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Dealing with Parental Frustration Associated with Raising Defiant Children

Frustration jumps in and gets the better of us all once in awhile. We all know what it feels like and what’s most likely to set us off. It’s important to remember that frustration is a normal human emotion. It becomes a problem, however, when it gets out of control or is used inappropriately.

Uncontrollable parental displays of rage resulting from “toxic” frustration rarely do much to improve a youngster's behavior, and can sometimes be damaging to the parent-child relationship. Moms and dads need to find effective ways to deal with their frustration.

People use a variety of methods to deal with their feelings of frustration. The three main ways are called:
  1. suppressing,
  2. expressing,
  3. and calming.

1. ‘Suppressing’ frustration is probably the least effective way of dealing with this potentially volatile emotion. It means holding your frustration in. The danger is that, since there is no outward expression of your feelings, your frustration gets internalized and can cause physical problems such as high blood pressure, hypertension, and depression. Also, when frustration is suppressed, it can build up until you can’t contain it any longer, so that when it finally is expressed it becomes much more aggressive and uncontrolled than it would normally be.

2. The other way that people deal with frustration is called ‘expressing’. This means making clear what your needs are and how they can be met without hurting others. A combination of expressing and calming is the best way to deal with frustration.

3. Another method of dealing with frustration is called ‘calming’. This means taking a moment to allow your physical reaction to the frustration to subside, concentrating on slowing your breathing, lowering your heart rate, and letting the emotion subside.

You’ve had a rough day, and the kids are rough-housing while you are trying to fix something for dinner. You can feel your patience level dropping, and the urge to yell at them to settle down. What should you do?

Here are a few simple tools to help with day-to-day parental frustration:

• Avoid words like "never" or "always". Instead, state clearly what the problem is either to yourself or the other people involved. Try not to exaggerate the situation, but step back and look at things as objectively as possible.

• Change the way you think when you are frustrated. If you tend to curse or swear when you are frustrated, try replacing those thoughts or words with more rational statements. Instead of thinking things like, “this is unbearable” or “everything’s ruined”, try saying to yourself, “this is frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world.”

• Change your surroundings. If you have a relative or a trusted friend who can watch the kids for a few moments, give them a call. If not, try taking the children for a walk. A change of scenery is often all that’s needed to calm you down and give you some perspective. The exercise will also help relieve stress and tension.

• Find something funny about whatever is upsetting you. This can help balance out the negative feelings and give you some perspective. Looking at the sillier side of the situation helps deflect some of your fury and can release some of the tension that may have been building up. This is also a good way to begin a discussion with kids about how you are feeling. Catch their attention with a funny story, then tell them what was making you frustrated, and ask them the question, “what can we do about this?”

• Talk as calmly as possible to your kids/spouse about how you are feeling, and then solicit their help. Most kids are very attuned to their moms and dads’ feelings. They may surprise you with just how considerate they can be once they understand what you need to feel better. Let them make suggestions about how to change a situation or how they can help.

• Try a few relaxation techniques. Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm, in through your nose and out through your mouth two or three times. Slowly repeat a word or phrase such as "take it easy", or “just relax”. Try repeating your word or phrase while breathing deeply. Close your eyes for a moment and visualize a quiet, relaxing place. Be aware of your breathing and the beating of your heart. Imagine your heartbeat slowing and your muscles relaxing.

You would think that controlling parental frustration at home would be second nature, but you’d be wrong. Ten minutes after they walk in the door, many parents are ready to “lose it.” All they want to do is sit down on the couch for five minutes to unwind, but their children are desperately begging for cookies while torturing the cat. Polite requests for a few minutes peace go completely unheeded, and before you know it, you’re snapping at your child. Using the techniques outlined above should help parents shift from frustration to relaxation within just a few minutes time. BUT, this does take practice! So begin today...

I have never ever written to a website before about anything but this morning for some reason I googled teenagers who leave home and after going through a few I got on your website and I read your piece on defiant teenagers and I cried literally and am doing so just now because everything you said in that piece was like you had read my life with my teenager, everything and for the first time some-one actually understood what it was like to be a parent on the receiving end of a defiant teenager.

Unfortunately my teenager is living with her friend and initially I was in contact with the mother of her friend and she understood but when it went on for so long I said it was wrong of her to keep her there and the contact diminished.

My daughter is 16 now and has been away from us since August, prior to that she had stayed away 3 times the last being with her grandmother, who without meaning it undermined me as a parent in front of her when we tried to make up and she came home but more defiant and horrible and any verbal communication was almost impossible.

Unfortunately we live in Scotland and the law here says they can leave home without parental consent and she has now declared herself homeless and applied for housing which she has to “bid “every week for a place. Basically the law much on her side so from that perspective we have very little input.

She left school and I was very much in contact with the school guidance teacher who was very helpful on one hand but on the other put her in contact with “Children first” a group that help young teenagers to get help and get back with their families which all sounds fine but they seem to come from the angle that parenting skills are at fault we met with them and we were in contact with a group called “Amber Group “ who help families try to work at ways of getting back together and my daughter did not want to engage unless Children first were involved so we agreed and after 3 meetings my daughter walked out and would not engage again. She did however txt me and said can we work it out on our own but her whole attitude to us is awful and disrespectful that I fear that won’t work. She came home for Xmas eve night and got her presents then left after she got them and stayed at her boyfriend’s parent’s house.

Three days later she rang and asked me to pick her up at 11pm as she was ill I did and nursed her took her to the doctors she had glandular fever but on New year’s eve while I was at work her dad took her back to the doctor as she had a repeat appointment to go to she asked him to drop her off at her boyfriends to use the computer (to “bid” for accommodation) and she has never come back.

She txt me to tell me she had an interview for college and one for a hairdressing job. I wished her good luck. We were to meet but unfortunately I got swine flu and was really very ill although she txt to say hope you get better she never came to see me. She has since passed both interviews and all I said was that well big decisions for hope you make the right one and congratulations, no pressure.

I am writing I guess because going to get your book etc but my daughter doesn’t live me and how would I be able to do what strategies you have advised if she is not with us or am I really in a hopeless situation as I fear I am . Every single thing you wrote in that defiant teenager piece was exactly my situation. Once when she came home to pick up something for her CV I asked her what she was doing with some clothes in a bag she had left as I said I was going to throw them out but she said no I might need them it’s like she wants to keep her room available to her whenever she might appear but leaving it as it is killing me inside. It’s like she keeps us totally at arm’s length and does whatever she wants but we are not allowed to move on from her. My friends and husband have all told me to just leave her, make no contact and see what happens. I am totally torn in two.

I am sitting here now wondering why an earth I have written to you sheer desperation I think. I have cried everyday for the last 6 months and am now on antidepressants to help me cope with work and sleep etc., something which I would never have done. I was such a strong person before my teenager left us and now I feel utterly useless at times.

First off, thanks for creating this program and making it affordable. I have already seen improvements at home in my son and my relationship. I enjoy your to-the-point format and the clarity of directions. I am at the second assignment level and working on studying week 3. In the meantime, my son is having some difficulties in high school and I would like to hear your advice on how to help him with these teenage issues. We are trying to start the 2nd semester of his first year in high school with a fresh start and with your program to guide me into more effective parenting skills.

In the past (and before this program), anytime his grades were below a 70%, he was grounded. His school allows us to check his grades in every class anytime online. Our logic was to only apply groundings as long as there were failing grade averages to give more focus to school work and return privileges when all class averages are passing. He was most recently grounded for an entire 3 months and over holiday breaks. It was too long and I saw it was not helping, but I did not want to seem like I was giving into his ways so I held it up until now. I followed your advice in explaining that there will be a change in our techniques. He is no longer grounded for grades. We are working on building better study habits, instead.

Currently, my son says he doesn't care about grades and that I am the only one who cares if he passes his classes or not. We have discussed the logical consequences of failing in school such as having to retake classes, taking a longer time to graduate high school, and added difficulties in getting jobs in the future as well as loss of privileges. At home, we keep organized, have all needed supplies, have a 'library' with a set homework table, have a set time of the day to work together on the homework, etc. We require both of our children to spend a minimum amount of time doing homework each and every school day. If there is no homework due, we read for a short time together.

He is however clever enough to find loop holes such as 'losing' his entire book bag with all papers inside, inform us that all work has been completed and turned in, or tell us that instructions have been 'altered' to require less requirements. He tries to sleep through the short reading period if no homework was available. He knows he has no access to computers, games, TV, phone, friends, etc. until all homework is complete. We have informed him that if his work is lost or does not get turned in, we will have to redo the assignment as many times as it takes to get it completed and turned in as well as any new assignments. In the past, I have been in contact with his teachers and receive emails that list assignments that are due from only a couple of classes as the other teachers are too busy to return emails. I have also met with his teachers on occasion as I substitute teach at his school. Most teachers expect that high school students will keep up with their own assignments and not have to go through their moms. I would like to agree with that, but it hasn't worked that way so far.

He is struggling with ADHD and lacks a sense of responsibility. I realize that he has some learning differences, but I also do not wish to make excuses for his lack of efforts. This is the first year he has ever failed on a report card (now he has failed a total of 3 classes), he is receiving in school detention regularly for being late to class and for violation of dress code, and he refuses to bring home the necessary worksheets and books to complete homework. Typically, I would not mind his exploration of personal styles, but our current town is small and keeping with this gothic style he has chosen lately has ostracized him from the larger groups of peers. He recently shaved his hair into a Mohawk and tried to get on the bus before I stopped him and 'corrected' the hair cut. Now he is practically bald in the cold month of January. He dresses in the 'gothic', all black look, wears the oldest clothes he owns and grows out his facial hair in an unkempt fashion to the point of looking like he is homeless, and walks around with an angry scowl at school not typical of how he usually is. At home and on weekends he dresses 'normal', so I believe it is that he feels he is only accepted into the gothic clique at school this year. At one point, he told me that these are the only people who will talk to him nicely. I do not believe that his true 'style' is gothic and he is just looking to fit into a crowd...any crowd. He refuses to participate in sports anymore, also. Athletics has suddenly become unacceptable to him. I am surprised as he played soccer for 5 years. I am just afraid this relates to an overall sense of 'giving up'.

My 17 year old son moved out last Fri. It has been a week now. We know he is safe--staying at a friend's house. We have had a small bit of contact through texting. I can't try your suggestions because he isn't here. He let us know that the past week is the happiest he has been in a long time. Of course, there is no one setting any limits, or giving any consequences for behavior, or asking about homework or grades--things I did when he was home. He skipped school last Thurs. and for once in a blue moon, my husband actually gave him a consequence--no car for 2 wks., curfew on school nights at 7 and weekends at 10 for 2 wks. Chase blew up, packed up his stuff and left. His girlfriend took him.

He thinks our home life is "shitty" to put it into his words. Things really aren't great. My husband and I don't have a good relationship. Last Mar. I moved out for 3 months when my son was yelling and cussing at me because I grounded him. My husband stood there and said nothing. I asked, "Are you going to let him talk to me that way?" He just looked at me. It was the straw that broke the camel's back for me after a long time of being the "bad guy" in our children's lives. I ended up leaving and moving to my mother's. I cried all the time and was so depressed. My son, Chase, literally did not talk to me for 3 months--not because I left, but because I had said some angry words back at him when he cussed me out. I came back in May because my 18 year old daughter would be going to college in Aug. and I wanted to be with her the last few months she was home. My husband did nothing to encourage me to come back. He and I live in the same house but basically have no relationship. 

My husband has a drinking problem. He is an alcoholic although he seems to just drink at night. So far he has been lucky enough it hasn't affected his job. He hasn't been caught driving drunk. He has tried going to a program about this, but there hasn't been a major change. Chase has blamed his own drinking on "your alcoholic huband". I told him that his dad has a problem, but that he can't blame his own choices and decisions on that.

All these years, I have been the "bad" guy--doing all the discipline. I took your test and scored 39. My husband will ask me,"What time did you tell him to come home?" He doesn't like to set limits or make demands. He has always said, "I don't want to lose them, Royce." He and his dad had a major falling out and he moved out at age 18. It took his father dying for it to be resolved in any way. He has never told me all the details of it. That is what I have always chalked up his inability to discipline to.

When I read your book, I would put myself in the "Hero" category as a kid growing up. Never wanted to disappoint my parents, etc. My sister was a wild hellion and aged my parents tremendously. My daughter is like me. Doesn't want to disappoint. 

My daughter often says her dad only cares about Chase (our 17 year old son). She knows her dad loves her (and he DOES), but is sad because she feels Charlie only focuses on Chase and what Chase is doing. I have told my husband that. It doesn't seem to change. He really does love her deeply, but because she is so "good", I think he just feels she'll be OK. She and I have our little mother/daughter clashes, but nothing major has happened with our daughter. She is loving college life and seems very happy. She made it clear she wasn't happy with our home life either. My greatest concern with my daughter is that she is a "gimme" person. She and my son have everything. My husband even got each one of them a car (without consulting me--I would have said no and it wouldn't have mattered a bit--he would have done it anyway.) My husband has been overly indulgent. My say hasn't counted. I could go on and on with examples. Ever since they were born, my husband has built his world around them. He put me in the backseat. I hate that my children see this marriage as their role model for marriage. 

I do feel bad about the way home has been the last several years. The atmosphere isn't the greatest , but there isn't constant fighting. Charlie and I just don't even talk to each other much. I come home from work tired (I've been teaching for 38 years--am now 59) and I am no ball of fire. No one wants to eat dinner at the same time. We often get food from a restaurant and everyone eats when they want. Chase usually has wanted food again around 10 and I end up making something for him. Family time all together just isn't there. We all do our separate activities. His homework is "done" he says, though his grades aren't showing that. There is no joy or fun. I can truly see why Chase is unhappy and why Cassie, my daughter, was too.

Charlie (my husband) is often described by people I know as "living through Chase"--my son is quite the athlete. Charlie wanted to be just that when he was growing up. He had Chase in every sport known to man. Chase is now focused on baseball and is a really good player. He is putting it all in jeopardy now with his newest behaviors.

His grades have dropped (to the point it might even threaten to destroy his dream of playing in college and up), he has taken to the sagging jeans & backward baseball cap (used to dress preppy), he's smoking, has gotten drunk a couple of times, and he is sexually active. He told me about being sexually active because I have talked openly about sex to both my kids through the years and told them that I didn't approve of them doing that as teens, but I would rather they be protected and safe and not end up having a child or get a disease than for me not to know. Chase said he felt comfortable talking to me about it.

I am not making myself out to be the perfect parent either. I am not a big sports fan, and I haven't gone to all of Chase's games through the years. He has played sports year round. I guess that makes me a bad mom. I really do feel majorly guilty about it. All his friend's moms live at the park. I haven't . That is something he brings up a lot when he is angry. When he and I had the big battle back in Mar., I said some things like, "Go ahead, move out! See what kind of job you are qualified for..." etc. I apologized for being hurtful. He still brings that up. He says he was happier when I was gone and he wishes my sister was his mother. I texted back that I loved him, always have, always will. That dad and I wanted him to come home; the door is always open. He actually called Wed. and said he wanted to come and get his allowance. I told him we would not finance his not living at home. If he were home, he would have access to a car and money but he has to be part of the family if he wants those things in his life. We have not cut off his phone even though I first thought we should. We discussed how that is the one way we can still communicate with him so we haven't disconnected it even though it is like part of his body. I think that would be the hardest thing for him to lose.

Several people called Charlie on Mon. and told him they would talk to Chase. It is now Sat., and none of them has called back. I guess Chase has convinced them that his life here was so bad none of them want to talk to us. The truth is he wasn't even home a lot when he was home. After school was out, he would come home to change clothes and head out and leave until he had to be home. He has a job. That angers him too. He is attending a baseball camp where he works--it cost $1,000.00. Even I was surprised when Charlie told him he had to work it off. He has been doing this job for months and all his pay is going towards paying for the camp. We have paid and paid for his sports through the years. As I said, even I was surprised Charlie said that and has held to it.

I realize Chase isn't the worst case you have ever heard about, but we are so saddened our son has left. We really don't know what to do. We want him to come home. It makes me so sad that our home isn't a happy place, and he doesn't want to be here. I don't know how to change that. 

Some evenings Chase and I would sit here and watch a movie together. I told him I miss my "movie buddy." I feel like such a bad mom. I teach middle school all day and seem to get along great with other people's kids but I feel like such a loser here. I miss him so much.

More comments below...


Anonymous said...

The situation became so grave at home that we had to take him out of the country. Thinking that this will provide a fresh start. It has not quite worked. He is not running away at the moment as the environment in the new country (Kuwait) is much more conservative than Australia. This behaviour is not tolerated.The law is very harsh here. We thought that he will be safe here. Even then he has managed to miss school resenting that he is in a place against his wish. Not motivated at all. He has threatened to kill me! I did not react. He is seeing a Psychologist and has mentioned to her that he feels like commiting suicide just before the Christmas break. He was therefore taken to South East Asia for 10 days. He refused to return and after checking in at the airport he disappeared, missing the flight. Had to wait another 2 days before catching the next flight after promising him to take him back to Australia. We fear that we will loose him if he is brought back. The laws are grey for the teenagers. He has pushed all the boundaries. We dont even get an opportunity to talk to him. Nothing bothers him.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

We have completed your course some months ago & we have really hit a crisis point with our 15 ½ year old daughter (my husbands daughter my step daughter.

Danielle has been living with us in Australia for nearly 12 months after she starting hanging out with & getting herself in quite a bit of trouble with the wrong crowd in the Uk – her Mum could not handle it & she came to live with us & our 2 boys who are 4 & 6.

Its been an up & down year & we turned to your program in about October last year – it made a difference.

Last week, Danielle & her Dad had an argument – it was loud & angry (on both sides) unfortunately there was no poker face from my husband – our 2 boys witnessed the argument & were very distressed L.

Since then Danielle has taken off, that’s what she does – she runs off always to friends. She hasn’t been back since but in that time we have always know where she is. Andy (my husband) at the time & since has apologies for his behaviour – shouting at her & grabbing her, but we are at a place that neither or I know what next.

When she left we didn’t chase her, didn’t feed the fight, didn’t demand she came home but advised that she needed to take responsibility for her actions & come back and sort stuff out. She honestly seems bullet proof, her way, her rules on her grounds – funnily enough that just isn’t working for us!

I’m not sure what the next steps are as this is effecting my husband & I, our sleep & our two young boys. I’m clear on the following;

· I cant take this constant running back & forth (its very disruptive but its her 1st action)

· If she does come back its under our agreed home contract – at the moment we have one but I have a feeling if she comes back she feels she can set the rules & if not she’ll just go again

· I feel my life is being run by a 15 year old who doesn’t give a crap about anything or anyone else

What next? How do you take control of a bullet proof, selfish, thinks she’s done no wrong teen? Do we just cut contact, we’ve said we’ll come get her to sort this out calmly (all ignored) & wait for her to run out of favours with friends?

Tired & exhausted


Mark said...

If you have (a) apologized for the rage on the parents' end, (b) intend to learn from that mistake, (c) given her an invitation to return home and start over under the auspices of a house rules contract, and (d) checked the laws governing runaways in your area to see what your legal obligation is -- then the ball is in her court.

She is likely to stay away as long as possible in order to exact revenge. She thinks she's punishing you now. I would suggest looking at this as a vacation FROM her rather than a time to anxietize over her absence. Let her take ownership of where she wants to live.


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