Dealing with Anger in Children and Teens,
Part 2: Effective Tools to Help You Handle It

Q&A with James Lehman, MSW
Dealing with Anger in Children and Teens, Part 2: Effective Tools to Help You Handle It

It’s hard to get most adolescents to comply, but when you’re dealing with a hostile teen, it can be almost impossible. In part two of this series on anger and hostility in kids, James Lehman discusses concrete ways for you to break through your child’s force field of anger and defuse his hostility. Don’t give up yet—it really is possible to bring peace to your home.

EP: James, you’ve explained where anger and hostility come from in teens and how they use it to get out of meeting their responsibilities, but how do you get your child to comply without starting a fight every time?

Don’t forget, acting–out people get more control by looking like they’re losing control. And what’s the agenda? To gain control.”

JL: I think compliance is a good goal to have when talking about hostile kids and teens. Remember, you’re not looking for friendship, love and affection. It may be there—and I think these kids love their parents—but it really has more to do with getting your child to comply with the rules at home and at school. What are the weapons hostile kids and adolescents use in that fight? I think hostile or defiant kids are willing to use anything: they’ll break things, they’ll call you filthy names, they’ll run away. They have all of those weapons at their disposal, but we as parents do not. There are a few things we do have, though, and one is that we have control over our homes.

I think it’s important for parents to take a stand. You might start by saying, “If you don’t do your homework, you’re going to lose your cell phone until your homework is handed in.” Now, while some kids will answer you with, “All right, sure, I’ll take care of it,” hostile kids will respond by saying, “It’s none of your business. It’s my grade; don’t bother me.” When you go to take their cell phone from them, if they slap your hand or push it away or act out in any way, my advice is that you call the police. In other words, you get the external controls you need, the external support you need to at least be able to control your own home. That’s the first step.

EP: OK, I want to come back to that point later. What if your child is also hostile to his siblings?

JL: If there are other siblings in your home, have a safety plan for them. “If Johnny freaks out, what can you do?” Make the plan the safest, most helpful thing for your children to do. An example might be that they can go to their rooms and play or read a book. In the moment an argument is happening, you can say, “Go to your room and read a book while I deal with Johnny.” That gets your other kids out of the way.

EP: Do you recommend explaining to your hostile child what the new rules are, so to speak?

JL: Definitely. I think you can talk to your child about it directly. You can say, “You’re striking out at me; you’re hateful to me and to the rest of the family. When you’re hostile, this is what’s not going to happen. If you want a ride to school, if you need a ride to practice, if you want to go out, if you want to go do something, if you want permission to go to parties or anything, you’re not going to get it. You need to learn how to make requests, not demands.”

And ask yourself what your child can replace the hostility with if he doesn’t like what’s going on. How can he learn to behave differently? With the kids I worked with, I would suggest that they keep a journal and write down their hostile feelings. They were able to take a timeout and write without a consequence. By the way, if your child requests a timeout, he should never be given consequences. If he says, “I need a break right now” and goes to his room, he should never be punished for that unless he’s trying to manipulate you to get out of a chore. Remember, a timeout is a coping skill. We hope kids learn to take them on their own. During a timeout, what happens is you unwind from over–stimulation until you’re calm and composed enough to see what’s really going on. It gives you a chance to let go of your own thinking errors and distorted thinking.

A lot of kids get really over–stimulated, and I believe that’s where the angry acting out often comes from. When I would work with kids in my office, I would tell them, “Any time you want to take a break, you just let me know and go sit in the other room. That’s fine with me. But understand, when you come back, we still have to deal with this.” I used to say, “If you act out and are angry here, don’t blame me. I gave you an option.” Just giving your child that option also gives them the power to exercise it.

By the way, if your child takes a timeout during homework time, then he has to make that time up later on. So if he’s supposed to be doing an hour of homework at the kitchen table and he takes a timeout for 15 minutes because something bothers him, then he has to make up those 15 minutes later. In the same way, if your child takes a timeout when he’s doing chores, then he has to come back and finish his chores.

EP: Is there anything else you can do to get your child to comply?

JL: I think that if your kid is really hostile, angry and defiant all the time, you may need some professional help to deal with him. If you try taking him to a therapist, give the treatment a certain amount of time. I’d say six or eight weeks is enough time for the therapist to get him to work on his hostility. If you don’t see any changes in that amount of time, I would look for someone else. 

I think it’s also important to get help with your parenting skills when you have a hostile or defiant child. The bottom line is that you need to more effectively parent a child with this pattern of relating to others. You’ll see that a hostile kid is hostile to everybody. He’ll be hostile to you, to his teachers, to the cops. You’ve got two choices: your child can go to a counselor for an hour every week in the hopes that he’ll learn some coping skills and apply what he’s learned at home, or you can get the effective parenting skills you need to help create change where it counts. In my practice, I did both. I met with kids and I met with parents. And I would give parents the skills to orchestrate what they needed to do to promote change at home.

By the way, I always counseled parents to give their child a carrot big enough to make them want to change. This might include getting their driver’s permit, or having access to electronics or use of the car. And tell your child, “These are things I’m not going to do if you’re hostile. I’m not going to sign for you to take driver’s ed. I’m not going to let you get your driver’s permit.” If your adolescent is younger, then it can be, “I’m not going to let you go on the class trip. I’m not going to let you go to the junior high dance and football game.” Just remember, the carrot alone is not enough to create changes. You will need to coach your child to use their coping skills.

EP: Let’s say you want to make these changes but in the meantime, whenever your child comes into the room they fill the air with bad attitude. Do you recommend that parents just ignore that and talk to their kids normally?

JL: Yes, I would just keep giving them direction. I wouldn’t ask things like, “What’s wrong?” I wouldn’t inquire into their attitude. I would say, “All right, it’s four o’clock. You need to go to do your homework now, Jessica.”

Kids will walk around with a contemptuous attitude, and it does affect everybody and everything. But in my opinion, you just keep them focused on the task at hand. If they start making negative comments, say “Look, why don’t you go to your room until you’re ready to speak like the rest of us.”

EP: If you have an angry child, is there any way to calm them down during an outburst?

JL: I think the best way to handle their anger is to say what you have to say and then get out of the discussion. I recommend that you say something like: “I’m not going to talk to you till you calm down,” then turn and leave the room. If your adolescent yells at your back or calls you a name as you’re walking out of the room, don’t respond to him. Don’t argue; don’t turn around—don’t do anything. Just keep walking. If you have to get in your car and drive around the block, then do it as long as there are no small children in the house. But the point is to keep walking. Go to your bedroom and stay there for a few minutes.

Again, the idea is that once he’s in that angry, agitated state, he’s thinking that you’re the enemy, that you don’t understand, and he’s blaming you, his teachers, and other authority figures. He sees himself as the victim, and there’s nothing you can do face–to–face that’s going to take that away. People believe what they think, and teenagers believe what they think a lot more than they believe what their parents say. If a teenager thinks something isn’t too risky, it doesn’t matter if their parents say it’s a crazy stunt. Believe me, on a good day adolescents can hardly hear their parents beyond their own thinking errors and the way they view the world. So they believe what they think.

As soon as you extract yourself from the argument, there’s nothing to yell about. Your child may walk around the house shouting for a few more minutes, but the thing is, if you don’t respond to it, eventually he’s going to quiet down—or escalate.

EP: That brings us back to what you started talking about before…what should you do when your child escalates?

JL: I think it’s very important for parents to understand that their child might escalate his behavior. When you refuse to argue, some kids will break something or do something destructive. In my opinion, that’s when you call the police. Get them to help you because if your child is behaving this way, he’s out of control. When you call the police, say, “I don’t feel safe here; my son is out of control.”

Don’t try to talk your child out of his anger; don’t try to reason him down. Reasoning just gives your child a feeling of false power, and more of a sense that he’s in control and you’re not. What he hears you saying is, “You have huge shoulders Johnny; you have such big muscles. You’re so powerful.”

EP: James, in that case, do you think asking your child about his feelings tends to make things worse?

JL: In my experience, the more you ask what’s going on, the more your child will simply state his case; in fact, he’ll scream his case if you let him. The truth is, some kids want to appear out of control whether or not they are. Don’t forget, acting–out people get more control by looking like they’re losing control. And what’s the agenda? To gain control.

If you think you have to accept this type of hostile, defiant or angry attitude in order to be loved, that’s called co–dependency. In a co–dependent relationship, you have to fulfill a certain role in order to be loved. That’s one of its main definitions. An example might be, “You’ll love me as long as I make excuses for your alcoholism.” With a child, it’s “You’ll love me as long as I put up with your garbage.”

Personally, I think parents should try to maintain their dignity and self–respect. Remember, as I said before, kids want to love the people they respect. And they’ll find things to love about you when they do.


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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."


Do you know my Son? All that I have just read is exactly what has been going on! 14 years old and he believes the world revolves around him. I have taken your advise and even though I feel more in control of my home now, he appears to act out more often and more dramatic! I am holding my ground. Any more advise would be very helpful.

Comment By : Wigged out Mom

Great article. I am a family therapist and use your basic ideas. I try to empower parents, not 'understnd' teens behavior.

Comment By : Bob Kalas LSW, MPH

This is excellent material. Of all the parenting material I have read, nothing compares to Dr. Lehman's approach. I was constantly disappointed in and frustrated with the methods that were introduced in college classes. It seemed as if everything offered was either overbearing or wishy-washy, but all of it was nonsensical. Dr. Leman's approach just plain makes sense...which is why it works. It's a concept, not just a list of silly rules.

Comment By : kt

* Dear ‘Wigged out Mom’: James Lehman says to expect some acting out and resistance when you begin using the techniques in the program. Your child is not used to you using effective parenting techniques and will test you, hoping to move things back to where they were before. Change takes some time, practice and persistence. You have the right idea—hold your ground. Call us here on the Support Line for ideas and encouragement. We’re here to help.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I've been in the system with my kids and if i didnt use what i've learned from james they would be in fostier care. thank god i found a way to deal with my kids.iam a single dad you saved my family james.not the state of Indiana thanks EP

Comment By : bige

very interesting article. one way my son exerts control is to ask me not to stand too close or "he will wig out" If I dont move, he escaltes. He is fine if I move away. Im not sure if this is manipulative or he is just telling me he has boundaries....

Comment By : lynnedell

The "time-out" at his discretion works wonderfully. My ODD son could not cope well at school, so one terrific teacher offered him a "pass to the drinking fountain" when he felt he needed a break. It worked so well we had it written into his IEP. He acts like a normal teenager now and has been mainstreamed for 3 years. We had him listen to the Program CD's and it helped all of us alot. Thanks for a great program. To other parents out there -- follow the program, it really does work!

Comment By : Happy family

The perfect advice with perfect timing. Thank you so much.

Comment By : Lisa

I am curious if the techniques used in this program also work on older kids, i.e. 20+? My son is still out of control at times and is 20 years old. He still lives at home - and when he gets angry, I am left with a room full of broken furniture. We call the police, then he begs us to take him back, and we do. It then seems to happen all over again. I don't want him to have a record that will follow him around for the rest of his life, but feel with both of my sons that I have waited too long to try and take control.

Comment By : lmherndon

I have a 17 year old boy who is hostile and angry, wants his own way and thinks the world revolves around him. He makes people give him rides because he does not want to ride the bus. He yells at me and gets angry. I really will have to study these articles and see what can be done. I have already called the police. He has been in trouble twice with police this year. I think he is trying but still wants his own way and is angry or hostile to me at times.

Comment By : Autumn

I love the information here, and try to apply it to my very spirited 3 year old. I would greatly appreciate resources/information that could help me to specifically deal with disrespectful talking, hitting a younger sibling, and refusal to follow direction (getting ready for bed, eat dinner...) for a 3-year old. We use time outs, her special break place, warnings... it just gets exhausting. She can be especially mean to her dad. Today she told him that she doesn't like him and doesn't want him to be her dad. He doesn't have a lot of patience and this really hurt him. I told him to not take it personally but to explain to her that what she said was not nice and she needed to apologize. Guidance would be MOST appreciated! Thank you!!

Comment By : mom of terrible 3

Very interesting. I have a 13 year old girl who was sweet as pie until recently she's been acting out and out of control. This article is very helpful to me. Thank you!

Comment By : Mother of an X sweet as pie 13 year old.

I agree, I have been using TT for 1 year with my out of control son, and yes, I did call the police once. I warned him that if he wanted to swear, threaten and break things, that would be the result. I did and although he did try hard to not appear to be "scared", I know he was. He now does his chores with NO arguements. Now do not get me wrong, I still have to use the program every day and read these articles because it is easy to forget. We still have to deal with swearing and name calling. I am finding myself using this more with my teen daughter at this point. Different kind of behavior, but same concepts. My suggestion, get up every morning and keep trying. Forgive yourself when you realize it could have been handled differently and make the changes for next time. Most importantly FOLLOW THRU.

Comment By : danielle

Have four sons, older two in 20's have influenced younger ones who are now 16 and 14. Our 24 yr old in jail for DUI, which has really been a blessing and changed his attitude and gratitude. Our 22 yr old struggled with learning disabilities and until recently was very hostile and argumentative. Only now out of frustration with external issues does he get upset. He is quick to see his anger and usually gets himself calmed down. However, the effects of our bad marriage over 20 yrs plus and the kids seeing the disrespect and arguing my own husband and myself put on each other, has greatly affected the way they treat us. We have gotten counselling and through God and church fellowship have mended our marriage and are much better as a couple. Our youngest son is very disrepectful and expresses hatred to his Dad. He and his 16 yr old brother call us names and tell us to shut up and mind our own business. We are at our wits end with the youner sons. Especially the 14 yr old. They act inappropriately and will not listen and outright tell us no to things we ask of them. We have taken away computer, tv for weeks at a time. They have never had a problem with hanging out in the streets or past curfew. They are home or busy with sports and school. They just show us disrepect and think it is normal. Need advice please.

Comment By : Lin and Bri

* Dear ‘lmherndon’: The techniques in the Total Transformation Program can work on a young adult who is twenty and still living at home. The Program will teach you techniques as well as ‘what to say’ to set house rules. James Lehman recommended that you tell your child that you expect appropriate behavior from him if he is to live with you. He recognized that calling the police was a difficult decision each family had to make for themselves but said he personally would not hesitate to call the police if a child was holding the family hostage by destroying property. If you purchase the Total Transformation Program, consider using the Support Line to discuss Program techniques and for encouragement. We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My son is 15, his mother and I are divorced and until a month ago my children lived with me. My son decided to run away to his mother's house and his mother has not helped me to reconnect with my son. He is exhibiting the some of the exact symptoms mentioned. How do I get him home and back on track?

Comment By : sad dad

* Dear ‘mom of terrible 3’: It’s always best to start by looking at what we as parents can do differently to get better results when we are trying to discipline our kids. Our kids are watching our face when we talk to them, hearing our tone of voice when correcting them and they notice what we’re doing with our body. Let your husband know you understand how frustrating and exhausting it can be to deal with children at times, but help him remember that ‘role modeling’ how to be more patient will be the best way to help your ‘spirited’ daughter to learn self-control. Parents should not be afraid to tell their child when they’re starting to ‘lose it’. Say, “I need to take a little time out here to calm myself down. I’m going to take some deep breaths and sit down for a few minutes.” Make sure your discipline decisions are not influenced by your emotions. Use consequences as an opportunity to teach your child what she can do differently next time. After all, learning how to calm herself down is what you want from her when you send her for a time out. So demonstrate your calming techniques for her. As James Lehman said, “Kids learn more from what we do then what we say.”

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have that child x2...twins boy/girl but the girl is 100x worse. Very defiant. When I have asked for her cell phone, she continued to ask why...and wants explanations...tells me its not good enough and eventually has thrown it against the wall and broken it before giving it to me. The stories continue.... At this point, I MYSELF, feel as if I am out of control because I find myself raising my voice and saying things I do not mean. I tried to rationalize with her but it is useless. Tried police-they claim they cant do anything. Called social services and they stated they only suggest counseling. Tried that, too. But she has ran from the doctors office the moment she gets out of the car. Any suggestion.

Comment By : double trouble

* Dear ‘double trouble’: At times, when trying to enforce a consequence, we find ourselves in the middle of a power struggle with our kids. James Lehman, author of the Total Transformation Program, recommends that we avoid getting into full blown arguments with our kids when they are resisting compliance and demanding reasons why they should comply. These types of arguments encourage kids to be defiant and to expect a reason for the consequence that they approve of. But if our kids are asking for an explanation of the consequence in an appropriate way, James Lehman says that okay. It’s okay for kids to request clarification and to tell us their point of view. We want our kids to learn how to be appropriately assertive. Genuine empowerment comes from the development of appropriate life skills, such as communication and learning how to meet responsibilities. Refer to James Lehman’s article regarding power struggles: Avoiding Power Struggles with Defiant Children Declaring Victory is Easier than You Think It’s good to hear that you are seeking out local resources to help your family. (Try family therapy instead of individual therapy). Please let us know if we can answer any more questions. We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

This is my daughter to a "T". The problem is, when I called the police, it escalated so much she stated (while in shackles in the detention center) that if they made her come home, she would kill me. CPS charged ME with neglect and took her. My crime? Took away her phone privileges, told her no. Her brother was cut when she decided to come at me with a knife and he wrestled it away from her. She's 15. This was the second offense; she was on probation when she pulled this and we had just had our multi-systemic therapist leave the house after a session.

Comment By : Kateri

Yes, the suggestion that I focus on effective parenting skills is great because I have a 23-year-old daughter who I cannot force to go to therapy because she is in adult and the cops won't do anything. Thank you. I am learning new things already!

Comment By : Sween

My husband says... if you take a time-out in your bedroom, what's to say the kid doesn't have more control... to go and watch TV or do whatever he wants to do while you are away in your room or on a drive around the block? Also, I've called the police, so you can't use that unless its extreme. I feel unsafe with my daughter lots of times that she is out of control... problem is that I also become out of control and fight back. She recently ripped my shirt... almost off in a public parking lot before soccer practice because she got mad at me. I unfortunately lowered myself and fought back. I often find myself trying to protect me, but in protecting me, I am pushing her away and then she slips or ends up hurting herself then comes back at me with more vengence. It's horrible and I even now feel like a horrible parent for not being able to make a difference in all these years. I recently had a nervous breakdown partially due to her behavior and my husbands lack of support and also issues at work.

Comment By : Karbo3

* Dear ‘Karbo3’: We’re so sorry to hear you’re having these difficulties. It can be very challenging to stay calm and not over-react when our kids are acting out. One reason to stay calm when you’re interacting with your daughter when she’s really upset is that it helps her to get under control. If you become aggressive in your speech or body language in response to your daughter, it will cause your daughter to become more aggressive in response to you—it will escalate the situation. Another reason to remain calm is to ‘role model’ for your daughter what ‘coping skills’ you use to manage yourself under stressful circumstances. One of those coping skills can be going to your bedroom for a time-out. This is a good technique and is an indication that you are taking control of your emotions and not an indication that the child is gaining more control over you. Some other coping techniques are listening to music, calling someone, taking a warm bath or shower, and breathing deeply. Some people find that working with a professional counselor for awhile helps them in their work to develop skills that improve their ability to remain in emotional control. We appreciate your question and hope our answer was helpful. Remember, you can call the trained specialists on the Support Line for encouragement and more ideas on using the techniques from the Total Transformation Program.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

A very interesting article indeed. I am currently experiencing this behavior with my 15 yr old son. Intervention Srvc is involved. I just feel that walking away is giving him the upper hand, and looks like I lost the battle. It's very belittling. Any responses?

Comment By : Michelle

* Dear Michelle: Thanks for your clarifying question. What you’re actually doing when you walk away is ‘taking control’ of the situation—not ‘losing control’. You’re not allowing your emotions to get the better of you and you’re role modeling for your son the way to handle himself when he gets in these emotional situations. It would be much worse if you stayed in the argument because it will escalate and your son will then witness you ‘going with the flow of your emotions’, probably using a really loud voice and having a really angry look on your face. You’re ‘out of control’ at that moment and he sees it. Remember that kids learn much more from what we do than from what we say. Demonstrate how to ‘take control’ by walking away and refusing to continue the discussion until you’re both calm.

Comment By : Carole Banks, MSW, Parental Support Line Advisor

nice one i like it but one thing how can we influence r child to respect us? please do answer

Comment By : beera

* Dear beera: Just as with other lessons we teach our children, we teach them how to be respectful through role modeling. Kids learn respect from us by experiencing being respected by us and by watching how we behave toward others. There are many ways to demonstrate your respect for your kids. For example, value their opinions. You don’t have to agree with them—just hear them out. Share your time and attention with them. One good way is by regularly having family dinner together. Sometimes when we’re upset with our kids, we can get the feeling that we’re not being respected by them. When our kids push our buttons and make us angry, it can feel very personal, but here is where you need to remain calm and stay under control to demonstrate that even though you are very angry, you still love (and respect) them. Some parents mistakenly feel that they need to be more ‘powerful’ to demonstrate that they deserve respect. They get into situations where they “win” so the kids “lose,” or they become verbally or physically aggressive, or believe they should be “obeyed” without question. These are misconceptions of the true meaning of respect. Forced respect—demanding respect—is not true respect. True respect comes from within ourselves and is given to others. By living in a way that is respectful to others, including our kids, we can expect that we will receive respect back from our children.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have a 14 year old, and he crosses the borderline from argumentative to blatantly disrespectful almost every time we talk. He is constatnly criticizing my parenting, and my choices, whenever I address a behaviour problem, as if we are equals. I feel that this is very disrespectful, and that I'm hurting him if I allow him to proceed through life thinking it's okay to talk to adults this way. He's not doing drugs, or drinking, more or less keeps up with his homework, but does exhibit disprespectful mannerisms at school, especially toward female teachers at school. He would never dare talk to his father the way he talks to me (we are divorced, his dad can be controlled sometimes, but is often emotionally abusive, calls my kids stupid, and even worse (in Spanish), and constantly picks at them. He has alchohol abuse issues too) There are problems between he and his brother where he constantly teases him and then fights ensue, sometimes quite violent, and he expresses some severe jealousy at times. He attempts to stay controlled during arguments with him, sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses, but the constant teasing to me is a very controlling type of behaviour. I try to stay controlled, but sometimes he really pushes my buttons. Recently, he was shooting off at the mouth so badly, and wouldn't stop. He was anxious about a buildup of assignments because he had been procrastinating and accused me of being the cause of it, as well as lying that I had never helped get him on track. I can't stand lying, and hate, absolutely hate being accused of something, so it really set me off. As I was talking to him (not yelling), he started repeatedly interrupting me, (to the point I literally could not finish a sentence),mocking me, calling me a liar, sneering etc. At that point, I slapped him on the face, more than once, which isn't something I condone. Should I sit down with him and apologize, or say that I do not agree with my own behaviour, as a model of what one should do when we've made a mistake, or would that give him more fuel for his attacks against me. My phone was on, so that in case he didn't hear something I said, I could replay it, so I replayed it to myself later after feeling very down about having used a physical expression of my anger against him, but instead of being remorseful, I was shocked by hearing his disrespectful behaviour all over again. It was over the top. I don't condone physical punishment, and this rarely happens, but I know there is some damage to our relationship now, and wonder how to handle it moving forward, and how I can stop getting sucked in when he is out of control. I think it scares me. I almost called the police once about a year ago.

Comment By : feeling powerless

* Dear feeling powerless: You’re correct to consider apologizing. You should. As you say, it would be good role modeling for your child to learn how to say he’s sorry. If we had a role in things going badly, it’s always a good idea to acknowledge this to our kids. They know it anyway. Say, “I was wrong to slap you in anger. I’m sorry. I will work on staying in better emotional control.” This is the format you want to teach to your child. When apologizing, say that you were wrong and then name the actual behavior. Next apologize and then talk about what you will do differently next time. It’s very hard not to take things personally when our kids are mocking and sneering. For some ideas on managing your emotions in these touch situations, see: Disrespectful Child Behavior? Don't Take It Personally. Now forgive yourself. We all make mistakes. Plus, you deserve credit for looking for ways to handle this challenge differently in the future.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have a 15yrs old and he is out of control he just got arrest and he just don't care,I can take away every thing he like that nothing for him what can I do next,also he wont go to school.What can I do.

Comment By : mimi

* Dear ‘mimi’: It can be so very frustrating when kids act like they don’t care about any consequences. Hopefully your son’s arrest will give you access to support and resources that will be helpful to you, such as a probation officer or court-ordered counseling for example. Take advantage of such opportunities—this is a way to be an empowered parent. James Lehman felt that kids act out because they don’t have the skills they need to behave differently and he said, “You can’t punish kids into better behavior.” What this means is it that there is no “right” consequence that will make your son make better choices. It’s important to talk to your son about what is going on and what he can do differently. For example, ask him, “What is your reason for not going to school?” He might say he hates school or that he doesn’t like a certain teacher. Let him know that is no excuse- it’s his responsibility to go to school no matter what. Ask him what he’ll do differently tomorrow to get himself there. You do want to use consequences to hold him accountable for using this new skill, but keep them short term: no electronics or other privileges during school hours that day, and call the school to let them know he is not excused. That’s it. Do this each day he refuses to go to school and hang in there—kids need a lot of repetition in order to really learn a new skill and use it successfully.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Thank you. I just found this site today. For the past two years, we have been thinking that we were all alone in this situation and that things were hopeless. I don't know if it's too late to have a relationship with our son, but at least you have given us a direction for dealing with this nightmare.

Comment By : Lisa

My 16-year old is actually a great guy, a pleasure when WE are together. His dad passed away 2 years ago, and the relationship between my son and my now-husband has steadily declined until an "episode" where my husband and son came to blows, my son not being the first. So, I have a husband that is out of control, and a son that depends on me. I know my husband will never agree to any type of counseling. I have no idea what to do to help my son. I have never seen the anger in him until recently, but it is so fierce I am gratly concerned it will lead to much, much bigger problems. Need help!

Comment By : D Keith

* To ‘D. Keith’: I imagine that you’re feeling caught in the middle here. Even though your husband is not open to counseling, you can still seek some support for your son and go to counseling yourself to learn new strategies for communicating your concerns to your husband. You can also talk to your son about the anger he is feeling and how he can manage it effectively (asking to go for a walk, for example). In the meantime, if things become physical between them at all, no matter who started it, we suggest that you call 911 to ensure the safety of all family members. I know this is hard. We wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have an 18 year old daughter who thinks she owns the place, everything has to be her way, gets very disrespecful and expects me to do everything for her. I have being trying my best to stay in control and she hates it and continues her behaviors and now my 13 year old son and 4 years old daughter are coping her behavior too. She is a good kid and has never been in trouble with the police, drugs, stealing or alcohol. She's been accepted to college, she works and is contributing financially at home but her temper, attitude and disrespecfullness is driving me crazy specially now that the other 2 kids are coping her leaving me with more to handle. I have talked to her many times and explained to her that while she lives at home she needs to respect her home and her family and that she is an adult now and is expected to act as one, that I'm not her slave or personal assistance and she needs to take responsability. It's not working and she continues to harras me around everytime she wants/needs something. Almost once a day in person or over the phone.

Comment By : Abouttohaveabreakdownmom

Actually, despite everything everybody has said in this website, i think that there is really no neccesity for a bunch of rules like this to get a child to stop being angry and mad - all thats really needed is one word: understanding. If somebody is angry, and the other person does not know why, then there's bound to be a reason that is not known to one side or the other. If i get into arguments or something that seems unsolvable, even if I get angry, i'll just try to explain myself or understand something the other person is saying. And this means not holding back feelings too! Even for very controversial issues! GEtting angry at one another is actually being honest, not surpressing your thoughts, and just really showing your feelings, though you dont have to act outraged and throw things, is a great thing - some of the worst enemies can get along after a good fight! Thats what I think.And its an adventure, to get angry and get better together again, no?

Comment By : Wendy Pigglewiggle

What you have said about what happens is right but I have done everything already and it does not help in any way, getting the police makes it worse once their gone, social workers don't know how they can help me and he won't go to counciling, he doesn't go to school at all any more. I am on my own and I am so tired now that I would give him up or let him walk out. The list of things that you have suggested to do I have done and tried with no effect at all.

Comment By : Carola

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child anger, how to handle, manage, teen behavior problems, adolescent hostility

Responses to questions posted on are not intended to replace qualified medical or mental health assessments. We cannot diagnose disorders or offer recommendations on which treatment plan is best for your family. Please seek the support of local resources as needed. If you need immediate assistance, or if you and your family are in crisis, please contact a qualified mental health provider in your area, or contact your statewide crisis hotline.

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