L: James, you mentioned accountability. Creating a culture of accountability. What does that mean? Can you explain that and how, what it means to parents and kids.
J: First of all, when we start with accountability, one of the things that I talk to teachers and parents about is creating a culture of accountability. And that culture of accountability occurs between two people. So when we talk about what’s on TV, what they’re learning in the movies, what their video games is, that, that’s fine. But the culture of accountability comes with, this is how I’m gonna talk to you and this is how you have to talk to me. This is what I’m gonna expect of you and this is what you can expect of me. That’s very clearly learned out. That you’re accountable for the way you talk to me and treat me. You’re accountable for your responsibilities and you can expect me to take responsibility to be accountable for my responsibilities. I’m gonna pay the rent, I’m gonna have food on the table, I’m gonna make sure that we have a place to live. You have to talk to me appropriately, you have to do your schoolwork and you have to learn how to solve life’s problems without hurting other people.
MG: I think it’s important to note James that a culture of accountability isn’t just a parent child thing. We even as adults need to be accountable; we are accountable every day to someone.
J: That’s right, well, I don’t think people are accountable to a culture. I think that that develops between people. Between individual people and groups. So even personal relationships and work relationships.
J: Work. I’m accountable to that job. I’m accountable to my role in that business. I’m accountable to that business. They’re gonna pay me, that’s what I expect of them, they expect me to do the role that they defined for me. They also expect me to do it with some quality and some efficiency.
MG: So as a parent, what you’re setting your child up for by expecting him to be accountable to you is the whole mindset that you will always be accountable to someone. This is a coping skill. This is a problem solving skill you have to learn.
J: Absolutely. Look, when you hold your child accountable, when you develop that culture of accountability, you as a parent have a responsibility to teach that child to acquire the skills he’s gonna need to be able to be accountable. People who can’t be accountable for their homework disrespect other people. People who can’t be accountable for their behavior turn it around and challenge you and act out. So when you’re having a culture of accountability, there’s a two–way thing. I expect you to do the right thing and you can expect me to teach you how to do the right thing.
MG: So my job as a parent then is to set specific standards, to set specific goals, to set attainable landmarks that a child can say, if I do this, I become accountable. If I do this, I’m behaving responsibly.
J: Yeah, it’s not only setting goals. It’s giving the skills to reach the goal. So let’s say I’m a parent and my goal is that you’re gonna sink five throws from the free throw line in basketball out of ten. Well I just can’t put you up there with a ball and tell you do it, that’s my goal. I’ve gotta show you how to do it. I’ve gotta show you how you place your feet, how you place your arms. How you propel the ball. I’ve gotta spend some time practicing with you. I’ve gotta show you how to do these things and I’ve gotta practice them. So it’s not setting the goals, it’s giving the kid the skills. Acquiring the skills yourself for an understanding of what it takes. Using the tools and using the skills.
James Lehman had a very personal understanding of kids with behavior problems. He displayed severe oppositional, defiant behaviors as a child and teenager, and became a Behavioral Therapist specializing in helping troubled children, teens and their families for 30 years.
Janet Lehman, MSW Child Behavior Therapist
Janet Lehman has over three decades of clinical experience working with out–of–control children and teens and their parents. Working in group homes and residential treatment centers, Janet helped children with serious behavioral disorders learn to get their behavior under control.
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In part two of this series, James gives you 7 ways to get back parental control and stop living in fear of your child’s acting-out behavior.
Most people aren’t afraid of their children; rather, they’re afraid of their child’s behavior. It’s important to understand that this fear undermines your authority as a parent because it’s hard to set limits successfully when you’re afraid. You lose more of your authority each time you give in after your child has acted out. And as soon as he realizes that, you’ll only have the authority he gives you. You may get him to bed on time, he may eat his dinner and get ready for school, but those will be the things he’s allowed you to have authority over.
These kids tend to gravitate toward a “no accountability” way of life, where “no accountability” equals “no authority.” And in order for your child’s system to work for him, he has to keep all the authorities around him in check. Soon this becomes one of his primary goals in life.
You may get him to bed on time, he may eat his dinner and get ready for school, but those will be the things he’s allowed you to have authority over.
In my opinion, even though you might have fears about your child’s acting-out behavior, you need to learn how to deal with those thoughts and feelings so they don't have power over you—that they don't dictate your behavior. So while you may be afraid your child is going to throw a tantrum, don't let that fear derail your decision to be firm. Remember, it's not what you're afraid of, it's how much power you give that fear. I don’t know if people truly ever “master their fears,” but I think that over time, the fear of your child acting out will have less power over you if you stick to a game plan of setting limits and holding your child accountable.
By the way, when you decide that you're going to start dealing with your child’s pattern of acting out behavior differently, first of all, get ready for a struggle. Your child is not going to believe it; in fact, he's going to think that if he just tantrums a little harder or a little more, you'll give in. That’s because you've given in for so long; you've trained him how to treat you. Some of us train our kids to treat us respectfully. Others of us, through no fault of our own, train our kids to act out more in order to get their way.
Here are some of the important rules I taught parents who were afraid of setting off their child:
Come up with a Game Plan
The first thing I recommend is to come up with a game plan of what you're going to do when your child starts to escalate. This will give you something concrete to guide you. Decide how you're going to handle tantrums and acting out in the future. Ask yourself, “What am I going to do about this now? What's going to be different in my behavior, my response?” Write an "Instead" list for yourself. It might include things like, “I won’t back down when my child starts screaming, instead I’ll leave the store. I will give my child consequences and set limits.”
And then get ready for some long tantrums, especially at home. Make no mistake, there will be a fierce battle for a while. Things will get better, but be prepared for your child to test you and test you and test you. Sometimes the tantrums and acting out will increase in intensity and frequency. That’s because your child is thinking, “If I just do this a little more, maybe she'll give in.” You've inadvertently trained him to do that and now you're going to have to do some work to undo it. In the end, the behavior often changes—it may re-emerge at different times, but you just need to handle it the same way.
Explain How Things Are Going to Change
When things are going well, tell your child what you’re going to do when he acts out or throws a tantrum. Say “Hey, I just wanted to talk to you for a minute. I've been thinking that you’re really too old to throw tantrums now. So from now on, when you do that, this is what I'm going to do.” And you tell them what consequences they will get. You can also say, “When you're in a tantrum or acting out, I'm not going to give in, I'm going to let you go through your tantrum. When you're done, then we can resume what we were doing. That means you're not going to get that toy or that candy bar just because you yell and scream and kick your feet.” Or for older kids, “I’m not going to give in to you just because you punch a hole in the wall or scream at me.” And I think that parents should articulate that information to their kids no matter how old they are. If your child is very young, he might not understand at first, but it will help you as a parent to focus. If your child does understand it, then he knows what to expect. When parents consistently tell their young kids what will happen, the tantrums often diminish in frequency and intensity as the child grows older. With older kids, talking to them in this way lets them know that you’re the boss now—and that you’re not going to give in to their acting out anymore.
Let Them Know the Process
Let your child know the process ahead of time. You can say, “Hey, when you tantrum in the store, I'm just going to move about five feet away and I'm just going to watch you tantrum until you're done. I’m going to bring a book with me and if you throw a tantrum I'm going to read it. I'm not going to talk to you or argue with you.” And by the way, bringing a book is really a good thing to do because it shows your child that you won’t be moved by their behavior. It’s like you’re saying, “Hey, have a ball, pal. Dance around on the floor all you want, I'm just going to read my magazine.” It takes the power away from your child’s inappropriate behavior, and that’s exactly what you want to do.
After Your Child Has Acted Out
After your child has had a tantrum or behavioral episode, it’s a good time to have a little talk with him about what he's going to do differently next time. If your child is old enough, ask him what he was trying to accomplish, and how he will handle it differently next time. These are the most important questions you can ask because they lead to your child learning how to develop other options. Remember, problem solving is based on coming up with other options to deal with the issue at hand. So don't ask “How did you feel?” or even “Why did you do that?” The only real thing you want to get out of it is for your child to come up with some other ways of handling his anger or frustration. In this way, your child also has his own little game plan to fall back on. When you help your child develop another response to that situation, he will learn problem-solving skills he can use for the rest of his life.
Don’t Let Fear of Assumed Judgment Control You
Dont' be a mind reader. Most parents have fears that other people are judging them when their child acts out, so they do things to appease their kids so they’ll behave. I think that’s a mistake. Realize this: people are going to judge you; people judge each other about all kinds of things all day long. But here’s the deal: you're trying to raise your child so he can learn the life skills he needs to be successful. If you let your fear of criticism and judgment control you, you're not going to be able to accomplish your task of raising your child effectively.
Don’t Give in When Your Child Says, “I Hate You!”
Fear that your child won’t love you if you set limits on him is something many parents have a hard time with, especially when their child is old enough to say, “I don't love you—I hate you!” But, again, if you give that behavior power, it's not going to change. If you don't give it power and instead understand that it's just a stage kids go through, you won’t be influenced to back down. Kids love their parents; it’s instinctual. (Unfortunately, even kids even love parents who hurt or abuse them.) So if your child says they don’t love you, instead of getting upset, try saying, “Maybe you don’t love me right now. But you still have to do your homework.”
Get Outside Help
I recommend that you get some outside help when dealing with this issue. The simple truth is that you can't trust your willpower alone to get you through. Willpower is fine when it works—but as we all know, it doesn't always work. Try to get a support system in place, whether that's training, effective parenting classes, books you read, programs in your home, counseling, or a support group. You should have some outside support. It’s good to make the commitment to change, but in my opinion it's much more important to get the tools from outside and then try to use them one day at a time. And give yourself a break: realize that some days are going to be easier than others.
Appeal to the Authorities
If your child is behaving criminally, the sooner you can get him into the juvenile justice system, the better. Although the wheels of justice turn slowly, your child will eventually get a probation officer who will then have the power to hold him more accountable than you can. So when your child doesn't go to school, he will have to answer to his probation officer as well as you. If he misses school enough times, hopefully the probation officer will take some action. I worked with some parents who had a probation officer behind them who supported them. The probation officer would lock their child up in the youth center for a weekend if he or she violated the rules. I saw changes take place in those families. The kids started going to school; they stopped hurting others and damaging property. Their behavior changed because there was an accountability system in place that didn't let them slide.
I always tell parents to understand that there is no quick solution to this problem, especially as the child grows older. Rather, you have to learn how to manage your child’s behavior in a way that diminishes the power of their acting out. The end goal is that your child will learn other ways to solve problems besides using power or intimidation. Just remember, kids don't surrender power easily; neither do adults. Nobody likes to give up power, so it’s not going to happen over night.
In the thirty years I worked with kids, I saw families make progress all the time. They stopped letting their children box them in with their acting-out behavior; these parents instead worked toward the goal of helping their kids learn new skills. Remember that no family is perfect. People make progress, fall back, make more progress, and even fall back again. But in the long run, families changed and these kids learned other coping skills.
Some people say that the parents are the problem, but I don’t think that’s right. I think parents are the solution, and they need training and support.
James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."
i need help with daughters behavioral problems 15 and she wants to run the house if she doesnt get her way she throws things at me
Comment By : basia
It was very helpful. Thank you very much.
Comment By : Pauline
My adopted son (at 6 months) told my wife when he was 3 or 4 years old that he didn't love her. Instead of using the technique in #6 above, she cried. For the next 20 years, he has been manipulating her like a puppet. That is, until I pointed this out to her a few years ago. She's finally getting the message (son is now 25 and moved out of the house). However, when you tried to have a baby for years, then finally adopt one, you realize how precious they are. But as I tried to communicate to my wife for years, they should NOT CONTROL YOU ewven though they were adopted. It's like a puppy, you need to be the Alpha Dog in the house from the moment you bring them home.
Thanks for this information. I will definately share it with my wife.
Comment By : David
"Some people say that the parents are the problem, but I don’t think that’s right. I think parents are the solution, and they need training and support." Thank you so much for that vote of confidence! It also turns around my perspective and helps me believe I can try to succeed instead of trying not to fail.
Comment By : Mrs. J.
I HAD PROBLEMS WITH A GROWN SON WHEN I STARTED READING YOUR ADVICE.HE WOULD COME TO MY HOUSE AND TELL ME WHAT TO DO. HIS 2 MARRIAGES FAILED BECAUSE OF HIS BEHAVIOR WHICH I BLAME ON HIS ALCOHOLIC FATHER.SUCCESS AT LAST. THEY ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO CHANGE.
AND WE ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN.
Comment By : ROSEMARY
My son started counseling to help with his anger and tantrums. Your articles have helped me understand the fear I had and how I let this fear rule my actions. The counselor most definantly blames me the parent. I have tried to show him questionairs that my son and I have had to complete with the courts and probation to help him understand my son and mine relationship. The counselor still blames me and focuses on who in the family has the anger problem. This article tells the facts of how the problem began and how to refocus those thoughts. Thank you
Comment By : a parent
Thank you for the very useful strategies. My 13 soon to be 14 year old grandson is running my home. He knows that I have no legal power and he takes advantage of this. I have fostered this behavior because of his parents absence. I felt giving in and making issues NICE was being kind and conveying how much I love him. WOW!!! Did I mess up. Now he has called his father to come and get him. The rules he has issues with are doing homework before 11PM, getting off the video games after 12 hours, putting away his clothes that I washed and handed to him, speaking in a respectful tone, monitoring his foul vocabulary, and going to bed at 11:30. His father plays video games and my grandson will go to his father and play. This is clearly a reward for his behavior. When he is reminded to follow the rules he will punch holes in the wall, call me foul names and of course he "Hates me". I will follow strategies and expect the best.
Comment By : grandma
I was in the same situation, my son just turned 14. Unfortantly my son only started to realize when the legal system stepped in and I showed that I wasn't going to save him from his actions. Everytime my son started to act up again, I would go to my room and shut the confrontation down. If he punched holes in the walls I would call the police. He would be arrested. After several court appearences and 2 days in detention, his grades are back up to A's & B's and he finally earned his cell phone back. Just thoughts because I messed up too feeling guilty because his father was not around.
Comment By : a parent
My 16 year old son has an anger problem. When he does something wrong, I take his cell phone away but boy he goes crazy. Instead of saying mom I'm sorry for what I did, he yells, says the F word over and over and he destroys his homework and books. He acts like he's the victim and treats me as the crazy one. Also when the weekend comes he rebells because according to him, I don't let him hang out with his friends. He's always with his friends but he wants to stay out until 1 or 2 am. Again he starts with the name calling and says how he wishes I didn't love him and that he has the worse mom. I tell him that if he's unhappy with me to go live with dad but he says no because dad is broke. I feel like he uses me. Any way I'm ready to put him in juvenile detention and he knows it.
Comment By : Love/hate my teen
Thank you for this article...very helpful. My four year old is going through the "I hate you." thing right now and is very defiant at school/home. Thinks if he doesn't want to do things, he doesn't have to. Trying to learn how to correct the situation. Nothing seems to work so far.
Comment By : Ms. JC
Thank you so much for your articles and extremely helpful advice. Two years ago I came across the TT program and have used it often. Now the phrases "Don't talk to me, I don't like that" come out without even thinking about it. And when I say it in public SHE (now 17 year old daughter) is the one who looks stupid not me. In fact one time a parent who witnessed me in public told me later how impressed she was and wished she could be so strong. Raising these types of kids is EXHAUSTING and sometimes just knowing there are others in the same situation is what we need. We have done the probation officer thing, removing her door (which has been off since May), taken away her cellphone and computer for weeks at a time and told her she couldn't get these things back until she EARNED them. We have come a long way using your techniques and altho we recently had a setback I feel applying these new ones will help. And a side note to 'a parent' if you are fighting with your therapist as to who is to blame than FIND ANOTHER THERAPIST. You need one on your side not your child. YOU are the one in charge, stop letting people blame things on you.
Comment By : bischmd
my son will be 5 in December. He is the best kid i rarely have to get on to him. i see him everyother weekend and 2 hrs. on everyother wednesday. the problem i am having is when i go to pick him up from his mothers he tells he no no no no i dont want to go. his attitude is completely different than when he is with me! we have fun together we play and work on cars together. he seems to not care if he were to ever go back home. what can i do to change this problem me and his mom have been seperated since he was one. I dont understand this could his mother be doing this to him ( i would hope not ) thank you!!
Comment By : treytonsdad
My husband and I are following this guidance (with help from a counselor) to get his 16 year-old son's behavior under control. The problem is that when his son throws a tantrum and we stand firm, he runs off to his mother, who gives in to him. Then she turns around and gets mad at us for "allowing" him to run off and throw the tantrum at her house. This kid would be so much better off if his mother would also be in charge. We've realized that all we can control are our decisions and responses, not hers.
Comment By : thankful stepmom
* Dear treytonsdad:
This is a really good question. I’m glad you asked this. It’s really normal for kids to prefer not to make transitions or changes in their day. Sometimes they are upset about going to school, for example, but once there, they have a great time. James Lehman tells us there are 3 major parenting roles: The Problem Solving Role, the Limit Setting Role, and the Teaching and Coaching Role. Use your ‘Teaching and Coaching Role’ to let him know you understand that making a change can feel uncomfortable. Let him know that sometimes you feel uncomfortable too. Maybe you can tell him that some mornings you’d rather not stop sleeping and get out of your warm bed. Use the “Problem Solving Role’ to help him find a way to feel better making transitions in his day. Maybe you could role model one of the ways you make yourself feel better. Perhaps you could show him how to take in and slowly let out a few really deep breaths. He’d probably really like it if you did this together and may look even forward to practicing a coping skill with Dad whenever he gets ready to make a transition. Keep in touch and let us know how it’s going. We’re here to help.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
Okay, so I have ignored his tantrums and he realizes now that I am not affected. Still, though, what can I say or do to get him to WANT to do his homework without a fight? Grades don't matter to him. I have taken away his skateboard (his jugular) and only give it back for small sessions as a reward for accomplishing small goals (15 min for each worksheet, or each math assignment). That works, but he isn't thorough on his work, so it comes back with a low score. I took his skateboard away for a week until he brought his math scores up (with homework turned in) but as soon as he had it back, he went downhill again.
Comment By : xangirl
Thank you so much for teaching me through your information, how to deal with my child. At some point I will purchase your videos for more thorough teaching. I have needed this all my life; my parents did'nt know effective disciplining and neither did I. I plan to study this information over and over til I learn how to effectively apply it. Even the little I have learned from you has already been working. Thanks.
Comment By : A's Mom
My son is 14 and extremely manipulative towards me. He tries to dictate everything in our house from the meal he asks for, the clothes he wants, or to go where he wants, when he wants! He calls me names, tells me that I don't do anything right and is abusive both verbally and physically to his younger brother. As worthless as I feel and as much as it hurts for my son to manipulate me, I don't know how to get out of it. We are always yelling at one another and I have gotten forceful with him and held my ground but sometimes, I am so afraid that I will push him away either to a bad group of friends or to running away! I have so many worries about his future and being responsible for himself. My 12 year old and 2 year old are watching everything he does. How do I regain the upper hand?
Comment By : B'sMom
Many parents have fears about their child’s behavior and as a result they unintentionally train their child to act out in order to get what they want. It’s extremely difficult not to take abusive behavior like you described here personally but that’s a good place to start: Your son chooses to be disrespectful because it’s worked in terms of getting him what he wants or needs from the people around him. In order to feel more in control you’ll need to have a plan for dealing with the abusive behavior specifically and labeling yourself as a failure or worthless will only make coming up with and implementing that plan more difficult. James Lehman encourages parents to set clear and firm limits and to make sure to hold the child accountable by holding a problem solving discussion with the child on what they can do differently as well as following through with a consequence. Planning and practicing skills from the Empowering Parents newsletter instead of yelling or getting forceful with your son will help you to regain authority in your home. Bear in mind that in the beginning when you are practicing how to stand your ground and sticking to the limits you set, it’s normal for the behavior to get worse before it gets better. I’d like to include a couple of articles, one will talk about how to get out the pattern of yelling that’s happening in your home and the other will discuss how to avoid taking the behavior personally. I wish you well and let us know how things are going.
Comment By : Tina Wakefield, Parental Support Line Advisor
* Dear xangirl:
Homework is a challenge for parents and kids in many homes. What James Lehman recommends is not focusing on your son ‘feeling’ like doing his homework but instead to focus on if he did it. In other words, you’re not paying attention to his feelings. You’re paying attention to his behavior. We all have tasks we would rather not do but we learn how to do them anyway. It would be nice to enjoy all our tasks but it’s not likely to happen. Setting up a specific time of day for your son to work on homework and for you to check it is a good strategy. After it’s completed, your son could be rewarded that day with his skateboard. Some days he may choose not to do what he must. On those days he will have to experience a consequence for that choice. The idea is, by giving a consequence when he makes poor choices, he may make better choices in the future because he does not want to experience a negative consequence. James wrote a great article to help with the homework struggle.
Don’t forget you can also call the trained specialists on the Support Line for homework strategies. Keep in touch.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
I see now what I have to do to get my 7 year old daughter back under control. My hands have always been sort of tied where discipline comes in because she is my step daughter and lives with us. I love and raise her as my own and have been the main mother figure in her life since she was 17 months old. She is ADHD off the chart on the hyper side not as bad on the attentive side. She takes ritalin but only enough to get her thru the school day. I'm going to put the things in this article into place and see what happens. My husband works nights and sleeps most of the day so 95% of the raising of our children falls on me though he is as involved as he can be.
Comment By : HomeMakinMommy
PLEASE PLEASE help me! My Daughter is a normal healthy 10 year old.And is happy until its time to go to bed. I fight with her nightly and its really stressing out our family! Ill give you a little idea as to how lastnight went, Bed time was 915pm. Well at 9:00 we had her go get her Brush her teeth & drink of water and we picked out school clothes. Everything was fine.. Until.. she got in to bed and then it started.. Pull my blankets down, so i pull them down a little.. and it was like she just went crazy... Yelling and crying about nothing.. just a huge fit! I asked her what was wrong and she was so mad she just would hit her hand on the bed.So we told her that if she was going to act like that she was going to get a spanking. so did manage to pull it back a little. but was still mad. So my husband and i gave her a hug and a kiss told her goodnight and before i could turn to walk out of her room she was up behind me yelling at me that its not fair!!( I mean yelling to the point my neighbors can hear it with the windows closed) I put her back in bed and went to tell my son goodnight (12) and she was up 4 more times yelling at us how unfair it was.. I dont know what more to do I am at the end of my rope.. its starting to be this way in the mornings now.. I cant take much more... I hate fighting with her.. but what am i suppose to do? If i walk away.. then shes mad, if i stay and try to talk shes mad.. I hope someone has some ideas for me.. all i want is for my family to be happy again.. and shes makeing it hard!!
Comment By : stress in minnesota
My step daughter is 7years old and has uncontrollable behavior and tantrums over anything and everything. She screams, yells, cusses even using the Fword consistently, hits us and the walls/doors, and accusses us of not loving her and abusing her if we have to hold her from hitting us or pick her up to place her in her room. Her tantrums are so bad, I sometimes consider taking her to the psych ward. They occur whenever I attempt to discipline her or when she doesn't get her way. Last night it started because I told her to play quietly in the house and if she chose not to she would have to play in her room. The night before, it started because we all said prayers in her brother's room and she wanted everyone to say prayers in her room. (We alternate the kids rooms every night to give them each the opportunity to pray in their room) I stand firm on my ground and expect her to follow through but her father gives in to whatever she wants. Then that makes it even worse, because when she gets it, it's not good enough, she wants something else. We have tried talking to her, had her choose her own punnishment, taken all her toys from her, grounded her, used time outs, and spanked her, but nothing works and the tantrums just keep getting worse. I am at witts end with dealing with her and this causes fights between my husband and I. I feel like he underminds my authority and fuels her behaviors by giving into her. I in turn don't do anything for her which makes things worse and pushes her further away. I love her with all my heart and it breaks everytime I fight with her. We also have a 5yr old and 11mo old that are watching everything she does. Now my 11mo old has begun his tantrums mimicking the 7yr olds' actions. She has no sense of accountablity or responsibility, is disrespectful, and defiant. I am afraid that as long as she continues down this path, she will have a horrible future. She is ADHD and takes medicine that gets her through school. She is also diagnosed with opositional defiance disorder tendencies. When she's at school, she has no behavior problems. The 5yr old is opposite, he's defiant and disruptive at school, and has normal episodes at home of not listening and following directions. But he doesn't have the tantrums. I don't know what to do. I'm tired of fighting every single day and feel like just breaking down. Please give some kind of advice!!!
Comment By : B, C, and H's mommy
* Dear 'B,C, and H's mommy':
I’m sorry to hear you’re having such difficulties with your kids’ behaviors. It can create a lot of stress and take a lot of your energy to address this. It sounds as if you have tried many techniques to challenge your 7 year old to manage her behavior more successfully. James Lehman would suggest that you first try to access what she’s capable of doing and then challenge her to get a little bit better. You and your husband should have a problem solving conversation with her about what she could do differently and a small consequence when she does not use the skills that have been suggested. (Also, keep the physician who prescribes her medications informed of the severity of the temper tantrums she continues to have). What comes up a lot in your question is your concern that you and your husband do not agree on how to discipline your step-daughter. Many families face this situation. It takes some work as a couple to find places of agreement, but this must be resolved in order to give your kids clear expectations and behavior goals. James Lehman wrote two great articles that I believe you’ll find helpful: My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!
Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page
My Blended Family Won’t Blend!
Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You
He talks about the importance of presenting a united front for the kids’ sake. He states that if you simply cannot agree that the step-parent should find a way to support the biological parent. “If your spouse isn’t parenting your child the way you think they should be, you need to be able to communicate with them about that and work things out. If there’s a disagreement, the birth parent’s decision takes primacy and the stepparent has to be mature enough and trusting enough in the relationship to go along with it . . .” Being a step-parent can be a difficult position to be in. Try not to get discouraged. Start your conversation with your husband by talking about where you agree instead of where you disagree. Keep in touch with us and remember you can also call the trained specialists on the Support Line for more individualized help in applying the techniques from the Total Transformation program.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
My 16 year old will make excuses for her behavior because of mistakes I have made recently;Infidelity. I have been married to her father for 20 years and this is between her father and I. However I feel a great amount of guilt and it shows. I don't feel like she should be disrespectful towards me because of my mistakes.
Comment By : Michele
My son is 6 and he Never gave me a problem until now... All I hear is ur a bad mommy, I hate you, I want a new mommy, told my mom he hopes she dies. Idk what to do.
Comment By : Scared mom
* To ‘Scared mom’: It’s definitely very alarming for parents to hear their young children talking this way. Kids this young often do not understand the seriousness of these words. It is best to focus on your reaction, which can really help to reduce the behavior. When your son says hurtful things like this, stay calm, try to keep the emotion out of it, and say something like, “Maybe you do think I’m a bad mommy but you still need to brush your teeth,” or “I’m sure you do feel that way right now, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to take a bath.” It can be very helpful for you to walk away so he can’t keep slinging hurtful words at you. You can tell him you are going to go take a break to calm down and that he should too. You can even suggest one thing he can do that would be calming. Then you might have to go in your room and close the door until you’re both calm, the only exception being if you think there is a safety concern. Here’s a really short article for more information: Does Your Child Say This? "I Hate You!" We know this is really hard. We wish you the best as you work through this.
Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
Great advice, but what happens when the child is becoming violent? I can ignore my child's tantrums, I don't give in, but she escalates anyways and becomes violent. She's getting too big for me to move her. What do I do? Would love to hear a suggestion.
Comment By : April at end of rope
* Hi 'April at end of rope': You ask a great question. As James mentions in the article, sometimes it is appropriate to bring in outside authorities, especially if the behavior is becoming unsafe or illegal such as destruction of property or becoming violent with others in the household. You don’t mention how old your daughter is, and we recognize that this is a tough decision for a lot of parents to make, and one where you would need to use your best judgment if it is appropriate for your family situation. For more guidance on this, I am attaching some articles I think you might find helpful: Is It Time to Call the Police on Your Child? Assaultive Behavior, Verbal or Physical Abuse, Drugs and Crime & When Kids Get Violent: “There’s No Excuse for Abuse”. You might also find it helpful to contact your local crisis support line when your daughter becomes violent. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.
Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor
Hi, I have a 14-year-old and a eight-year-old - both boys. The younger one has always been more aggressive from the beginning. He cannot take any teasing and since the last four years they have huge fights. Sibling fights are normal and i intervene when they get physical. The younger one is more at fault and he takes revenge for everything my elder one does - intentionally or accidentally. My elder one takes it in humour up to a point but then will retaliate and sometimes this happens at a public place like a restaurant and then can be really embarrasing. I have to hold them down physically. But most times, the 8-year-old will only give up when he has taken some sort of a revenge. I talk to them both separately after the incident. And the younger one will come and say something like: "I am sorry for all the negativity. I'll try to be positive now." But then it happens again. It's not that they don't have fun together but those moments are rare now. Earlier when my younger one was a baby, my elder son was so god with him and i thought i had done the right thing by having another child. Now I think it was the biggest mistake we made and we should have had only one child. It is so bad that my husband and i are thinking of putting one of them in a boarding school. Mostly we find the younger one willful and strong headed. I've tried talking to him, teaching him ways to manage his anger, and try to point out when he behaves well or does not take revenge. At the end of my tether now...
Comment By : parent of fighting siblings
Good article. I got the Total Transformation program after dealing with holes in the wall, urine on the walls, broken light bulbs, huge scratches on the stairway from my son taking his legos and scratching the walls when he would throw a tantrum. He disassembled his dresser, carved on his bed and threatened to stab me after picking up a knife. He stole a kids bicycle and poured bleach on the carpet. Life was hard and I spent a lot of days just crying because nothing would make his or my life better. This behavior occurred from age 7 to 9 1/2. I even sent him to live with the other parent in hopes he could "save" my son. Nothing worked. I did what I thought was all the "right" things. But one thing I realized after following the advice by James Lehman, I learned that I was not alone....and I figured out that my son controlled the household with his behavior. I absorbed the suggestions given and I was prepared for bad behavior when he came for a visit last summer. When he arrived, I was armed with "knowledge" and the ability to realize my weaknesses were in "giving in" to his every whim and being scared of his punishment. Certainly I could "bully" him into compliance most of the time, but with that strategy, it proved to make things worse for all of us. When I learned to walk away, I gained control. I can't always walk away from him literally, but I was prepared. I learned to go to my room, or walk outside and let him have his tantrum. At first, it was risky because of damage he could cause to our home. Luckily, damage was minimal and his tantrums became less and less. By the end of summer, we decided to let him stay with us and allow him back into my home. I was quite reluctant, to be honest, but I knew living with me was the best choice if we were to control this behavior. Both his Dad and I decided to try it one more with me. The difference is that this time, I had some tools to work with. I implemented the suggestions and it worked! I think he felt comforted that he wasn't in control anymore. He almost seemed to surrender if I didn't feed into the drama. We still have our days, trust me. In fact, this morning was prime example after a complete meltdown. But I walked away and gave him instructions of what I expected of him and what the consequences would be if he didn't comply. Then I walked away and let him have his meltdown. Alone. I waited in the car for him to come out but he didn't. I was fearful he was going to miss the bus but I didn't let him see me sweat. He waited until the VERY LAST MINUTE to comply but in the end, he did. He came running out to the car, jumped in, and didn't say a word. The bus was pulling up to the bus stop at the same time we were. He reluctantly got on the bus, but just 2 seconds before he climbed up the stairs on the bus, he looked back at me and mouthed with his lips, "I love you" and waved back at me. It was pretty awesome. It's baby steps. All the way. It's not perfect, but my house is intact and our relationship is reaching a healthy level. We're getting there and I encourage all of you to hang in there. Follow the steps and you WILL get there!!!!! I love my son more than life itself, but it's easier to show that love when we live in a healthy home.
Comment By : Momma Dawn
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