When Your Preteen Seems Unaffected by Discipline

Mr. Mark, I wrote to you about a month ago very concern about the behavior of my 11 year old daughter. You responded very promptly to my e-mail. Thank you very much. We adopted 3 siblings in March 2019. They are 2 twins boys 7 yrs. old and their sister 11 yrs. old. They are very bright, smart and intelligent kids and make us very happy. We haven't experience any educational problems with them. They go to daycare and have learned numbers and letters, shapes and colors at the same rate as the other kids in their school. I purchased and have read your e-book "My out of control teen" and have found it very useful. You explain to me in your e-mail the behavioral problems that adopted children usually have because of the unknown medical history of their birth parents. I have tried your techniques and procedures explained in your book, but our daughter is still giving her teachers a lot of trouble at school to the point that they don't know what else to do.

When she is with us, she controls herself or at least follows directions, but we have to be with our eyes or her at all times. We praise them (4:1), caught them doing good, and I have a ticket system but nothing seem to work. At school she is always answering back, bossing around, disrupting class and for the last 2 weeks at nap time at school, she starts calling her friends names out loud to the point that they have to pull her out of the class because she doesn't let them rest. Some people tell me to ignore this and let the school deal with the behavior at school. But I just can’t seem to let that go. She knows they tell me about it every time she is been send to the office or put in time out and them talk about it like she is proud of what she have done. I feel that if I don't do anything about it she might think that it is O.K. to misbehave at school. I sit her at home to write numbers and letters and I have taken her toys, TV time and she has not come to family gatherings. Nothing works, she just doesn't seem to care about anything.


If I heard you right, she behaves acceptably at home, but not at school. You will do well to take the lead by attempting to educate her teachers about the special behavior patterns that many adopted children exhibit. I assume (which is dangerous of course) that her teachers are treating your daughter like they would any other girl. This, unfortunately, will continue to waste their time and energy.

Your daughter is not an emotionless robot who is immune to emotional pain. So I disagree with you when you say, “she doesn’t care about anything.” She has something that she really values – but it sounds like you haven’t found what that is yet. Find out what she really values. When you find it, it will be your greatest bargaining chip.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

I had a mother who emailed me with nearly the same dilemma as you. She said she takes her son’s toys away, grounds him for 3 days with no TV, computer, etc. But “he doesn’t care.” All he did was sit on the floor of his bedroom and read comic books. He just hid out in his room and wouldn’t come out. BUT WAIT. He’s isolating in his room and reading? Then there you go! I had this mother ground him FROM his room – which he despised greatly because he didn’t want to be around anyone while on discipline. The mother literally locked him out of his room (except at night to sleep). After he completed his 3-day discipline, his “room privileges” were restored.

As cruel and unusual as it sounds, you have to find out “where it’s going to hurt” (i.e., what will evoke uncomfortable feelings in your daughter when she makes poor behavior choices). Then you implement that “place of pain” whenever she needs a consequence – but only for 1-3 days. I’m not talking about emotional abandonment here – I’m talking about providing direction and support.

She’s never going to work for what you want, but she will work for what she wants.

What does she like the most? Are you pouring on a lot of attention and intensity when things are going wrong? She is getting some kind of payoff for “non-compliance.” How can I be so certain of this? Because all behavior has a motive behind it. And that motive is usually to attract pleasure or avoid pain.

Below is a summary of all the assignments I gave you in the eBook. If parents do not implement most of these assignments, it is often the "kiss of failure." For example, the transmission in your car has hundreds of parts, but if just one little tiny part is not working -- the whole transmission does not work. The same is true with this "parent program." Omit just one strategy, and the whole plan runs the risk of failing.

1. Are you asking your daughter at least one question each day that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or a "no" to demonstrate that you are interested in what is going on in her life? (page 20 of the printable version of eBook)

2. Are you saying to her "I love you" everyday and expecting nothing in return? (page 20)

3. Are you eating dinner together at least one evening each week -- either at home or out? (page 20)

4. Do you use "The Art of Saying Yes" whenever your answer is yes? (page 25)

5. Do you use "The The Art of Saying - and Sticking With - No" whenever your answer is no? (page 25)

6. Do you catch her in the act of doing something right at least once each day? (page 25)

7. Do you use the "When You Want Something From Your Kid" approach as needed? (page 31)

8. Do you give her at least one chore each day? (page 31)

9. Do you find something fun to do with her each week? (page 54)

10. Do you use the "I noticed ...I felt ...Listen" approach when something unexpected pops-up? (bottom of page 50)

11. When you are undecided about what to say or do in any particular situation, are you asking yourself the following question: "Will this promote the development of self-reliance in my daughter, or will this inhibit the development of self-reliance?"

If it is supportive of self-reliance, say it or do it. If it is not supportive, don't!

12. Is she EARNING ALL of her stuff and freedom? (see "Self-Reliance Cycle" - page 19)

If you answered "no" to any of the above, you are missing some important pieces to the puzzle. Most parents DO miss a few pieces initially -- you can't be expected to remember everything! But don't get frustrated and give up. We must be willing to hang in there for the long haul.

I'm talking about refinement here. Refinement is a necessary tool to use in order to truly be successful with these parenting strategies.

HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS: Parents who refine are, on average, 95% - 100% successful at getting the parent-child difficulties reduced in intensity and severity (i.e., the problems are easily managed).

The same can be true in your case. Don’t give up just yet. Please continue to refine by emailing me as needed over the next few months. Refinement is a process, not a one-time event.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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