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When Your Ex-Husband Undermines Your Disciplinary Efforts

"How do I get back on track in my house when my son’s father (we are divorced) undermines my disciplinary efforts?"

There are some families in which the parents’ beliefs about changing their kid’s behavior are so different that their attempts at discipline become more of a problem than a solution. A youngster whose mom is strict but whose dad is a consistent pushover, for example, receives confusing information about what’s expected.

A parent who gives in to his kids’ every demand in the hope of satisfying them almost always finds that the opposite happens: Instead of letting up, the kids continue to push for more and more, looking for a sign of how much is too much.

A similar thing happens if the moms and dads can’t decide how to discipline and set limits on their kids. It’s healthy for kids to see how their mom and dad reach a compromise or settle a disagreement if it’s done peacefully and effectively. But if the parents can’t reach an agreement, the kids’ behavior often gets worse as they search for the reassurance of stable boundaries to their lives.

In those situations, the main issue of using discipline to teach kids appropriate behavior gets lost in the battles between the mom and dad for an illusion of control. The kids become confused and respond by continuing to act out, both to assert their own power and to figure out which rules are really important.

Realize that disagreeing with your ex about discipline is normal and inevitable. It doesn’t mean that you are incompatible as co-parents. It does mean that you are not clones of each other. Don’t let “lack of agreement” evolve into more than it is. Agree to disagree.

Unfair fighting is never a good life lesson. Witnessing moms and dads sniping, bullying, screaming or giving the cold shoulder is frightening to kids, and teaches them to avoid or to abuse disagreements. Don’t go there, no matter how tempting it is to hit below the belt.

Decide in advance (as in right now!) what’s really important in your family. I’m sure that you and your ex can agree on at least a handful of issues that you’ll always concur are important and should be handled in a certain manner. Many families consider health (e.g., wearing bicycle helmets, banning substance use, etc.), education (e.g., completing class work and homework in an appropriate manner), respect (at home, school and in the public), and honesty to be “givens.”

The bottom line is that the best disciplinary decision is made – not who made it. This is not about notches in the gun belt — it’s about giving consequences that will lower your youngster’s frequency of inappropriate behavior and raise the odds of acceptable behavior in the future, pure and simple. If you feel that your ex is working against you, try giving a preset signal that means “we need to talk.”

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

Forming a united front on discipline is often more easily said than done. Here are some ideas that may help:

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.

2. 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 ex (who might better understand where you’re coming from).

3. Be prepared for behavioral problems. Remember that many changes in kids’ behaviors are linked to their stage of normal development. Talk ahead of time about how each of you would handle predictable situations. That way you’ll have fewer conflicts when they occur.

4. Create your own family “rulebook.” Write clear, reasonable, attainable rules (for both parents and kids) about what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. Your family, like a football team, will be more successful when you have clear guidelines.

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 ex) your unquestioned assumptions about discipline. 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 mother and father, and it gives you and your ex a common base of information from which to develop your shared approaches to discipline.

6. Don’t 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, and that relationships don’t end just because people are quarreling with each other.

7. Remember your successes. You and your ex have undoubtedly successfully negotiated many situations with each of you both giving and taking a little until you reached some middle ground. You can 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.

8.    Lastly, remember that a weaker parenting plan supported by both mom AND dad is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one parent.


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

Using Reverse Psychology as a Parenting Strategy

In order to really take advantage of “reverse psychology” as an effective parenting tool (and not have anyone catch on to it), parents really need to have a clear understanding of what it is and how it works.

Parents are using reverse psychology when they intentionally argue in favor of a decision or behavior while secretly wanting their child to endorse the opposite decision or behavior. The technique makes use of the psychological phenomenon of “reactance” (i.e., an emotional reaction in opposition to perceived restrictions on a person’s behavioral freedoms).

Reverse psychology is an important tool that parents can use to influence the decisions of their children. The technique tends to work best when parents reinforce independence with resistant teens. In order to reinforce independence in a reverse psychology format, parents argue against themselves versus the behavior they would like their teenager to engage in.

Here are some examples of “good” reverse psychology:
  • You tell your defiant teenage daughter that you can’t make her do anything that she doesn’t want to do – even if you feel you have evidence to back up your advice – and that only she can decide what’s best for her. Now you are arguing against yourself as the “person of influence” – and reverse that to say that your daughter is in the driver’s seat, free and autonomous to decide for herself. If reverse psychology works its magic, this may make your daughter argue in favor of YOUR expertise and the validity of YOUR advice.
  • Your 12-year-old son refuses to eat because he is engrossed in watching television, so you tell him that it’s “bedtime” since he’s done with “dinnertime.” This may spur some positive action from your son who is yearning to have more television time on his schedule. 
  • Your 7-year-old child hates vegetables, so you say, "I bet you can't eat all of those peas in 30 seconds." 
  • Your preschooler doesn't want to take a bath in the evening, so you say, “Okay, let's just go straight to bed then.” This will probably work, because most children would rather do almost anything than go to bed early.

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

So, you’re basically trying to get your kids to do the exact opposite of what they think you really want them to do.

Here is an example of “bad” reverse psychology:
  • Your trying to get your child to put his toys away, so you say, "I'll put these away for you. You probably don't even know how to fit them all back in the box anyway." Now, even though he will probably insist that he can do it all by himself, you may have also hurt his self-esteem a bit by insinuating that he is not smart enough to put toys away. Make sense?

Reverse psychology often works well with defiant children, because many just want to do the opposite of what parents are telling them. Use reverse psychology techniques sparingly, though. Choose your words and situations carefully. Whatever reverse psychology technique is used, be sure to practice and make it believable. Having a reputation as a “manipulator” is not good.

If you haven’t used reverse psychology on your kids yet, it’s time to add it to your parenting toolbox. Kids are notorious for waiting for you to tell them something – and then doing the exact opposite. They thrive on doing the opposite of whatever they know is expected of them (which may very well be a version of reverse psychology in and of itself).

By telling your kids the opposite of what you want them to do, they may (after being slightly confused) do exactly what you want them to. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that kids are very impressionable. Only use reverse psychology in special circumstances, and avoid using it in ways that could harm your youngster’s self-esteem.

No matter when or how you decide to use reverse psychology, know that there is a major difference between psychology and manipulation. Using reverse psychology every once in a while is okay (so long as no one is going to be injured by it). If you take it too far, or use it too often, you will quickly become known as a manipulator. Remember that once tarnished, your reputation is something you can never get back. Also, if you are dealing with compliant kids (as opposed to resistant ones), it may be better to ignore reverse psychology altogether and just be direct.


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

House Rules for Children with Oppositional Defiant Behavior

There are hundreds of ways to present and describe house rules, but there are only a few core issues. In dealing with defiant child behavior, providing a lot of structure is paramount. Putting this structure in the form of a detailed “house rules” list will be your key to successful behavior modification.

When drafting your list, be sure to use the child’s first name rather than the word “you” (e.g., “Michael is expected to …..” rather than “YOU are expected to …..”). Also, use the word “will” rather than “may” (e.g., “Parents will specify a time for …..” rather than “Parents may specify a time for …..”).

The following are rules that moms and dads should consider for children with oppositional defiant behavior:

1. Michael is expected to be a self-manager. As his parents, we will become involved at the appropriate level of need, become more involved as necessary, and help Michael when he appears to need help. Michael’s behavior determines whether or not we need to make decisions for him and give him more directions.

2. Michael is not an adult yet, and has no authority over his parents. That means he has some choices and some freedom, but only those that his parents give him. We have a responsibility to raise Michael the best we know how.

3. Michael is to follow directions and requests made by his parents. We will discuss the matter and explain our reasons, but we are not required to explain or justify our decisions.

4. Michael has a legal “right” to adequate food, shelter, education, health care, clothing and protection from abuse. Michael’s parents are not required to give him anything else. However, we will provide Michael with some luxuries, but they will be considered “privileges” – not rights – and must be earned.

5. Michael must ask for permission at least 24 hours in advance in order to go out at night, participate in unscheduled activities, or stay over at a friend’s house. Parents will usually give permission, but we will say ‘no’ if a 24-hour notice is not given.

6. Michael is required to come to dinner and family meetings on time and wait until excused from the meeting or meal.

7. Michael will be required to discuss inappropriate behavior when this is pointed out by his parents. He will talk with us to resolve problems and misunderstandings as they arise.

8. Michael will do assigned house chores to earn privileges. Also, we will give him some extra chores that are paid, but he will not be paid for work that is not completed on time or as specified.

9. Michael will eat regular, nutritious and balanced meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Failure to eat properly is unhealthy and self-harming.

10. Michael will get up for school or work on time. Parents will specify a time and will help him get up if he is late or not on time.

11. Michael will not carry, hold or use drugs, alcohol or tobacco. Also, he will not ride in a car with anyone using - or under the influence of - drugs or alcohol.

12. Michael will not use physical force, spit, break, or throw anything to get what he wants or to hurt someone.

13. Michael will not take or use things that belong to others without permission. He will return all borrowed items as agreed – and in the condition he found it.

14. Homework will be completed on time and turned in to teachers. Parents will designate when and what must be done if Michael fails to manage this responsibility.

15. Hygiene will be daily and at an appropriate time. Parents will designate what must be done and will become more directive if Michael fails to manage this responsibility.

16. No friends will be allowed in the house without permission or unless a parent is present who gives permission. We can designate who can come into the house without permission during appropriate times.

17. The internet will not be used except for school, educational-related activities, and for e-mail to known friends and family. We will have access to the computer and will monitor all e-mail and internet use.

18. There will be no phone calls after 10:00 pm or before 8:00 am.

19. There will be no use of profanity, cruel, sarcastic or insulting remarks.

20. There will be no use of the car or outside activities (e.g., sports, parties, etc.) if the average grade in any class during a semester is lower than a "C". Also, Michael must maintain a "B" average to use a car.

21. There will be no visitors in the house after 9:30 pm without 24-hour notice and a parent’s permission. Also, Michael will be home at a designated time.

Failure to comply with the above rules will result in loss of privileges and/or grounding. Depending on the severity of the violation, privileges will be withheld anywhere from 1 to 7 days.

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