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

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Should You Force Your Teenager to Attend Church with the Family?

Hi, I have been using the parenting strategies since July. Things were going well, and my son even earned the privilege of a driving permit in October, which would allow him to take his driving test to have a driver's license. If he had stayed on track, he would have had his driver's test scheduled in November. However, within 1 week of earning the driving permit, he began to become rebellious again, argumentative, and sloppy or forgetful about his chores. I asked him what was bothering him, but he refused to say; he only had insults for me.

In the beginning of November, my son said that it was not fair for us to make him attend church on Sundays. I reminded him that it was a house rule that was agreed to by him. He told me that he did not believe there was anything after a person dies. I did not argue with him. 2 days after that statement, my son was hospitalized for 8 days because of seizures. He had over 60 seizures in that time span. My son was upset with me because we prayed for him-the seizures stopped.

He is at home now and has refused to go to church today. I repeated the request for him to be ready by 9am. I waited 10 minutes, and issued a warning of the consequence. I took his game controller when he did not get up. He told me that he was taking a stand for his faith. He told me he was agnostic 2 weeks ago.

This looks like a power struggle to me. However, I don't believe my husband will back down and let this go once he finds out. My husband strongly believes that his household will serve the Lord (at the least attend church). I believe this also, but would prefer to avoid the power struggle first.

What strategy should I have used? Once again, I will probably be in the cross fire between my son and his step-father.


I don’t think you will get your son to “serve the Lord” by forcing him to go to church. Attending church can be one of the most satisfying and exciting activities for any family. However, it can also be one of the most frustrating and draining days for moms and dads who have a difficult time getting their teenager to go to church. If your family finds itself in the second category, please understand you are NOT alone.

If your son does not like going to church, begin by asking the simple question, "Why". When asking this question, you must then be willing to listen. Don't comment after every sentence or roll your eyes when a reason is given that seems ridiculous. Ask God to give you patience as you listen intently to his objections, frustrations, and concerns. After your son is finished, begin talking about the reasons he gave and find a way to begin to actively address his concerns.

For example, one of their reasons could be he doesn’t feel a part of the group. Some suggestions you might give could be to allow him to bring a friend, or ask with a great amount of diplomacy if he is making an effort to meet other teenagers. You can also find an adult volunteer in the Student Ministry and ask what they have observed.

It’s true. You do have every right to “force’ your son to attend church, but talking, listening, and problem solving allows your son to no longer be the "problem" -- but to be a part of the solution instead.

Here are some tips on getting your teenager connected to the church family:

1. Find a place of service for YOU. One of the best things a parent can do is get involved in the ministry your teenager attends. NOTE: You don't have to be "cool" to work with students. You MUST have a heart for the Lord and a heart for people. The rest will come.

2. Find a place of service for your teenager. There are MANY places in the church that need volunteers. Allow your son to serve on Sunday morning. This will greatly increase the chance for your son to feel connected and "needed" on Sunday mornings.

3. Worship happens all week, not just at church. Make it a point to talk about God during the week, not just on Sundays. That shows your family that God is about every day of the week, not just on Sunday.

4. PRAY! Don't forget the power of prayer. God definitely wants your family to find a place to worship and connect with other Christians. This is a request He wants to answer. It might take time and a lot of work, BUT your labor will not be in vain!

  • God will clearly reveal to your son the priorities He wants for him.
  • God would put people in your son's life to “connect” with at church and to influence them and encourage them to want to be involved in church.
  • You will model for your son what it means to be "connected" in the body of Christ.
  • Your son will be open to listening to God's voice in giving direction in their life.

Bottom line: I would tackle this problem purely from a spiritual standpoint. Withdraw from the power struggle. Let go and let God. Don’t force him to go to church (otherwise he may equate “going to church” with “being punished”). And trust that God will WORK on your son’s behave.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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"Should I tell him that I'm not his biological father?"

Hello Mr. Hutten,

I have a question for you. I have a 14 year old step son who does not know that I am not his biological father. His mother and I have been separated for 9 years. I get him and his brother, who is my biological son, three times a week. I have had this visitation arrangement with their mother for the entire 9 years.

I met the boy when he was 8 months old, and he really has no idea I am not his biological father.

That said, the boy treats me with no respect, gets into trouble and generally makes the time I have with him and his brother a nightmare. I could go on, but I am sure you can imagine what I have been going through.

My question-- Should I tell him that I am not his biological father? I really want to tell him because I do not think he appreciates exactly how good I have been to him. I spend a lot of time being angry at him and I think if he knew the real situation he might have a little more gratitude.

Please let me know what your professional opinion is.

Thank you so much for your help and your program.




Yes! You should definitely tell him, but out of a sense of keeping the relationship on an honest level – not out of a need to apply your own hidden agenda (e.g., to lay a guilt-trip on him for how he has been treating you). Also, break the news to him at a time when things are calm – not after a heated argument or during conflict.

For all intents and purposes, he is your son – and as such, you should use all the disciplinary strategies in the eBook exactly as they are outlined. Some stepparents try to deal with the daunting task of being stepdad by taking the approach of "I won't interfere with your life." Unfortunately, this approach says to the stepchild: "I don't care that much about what happens to you." Stepchildren may resist involvement, but they will benefit far more -- and form a better relationship -- with an involved stepparent who applies both nurturing and discipline.

Give your stepson the gift of limits. Children need limits for healthy development. If they don't learn in the home that there are limits on their behavior, they'll have a harder time functioning in the outside world. If they resist limits -- and they will -- it will be easier for you to deal with it if you remind yourself that children do the same thing with their biological parents.

Use clear and explicit rules to establish limits. "You never told me that" may be a legitimate objection when you try to punish a child for breaking a limit. Limits should be clear, consistent, and invariably enforced. And there should be clearly understood consequences for following or disobeying them. Don't overwhelm your stepchildren with rules, but have enough of them to create a moral order in your home.

Let stepchildren participate in making the rules. Have regular family meetings. Use them for sharing positive experiences, openly airing grievances and concerns, and formulating rules. Children should not have the final say in establishing each rule. But they should know that they have been heard. It's a basic principle that people are much more likely to conform when they have participated in the decision-making process.

Encourage openness about feelings. "I hate you. You're not my father." It's tempting to reprove the child and forbid such language. But that teaches stepchildren to suppress their feelings. Instead, tell the child why this kind of statement hurts and how it makes you feel. Then explore with the child why he feels this way, reminding him that you still want to be his father. Be honest with your stepchildren about your own feelings, and encourage them to be honest about theirs.

Plan special times and experiences with your stepson. Shared experiences build intimacy. Spend time alone with him. Do something that the child considers special (e.g., going hunting or fishing).

Maintain your sense of humor. Humor helps keep matters in perspective. It helps relieve tension. It builds intimacy when you laugh with someone else. Sometimes you can use humor to resolve a problem with a stepchild. Humor won't cure all problems, but a lack of humor can kill the relationship.

Other than these items above, use the techniques outlined in the eBook.

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Dealing with a Run Away Daughter: Tips for Parents

Hi Mark, We bought my out of control teen for our problem teen, H___ aged 16 (with undiagnosed emotional problems) and have found the tools very helpful, however we are at a loss to know how to deal with her runaway episodes which she does when she receives a consequence.

She ran away late one night in bare feet and walked all the way to her dad's house 7& 1/2 kms away, (he was convicted with 18 charges of violence against me) she hadn't seen him for 10 years...and it turned out to be a bad experience...then went and stayed at a friend’s. As she told us she wasn't coming home but was planning to move out which she can legally do at the age of 16, which she is now. I just told her how her choice to move out would affect her...we wouldn't support her financially...she would have to arrange all that herself and stayed in constant contact with her.

We have contacted the police and they have said unless she is considered at risk (ie mental health issues which she does have) they do not have the power to go and bring her home.

I managed to persuade her through much carefully thinking and talking to come home and return to school which she wanted to drop out of. She did work experience during the holidays that I took her to and now school has started she became very wound up and yelled at and gave me mouth for half an hour when she was reminded of a job she was required to do.

She went to school Monday and never came home...I believe she has gone to a friends...and I don't know what to do....I replied to her text on someone else’s phone but have not heard back from her.

By running away when she is given a consequence (this has gone on for 2 & 1/2 years) she avoids all responsibility and accountability and I renders useless any discipline program.

What can I do about this as our Australian laws as we have signed the convention on the rights of the child have taken away parental rights?

How can I approach this problem for her benefit? 

very distressed mum, J.


Hi J,

We as parents want to model for our children HOW THE "REAL WORLD" OPERATES.

In the real world, one has to follow certain rules (e.g., obey the speed limit).

In the real world, when someone breaks the rules, there is a consequence (e.g., a speeding ticket).

In the real world, if someone refuses to accept the 1st consequence (e.g., not paying the ticket)...

...there is usually a much stiffer consequence to follow (e.g., lose of driving privileges).

Thus, you will do more harm than good by (a) pleading and begging her to come home/return to school and (b) tip-toeing around her in fear of issuing any consequences that may result in her running off.

As long as you take ownership of her "running" and "avoiding" -- then she does not have to take on any responsibility (you are taking it all). As soon as she realizes that HER PROBLEM IS HER PROBLEM (i.e., where she lives and whether or not she goes to school is HER responsibility), then she will begin to make some better choices.

Tell her she is always welcome to come home, but there will be rules as well as consequences for violating the rules. Then say, "You decide where you want to live. Take all the time you need."



Hi Mark,

Thank you so much for your sound advice. Here's how I implemented your advice...

I sent her an email explaining the consequences of her choice to run away (which were increasing in severity the longer she stayed away). They involved confiscating all her important stuff and selling it should she not return home, and giving the money to her sister who she owed money to.

I would call her 'safe house' (which we had no details of without lots of investigation) and inform them of what we were going to do, and that she was under my legal guardianship, I would call CATT and CAHMS, adolescent and mental health teams, I would report her as a missing person to the police.

I gave her a time limit when they would begin. If she wasn't home by 8pm I would begin to implement my plan. Then I told her what would happen if another day went by....I would put up missing person posters of her around all her favourite haunts asking people for information. And I would sell her horse and cancel his agistment, and warned of daily consequences increasing in severity.

She was on the phone to me quick smart to say she was coming home before 8 but she couldn't find money for a bus fare, then rang to say there weren't many buses, then she rang to ask if I could pick her up.

Your right. Reading her the riot act and telling her the consequences made it her problem not mine and she became very anxious to avoid them.

Thank you so much, she came home a very compliant and subdued and obedient kid.

very grateful, J.

You Don't Want To Be The "Good Guy": Tips for Parents of Defiant Teens

Hi Mark, During the last few weeks me and my husband have been following (as much as we can) your program. Thank you for making it available on line. We have a fourteen year old daughter and an eight year old son. Our daughter is very well described in your lectures. I recognised that my overindulging approach and the fact that in the past me and my husband had different opinions on her parenting and also the fact that she is very strong willed person led to her behaviour problems. We are trying really hard to keep being firm and give her the consequences of her bad choices. Meanwhile we encourage all the small positive steps that she does. What can we do to make sure we keep the behavioral changes from her moving in the right direction and help her to be a productive adult? Thank you for your support. ~ M.

RE: "What can we do to make sure we keep the behavioral changes from her moving in the right direction and help her to be a productive adult?"

In a nutshell, foster the development of self-reliance in your daughter.

As a parent, you want to do everything for your child, but you have to realize that sooner or later, she must do things on her own. Young people have to learn about how to earn their own money, how to manage it, and how to make smart financial decisions with it. The longer you keep on handing everything to your children, the harder it will be for them to learn these crucial life skills and lessons on their own and that will severely backfire on them in their adult life.

I think as children grow older, you have to say “No” more frequently, and make them work hard for the things they want to have, because you have to teach them the value of hard work, the value of a dollar, the virtue of patience, of delayed gratification, etc., or else they will never learn and that’s a greater disservice to them in the long run.

People whose parents didn’t provide them with everything usually appreciate the things they have more. They have to work hard in order to get those things they need on their own, which usually makes them more financially responsible, more responsible in general, harder workers, etc. I'm not saying that ALL people whose parents didn’t provide them with everything will turn out like that -- nor am I saying that those people whose parents provided them with everything cannot also garner those same qualities.

All I’m saying is that those whose parents did not provide them with everything have a greater opportunity to develop those crucial life skills that are critical in adult life simply because they need to. Those who got everything handed to them usually don’t have that need to develop those crucial life skills, so they don’t spend time cultivating them.

What’s my point?

Don’t spend any time or energy worrying about trying to be “the good guy.” You are not a “buddy.” Your job is to help your daughter foster the development of “self-reliance.” So, in that sense, you are her coach.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

"She hit me called me bad names and was out of control..."

Hi Mark,

I just purchased your program today. I am going to try and make this brief. My daughter has been with father for the last 4 months we have 50/50 custody. Recently she has talked about moving back and going to her old school. We had a blow out the other day because of a pierced lip that her father allowed her to get knowing this is not allowed in my house. I would also not get her a dress that night. She hit me called me bad names and was out of control. I called her father and said I would be picking her up Sunday night and am going back to 50/50 custody because of how she felt I have no control over her behavior. My problem is this program takes about 4 weeks and this Sunday is days away. My question is should I not pick her up and let her stay with her father if that is what she so desires and explain I love her and this would be her choice to live with her father instead of being with me and the rules at our house. Or should I pick her up Sunday night and really try to get through this program while she is here week on week off? Because I have no have time to go through the program I don't know what would be best.

Your help is greatly appreciated,



Hi S.,

When this situation arises, the typical scenario (in brief) looks something like this:

1. Child goes to father's house to live (greener grass myth)...

2. About a 2 to 4 week "honeymoon period" is experienced in the new home (i.e., things go very well at first)...

3. Then the child begins to behave (i.e., misbehave) the same way she behaved in previous home...

4. Father cannot successfully address the misbehavior and sends the child back to mom...

Having said this, I think it would be good for you and your daughter to have a time-out from one another. Take advantage of the opportunity to get a break (albeit a short one).

Mark Hutten, M.A.

How to Create Win-Win Outcomes Rather than Power Struggles: Tips for Parents

We see the main problem is he has turned on us... he is angry and is baiting us... he just came in from soccer and hit me with a tirade of swearing. He was angry because he wanted takeaway food and he was told that there was food at home. He has now taken off – it is 11pm. How do we make him realise that he needs to conform to our rules. He has no friends and we are the only people who support him. The punching of the walls and threatening to tell people that his father rapes him etc are just his way of punishing us. Will keeping the screws on him keep making the situation worse or will it eventually break him?


Re: Will keeping the screws on him keep making the situation worse or will it eventually break him?

First of all, we're not in the business of "breaking" children. This implies a power struggle with one winner and one loser. Rather, we're in the business of fostering the development of self-reliance.

Secondly, as long as you are complying with the strategies as outlined in the eBook, you should expect things to get worse before they get better. But hold on a minute…

It sounds like you are in a power struggle here. Power struggles create distance and hostility instead of closeness and trust. Distance and hostility create resentment, resistance, rebellion (or compliance with lowered self-esteem). IT TAKES TWO TO CREATE A POWER STRUGGLE. I have never seen a power-drunk child without a power-drunk adult real close by. Adults need to remove themselves from the power struggle without winning or giving in.

Create a win/win environment. HOW?

The following suggestions teach kids important life skills including self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem-solving skills instead of "approval junkie" compliance -- or rebellion.

1. Ask what and how questions: How will we eat if you don't set the table? What is next on our routine chart? What was our agreement about what happens to clothes that aren't picked up? What happened? How do you feel about what happened? What ideas do you have to solve the problem? (This does not work at the time of conflict, nor does it work unless you are truly curious about what you child has to say.)

2. BONUS: HUGS! HUGS! HUGS! A hug is often enough to change the behavior -- theirs and yours.

3. Create a game: Beat the clock or sing songs while getting chores done.

4. Decide what you will do. I will cook only in a clean kitchen. I will drive only when seat belts are buckled. (I will pull over to the side of the road when kids are fighting.)

5. Distraction for kids and lots of supervision. Punishment decreases brain development. Kids are often punished for doing what they are developmentally programmed to do -- explore.

6. Do it WITH them. You may even want to go to the positive time out area with them.


8. Get kids involved in cooperation. Say, "I can't make you, but I really need your help." (10 words)

9. Get kids involved in the creation of routines (morning, chores, and bedtime). Then the routine chart becomes the boss.

10. Limited choices: Do you want to do your homework before dinner or after dinner. Do you want to set the table or clean up after dinner?

11. Make a "Wheel of Choice" together. Draw a big circle and divide into wedges. Brainstorm lots of solutions to problems. Draw illustrations for each solution. During a conflict, invite child to pick something from the wheel.

12. No words: Use pantomime, charades, or notes. Try a hug to create closeness and trust -- then do something else.

13. Non-verbal signals. These should be planned in advance with the child. An empty plate turned over at the dinner table as a reminder of chores that need to be completed before dinner; a sheet over the television as a reminder that homework needs to be done first or that things need to be picked up in the common areas of the house.

14. Positive Time Out. Create a "nurturing" (not punitive) time out area with your child.

15. Put the problem on the family meeting agenda and let the kids brainstorm for a solution.

16. Use reflective listening. Stop talking and listen. Try to understand not only what your child is saying, but what he means.

17. Use ten words or less. One is best: Games. Towels (that may have been left on the bathroom floor). Homework. (Sometimes these words need to be repeated several times.)

Every child needs discipline, and the discipline style can provide connection or disconnection in the relationship.

The goals of discipline are:

1. To instill values.
2. To protect the child.
3. To teach the child lifelong skills for good character, such as responsibility and self-control.

Effective Discipline is:
  • As fair and consistent as possible.
  • Be Proactive. Moms & dads find underlying causes of misbehavior as well as teach future desired behavior. Punishment tends to be reactive and aims to just stop behaviors. Discipline connects the parent and child in their relationship. Punishment disconnects them.
  • Kind, firm and safe.
  • Mutually respectful: "Do unto others as you would have done to you." Although moms & dads have far more experience and knowledge than their kids, both moms & dads and child have the same right of having their feelings and dignity equally respected.
  • Never includes punishment. Common examples of punishment are grounding with no time-limit, unrelated consequences, spanking, and threats of any kind.
  • Ninety percent prevention and ten percent correction.
  • Teaches and guides kids how to think for themselves. It doesn't just force them to obey. The world is a different place than 30 years ago. We don't want our kids to just blindly obey anyone — especially adults that may not have their best interests in mind. We want them to think for themselves and make good decisions.
  • Uses real world "cause and effect" learning experiences.

Re: Power Struggles:

• Power struggles are generally about meeting needs: the needs of the parent and the needs of the child. Both aim to get their way, but at the expense of the other person not getting their way.

• Power struggles are often the result of the use of punishment. Kids will often react to punishment in the forms of rebellion, retaliation, fear, and/ or passive resistance.

• When moms & dads and kids are locked in a power struggle, it is important for the parent to stay calm and let go for the moment. They have more experience in self-control and can switch gears easier. Refuse to participate. The time to re-examine the needs of the moms & dads and child causing the power struggle is later, when the emotional temperature in the relationship has gone down. Be sure to address it though. Don't let it go unresolved forever.

Kids don't really misbehave. They act in inappropriate ways to get their needs met. The job of moms & dads is to meet those needs and teach kids how to get them met in socially appropriate ways. Kids are like icebergs. We see the tip of the iceberg (behavior) protruding out of the water. Most of the time, we don't even look at the massive ice part under the water (which are the needs and feelings) that supports the behavior. As moms & dads, we need to jump out of the boat, and into our submarine to look at what's happening with the child underneath the iceberg tip. Once the underlying needs and feelings of the child are recognized and addressed, the behavior often improves.

The most effective discipline tools used for older, school-aged kids and teens are active listening, "I" messages, time in, changing the environment, modeling, related consequences, and problem solving. Family meetings are also especially effective for this age.

A crucial discipline tool often overlooked is meeting the needs of moms & dads. Moms & dads who are hungry, tired, stressed, need support and a time-out don't often make their best parenting decisions.

You can't raise a child in a dictatorship and expect them to function as an adult in a democracy.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Avoiding Power Struggles Around Curfews

"Dear Mark: My daughter is asking to extend her curfew. It seems she can fight whatever. Would you please help me and let me have a strategy to have the curfew settle down. Thanks & Best Regards! F."


Hi F.,

Here are some ideas and perspectives regarding curfews, including why having a “time you agree to be home” that is somewhat flexible might be better than the notion of a hard-and-fast curfew which most of us grew up with:

1. Practice Negotiation. It can be tempting--and easy--to create hard-and-fast rules about curfews, but most parenting experts agree that times that teens must be home should be worked out by parents and teens together.“Where are you going to be? How long? Is that enough time? Can you get home by then? Will you let us know if it’s a problem?” Asking these types of questions sets up a pattern of negotiation between parents and child that allows the child to be honest. Such questions also show that your main concern is the child’s safety—that Mom and Dad are not, as teens are quick to believe, merely control freaks.

2. Focus on Schedules. We do best if we keep schedules and curfews flexible, depending on the child and the event. Discussing curfews as you talk about overall schedules will take the focus off of “curfew” and put it on the type of activity, safety concerns, and responsibility issues.

3. Emphasize Safety. Helping our children understand that schedules are set up for safety can help them see curfews not as restrictive whims, but as practical matters. One family decided the “rules” regarding times to be home would be about knowing where all family members were at all times. This included children knowing where parents were as well.


One father decided that the best way to handle kids coming home past the negotiated time was to simply explain that he was tired and would talk to the child later about the broken agreement. Then the next time the child asked to go out, he would say, “Oh gee, I’m just not up to worrying tonight. Why don’t you stick around” or “I’m sorry, you can’t go out tonight honey. I need my sleep”. Anger causes confrontation, but sometimes teenagers will listen to the practical effects that their lateness creates for you. (The humor in the responses also breaks down communication barriers.)

Contact List—

Have your sons or daughters leave a list of numbers where they will be and then let them know that you will be setting your alarm for the time they are expected home. You trust them, so it is no problem to go to sleep when they are out; however, should that alarm wake you and they haven’t called to let you know they will be home later, then you know something is wrong and you will start calling everyone on that list, ending with the police. However, if they are home on time, they can simply slip into your room and turn the alarm off before it wakes you.


Create a relationship of trust by letting your children know that an important aspect of a curfew is for them to follow through on their promises. This is a different focus than “I don’t trust what you’ll be doing” or “I don’t trust your friends.” The reason for having a set time for coming home becomes more about the children showing you they are responsible and trustworthy.


Try to be organized and reliable with your own time to show your teen that you are serious about schedules and take other people’s time seriously.

Two-Way Street—

We’re often most effective when we simply let our teens know what our concerns are. For example, when our teen comes home late, we could say, ‘I hope this doesn’t happen again because I think it stresses our relationship. And you’re way ahead if our relationship is good. I think that when you do things that stress me out a lot, it doesn’t work out well for you in the long run’.

Handling curfews as part of the overall scheduling you do in a week helps your child have the opportunity to be responsible. Negotiation between parent and child is important and can create a sense of trust between parent and child in ways that strict one-way rules usually do not.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Assertive Parenting versus Conditionally Permissive 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.


Conditional parenting is not assertive parenting. Assertive parents:
  • Say No
  • Have a detailed Plan for Consequences
  • Are Honest with their Children
  • Structure Children's Behavior
  • Foster Self-Esteem
  • Manage Parental Stress
  • Exercise Parental Leadership

With Conditionally Permissive Parenting:
  • Parental demands are usually not explicit or spelled out in detail
  • Freedom and material benefits are often given in return for behavior that reflects well on the family (parent’s ulterior motives or hidden agenda), such as making good grades or buttering up Aunt Sophie
  • Moms and dads tend to see the adolescents as mini-adults.

Prospective moms and dads often don't realize that parenting is a twenty-year plus commitment, demanding their best efforts even at those times when everyone is tired. Acting with care is close to impossible in such everyday situations. Be proactive by learning to say no, use humor, carry out consequences, be honest, foster self-esteem, manage parental stress, and exercise parental leadership. Assertive communication is often avoided because moms and dads fear aggression, yet it usually prevents hostilities.

Be Honest with Kids—Don't lie to a youngster or promise what isn't in your power to deliver. Telling a youngster that the sun will be shining for a picnic is folly at best, and can destroy your youngster's faith in your integrity. Promising that another youngster will like him or her is another dangerous parent trap, causing more distress in the long run. Being honest about life's struggles teaches kids to share feelings and deal with reality rather than deny or avoid it.

Exercise Parental Leadership—Stand up courageously and be counted as a parent, not a buddy. Young people are in need of clear, positive leadership. They already have plenty of peers. Keep a journal of successes and challenges, and jot down strategies and solutions. Forgive yourself when you mess up. Visualize yourself as an assertive parent who can say no, use humor, calmly enforce consequences, be honest, encourage self-esteem, control parental stress, and exercise parental leadership. Assertive parenting can be both your finest joy and greatest challenge.

Foster Self-Esteem—Even your choice of rewards can help guide your kids into the comfort of assertiveness. When kids learn to feel proud of themselves, they have gained a life-long skill. Say, "Pat yourself on the back" to foster self-confidence. Do that more often than giving gifts and treats.

Have a Plan for Consequences—Think before speaking, and back up those words with firm, caring actions. Thinking through consequences can be done beforehand, when things are calm. Carrying out the consequences can be done in a matter of fact manner, expressing faith in the youngster's ability to come out ahead in the end. This allows the youngster to feel a sense of family as opposed to being at odds with the moms & dads.

It's OK to Say No—It is sometimes believed that saying no too often can squelch a youngster's self-esteem, creativity, or confidence, yet the opposite is more often the case. There isn't any need for apology or guilt when "no" is needed. One of the most common pitfalls moms & dads suffer is inexactness of language. When one means for a youngster to do something direct by telling, not asking. Adults don't have to be mean, just clear.

Manage Parental Stress—Do what you can to reduce stress by dealing with temper. Deal with your own feelings on a regular basis so you can keep an even disposition with kids. Keep the number of issues to be corrected close to one -- too many can cause confusion and frustration. Develop a poor memory for the bad times and a great memory for the good times.

Structure Kid's Behavior—It is far better to tell a youngster clearly what is expected. Structure builds awareness and confidence in one's behavior. Teaching manners and social skills positions a youngster for social success and becoming an assertive adult.

Use Humor—Remember to carry the emotional first-aid kit of humor at all times. It will help the whole family through the rough spots of daily life. Moms & dads can model the skill of not taking things too seriously. Educators suggest that modeling is one of the most effective methods of teaching.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Power-Struggles Over Curfew Violation: Tips for Parents

"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? ~ Aussie mom"


Setting a curfew is pretty easy when your kids are little, but it gets harder and harder as they mature. You have less control over their lives and they can get around on their own, particularly when they begin driving. But while kids certainly need more independence as they grow up, giving kids structure is also vitally important to their growth and development and, just as importantly, it helps keep them safe.

Only 48 percent of adolescents surveyed indicate that their family has clearly defined boundaries, which includes having clear rules and consequences and having parents that monitor their whereabouts.

Girls are more likely than boys to say that their parents keep track of their whereabouts. A full 86 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys say their parents ask where they are going and who they will be with most or all of the time.

Setting (and enforcing) clear, fair, and firm boundaries—and following through with consequences—is a critical part of being a good parent. It is most effective, though, when the boundaries are balanced by a warm, caring relationship with your kids, which includes their participation in the decision-making process.

Making young people part of the curfew discussion and establishing clear expectations and consequences gives them some of the independence they are looking for while still maintaining the boundaries they need to thrive.


Adjust — Review and negotiate curfews together. There are exceptions to every rule, so it may be appropriate from time to time to change a curfew (such as during the summer or to allow your kids to participate in a positive activity at school or in the community).

Affirm — Tell your kids how much you appreciate it when they tell you where they will be and when they arrive home on time. This positive feedback will make it more likely that they will continue to respect the boundaries that you have set together.

Be Realistic — There is no “magic” curfew time for all kids. Match curfews to the needs of your family, your kids, and your community. Some kids need more sleep than others. Some communities are safer than others. Negotiate curfews that work for you, your child, and your family, and adhere to local laws.

Confirm the Plans — Before they head out the door, find out where your kids are going, whom they will be with, how they will be getting to where they are going and back, and when they plan to be home.

Enforce — Be consistent when enforcing consequences, but when boundaries are broken, do not give the impression that your kids or adolescents have failed. Instead, use these situations to teach them about responsibility.

Think Ahead — Do not try to set curfews when your kids or adolescents are begging to go out. Talk about expectations early and make sure that everyone understands what is expected. In addition, agree together on the consequences if curfew is broken.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

How to Help Your Child Make Responsible Choices Regarding Alcohol Use

Mark, 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? T. C.


By the time they graduate from high school, half of adolescents report consuming alcohol regularly. One-third report binge drinking. The greatest increase in alcohol usage occurs between grades 6 and 10. Good news: many young people do not consume alcohol. Fifty-five percent of middle and high school-aged students say that it is against their values to drink alcohol while they are adolescents.

Helping kids steer clear of alcohol involves more than simply warning them of the dangers (though that is important as well). It involves getting at the heart of asset-building to help them feel safe, supported, and free to talk about anything on their minds. And it involves building a strong relationship with your kids early and nurturing their personal values and skills to help them make smart decisions.


Stay Involved—

• Have a Plan — As your adolescent gains more independence, negotiate a plan for what you will do if he or she is in a difficult alcohol-related situation. Make safety a top priority. Make sure your youngster knows that you will provide a “no-questions-asked-until-later” ride home from any party at which they feel uncomfortable.

• Keep Your Youngster Involved — Being active in youth clubs, school activities, religious activities and other caring environments with adult role models offers important reinforcements for your positive messages at home.

• Monitor — Keep track of where your adolescents go and who they are with. If they go to a party, check in advance whether an adult will be actively present and whether alcohol will be available.

• Set Consequences — Be clear about any consequences of underage drinking before there is a problem. However, do not make the consequences so serious that your teen will not ask for help if they are in serious trouble or need a safe ride home.


• Be Honest — Be honest about your own alcohol use. If you drank as an adolescent, share why you believe it was a poor choice.

• Be Proactive — Do not just wait for your kids to bring up alcohol or drinking. Use news stories, ads, personal incidents, and other opportunities to raise the issue—before it becomes a crisis.

• Share What You Believe — Be clear about your values and expectations regarding alcohol use and why you hold those values and expectations.

• Talk — Maintain open and honest communication. Help your kids feel comfortable talking with you about important and difficult topics.

Think About Community—

• Connect — Talk with other moms & dads about your values and concerns. Discuss what you expect from your kids and encourage them to set boundaries with your kids when needed. If you are struggling with issues, ask them for advice and support.

• Do Not Be Part of the Problem — Never purchase alcohol for young people or provide alcohol to a party for adolescents, no matter what the occasion.


• Maintain Perspective — If your kids try alcohol, address the issue directly, but do not assume that they are “beyond hope.” Use it as an opportunity to help them learn from mistakes. However, if the problems persist or become more serious, seek professional support and help.

• Model — Model restraint in your own life. If you drink, use moderation. If you or your partner struggles with alcohol use, seek professional help.

• Teach — Help your kids develop skills to resist pressure to use alcohol. Do this by giving them opportunities to make decisions and be responsible, starting when they are very young. Role play with your youngster to teach them how they can say no along with other options they have when they’re under pressure.

What To Do When Children Misbehave While On Family Vacation

Hello Mark, I've run into a spot of bother with A___ (and M___) and am unsure of what to do now. We have just had a 10-day (interstate) holiday at the beach and it was the worst holiday I've ever spent with this child. Her behaviour became appalling and consisted of alternating between constant whining and whining, ignorance of any request, arguing nonstop, fighting with other children and verbal abuse. I would remind her (when I had the energy) that the way she was speaking to me was unacceptable but M___ tried to just ignore her because he thought if I reprimanded her, she was getting a reaction and that's what she wanted. I'd have a lot of trouble letting ANYbody speak to me the way she was and so then we started to constantly disagree (with your words "ignoring behaviour is an overrated parenting technique" echoing in my head..!)

I am now in a really bad headspace, my eyesight is deteriorating again due to MS or stress or whatever, and now that we are home I feel like we are back where we started with you 4 or 5 months ago. My question to you is, how do we keep things going when the circumstances change? She had no money on the holiday because she hadn't done enough work prior to our leaving but when we went out to eat (which we had to do a lot) it's hard to deny her and ice cream for example when the other kids are having one. My mother only sees her once or twice a year and so gave her a few things when she visited (although mum did say she was now very worried about her with a view to what the future would hold for this willful and defiant child) and my mother doesn't voice an unrequested opinion lightly....

The topic of sending her away to school was raised as well but we would have to find a school strict enough to settle her down and it's all too hard. It's her 9th birthday on April 28th and I've said there will be no party (I've given her a little one every 2nd year till now and she is due this year) because she was so difficult whilst we were away. Perhaps we will just have to forgo a holiday in the future, I don't know. Appreciate your time and thoughts when you can Mark, L.


Re: My question to you is, how do we keep things going when the circumstances change?

To all parents whose children misbehave while on vacation:

Your kid has misbehaved horribly! I can picture you now, thumbing frantically through the ebook, looking for the list of ways to choose a consequence. No, no, no. That won't do! I'm breaking it down into steps so you can think about it. This is not paint-by-numbers parenting!

Points to consider:

· Can you support the consequence with your actions? Does it make sense in terms of your family's values? Say you value time spent together. If the TV is located in a central location, and the consequence is that the child is not allowed to watch TV (and therefore is banned from the living room while the TV is on), then don't sit and watch TV all evening. If you do, you're applying more than the stated consequence of separating the child from the television—you're separating the child from you.

· Check it against the requirements—is it based in nature, is it based in logic? Does it fulfill the 4-Rs (related, respectful, reasonable, rewarding)? Will your child learn from it?

· Consider what you want the consequence to achieve. The point of all discipline is to teach your child internal control over her behavior. You're training her conscience, and her ethics. You're teaching her how the world works. Long after you're dead and buried, this conscience, ethical sense and knowledge of the world should still be instructing her on how to behave.

· Consider whether you'll be able to follow through on the consequence. Saying, “That's it, we're not going on vacation!” is not only unreasonable, it's unrealistic. Yes, you are going on vacation. You need it, the tickets have been purchased, the hotel reserved.

· Whenever you're applying consequences, take as much time as you need, remember to keep consequences close to the action, do your best, and forgive yourself for making mistakes.

Defining Consequences Ahead of Time (a good thing to do before going on a vacation) —

Whenever possible, it's best to define consequences ahead of time. It takes a little time, but the advantages are enormous:
  • This forces you to think about it, right?
  • It will get you away from that “I'll show you,” punitive frame of mind, and back into the “Zen of inevitability.” You'll be calm, cool, and collected.
  • You won't have to think through a veil of red anger, or stall until you've talked with your parenting partner. Consequences work best when they are immediate.

Predefined consequences are the other half of family rules and personal limits. An easy way to predefine consequences is to sit down with any lists you've already made of family rules and your child's limits. Take each rule and limit and rewrite it in the following form:

· Rule or limit. If rule or limit is broken, then consequence.

Here are two examples:

· We do not eat at the computer. If anybody eats at the computer, the consequence will be:

· Robert's bedtime is 8:30 on school nights. If Robert doesn't go to bed, the consequence will be:

Setting up the consequences ahead of time doesn't always work, nor is it always appropriate. Here are two disadvantages of predefining consequences:

· It puts you into a negative frame of mind while you're making your list—everything is looked at in terms of what can go wrong, instead of expecting, assuming, and supporting that everything will go right.

· It doesn't figure in the flexibility required. There may be extenuating circumstances, or the consequences defined may not actually fit when the moment comes.

When you're called upon to think up consequences immediately and on the spot use this short, succinct, and highly effective technique called STAR.

STAR stands for Stop, Think, Ask, Respond:
  • Stop: Breathe, calm yourself, take 10.
  • Think: Think about what is really going on, about what your child needs, and about her positive intent.
  • Ask: Here's where you can use active and proactive listening, to get your child's perspective (yes, this step is necessary!).
  • Respond: Apply a consequence that satisfies the 4-Rs.

Letting the Child Decide—

Older kids who are experienced in making fun choices (ice cream or cake? Swimming or ice skating?) can start working with you to determine appropriate consequences. Before you start asking your kids to help you determine their own consequences, make sure they've had positive experiences with choice making, and are old enough to understand how consequences work (logical, natural, the 4-Rs, and so on).

Avoiding Inappropriate Consequences—

There are so many varieties and examples of illogical and inappropriate consequences that I'm a little leery about bringing them up at all. If a consequence isn't natural or logical, if it doesn't fit the 4-Rs and it doesn't teach anything, then it's inappropriate. There's another kind of inappropriate consequence to watch for: the double-dip.

Words to Parent By—

A double-dip consequence is a consequence one step removed—a consequence applied because the parent is upset that a child has done something away from home that required somebody else to apply discipline. Double-dip consequences are very common, but highly inappropriate. An extreme example: A child is spanked for “earning” (and getting) a spanking from somebody else: unjust, unfair, and punitive.

Here are some examples of double-dip consequences:

· Disciplining your child because he was disciplined at school. You can and should talk about what happened, chat about the child's feelings (and your own), and brainstorm ways of avoiding similar situations in the future.

· Natural consequences often lend themselves to double-dipping. Be wary! People have a tendency to scold or discipline a child for letting a natural consequence occur. If Maurice's favorite toy breaks because he threw it against the wall, it's double-dipping (and inappropriate) for you to scold and berate him for breaking it. He will learn more from the natural consequence if you simply talk with him in a kind, firm way about what happened, how he (and you) feels, and how to avoid the situation in the future.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How to Implement "Modified Grounding"

I have ordered your e-book and have spent the last couple of days reading through the online version. ODD is not recognised in this country (yet) but you describe my son to a tee. He is 15 and we have had problems with him since he started school at the age of 3. However, things have come to a head of late. He is on the verge of being excluded from school with only 8 school week until his main exams start. He was in trouble with the police this week for the first time and was cautioned with criminal damage.

We have always been strict parents and have never given him everything he wants, but still comes out as a highly overindulged child (score 83) and he fits every trait you mentioned (except malicious gossip).

However my question is this. We have always used grounding as a consequence and up until the last month or so he has adhered to it. But now he refuses to accept the grounding and just walks out of the house. I feel powerless to ground him now as he just ignores me and his father and goes. At the beginning I was phoning all his friends to try and find him, but the last couple of times this week I haven't bothered and he has come home at the time he is supposed to.

Tonight he asked to stay out at his friends til 10pm and I said I would like him home at 9 as this is becoming the norm of asking for an extension everytime he goes out. I then said (following your programme) that if he stayed out until 10 then he would have a consequence, to which he replied we would just have to wait and see until tomorrow came and see what I could do about it.

We are both at our wits' end and don't know how to handle this, as part of your course is grounding. Can you give us any advice please. Have thought of doing something else apart from grounding, but then that means that he is in control of the situation?

Many thanks for any advice you are able to give. Kind regards, M.


Hi M.,

Many parents use grounding as a discipline technique with their older children. However, when parents ground their children for long periods (e.g., several weeks or more) it often loses its effectiveness because there is typically little incentive for children to behave well during the grounding. Also, when parents ground children for a long period of time, they often give in and reduce the length of grounding because of the restraints it places on the whole family. When this happens, children learn their parents won't follow through with the grounding they impose.

The modified grounding procedure described below involves brief and intense grounding but the child is allowed the opportunity to earn his or her way off grounding by completing a job assignment. This technique is most appropriate for older children (e.g., 10-16 year olds).

*Develop a job list. The first step in initiating the modified grounding technique is to sit down with your child and develop a list of 10-15 jobs that often need to be done around the home. Do not sit down with your child to start this procedure at a time when your child is about to be punished. Choose a time when your child is behaving well to discuss the technique and to generate a list of jobs. These jobs should not be chores that your child is expected to do on a regular basis. These jobs should take a significant amount of time to complete (e.g., at least 1-2 hours). The jobs should also be things that your child is capable of doing. Examples of such jobs include washing the windows in the house, cleaning out the garage, and cleaning the bathroom.

*Write each job description down on an index card. The next step is to write each individual job on a separate index card. This description should include a very detailed description of exactly what is required to do the job satisfactorily. For example, cleaning the garage would involve removing all objects from the garage, removing cobwebs on the ceilings, sweeping the floor, hosing/scrubbing the floor, and replacing objects in an organized and neat fashion. If some jobs are relatively brief, it is possible to combine jobs together so that all cards have a job assignment that will take approximately the same total time to complete.

*Explain the procedure. After this list has been generated, your child should be told that when he or she misbehaves to the degree that grounding is necessary, this new discipline technique will be used. Immediately after the misbehavior has occurred, the child will be told he or she is grounded and an index card will be picked at random. The child will be completely grounded until that job has been completed to the parent's satisfaction. For particularly significant misbehavior, more than one card can be drawn.

*Define what grounding means. Grounding is severe and means staying in one's own room (or an assigned room) except for attending school, eating meals, or performing chores. During grounding there should be no television, no video games, no radio or tape players, no other games/toys, no visitors, no telephone calls, no snacks, no reading materials except school books, and no outside social activities. If a family outing is scheduled, a sitter should be used so that the grounded child remains at home while the parents and other family members can still go on the family outing.

*Explain the rules one time only. It is critical that you not nag your child about the jobs to be done. The rules of grounding should only be explained to your child once.

*Check your child's work. After your child has completed the assigned job(s) he or she should come to you so that his or her performance can be checked. If the job has been done well, it is important to briefly praise your child for the job performance and inform him or her that the grounding is over. If the job has not been completed satisfactorily, briefly provide feedback to your child on the aspects of the job that have been done well and those that need additional work. Be specific in what additional work needs to be done. Try to handle corrective feedback in a matter-of-fact manner without nagging, lecturing, or becoming upset.

Using this modified grounding procedure, your child earns his or her way off grounding. Therefore, your child basically determines how long the grounding will last. Grounding may last anywhere from just a few hours to several days. If the grounding lasts more than several days, it is important to check to make sure your child is being appropriately grounded (e.g., they're not sneaking television/radio).

This modified grounding procedure can be a very effective discipline technique for older children (e.g., 10-16 year olds). However, it is critical that parents also remember to frequently praise and give their children positive feedback when they are behaving well. As with any punishment technique, grounding will only be optimally effective when there is a positive and loving relationship between parents and their children.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

Divorced Couple Disagrees on How to Discipline the Kids


I'm new to your program, and just getting ready to do the assignments for week 1. My x-wife has custody of my daughter, though I have her at my house about 50% of the time. My question has to do with my x-wife. She undercuts any discipline that I have ever tried with my daughter. The first week has shown me that I am an overindulgent parent. My x-wife is off the charts overindulgent. I can never get her on the same page with me for very long. When my 16-year-old daughter goes out of control, my x-wife will want to work with me until my daughter goes to work on her. Then she takes her side. What do recommend with respect to my x-wife? She has never wanted to participate in any counseling and really seems to convince herself that there is nothing wrong (usually this happens when my daughter behaves for a short period of time). I love your program, the first week has taught me more than I ever could have imagined.




Hi J.,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

· Have a conversation between parents about the ways childhood histories may be influencing the disagreement about discipline. Take a problem-solving approach to identify:

What is the specific child-rearing issue that is causing disagreement between parents?

What are the feelings and beliefs that each parent has about the issue that may be rooted in childhood family history?

What problem-solving alternatives can each of you commit to that will resolve the disagreement and unite both parents in adapting the beliefs and practices of your families of origin to your family life today?

Lastly, always keep in the back of your mind that a weaker parenting plan supported by both parents is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one.

I hope this helps,

Mark Hutten, M.A.


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