Pick Your Battles Carefully

Hi Mark,

Its been quite a while since I emailed in crisis! The good news is that I’m not emailing in crisis just thought I’d update you & ask for a steer on a couple of things!

So update:

After Danielle was away from home for 6 weeks, she asked to return home (she’s now been home for 2 months) & as guided by you we welcomed her back on the proviso that she sign up to a really clear home rules contract – she did & the benefits & consequences are crystal clear!

She’s got herself a job which is great & is paying $25 rent a week, she hasn’t missed a curfew & when we say no she seems to accept it much quicker than she has in the passed – plus the yelling & screaming matches have stopped. She’s dropped out of mainstream school but is doing an alternative school program and hasn’t missed a day – its not what we wanted for her but we are fully supporting this as a respectful, self reliant young adult is preferred – when & if she realises she needs a higher grade of education she can do that in her time.

I am waiting for it to all go south but fingers crossed we are seeing a turn around, we did notice a difference when she started seeing a boy but we had a conversation about the changes we were seeing in a calm way & she seems to have responded well.

We have a happier a much happier home at the moment – my question is around family participation – pretty much there is none – Danielle spends 100% of her time with her friends (they are not really our choice of friends!!) she is pleasant at home & is doing the chores she’s been allocated – we do invite her to do things with the rest of the family but 9 out of 10 times we get a no. This upsets my husband.

My view is that she’s turning 16 in a month, she’s following the rules, the fighting between us & her in negligible & she’s a teenager who wants to spend time with her friends – this is normal behaviour & we should just keep on inviting her to participate in family life & accept that 9/10 times the answer will be no! Correct?

I know I’ve said it before but thank God for you & your program, we’ve had a hellish year (I’ve lost many pounds!!!) but we are at a status quo – one that I hope will last & we are prepared with a strategy that if God forbid it all goes wrong again (fingers crossed that doesn’t happen).

Again many, many thanks – we’ve just got to tackle her just turned 5 & 7 year old brothers now!



Hi Rach,

Re: My view is that she’s turning 16 in a month, she’s following the rules, the fighting between us & her in negligible & she’s a teenager who wants to spend time with her friends – this is normal behaviour & we should just keep on inviting her to participate in family life & accept that 9/10 times the answer will be no! Correct?

You are 100% correct. Pick your battles carefully. If her participation is such a big issue - then give her some incentive (e.g., "If you'll come to the cookout, we'll go to the Mall and get you a new shirt afterwards"). Her presence in these family get-togethers is your privilege - not your right! If she is doing well in all (or most) other areas, then a reward for family participation is justified.


Parenting Teens: Tips for Single Moms

Raising teens is a challenge no matter how many parents are living in the home. Particularly challenging are the ages between 12 and 16, which are marked by mood swings, defiant attitudes and attempts to push limits set by parents. During this time, teenagers try their hardest to gain independence and self-autonomy. In addition, teenagers are often masters at pitting married parents against one another, so when parents are divorced and living in different households, it can be extra difficult to co-parent with effectiveness.

So, what can a single mom do to make the adolescent years sail as smoothly as possible? Here are 20 important tips:

1. Ask others for help when necessary. The single mother frequently feels overwhelmed by the responsibility, tasks, and emotional overload associated with raising kids alone. It is extremely important to manage time wisely and to ask for help when necessary. Assign kids appropriate chores and tasks. Arrange car pools when possible, and ask other moms and dads for help when needed. My kids would not have been able to continue in club soccer were it not for the kindness of other moms and dads providing rides to practices and games.

2. Create an inviting environment. Make your home a safe haven for not only your own youngster, but for your youngster's friends as well. This means being approachable and available, even if the adolescents don't have much to say. Talk about your favorite TV show or other non-threatening topics. Have sit-down dinners whenever possible and encourage your children' friends to eat with you, even if it's pizza or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Declare your home a peace zone, keeping arguments at a minimum and humor at a maximum. Adolescents love to laugh, and they love to tease. Learn to laugh at yourself and with them. If you handle setting boundaries, you will spend a lot less time revisiting familiar battles and will have more opportunities to enjoy living together. This inviting attitude will keep your children and their friends closer to home and out of trouble -- and will mean less stress for you!

3. Don't treat your youngster like a peer. Do not confide in your youngster as though he/she is your peer, regardless of how mature the youngster appears to be. This is a common mistake made unintentionally by many single moms who turn to their youngster for emotional support and don't realize they are hurting the youngster until after the tact. Allow kids to be kids, and find other grown-ups for companionship and support.

4. Establish firm, clear boundaries that leave no doubt that you are the boss in the home. Single moms often make the mistake of allowing kids to become equal partners or peers, and too many kids are running the show. This loads to serious individual and family problems. Kids need limits. Use consistent discipline that provides clear expectations and guidelines for behavior, and rely on natural and logical consequences. Learn to say, "I love you enough to say 'NO' to you."

5. Establish schedules and predictable routines. Part of creating stability and security in the home involves establishing predictable schedules and routines for your kids. Of course, we must not be rigid and inflexible, because kids need to learn that life is not always predictable. Find a healthy balance.

6. Give yourself credit for a job well done. No matter how loving and competent you are, you are still only one person and you are doing a job most agree is meant for two people. Do not allow your kids to manipulate you by making you feel guilty about the situation. Remind kids that you are a team and have to work together. You may have to wait until your children are grown before you get any credit from them. This is where a sense of humor comes in handy!

7. Have a support system. Develop a wide network of people who can provide you with emotional support, companionship, help in emergencies, child-care, reality checks, etc. Be selective and choose caring, reliable, trustworthy people who will be there for you In times of need. Single moms with healthy support systems usually feel better mentally and physically and demonstrate to their kids that it is OK to ask for help. Support groups for single moms offer an excellent opportunity to socialize and share with others in similar circumstances.

8. Have realistic expectations. Focus on success and not on failure. Set realistic goals as a family and work together to accomplish these goals. Decide what is important and prioritize accordingly. Have family meetings on a regular basis and allow kids to have input. Learn to effectively communicate and solve family problems together while still demonstrating that you are the boss. Give your children credit and give yourself credit.

9. Have some non-negotiable house rules. When it comes to alcohol, drugs, smoking and other obvious health risks, there should be no negotiation, and your adolescent needs to know this every time you sit down to have your six-month meeting. Let her know she is responsible for her own behavior and should take herself out of situations that could lead to trouble. Other items you can discuss are your rules about body piercing, tattoos, driving with a seatbelt, etc. When your adolescent sees that you are serious about health and safety issues, and you have a set of firm consequences to address violations, she may whine and moan -- but she'll get the message that you care and will most likely 'walk the line.'

10. Have some rules regarding dress codes and hairstyles. This is a good place for negotiating. The job of the adolescent is to shock her mom or dad! Most of the time, her desires to wear extreme clothing or hairstyles is directly correlated to the parent's vulnerability to the shock value. If you are horrified that your son wants to wear 36-inch wide bell bottom jeans, you might want to compromise and allow 24-inch wide. If your daughter wants to dye her hair purple, don't freak out. Encourage her to buy non-permanent dye and allow her to do it for a weekend. Compromise a little, and don't let your shock show. The motivation for the extreme will probably wane.

11. Have the right attitude about single-parenting. Grown-ups and kids do better when single parenthood is perceived as a viable option and not as a pathological situation. Start with a positive attitude and focus on the benefits of single parenting (e.g., less conflict and tension in the home). Many single moms treasure their newfound autonomy and independence and feel hopeful about the future.

12. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, anxious or stressed, get professional help. A competent therapist can help you find the light at the end of the tunnel. A great support system will contribute to your ability to be a good parent and raise good children!

13. Let your adolescents know that they are always welcome to talk to you anytime no matter what time day or night. Adolescents needs their moms and dads during the difficult years despite the bad attitudes.

14. Make sure that you keep communication with your adolescents. Be concerned when they stop talking to you for long periods of time. You want them to be open with you and able to talk to you about boys or even girls and any other issues going on.

15. Set tough consequences for dishonesty and lateness without a phone call. Setting blanket curfews based on age can be pointless because if there is no reason for a adolescent to be out until 11 p.m., then the curfew for that night should be earlier. "Cruising" and hanging out until curfew provides more time to look for trouble. Find out where your adolescent is going, who she will be with, and what she will be doing. Base curfew times on what she has planned. If she's going to a 7:30 p.m. movie, then set the curfew for 10 p.m. Let her know you expect a phone call 30 minutes before she expects to be late, not five minutes.

16. Show respect for the other parent (assuming you are divorced). A week before your six-month meeting with your adolescent, call the other parent and talk about how things have been going in each household. Find out about any new rules and issues that have come up. Talk about how you might help reinforce the rules in the other household. Even though you may have different rules, respect the other parent's opinion and explain to your adolescent that you are each entitled to make different rules for your separate homes. Don't try to change the rules in the other home, but do show support if you can for the other parenting style. If you think a style is extreme or hurtful, consult with an adolescent counselor to make sure the other parent isn't engaging in harmful discipline. Most of the time, though, there is a wide range of healthy variations in parenting styles that will not adversely affect your adolescent's emotional welfare. Explain to your adolescent that when she enters the workforce, she will be forced to work within varying guidelines in different companies and with different supervisors, so operating under moderately different household guidelines should be respected and will be good training for her future.

17. Take care of yourself. It is critical for your kid's well being for you to take care of yourself. There are times when you feel like you need a break. Ask other single moms and dads to trade babysitting or hire a mother's helper. Pay special attention to diet, exercise, stress management, and getting a good night's sleep. Learn relaxation, yoga, meditation, visualization, or whatever healthy coping skill allows you to relieve stress and tension. Take a walk, read a book, call a friend, take a nap (my personal favorite). A stressed out parent results in stressed out children.

18. Talk to your adolescents about sex, divorce, and drugs. You can even talk to them about birth control if they are willing to listen. This is important that your adolescents are informed about important issues regarding sex and drugs.

19. They need encouragement to do well in school. Adolescents usually want the approval of their moms and dads. They want to know that you are very happy when they get good grades in school.

20. Create realistic and enforceable boundaries. The earlier this is done the better. Let your adolescent know that you will negotiate boundaries every six months, in January and June, for instance. This means that twice a year, you will sit down with her and discuss important rules and appropriate consequences for her age. Let her come up with ideas so that she will be more apt to comply. Topics to discuss should include:
  • Appropriate places for hanging out with friends. If R-rated movies are against your rules, make that clear. If your adolescent is driving, make specific rules about when and how often she can use the car and who will pay for expenses.
  • Household chores, job expectations and church and/or social responsibilities.
  • How time is spent after school and on school nights.
  • How time is spent at home during summer break and on weekends.
  • What your expectations are for completing homework and chores before talking on the phone or visiting with friends, and when she should be in bed with the lights out.

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

Parent-Child Arguments: How to Avoid Power Struggles

Disputes between you and your kids are inevitable in family life.

If your family never has arguments, it probably means that issues are being avoided. To become productive grown-ups, kids need to be able to voice their opinions - even if they disagree with yours - and feel they are being taken seriously. Even so, you can and should keep the negative impact of arguments to a minimum.

Kids love to argue. They want their ideas to be everyone else's ideas. They like to prove that they are right and you and everyone else are wrong. Kids like to control the situation. They enjoy having power over their moms and dads. Kids have a need for power. This need is normal; kids see grown-ups as having power. We do what we want to do; at least, that's what our kids think. We appear self-reliant and secure. We are all grown up. We have power. Kids want to be like us. They want power, too.

Having a need for power is not a bad thing. It is only when a youngster uses power in a negative way that power can become a problem. Power-seeking kids try to do what they want to do. They refuse to do what you ask. Kids who seek power do not like to be told what to do. They resist authority. They like to make the rules. They like to determine how things are going to be done.

Here are 30 important tips for avoiding arguments with your “power-hungry” child or teenager:

1. A little humor may help. Here is a way to neutralize arguments in the car, for example. Whenever you are on a trip and the kids start to argue, ask them to stop. If they don't stop, begin talking about a trip for moms and dads only. "This explains why so many moms and dads leave their kids at home. Next trip, let's go somewhere romantic." When kids hear this, they get the point.

2. Admit you are wrong once in a while. This is a tough one. Your kids will learn from your example. When you openly admit your mistakes and weaknesses, you are showing them that grown-ups are not perfect. We don't know everything. Anthony attended a meeting I had with a proofreader of this book. He could not believe that she had so many suggestions. It was good for him to see that his dad is not perfect. It was also good for him to see that I did not take the corrections personally. I explained that she was helping me make the book better. I showed him that it's okay to make errors.

3. As long as arguments stay within certain boundaries, they are an acceptable and productive form of communication. They can continue as long as they are under control, respectful and are moving toward a solution. But discontinue them if they degenerate into name-calling, if calm voices are replaced by shouting or if you and your youngster are going around in circles without progressing toward a resolution. Never laugh at your youngster, no matter how ludicrous her arguments sound to you; by laughing you are essentially ridiculing her and what she is saying.

4. Be positive when disciplining your kids. Do not criticize. Be sure that punishments are fair and that they make sense to your youngster. Punishments should not humiliate or embarrass your youngster. Punishment should be mild. They should teach your youngster to make better decisions. Do not use punishment to get even with your youngster for something he has done that hurts you or makes you angry.

5. Be selective about the issues you fight over. When a potential problem arises, decide if it is really worth the battle; some issues probably are not. For example, if your youngster wants to wear an old pair of sneakers to school rather than the newer pair you recently bought her, or if she wants to wear her hair a little longer than you would prefer, you might decide to let her have her way, choosing to take a stand on more important matters instead. Pick your battles carefully.

6. Control yourself. Do not let him push your buttons. Have faith in your judgment. Do not give in to arguments like: "Taylor's mom lets him watch R-rated movies." Do not reward your youngster's revenge. The more confidence you have, the easier it will be for you to win your youngster's cooperation.

7. Do not ask why. Kids misbehave because they choose to misbehave. When you ask why, you are suggesting there may be an excuse: "Why did you do that?" "He told me to do it." Clever kids will search for excuses until they come up with one that you accept. If you don't accept it, you then have a power struggle on your hands.

8. Do not carry on about small mistakes; deal with it and then let it go. The purpose of verbal corrections is to have a more cooperative child. Misbehaviors and mistakes are normal. You can help your youngster best by minimizing problems. Do not dwell on them, or rehash the day's problems with your spouse in front of your youngster. Kids cannot build on weaknesses. They can only build on strengths. These same ideas apply when your kids are arguing with each other. Stay calm and do not make threats. If you can, help your kids reach a settlement.

9. Do not forget that kids learn how to handle disagreements by watching their moms and dads' example. How readily do you and your partner have "good" arguments, which end in successful reconciliation? Or do you stay angry, or avoid fights altogether? Your kids model themselves on you.

10. Giving verbal corrections is difficult. Verbal correction can turn into arguments, especially if you get angry. Yelling, scolding, and threatening help you vent your anger, but they do not correct misbehavior. Sometimes they make the misbehavior worse. Stay calm. Tell your kids to stop. Be ready to enforce a punishment if you must. Do not become caught in the cycle of yelling and threatening. You do not want to spend the rest of your life that way. Getting angry and yelling makes arguments worse. If your youngster's goal is to push your buttons and get you angry, yelling is a reward for misbehaving. Yelling will strengthen unwanted behavior.

11. If conflicts about particular issues recur again and again, take a look at the root causes. Think deeply about why you and your youngster are arguing about these matters, and try taking some preventive action. For example, if your child rebels against going to bed each night, she may be using her outbursts as a way to stay up a little longer, or to get more attention. Or if she repeatedly argues about doing her homework, try to put an end to these conflicts by actually writing up a contract stipulating the expectations, responsibilities, rewards and punishments for doing and not doing homework. Remember that the homework assignment is made by the teacher and is your youngster's responsibility. She may not do it your way, but if she is satisfying the school's requirements, you should not turn it into an issue at home. Both you and your youngster should sign the contract, agree to abide by it, and (hopefully) end the disagreements about the subject.

12. Let your youngster win sometimes. When you and your child argue, you need to do more than listen to her point of view; when she presents a persuasive case, be willing to say, "You convinced me. We'll do it your way." Let your child know that you value her point of view and that through communication, conflicts can be resolved - and that sometimes she can win.

13. Many moms and dads measure their worthiness by their kid’s success: "If I am a good parent, why are my children so bad?" They feel that if their kids are not perfect, then they must be less than adequate as moms and dads. By believing this, you are making yourself vulnerable to your kids. You become an easy target for any youngster looking for a button to push. Think about the reasons you might feel this way. Are you insecure about yourself? Do you feel this way because of your spouse? Is this a leftover belief from your relationship with your moms and dads? Think about your strengths rather than your insecurities. The more you focus on your strengths, the more confident you will become.

14. Most kids will quiet down for a while when threatened. Unfortunately, the father thinks that yelling works. This is a mistake. Yelling works temporarily, but the quiet will not last. Yelling and threatening have no long-term effect on misbehavior. The kids argue; father yells; they quiet down for a while. Soon, they argue again. Father yells. They quiet down again. This can go on and on. These kids will learn that they can argue until father yells at them to stop. They will not learn to solve their problems.

15. Most moms and dads deal with power by emphasizing counter-control. This does not work. Efforts to control a power-seeking youngster often lead to a deadlock or power struggle between your youngster and you. No final victory is ever possible for you. Once you find yourself in a power struggle, you have lost. If your youngster wins the power struggle, he is reassured that power caused the victory. You were defeated by his power. If you win the power struggle, your youngster thinks that it was your power that caused the victory and defeated him. He is reassured of the value of power. This results in kids striking back, again and again, each time with stronger methods. You win the battle but lose the war. Every youngster displays power differently. Most power struggles are active. Arguing is a good example of active power. Some kids have learned the value of passive resistance. Rather than argue, these kids will refuse to do what you asked. They nod their heads and just sit quietly. Some even smile a little. This type of power has a definite purpose-to push your buttons.

16. React appropriately to the size of the problem. If your youngster misbehaves while shopping, restrict him from shopping: "You can't go shopping with me for two weeks. You will have to stay home. I hope that when you can come with me again, you will behave."

17. Realize that an upset youngster is not a good listener. This is not the time for constructive communication. Wait until he cools off.

18. Remind your youngster of previous good behavior: "That's not like you. You are always very well behaved when we go shopping."

19. Separate your youngster from his behavior. Say, "That behavior is unacceptable." Do not say, "Anyone who would do that is stupid."

20. Some families draw a third person into the conflict, supposedly to mediate the difficulty, but who instead may take a position on one side or the other and thereby make the disagreement worse. Sometimes when they are unable to resolve their conflict, the warring parties may join together to focus attention on another family member as a way to avoid dealing with the real problem. Within every family, certain alliances, coalitions and rivalries exist. At times, mother and daughter might form an alliance against father and son. Or the two moms and dads might unite against the kids on a particular issue. But within a healthy family, these coalitions are not fixed, they change from situation to situation, and they do not disrupt the functioning of the family. If they become rigid and long-lasting, however, they can do damage to the family. It is natural to be unaware that any alliances exist within your family. But to get a better sense of your family's dynamics, ask yourself questions like: "What family member do I tend to agree (or disagree) with most often? When my kids are fighting, whose side do I generally take? With whom in the family do I usually spend my free time? Who in the family most easily angers me?"

21. State your concern: "Your behavior at the store was not acceptable. I was embarrassed." Then calmly issue a warning regarding the consequences that will be issued in the future if the child repeats the undesirable behavior.

22. Stop being part of the power struggle. It takes two to have a power struggle. It takes two to argue. Make a firm commitment to yourself that you will no longer engage in arguments and lengthy explanations. State your expectations clearly and firmly and walk away. Tell your youngster exactly what you want him to do, when he must do it, and what happens if he does not. Then walk away. Do not stay in the situation and argue. Go to your room and close the door if necessary. Do not let your youngster push your buttons. If you get angry, you will be rewarding your youngster. Your anger will give your youngster the power over you that he seeks. You may need to use punishment when dealing with power. Tell your youngster what to do. Be ready with a punishment if your youngster fails to cooperate. If you punish a youngster because of a power struggle, remember two things. First, do not punish in anger; this will only encourage your youngster to strike back with power. Second, smaller punishments work better than bigger punishments. If your youngster thinks you have punished him too harshly, he will retaliate with power.

23. Teach your kids to learn from their mistakes rather than suffer from them. Point out things they do wrong by showing them ways to do it better: "You remembered to take out the garbage. Good going. The twist ties need to be a little tighter next time. I'll show you how."

24. The difference between power and authority lies within you. When you have to confront your kids, emphasize cooperation, not control. Stay calm and rational in spite of the situation. Guard your anger button. Stop and think. Do not react impulsively. Give clear and specific expectations. Explain what will happen if your youngster chooses not to cooperate. Do not give ultimatums. Focus on influencing your youngster's motivation.

25. The target of your youngster's revenge is your feelings. A youngster who wants to get even wants to hurt you. If he does, he has achieved his payoff. Some moms and dads lack self-confidence about their skills as a parent. Clever kids realize this and take full advantage of the parent's weakness. Revenge-seeking kids know exactly where to strike. They say things such as, "I hate you. You're a terrible mother." The reason for these remarks is to make you feel hurt. You feel that you have failed your kids. They want you to feel inadequate and guilty. When you feel inadequate or guilty, you begin to question your own judgments. Then you begin to give in. There is nothing a revenge-seeking youngster would like more than for you to become inconsistent. This is the payoff they are looking for. Believe in your own abilities, and you will not become the victim of your youngster's revenge. Support yourself. When your youngster strikes at your buttons, remain strong. Tell yourself that you are a good parent-you are doing the best you can.

26. The worst thing a youngster can say is, "That's not fair," and then tell you why. Many moms and dads feel guilty and reconsider or try to justify it. It's impossible to be totally fair all the time---and it's not necessary. As long as you know you are as fair as you can be, trust yourself to make a quick decision. But the issue in these situations isn't fairness. It's what you want the youngster to do. Attempting to justify it, shifts the argument away from what he or she must do. That's what needs to be focused on.

27. Validate your relationship: "You are my son and I love you. Nothing you do will ever change that."

28. When a youngster feels hurt or angry, he may want to get even. He wants to hurt you. Getting even takes away some of his hurt and anger. Getting even makes kids feel that justice has been served. Revenge is important to kids because of their keen sense of fairness. Revenge can destroy relationships between moms and dads and kids. This is especially true of teenagers. Some kids embarrass you in front of others. Some kids strike out at something that is special to you. Some kids hurt a younger brother or sister. Some kids run away. Some kids will break a window or break something of value. I once worked with a mother who had a vengeful teenage son. One day she came home to find that he had thrown all of her fine china and crystal glasses into the street. Revenge is not pleasant. Revenge typically begins when you punish your youngster for something he believes is unfair. He decides to get even with you by misbehaving again. He pushes your buttons. You get angry and punish again. He strikes back again. The cycle of retaliation begins.

29. When your youngster does what you ask without an argument, thank him. Call attention to it: "Thank you. You did what I asked without an argument. I appreciate that. It shows you are cooperating." As a long-term solution, remember that a youngster's need for power can be a positive thing. Look for independence, self-reliance, leadership, and decision making. When your youngster shows these qualities, spotlight them. Catch him being good. As with most behavior problems, the positive approach is the best remedy for handling power.

30. YOUR YOUNGSTER SAYS, "I HATE YOU." This one stings when uttered in the heat of battle, but try not to take it personally, it's rarely meant that way. Children are raised now to be outspoken, and sometimes that freedom of speech comes without thought. Kids need to feel that their anger toward their moms and dads is not dangerous, that their attachment to you is so secure nothing will result. This also reminds them that such remarks are a part of childhood that cannot seriously threaten the world of grown-ups. Tell them that you're sorry they feel that way, but they still need to do what you asked. There might be times when you can't make a quick decision to end an argument. If you need more time to think, say so. But make it clear you will not listen to further discussion until you have made your decision. An issue might also come up during an argument that requires more discussion. Save it for a neutral time when you or the children have nothing to gain or lose by discussing it.

==> Help For Parents Who Are At Their Wits-End

How do I get my over-achieving daughter to slow down?

"I have taken the quiz and surprisingly found that I was a severely over indulgent parent. This angers me because I didn't think...