Morning Mark

My 14 year old daughter left the house without my knowledge, and the police brought her home at midnight. She had been out riding around with a 19 yr old boy and several of her friends. The boy was one of the girl's cousin. The car matched the description of one the police were looking for. They took all the girls home and talked to all of them.

She knows the house rule about leaving the house, and broke it anyway. I took away her phone, and then returned it the next day with only family in her contacts and all others are locked out from her contact so that she can't call or text msg them.

My boyfriend broke it off with me after I told him about this, and my brother in law said that she was going to end up in jail. My question is: We have just started the out of control teen a few months ago, is there still hope for her? Everyone expects immediate results, except for me. I can see the changes, but we still have miles to go.



Hi T.,

Re: "...is there still hope for her?"

Yes. Of course. I think things are going well actually. The process of change is PAINFULLY slow sometimes -- but as long as there is slow but steady improvement, then thank God for it.

Sorry your b-friend lost hope early,


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What do I do with a 16 year old runaway...

What do I do with a 16 year old runaway/illegal consumption……she was in court for VOP for drinking on 6/19, served 30 days on PHD and is to follow up with counselor for tx. Her therapist referred her for psych eval, she was recently put on meds….she continues to smoke pot and lie about it. Failed a UDS for marijuana on 7/28. Parents are getting divorced and have lived in separate houses for awhile, were trying to work it out until mom caught dad with another woman, so dad followed mom home and beat her up….the girl is an emotional wreck every time I see her.


She is likely self medicating her anxiety and depression with the pot, which is not ok by any means, but removing her from home to provide a consequence will just reinforce her fear that she is losing control of everything. Ask her therapist about an IOP (if it doesn't interfere with school). If that can't work, maybe she's a good candidate for the evening reporting program we have here at MCYC.


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What to do when your child is "hanging" with the wrong crowd...

There seems to be nothing more difficult for moms & dads to tolerate than seeing their children bond with a negative peer group. Kids who don't value school are often anti-moms & dads and pro-alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and casual sex and thrive on irreverent and often obnoxious music. Your children will probably proclaim that they are good and loyal friends or that they're much nicer and less shallow than the "preppies" and "jocks." These negative peers may indeed be kinder to your children than some other children you'd prefer for them to befriend. Your children may become secretive, say that you're controlling, and protest that you have no right to say with whom they can be friends.

Many of the anti-school children I've worked with are lonely, attention seeking, and sometimes aggressive as elementary-age children. Moms & dads and teachers are anxious about their children' lack of friends, even when they do have a few. Moms & dads and teachers often put pressure on them to make friends, and the children connect having a large group of close friends with healthy adjustment. They feel that adults are disappointed in them when they don't have friends, and by middle school, they become so anxious about making friends that they're willing to do almost anything to be included in any group that validates them. They develop a deep resentment toward the bright, achieving, or athletic children who haven't accepted them, and they share that resentment in order to build solidarity with another group. In some ways, they believe that "good children" are bad, because the "bad children" are loyal to each other, although they may appear tough or mean to outsiders.

When your children are a little lonely, it's important to label it as independence even though you realize it isn't easy for them. In that way, you avoid putting too much pressure on them to make friends and become popular. Use this time to help them learn skills and develop interests that will enable them to share activities with others. For example, learning to play chess will encourage them to play with other children, developing an interest in music or art will give them a passion to share with other positive young people who also enjoy those activities, or playing soccer or taking gymnastics classes will make them feel like part of a team. Once they have friends who share their interests, they will be less likely to feel pressured to unite with negative children.

Rebellious teens are often over-empowered by moms & dads who are divided. A mother who allies with her youngster against the dad, or a father who allies with a youngster against the mom, teaches a youngster that relationships become closer and more intimate when two people share a common enemy. Learning to feel close to a person only when there's a common enemy can become a very negative but intense habit, which transfers naturally to finding a peer group or even a boy- or girlfriend who is against school or moms & dads.

This alliance-against-an-enemy relationship with a parent becomes an even greater risk during or after a divorce. Mothers who have been rejected by their husbands can be especially vulnerable to sharing intimate details about the husband's behavior. Although at first it seems that children understand the situation and value the intimate sharing, this too-intimate practice almost always backfires. Divorce is no time to assume that children are mature enough to be your counselors or confidantes. Not only does this place children in an impossible dilemma, but it also teaches them to disrespect and rebel against their other parent, which will in turn cause the other parent to teach them disrespect for you. You're giving up your adult responsibility when your children may require it most.

Another important prevention scenario takes place after a move to a new community. I recommend having your youngster paired with other children initially when moving to a new school. The children with whom she's paired could make her feel more comfortable, as well as include her in a positive group. The selection of those new friends should be made carefully. You can probably do that most diplomatically if you share with the teacher or counselor your youngster's positive interests. If you do this, it's more likely that your youngster and those with whom she's paired will have activities or interests in common.

Sometimes teachers pair negative or needy children with new children in the hopes of helping them. Caution your youngster that finding good friends takes time. Be reassuring that there's no need to hurry it along, and that you're certain that eventually he'll find good friends. Seeking popularity encourages the quest for status and quantity of friends, which may or may not turn out to be a good thing, depending on the values of the popular peer group in the school.

There are several possibilities for helping your children ditch negative peer groups. Sometimes changing schools or teams can be effective. This has proven to be extremely powerful for some children who have been clients at my Family Achievement Clinic. Most middle schools use a team approach with between two and four teams in a school. Talk to your youngster's school counselor about the possibility of changing to a different team to get him away from negative peers. This may help your youngster make new friends, particularly if he has at least one positive friend in a new team. Changing schools or teams works most effectively when negative relationships are just beginning, before your youngster is overly engaged with the group. It also works best if the negative group doesn't live in your neighborhood.

Sending a clear message to your youngster that you wish he not befriend a particular individual or group may make a difference for middle schoolers. You'll need to justify the prohibition by explaining that the other children' behavior is unacceptable, and you'll permit them to be friends outside of school only if you see a change in the other children. When both moms & dads agree on that philosophy, your youngster will likely accept it. When both moms & dads don't agree, don't waste your time prohibiting the friendship. This is an important communication that both moms & dads should talk through carefully.

The most positive technique for removing children from a negative peer group is to get them involved in positive peer experiences, such as fun enrichment programs, special-interest groups, drama, music, sports, Scouts, religious groups, summer programs, camps, or youth travel programs. They may not want to join without their friends, so introducing them to someone who's already part of a group may encourage them. A teacher or group leader may help to facilitate new friendships.

Encourage your youngster to enter contests or activities in which he has a chance of winning or receiving an important part. Don't hesitate to talk to a coach or teacher privately about your efforts to reverse your youngster's negativism. Winning children are often excluded from peer groups that are negative about school. Winning a speech, music, art, or sports contest often gives status to children and causes them to appear more interesting to positive children. Sometimes a victory is enough to separate a tween from a negative peer group.

A family trip is also an option for distracting your wayward youngster from negativity. Time away from peers in an entirely new environment can channel your youngster's independence. One-on-one trips with a parent may be effective in reducing tension and enhancing family closeness. A trip with only one parent and one tween may be more productive than if the whole family is present, because the tween will be freed from sibling rivalry issues.

If you introduce any of these courses of action to your children, don't expect them to like it. These options shouldn't be suggested as choices, or your children surely won't choose them. You can, however, permit or even encourage them to make choices among the options. For example, they can choose between a summer writing or music program, which will hopefully encourage new and positive interests and friendships.

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Why Children and Adolescents Steal

Children of all ages — from preschoolers to adolescents — can be tempted to steal for different reasons:
  • Preadolescents and adolescents know they're not supposed to steal, but might steal for the thrill of it or because their friends do. Some might believe they can get away with it. As they're given more control over their lives, some adolescents steal as a way of rebelling.
  • School-age children usually know they're not supposed to take something without paying, but they might do so anyway because they lack enough self-control.
  • Very young children sometimes take things they want without understanding that things cost money and that it's wrong to take something without paying for it.

And other complex reasons can be factors. Children might be angry or want attention. Their behavior may reflect stress at home, school, or with friends. Some may steal as a cry for help because of emotional or physical abuse they're enduring.

In other cases, children and adolescents steal because they can't afford to pay for what they need or want — for example, they may steal to get popular name-brand items. In some cases, they may take things to support drug habits.

Whatever the reason for stealing, parents need to find out the root of the behavior and address other underlying problems, like drug abuse, that may surface.

What Should I Do?

When a youngster has been caught stealing, a parent's reaction should depend on whether it's the first time or there's a pattern of stealing.

With very young children, parents need to help them understand that stealing is wrong — that when you take something without asking or paying for it, it hurts someone else. If a preschooler takes a piece of candy, for instance, parents can help the youngster return the item. If the youngster has already eaten the candy, parents can take the youngster back to the store to apologize and pay for it.

With school-age children, too, it's important to return the stolen item. By the first and second grades, children should know stealing is wrong. But they may need a better understanding of the consequences.

Here's an example: If a youngster comes home with a friend's bracelet and it's clear the youngster took it without the friend's permission, the parent should talk to the youngster about how it would feel if a friend took something without asking first. The parent should encourage the youngster to call the friend to apologize, explain what happened, and promise to return it.

When adolescents steal, it's recommended that parents follow through with stricter consequences. For example, when a teen is caught stealing, the parent can take the teen back to the store and meet with the security department to explain and apologize for what happened.

The embarrassment of facing up to what he or she did by having to return a stolen item makes for an everlasting lesson on why stealing is wrong.

Further punishment, particularly physical punishment, is unnecessary and could make the youngster angry and more likely to engage in even worse behavior.

If it's a first-time offense, some stores and businesses may accept an apology and not necessarily press charges. However, some stores press charges the first time around. And there's often little sympathy for repeat offenders.

Children of all ages need to know that shoplifting isn't just about taking things from a store — it's taking money from the people who run the businesses. Plus, shoplifting makes prices higher for other customers. They should also know that stealing is a crime and can lead to consequences far worse than being grounded, including juvenile detention centers and even prison.

If stealing money from a parent, the youngster should be offered options for paying back the money, like doing extra chores around the house. It's important, however, that a parent not bait the youngster by leaving out money in the hopes of catching the youngster in the act. That could damage the sense of trust between a parent and youngster.

If a Youngster Keeps Stealing—

If your youngster has stolen on more than one occasion, consider getting professional help. Repeat offenses may indicate a bigger problem.

One third of juveniles who've been caught shoplifting say it's difficult for them to quit. So, it's important to help children and adolescents understand why stealing is wrong and that they may face serious consequences if they continue to steal.

Others who may be able to talk to you and/or your youngster about the problem and help you address it include a:
  • support group, such as the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) or Cleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous (CASA), which may be able to provide information or help (look in your phone book for groups in your area)
  • school counselor (especially if your youngster is stealing from the school)
  • minister, priest, or rabbi
  • family therapist or counselor
  • family doctor (who may be able to refer you to a family therapist or counselor)

Although most ordinary acts of theft or shoplifting are deliberate, some people who steal may have kleptomania. With this rare compulsive disorder, which makes up a very small portion of all shoplifting cases, a person feels a sense of tension or anxiety before the theft, then feels relief or gratification when committing the theft. The person may feel guilt afterward and often discard the objects after stealing them, and also might have other compulsive disorders (such as an eating disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD).

Whatever the underlying cause, if stealing is becoming a habit with your youngster or teen, consider speaking with a doctor or therapist to get to the cause of the behavior. It's also important to routinely monitoring your youngster's behavior, keep him or her away from situations in which stealing is a temptation, and establish reasonable consequences for stealing if it does occur.

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I called the police...

Hello Mark,

First of all, sincere thank you for your quick reply.

It has been just more than a week since I last wrote to you, but during that time my life changed so much.

I realised that my 'big fish' is actually a shark (grown up by myself). But I have not given up and I have been consistent with all that I need to do.

I quit my job (at least for now) but I continue with the programme. My father came to stay with me for a couple of weeks as my husband is working in another town.

What actually happened is something that I did not have even in my nightmares. And it was my mistake that I did not think about this possibility and did not prepare myself for that. My son's resistance to the new parenting style (introduced very carefully) got to his old self enough and well known weapon-physical violence. I was punched several times one day as I had to go 'back to normal' and for the first time in my life I called the police. My son was given final warning and his violent reaction is stopped now. Meanwhile, he had never witnessed nor suffered violence in our family.

There is some kind of resentment at present which is broken from time to time by brief 'sunny spells'. For the first time in my son's life he did not get what he wanted at home and for the first time in my life I was confident enough that I am doing the right thing for my child. And this is because I have now complete understanding of what have caused his behavior and for example, I do not wonder anymore why he is disrespectful most of the time.

Things are changing with ups and downs, joy and pain, but anyway they are changing and this is the most important.

I continue my job at home -- I speak, I explain and I am calm. If I had this knowledge 5 years ago, we would not get to the point where we are now and would experience much less difficulties, but there you are...

Therefore, I would say that I even more appreciate that I found in OPS and thank you again!


Online Parent Support (OPS)

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