HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

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

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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.

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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.

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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

Mark,

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.

Thanks,

J.

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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.

"My son wants my partner out of the house and is telling me to choose..."

Dear Mark, My son wants my partner out of the house & is telling me to choose. He is mega angry. I've told him it is not his decision. But I am feeling very crushed & overwhelmed. My partner is too, but he is angry with my son in a sulky sort of way & the atmosphere here is a tinderbox. I feel very stuck, torn and scared.

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Here are some tips regarding father-figure and son conflict:

As weird, ironic and contrary to what seems apparent as it is, these situations can sometimes (sometimes) be worked out fairly simply. At least doing this in the context of counseling -- sort of a one-two punch -- it is possible to help a youngster accept that:

a) he can love his biological dad without being in danger of being hurt emotionally as long as he doesn't expect dad to be perfect or take missed contacts and whatnot as evidence of an inner lack of personal worth,

b) he can have a much better, rewarding relationship with his father-figure and can actually then have two dads,

c) he can use the experience to burn into his memory how it feels to be on the kid-end of this crappy situation and resolve not to do this to his own son some day,

d) he can give you credit for loving him enough to try to find him an additional (not a replacement) dad to make sure he had enough father-figures in his life,

and e) he can sort things out so he realizes suffering and complex relationships can work out such that you are smarter and feel better afterward.

Contrary to apparent expression of feelings, your partner is probably not the problem at all. Of course it is always possible that a father-figure is really a sadistic jerk. However, assuming that is not the case, it is not likely that the solution is to dissolve the relationship.

It's my experience that such kids are very hungry for a good relationship with a father-figure -- actually any father-figure. They want a good relationship with their biological father and are well aware that this is just not going to happen with him. This is an enormous struggle for the child.

Your partner in all likelihood can, with a bit of luck, find something fun to do with your child that can be fun for both. Sometimes it is tough, and a counselor can help a lot in this area. Basic rule of thumb is the trick to find something the child likes to do that your partner can do with him -- it doesn't work as well to have the child do things with a father-figure that the father-figure likes to do.

Your partner will be happier and have more patience if he reinterprets the hatefulness as a cry for help to have a safe, strong father-figure. It doesn't make it easy, but it makes it less difficult.

Your child identifies with his biological father. Any negativity about his father will be experienced as negativity about him. Thus, telling him his dad is a loser will translate to telling him he, himself, is a loser. Telling him his dad loves him but has a lot of trouble dealing with emotions and straightening out his behavior is more helpful. That is also, in all likelihood, what is actually happening with your son.

Your child may be feeling thrown away, devalued, unwanted. In spite of all sorts of people saying the opposite, you can probably assume that he is struggling with a great deal of anger toward himself -- assuming that he has done something to make his dad so angry, unloving, inconsiderate and touchy. This doesn't go away with talking. This goes away -- maybe -- as people demonstrate this is not the case. An experienced counselor can help with ideas about how to accomplish this while also working on opening up the child's willingness to change his mind.

Your son is probably experiencing a great deal of stress, conflict and confusion. You can't rely on what he is saying. Adults get very confused, hostile and grumpy under far less frustrating, distressing circumstances. It is no mystery that a child would. Adults will tell you what is wrong, but they may be very, very wrong. It is easier, sometimes, to figure out what is going on without asking the person who is so confused, upset and distressed.

Understand that when your son is dumping hateful emotions on your partner, this is probably an attempt to get some help dealing with his emotions, confusion and stress. It is also probably an indication that your partner is seen as safe to "reach out to" in order to get help. Yes, it’s a lot of stress to dump on poor father-figures, but kids in these situations do not feel comfortable confronting their biological dad. Confronting him may result in harsh retribution and a quick termination of the relationship.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

Son Refuses to Go On Spring Break Trip with Family

Hello Mark,

First, thank you for your calm and sensible way of dealing with these problems. We have appreciated the help.

We have a dilemma. Spring break is coming and a trip has been planned. Our 17 year old son, for whom we started your program doesn't want to go. He would like to go on an alternate trip with a friend and his family, which would only be for part of the time we will be gone and just staying around town at home or with other friends the rest of the time.

One of the reasons we started your program was a little incident earlier in the year when we found he had a party with alcohol in the house when we were out of town. We tried to get him to talk to us about what he thought would be an appropriate punishment but when he didn't come up with anything on his own we came up with some restrictions he of course didn't agree with. He did stick to it pretty well with only a few changes that we discussed prior to the events. Another was his lack of motivation and sort of a passive aggressive way of dealing with us and blowing off chores and school. He's had a few angry outbursts but nothing violent towards us, he does have a punching bag that has gotten a workout on a couple of occasions.

Since starting your program things have improved but I'm still concerned about leaving him here while we're gone.

I thought about getting him to write an itinerary of where he would be each day with phone numbers of the homes he would be staying in so we could call there each evening and make sure he was actually in those places. The other idea was to write up a contract of what was expected of him while we were gone.

I'm feeling apprehensive but would really like to trust him to do the right thing. He will be going off to college next year so it would be great for him to show more maturity at this point.

If you could help in any way we would really appreciate it.

Thank You,

A.

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Hi A.,

Here are a few questions to think about:
  • Can your son understand and follow safety measures?
  • Does your son follow your instructions about staying away from strangers?
  • Does your son know basic first-aid procedures?
  • Does your son make good judgments about what kinds of risks to take?
  • Does your son show signs of responsibility with things like homework, household chores, and following directions?
  • Does your son understand and follow rules?
  • How does your son handle unexpected situations?
  • How calm does your son stay when things don't go his way?

Even if you're confident that your son does well with all of the above, it's wise to make some practice runs, or home-alone trials, before the big day. Let your son stay home alone for 30 minutes to an hour while you remain nearby and easily reachable. When you return, discuss how it went and talk about things that you might want to change or skills that your son may need to learn for the next time.

Even after you decide that your son is ready to stay home alone, you're bound to feel a little anxious when the time comes. But some practical steps taken in advance can make it easier for you both:

1. Schedule time to get in touch. Set up a schedule for calling. You might have your son call as soon as he walks in the door (if coming home to an empty house), or set up a time when you'll call home to check in. Figure out something that's convenient for both of you. Make sure your son understands when you'll be able to get in touch and when you might not be able to answer a call.

2. Set ground rules. Try to set up some special rules for when you're away and make sure that your son knows and understands them. Consider rules about:
  • answering the phone
  • getting along with siblings
  • having a friend or friends over while you're not there
  • Internet and computer rules
  • kitchen and cooking (you may want to make the oven and utensils like sharp knives off limits)
  • not telling anyone he is alone
  • opening the door for strangers
  • rooms of the house that are off limits, especially with friends
  • TV time and types of shows

3. Childproof your home. No matter how well your son follows rules, be sure to secure anything that could be a health or safety risk. Lock them up and put them in a place where your son cannot get to them or, when possible, remove them from your home. These items include:
  • alcohol
  • car keys
  • guns (if you do keep one, make sure it is locked up and leave it unloaded and stored away from ammunition)
  • lighters and matches
  • over-the-counter medications that could cause problems if taken in excess: sleeping pills, cough medicine, etc.
  • prescription medications
  • tobacco

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

Daughter is Angry with Mother Most of the Time

My 13 year old daughter is angry at me most of the time. It is hard to say anything to her without her snarkyness "don't talk to me" or "I know" ect. I never know if I should let it pass or jump on it. Then later she will ask rather nicely if she can go to a friends. Do I say "no" now because of the earlier rudeness that I endured BUT did not act on at the time? Week 2 is hard. So many issues and hard to pick where and what battles to tackle in the heap.

Also, her 16year old sister is so "good". This builds a lot of resentment with my 13year old. She wonders why all these rules only seem to apply to her. She always says we favor her sister. Her sister does what she is suppose to without problem. She is pleasant and works hard at school. I don't know what to say to my 13 year old about why only she had to have all these extra chores and rules.

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Teen anger takes many forms. It may be expressed as indignation and resentment, or rage and fury. It is the expression of teenage anger, the behavior that we see. Some teens may repress their anger and withdraw; others may be more defiant and destroy property. They will continue their behavior, or it may escalate, until they decide to look within themselves to the roots of their anger. But teenage anger is a feeling, an emotion, not a behavior. And anger is usually caused by something going on in a teen's life.

Teen anger can be a frightening emotion for the teen and for the parents, but it is not inherently harmful. Its negative expressions can include physical and verbal violence, prejudice, malicious gossip, antisocial behavior, sarcasm, addictions, withdrawal, and psychosomatic disorders. These negative expressions of teenage anger can devastate lives, destroying relationships, harming others, disrupting work, clouding effective thinking, affecting physical health, and ruining futures.

But, there is a positive aspect to such expression, as it can show others that a problem exists. Teenage anger is usually a secondary emotion brought on by fear. It can motivate us to resolve those things that are not working in our lives and help us face our issues and deal with the underlying reasons for the anger, specifically things such as:

• Abuse
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Grief
• Alcohol or substance abuse
• Trauma

Teens face a lot of emotional issues during this period of development. They're faced with questions of identity, separation, relationships, and purpose. The relationship between teens and their parents is also changing as teens become more and more independent. Parents often have a difficult time dealing with their teen's new-found independence. And it can bring up issues of the parents' own anger.

This can bring about frustration and confusion that can lead to anger and a pattern of reactive behavior for both parents and teens. That is, teens are simply negatively reacting to their parent's behaviors, and parents react back in an equally negative manner.

This sets up a self-reinforcing pattern of interaction. Unless we work to change our own behavior, we cannot help another change theirs. We need to respond rather than react to each other and to situations. The intention is not to deny the anger, but to control that emotion and find a way to express it in a productive or at least, a less harmful, manner.

Teens dealing with anger can ask these questions of themselves to help bring about greater self-awareness:
  • Where does this anger come from?
  • What situations bring out this feeling of anger?
  • Do my thoughts begin with absolutes such as "must," "should," "never?”
  • Are my expectations unreasonable?
  • What unresolved conflict am I facing?
  • Am I reacting to hurt, loss, or fear?
  • Am I aware of anger's physical signals (e.g., clenching fists, shortness of breath, sweating)?
  • How do I choose to express my anger?
  • To whom or what is my anger directed?
  • Am I using anger as a way to isolate myself, or as a way to intimidate others?
  • Am I communicating effectively?
  • Am I focusing on what has been done to me rather than what I can do?
  • How am I accountable for what I'm feeling?
  • How am I accountable for how my anger shows up?
  • Do my emotions control me, or do I control my emotions?

So what can teens and parents do? Listen to your teen and focus on feelings. Try to understand the situation from his or her perspective. Blaming and accusing only builds up more walls and ends all communication. Tell them how you feel, stick to facts, and deal with the present moment.

Show that you care and show your love. Work towards a solution where everyone gets something, and therefore feels okay about the resolution. Remember that anger is the feeling and behavior is the choice.

RE: "Do I say 'no' now because of the earlier rudeness that I endured BUT did not act on at the time?"  Only if you've told her ahead of time that backtalk and rude comments result in withheld privileges.

RE: "This builds a lot of resentment with my 13year old."  Click here for information on sibling rivalry


Mark Hutten, M.A.

Son Complains to Grandma Whenever He's Disciplined by Mom

"I AM NEW TO YOUR PROGRAM AND I DO HAVE A SITUATION I DIDN'T SEE ON YOUR SITE. I HAVE 6 KIDS, TWO OF WHICH ARE STEPSONS. THE OLDEST OF THE TWO IS THE ONE I AM HAVING ISSUES WITH. MY HUSBAND WORKS OFFSHORE AND IS GONE A LOT, SO I AM ON MY OWN A LOT OF THE TIME.

THE PROBLEM I KEEP ENCOUNTERING IS WHEN THE STEPSON GETS INTO TROUBLE OR IS NOT HAPPY WITH THE WAY THINGS ARE GOING HE WANTS TO CALL HIS GRANDMOTHER (MY MOTHER-IN-LAW) TO WHINE AND COMPLAIN TO HER.

SHE ALWAYS TRIES TO CONTROL WHAT GOES ON IN MY HOME AND HAS EVEN GONE TO HIS SCHOOL TO TALK TO HIS TEACHERS, COUNSELORS AND SO ON.

I REALLY HAVE REACHED THE END OF MY ROPE WITH THIS ISSUE AND FEEL LIKE I CAN'T EVEN DISCIPLINE HIM FOR FEAR OF WHAT SHE MIGHT DO OR SAY.

ANY ADVICE?

HOPELESS IN LOUISIANA, K."

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There is a thin line between being interfering and being helpful, and a child's grandparents seem to be constantly crossing that line.

When a child is born, the child's grandparents can be a great source of help, support and encouragement. Grandparents almost always know what to do when their grandchild child is unwell, not eating, not burping, not sleeping, crying too much, sneezing.... and so on. In fact, many women would call their mothers or mothers-in-law before calling their husbands, for advice regarding health issues. But when it comes to advice regarding child rearing, it suddenly seems as though grandparents have it all wrong.

There is a thin line between being interfering and being helpful, and a child's grandparents, (especially if they are your in-laws!) seem to be constantly crossing that line.

If you discuss your child's behavioral aspects with his grandparents, be prepared for advice. If you don't want to hear advice, then don't discuss their problems with them. It would be unfair on your part if you unburden your worries on them, and then when they offer solutions, argue with them about why what they are saying doesn't make sense.

Be prepared to heed some advice. Don't be completely closed to their inputs. After all, they did bring up your spouse, didn't they? And how wrong did they go? If you love your spouse and if he turned out to be a sensible, balanced and nice person, it makes sense for you to at least give their ideas a fair hearing even if such ideas oppose yours. It is always better to have an open mind with regard to child rearing since everything is so subjective.

It is true that you can bring up your child the way you feel is right, but in your strong desire to do this, don't discount good tips. Many mothers, feeling threatened by constant interference from in-laws, make it a point not to heed their advice. This is completely understandable, as it is just a defensive reaction. Instead, if you have a problem with your child's grandparent's interference, discuss it with them. Let them know that you feel a certain way on certain issues, and that you would welcome their suggestions on other matters or when you ask for them.

It is all too easy for parents to criticize in-laws for interfering, but not all understand the emotion behind such interference. True, many in-laws are unnecessarily dominating, but irrespective, if you feel that their ideas do not completely go against your beliefs, you could perhaps give in to them every once in a while to maintain peace, especially if you are living together. Don't refuse to listen to them because you know that your husband is on your side or because you know that you have enough freedom and really can do whatever you want. Instead of simply turning a blind eye to what grandparents feel, discuss it with them and let them know why you feel strongly about doing things in another manner.

Always remember that grandparents nowadays have valuable experience, and make for the best baby sitters. These days, with people staying healthier in their old age, grandparents can participate in various activities with their children. They can tell them stories of the days gone by, inculcate in children a sense of family pride, and increase a child's knowledge about his culture and heritage. So bear this in mind the next time you are tempted to snap at them for interfering. It is for your own peace of mind.


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

How to Deal with Excessive Tiredness in Your Teenager

Hi Mark,

K's current problems are - bad sleep patterns, and not spending enough time on his study (in fact, almost no time).

Given the success of using the program for his other behaviours (still ups and downs, but he has actually modified his behaviour because of this program), I would like to state these rules & consequences:

1. No sleeping after school (or during the day on weekends). Consequence - phone disabled for 24 hours.

2. At least 1.5 hrs of study per night - in a way that is transparent. that is, when I look in on him, he should be entirely open about what homework he is doing. If he doesn't do enough time, or refuses to tell me what he is doing - Consequence - phone disabled for 24 hrs.

He had a blood test to rule out a medical cause for his tiredness (we get the results in a couple of days) - obviously if there is medical issue and the doctor says he needs more rest, I wouldn't have this rule, but I am confident that won't be the case, and I would like to have clear plan and clear expectations starting from next week.

As always, I appreciate your advice.

Thanks,

V.

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Hi V.,

I like it. Good plan.

I wouldn’t worry too much about any physical problems related to his being tired. I doubt that the tests will reveal anything. Most teens are at the developmental stage in which there is so much “growth-spurting” going on that tiredness is the rule rather than the exception. During the adolescent growth spurt, more sleep is required than previously because of increased growth (growth essentially goes on only during the hours of sleep).

The social pressures of the teen years - staying up late to watch TV, text on the phone endlessly with friends, or do the homework that should have been done earlier in the evening - when combined with the need to arise early in the morning for school, can easily create a situation in which the adolescent is chronically sleep deprived.

Inadequate sleep usually results in some variation of daytime sleepiness or tiredness, but may also curiously result in hyperactivity, school problems, emotional problems, and other daytime behavioral difficulties.

Before considering what might be causing “abnormal daytime sleepiness,” it is wise to begin by determining whether your son is even getting enough sleep to begin with. When a child goes to sleep at night and when he arouses in the morning may well be the explanation for sleepiness and lead to easy resolution of it.

For example, a 15-year-old should be getting about 8-3/4 hours of sleep per night. An 18-year-old needs about 8-1/4 hours.

Questions to consider:

Does your son consume any medications or drugs that can influence sleep patterns or lead to daytime sleepiness?
  • antihistamines
  • anti-seizure medications for epileptic children may cause drowsiness, especially phenobarbital
  • caffeine (colas, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, tea)
  • chocolate (active ingredient is theobromine, closely related to caffeine with similar effects)
  • in adolescents, consider drugs of abuse, notably cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol

Are there any abnormal sleep behaviors?
  • abnormal sleep positions (for example, the child cannot sleep unless neck is positioned awkwardly)
  • bedwetting
  • night terrors or confusional arousals (screaming or crying while not totally awake)
  • sleepwalking
  • Snoring or sleep apnea (prolonged cessation of loud breathing noises in sleep)

Are there daytime problems with school performance or behavior?
  • emotional problems, teariness
  • hyperactivity, aggressiveness or disruptive behavior
  • inattention, mind wandering
  • interference with peer relations
  • poor grades - is the child functioning well at grade level?
  • sleepiness in class

I hope this helps,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

Teenage Son Is Emotionally Abusive Toward Father

Hi Mark, I seem to have reached stalemate. We are not having as many arguments as I refuse to get angry and always use my best poker face, however my son has a nasty angry response to every single thing I say, even if it is just hello. The responses are normally "shut up, don't speak to me, I don't want to talk to you, F... off " …I understand this is him just trying to push my buttons, but how can we move on from this. I can't have any conversation. I have tried asking him once per week to join us for dinner, but to no avail (although I will keep going). There is no way he would ever accompany us on an outing. I know we still have a long way to go. Can you point me in the right direction? Thanks, Steve.

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Hi S.,

First of all, it is not uncommon for boys to have serious power struggles with their fathers – and girls to struggle with their mothers.

Second, I suggest that you stop trying to “bond” with him – that’s right - stop it!

Here’s why:

The true paradox is the harder you try to win-over an intense child, the more you lose him. Teenagers, by their very nature, want to be separate from their parents. But strong-willed, out-of-control teenagers take the term “autonomy-seeking” to a whole new level.

Let’s look into the mind of your son (the bad news first):
  1. He does NOT like you (although he loves you in the deep recesses of his heart, and if you died suddenly, he would be devastated).
  2. He probably thinks that you are a “geek” or a “nerd” – therefore he does NOT want to be anything like you.
  3. He takes the father-son relationship for granted.
  4. He creates distance in order to preserver his autonomy.
  5. The behavior he uses to create distance comes in the form of verbal assaults.
  6. He has no plans of changing this cycle any time soon.

The good news:
  1. This will all change when he leaves the nest and has to live out in the “real world.”
  2. After a few months raising his first child – he will realize that “dad” wasn’t such a “bad guy” after all – that’s right …he will “like you” again.

Back to the paradox—

Just as “the harder you try to win-over an intense child, the more you lose him” - the opposite is true as well. And this is where it may get a bit tough for you.

You should work toward emotional detachment. Once you are truly “emotionally detached,” here’s what happens:
  1. You won’t be as likely to take his attacks personally. Instead, you will view them as an exaggerated need to be independent.
  2. You won’t try harder than your son to preserve the relationship, thus you will be much less stressed out, confused and aggravated.
  3. Your son will stop taking the relationship for granted, thus you will garner more displays of respect from him.
  4. You will spend more time and energy taking care of YOU.
  5. You will be able to cultivate the patience required to ride out the storm.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should be his “whipping post.” You cannot just roll over and allow him to be abusive toward you. This would send a very bad message that "it is o.k. to abuse authority figures."

I’m going to use a very unpopular term here for dramatic emphasis because I want to get my point across in no uncertain terms: You absolutely cannot be perceived as a “pussy” in your son’s eyes. If you display any signs of weakness whatsoever, your son will use you as prey.

In the event he is calling you names or using excessive profanity, a consequence (see “When You Want Something From Your Kid” – online version of the eBook) should be implemented. However, this doesn’t mean you should adopt an abusive attitude in return. As the old saying goes, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

The Teacher Is Picking On My Son

Mark, I am into the second week of the program and have made some progress with my son. However, he has a teacher that seems to have the ability to reverse in one 45 minute class period what took me 3 days to accomplish. It frustrates the hell out of me. About a month ago my son had a hernia repair operation and missed one week of school to recover. That seems to be where things started to break down. She failed to send his assignments like the other teachers did and gave him zeros on the assignments he missed. I have lodged several complaints with the school about this. In short, there seems to be constant tension between the two. She calls me almost daily complaining about misbehavior in her class and sends him to the principal's office. Here are some of the "offenses" he has committed that results in him getting put on detention. "He rolled his eyes at me." "He gave me a funny look." "He wouldn't answer a question when called on."

Mark, he has no problems with any of his other teachers and is doing quite well in his other classes. I believe he feels like he is getting picked on by her and singled out. I have asked the school to move him to another class. However, they so far have refused. I certainly don't want his problems in her class to affect his other classes and desperately am trying to find a solution. He is very upset about this class. Any suggestions? Thanks, R.

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If you think there may be a problem between this teacher and your son, here's a plan of action:

Gather the facts— Try to remain objective and open-minded. If there is a problem, don’t immediately assume that it is entirely the teacher's fault; it could be a problem with your child or the school. If your school or teacher will allow it, sit in and observe what goes on in the classroom. If parent observation is not permitted, talk with other parents to see if their children are having problems. Also talk with parents whose child had this teacher in past years to determine if there is an ongoing problem.

Document the problems— Write down the times and dates of incidents of a teacher's inappropriate behavior. If other parents are noticing problems, ask them to do the same.

Call or meet with the teacher— Schedule a face-to-face meeting if you feel a phone call won't resolve the problem.

Approach the teacher as a professional and an ally— Avoid a confrontational attitude and stick to the facts. Try to stay clear of personal criticism. Focus on classroom practices, curriculum and what you feel your child needs. Once you have had a conversation with the teacher, give him the opportunity and a fair amount of time to improve the situation.

Follow the school's policy— Your school should have a policy on teacher-parent disagreements. Ask what the policy is and follow it. Give this process time to work.

Contact the principal— If you don't see any progress after a few weeks, take your concerns to the principal. But be aware that it is always better if you can resolve the problem without involving the principal. Once you involve the principal, you cross a line, and your relationship and your child's relationship with the teacher will be forever changed.

Contact the district superintendent— If you still haven't resolved the problem after speaking with the principal, contact the district superintendent. Ask what the district's policy is on evaluating teachers and how teachers are assigned to schools in the district. Gather other parents with you who are concerned about the teacher. Realize that this process takes time and may not end in a quick solution, but there is hope if you are persistent in working with other parents and continue to voice your concerns.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

What To Do When You and Your Spouse Disagree On Discipline

"My husband and I have very different parenting styles and that has really worked against us over the years …I tend to be strict while my husband is not and I feel that I need to compensate for his lack of discipline and follow through. I'm constantly clashing with my kids and tired of being the wicked witch."

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When parents have different disciplining styles, there's bound to be dissension and arguing. Tension's a given anytime two or more people work on the same project but each take a different approach.

Co-parenting is similar to any other partnership. Each person brings to the table what's been learned along the way. As parents, we're influenced by the disciplinary approaches we experienced growing up, and we tend to apply them to our children-often without first talking them through with our partner.

Imagine a baseball team-eager to win a game-but guided by two coaches who follow different rules and dish out contradictory information. Imagine the tension and the reactions of the players as they witness the coaches quarreling. If you and your husband fight in front of the children, you may not be aware of the ways in which they are affected. Some children may learn "that must be the way people resolve conflicts." Others may learn how to play one parent against the other, which causes even more confusion and distress in the family.

Here are some strategies that can be helpful:

1. Agree on a signal to alert both of you that the conversation is, or is about to, get too heated and needs to be halted. Make a commitment both to honor – and act on the signal. You might walk away and have an agreed-upon cooling off period. Or set a time to revisit your differences in opinion. Or write down what you're feeling and later share it with your partner, who might better understand where you're coming from.

2. Be prepared for behavioral problems. Remember that many changes in kids’ 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.

3. Create your own family "rule book." Write clear, reasonable, attainable rules (for both parents and kids) about what behavior is acceptable and what isn't. Your family, like a baseball team, will be more successful when you have clear guidelines.

4. Do not to go overboard in trying to avoid arguments. Having small squabbles in front of the kids – and then resolving them peacefully – can actually be good for them; it shows that it's possible to disagree with someone you love, and that relationships don't end just because people are quarreling with each other.

5. 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 spouse, your unquestioned assumptions about disciplining kids. 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 spouse a common base of information from which to develop your shared approaches to discipline.

6. 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.

7. Have a conversation about the ways childhood histories may be influencing the disagreement about discipline. Take a problem-solving approach to identify: (1) What is the specific child-rearing issue that is causing disagreement between parents? (2) What are the feelings and beliefs that each parent has about the issue that may be rooted in childhood family history? (3) 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?

8. Negotiate a Plan in Calm Waters. Sit down with your 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."

9. Present a Unified Front. Kids understand when their moms & dads feel differently about disciplining, no matter what their age. Kids will often get away with misbehaving simply by creating an argument between you and your spouse — and this not only lets them off the hook, it creates a problem between the moms & dads. 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.

10. 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?

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

12. Recognize What Your Arguments Do to Your Kids. 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-term effects. Fighting with your spouse shifts the focus away from your child — and how they can learn to stop misbehaving — and on to a "parent versus parent" situation.

13. 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?

14. Remember your successes. During your marriage, you and your husband have undoubtedly successfully negotiated many situations -- with each of you both giving and taking a little until you reached some middle ground. You can also be successful at ending arguments in front of the kids if you really want to. It won't be easy, but it will be rewarding. And your kids will be the ultimate winners.

15. Seek professional help from a good Marriage & Family Therapist if you continue to struggle with co-parenting issues.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

When Your Child Refuses To Go To School

"My 15 year old son refuses to go to school, but otherwise is a good kid. How can I make him do school work? He attends a private school. He says he can't "force" himself to do it."

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Kids love to learn. Learning is as natural as breathing to them--they absorb every single thing that happens! They learn through play, they learn from the behavior of the kids and adults around them, they learn from their own experiments. By all rights, going to school, where there will be new experiences, many kids, and a chance to master powerful skills like reading and math, should be exciting and fun for them!

Their minds don't function well unless this bottom line condition of being welcome and appreciated is met. At school, they need to know that their educators like them and think they're special. They need to know that they won't be bullied or made fun of on the playground or in the hallways. They need encouragement, high expectations, and a good deal of fun. Play, which is the language and work of young kids, is still deeply important to kids of school age. The more they are allowed to play in their learning activities, the faster they absorb information and new skills. At home, kids need kindness, affection, and some measure of one-on-one time with their moms and dads, even if it's has to be as little as a five-minute snuggle before going to sleep every night or the ride in the car to the Boy Scout meeting once a week.

There are several basic ideas about helping kids learn that aren't well understood in our culture. In fact, they're not well understood in most cultures of the world. For schools to foster learning, and for moms and dads to support their kids, we grown-ups need to see that these learning needs of kids are met both at home and in the schools.

Here are a few of the key concepts that aren't yet well-understood:
  • Kids learn best through play and hands-on activities. The best teacher is experience, experience, experience! We need classrooms in which kids are doing things together, experimenting, and teaching each other what they've learned. In particular, free play without competition or preset rules is a great builder of kids’ intellect, imagination, and confidence. Jumping on the beds at home, chasing around the house, and wrestling and pillow fights (the kids win, of course!) are the kinds of personal, physical play that lift kids' spirits and create enough fun that they can manage to stay hopeful even when days at school aren't inspiring. If life feels like drudgery, learning won't take place. So free play is vital. It keeps your youngster's spark of hope and interest alive!
  • Kids need large amounts of physical affection and closeness. Closeness fuels their confidence and frees their minds of worries about whether or not they're OK. If they're unsure about whether they're OK, they can't concentrate on learning.
  • Kids need the freedom to make mistakes and ask questions without fear of shame or belittlement. Mistakes and "failures" teach as effectively as successes, as long as a youngster continues to be respected.
  • Kids need to feel loved, or at least understood and respected, in order for their minds to be clear enough to learn.
  • Children's keen sense of justice demands that they and others be treated thoughtfully and fairly. Fairness, to kids, means limits but not anger, boundaries but not belittlement, facing problems but not attacking people for having problems.
  • Schools are not set up to help kids with the tensions that keep them from learning and getting along. This is a job we moms and dads need to do. It's a very hard job, one that was never done for us. It feels all wrong to allow a youngster to cry on and on without fixing anything, without sending him to his room or insisting that he pull himself together. But listen. Listening heals. Listen your way through a big cry or tantrum once, without trying to "fix" his feelings or solve the problem, and you'll see how well it works to clear your youngster's mind and restore his sense of closeness to you.
  • The huge need kids have for one-on-one attention while they learn is natural. It's the school environment, where so many kids need to compete for the attention of just one adult, that's not natural. Kids' needs feel bothersome to moms and dads and to educators, not because the kids are out of line, but because our society is out of line. Policymakers and citizens haven't yet decided to give young kids enough adult attention in school, and moms and dads enough support at home, to meet natural human needs for support and attention. When schools are genuinely supportive to kids, we'll look back at present class sizes, at the lack of support for educators, and at the lack of services for kids experiencing difficulties in learning, and think of conditions in the year 2000 as primitive indeed!
  • What helps immensely is something we've always been taught to avoid at all costs. If you can sit close by while your youngster has a good cry about school, or a tantrum about not wanting to do homework, your youngster will do the work of draining some of the bad feelings that have paralyzed him. Emotional release helps kids focus their attention and regain their ability to be hopeful about learning. Your youngster won't sound reasonable while he cries or rages. He'll believe very strongly in the terrible feelings he's having. But surprisingly, the crying and the chance to make sure you know how bad it feels inside has a deeply healing effect. So try to keep from arguing and reasoning with him, and stay close while he "cleans the skeletons out of the closet" with his tears and his bleak or angry thoughts. He'll finish. The longer he has been able to cry, the more improvement you will see in his ability to concentrate and to believe in himself.
  • When a youngster isn't able to concentrate or to learn, there's usually an emotional issue that blocks his progress. It feels bad on the inside when you can't think! It feels scary on the inside when you can't do what's expected of you, and you don't know why or what to do about it! This is the position kids are in when they can't write a story, can't memorize their times tables, or can't sit down to their homework. They feel upset, and often scared. They also feel alone.
When we moms and dads see our youngster caught in upset around learning, it's usually infuriating. Our youngster's problems make us feel tired and worn. Our thoughts are something like, "By now, he should be able to do school work on his own! Why do I have to get into it?!" We badly want our youngster's problems to go away so we can get a little peace!

Assisting Our Kids, Supporting Their Schools

Almost every youngster will experience some difficult times in school. And almost every parent feels upset, helpless, and/or angry when these troubles surface. Our strong love for our kids and our frustration with a society that doesn't offer much support to its young people makes it hard to think clearly when our kids are having a hard time.

There are a few guiding principles that many people find helpful when they hit a hard patch:
  • First, listen to your youngster about the difficulty. He's feeling hurt and upset, and he can't solve the problem in that state. See if you can be warm and positive enough to help him have a big cry or a tantrum. Kids can often work through their feelings of victimization and come up with their own solutions to troubles at school, if they have the chance to offload the feelings in big, hard cries at home.
  • If he wants you to approach a teacher or other students, listen well before you attempt to find solutions. A teacher, principal, or student needs to have their side of the story heard before they will be able to change a viewpoint or cooperate toward a fresh solution. If things aren't working well, they feel badly about it (even if they're acting like they don't). Fresh, workable behavior comes only from a mind that's been freed a bit from its troubles by a good listener, a listener who cares about all the parties involved. Your thoughts are important, and working toward a solution is important. But listening well to the others involved is as vital as tilling hard-packed soil before you attempt to plant a new seed.
  • It doesn't help to blame your youngster, yourself, or the teacher for the difficulty. Blame wastes energy and makes others feel worse than they already do. Because blame spreads bad feelings, it gets in the way of the fresh thinking and cooperation you'll need in order to build solutions. You aren't to blame. You're working as hard as you know how that this difficult job of parenting. Your youngster isn't to blame. He's doing the best he can, and is carrying burdens he hasn't told you about yet, or doesn't know how to shed yet. The teacher is not to blame. No matter who has made mistakes, the heart of the matter is the lack of support and assistance for everyone involved.
  • Let your youngster be in charge of the solutions. After your youngster has shed big feelings of upset, and after you've spent some time just being close to him without trying to solve the problem, ask him what he wants to do. Listen carefully. There may be a role you can play in advocating for him with the teacher or helping him talk with his friends. But don't assume that because he brought his feelings to you, that he wants you to take charge of the situation. Many times, kids can think of how they want to take charge after one or several good cries.
  • Problem-solving goes better if we find a listener, too! When our kids struggle, we feel as frustrated and disappointed as they do! When they meet with unfairness, we want to storm and rage until the threat to them is gone. When they seem to be unable to help themselves at home, we aim our frustrations at them, driving them further into their shells of hopelessness. In short, when our kids meet trouble, we feel troubled too. To be good allies and problem-solvers, we need someone to listen to us, perhaps again and again, to how we feel and to the things we've tried. Someone listening to how angry or disappointed or exhausted we feel freshens our communication with our kids, their friends, and their educators. Our problem-solving effectiveness is 100% improved if we decide to find a listener and let them hear our fears and our frustrations before we try to help!
  • We live in a society that doesn't value its kids or the people who work with them. There is talk of the importance of education, and many skilled and goodhearted people working in that field, but too little funding and respect are funneled toward schools. In most schools, human caring and teaching expertise is spread far too thin. You, your youngster, and your youngster's teacher are all stressed because learning conditions aren't optimal. Constructive action means to look for people's strengths, call on their good intentions, and perhaps to look for additional help.
 

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