Temper, Temper: Keeping Your Cool When Kids Push Your Buttons

by James Lehman, MSW
Temper, Temper: Keeping Your Cool When Kids Push Your Buttons

Kids grow up watching you for a living, and let’s face it, they learn pretty quickly how to push your buttons. It might be back talk, or constant complaining or eye-rolling, but whatever the behavior, nearly every parent will occasionally lose their temper with their kids.

Many parents control their emotions most of the time. However, many don’t manage their emotions well, either occasionally or chronically. This article is for parents who struggle with keeping their emotions in check.

"If parents have problems with their childís behavior and all they have in their parental tool kit are bigger hammers, the kids are going to develop bigger nails."

In this discussion, “losing your temper” is generally defined as: yelling at kids, calling them names, slamming things on the counter, giving bigger consequences than are needed, and refusing to meet basic needs, such as by saying, “No supper tonight.” Power struggles can occur between parents and children over almost anything including, for younger children, bedtime, getting dressed, eating or not eating food, being verbally disrespectful, not responding to rules and limits, doing high-risk behavior such as playing with lighters and matches, or not staying on the sidewalk. With older children, the issues become much more focused on socializing, performing outside of the house, doing chores and assignments, and being dishonest and lying. I want to be clear that when I say “losing your temper,” I don’t mean physical violence. If parents find themselves engaging in aggressive physical behavior when their kids act out, they need help. Let me say this: that help is available. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of in seeking it out. Parents have to take responsibility when they find themselves crossing the line into physical abuse.

Two Reasons Why Parents Get Hot Under the Collar
Power Struggles: Parents often become enmeshed in power struggles with children. No matter what the child’s age, once you’re enmeshed in that power struggle, the more complex your emotions become, and the harder it is to get out.

Generally, in the case of a power struggle, parents feel that their power is being tested and challenged by the child. As that happens, parents often try to exert more power to get the child to comply or agree. Of course, the more the parent tries to exert power, the easier it is for the child to win simply by saying “no” or throwing out some excuse. This further frustrates parents until they reach their boiling point—let’s call this their “temper point.” Once parents reach their temper point in these situations, they often lose sight of the original reason why they tried to establish a limit, and they become overly engrossed in “Who’s in charge.” Believe me, many parents out there have found themselves in that situation.

Physical Risk: The other situation where parents reach their temper point is when they’re dealing with adolescents and pre-adolescents who are doing things outside of the home which their parents perceive as being too risky or dangerous. This can be physical risk, such as going to bad parts of town, or moral risk, as in engaging in manners of dress, music, and recreation which are against the parent’s values and beliefs. In these cases, parents try to set limits on children who are becoming more and more autonomous. Fears that they will get involved with the wrong crowd, use drugs and alcohol, or put themselves in physical danger can trigger some very heated situations where the child is fighting for what he perceives as his or her rights and freedoms. When kids say “Everybody’s doing it,” what they’re really saying is “I have a right to do it, and you have no right to stop me.” Remember, there is a very simple formula for understanding why teenagers break the rules. That formula goes like this: “That rule is unfair, and if it’s unfair then I don’t have to follow it.” Sadly, you will hear this formula stated in many different ways with teens and pre-teens nowadays.

Why Losing Your Temper with Your Kids Doesn’t Work
Look at it this way: If losing your temper was effective, being a parent would be really easy. We’d simply have to wait until our child was annoying us too much, then we’d yell at him, and he’d go out and change his behavior. I’ve often told parents in my office, “If yelling worked, I would just simply call the kids into my office and yell at them and they’d go home and have a good week.” In fact, if yelling worked, they never would have been in my office in the first place. But losing your temper doesn’t work. Losing your temper is ineffective because the original problem is often forgotten in the heat of the argument, and goes unsolved after all is said and done. Instead of the child learning problem-solving skills from the parent to manage the particular issue at hand, those problem-solving skills get supplanted with the parent’s power thrusts toward the kids. This is not to say that using power is bad or immoral. It’s simply ineffective if the child doesn’t learn problem-solving skills. Simply put, if parents have problems with their child’s behavior and all they have in their parental tool kit are bigger hammers, the kids are going to develop bigger nails. The day will come when that parent will not be able to manage their child by losing their temper. It must be understood that learning how to solve problems and manage emotions is the primary task of childhood. And if the parent isn’t teaching that, it’s hard for someone outside of the home, whether it be a therapist, counselor or teacher, to pick up those pieces effectively.

If you have a “hot temper,” get help. If you have a consistently hard time controlling your temper, or you find that anger manifests itself frequently, you can use the points in this article as a guideline for how to deal with your kids, but you have to take responsibility very quickly on getting the help you need. The word “hot temper” is code we use for people who are intolerant and can’t handle any kind of challenge or anxiety. This often is caused by issues other than child-raising, whether it’s stress from work, finances, relationship difficulties, or a parent’s own childhood experiences. Parents are responsible to get the outside help they need so that they can manage their kids appropriately.

Don’t Take Your Child’s Behavior Personally
Taking things personally means viewing that child’s behavior as a total reflection of your character, skills and worthiness as a parent. You often see this when kids act out in grocery stores or at the mall, and parents feel embarrassed and judged by others. There are two fallacies here: one is the belief that the other parents are judging you critically instead of feeling empathy for you because of their own experiences with their children. The other fallacy is to believe that their judgment matters, because it doesn’t. What matters is that you deal with your child effectively when he acts out in public. And if you don’t have the skills to do that, you make it your responsibility to get them. So the effective parent is not the one who never loses their temper; he or she is the one who finds a way to do something about it. Parents who experienced a lot of criticism and frustration in their own childhoods are more likely to see condemnation and disapproval in the eyes of others and react in an ineffective way. In those situations, where parents do not manage emotions effectively, the problems can escalate into a power struggle, which is something we really want to avoid with kids, especially in public.

Parents who take things personally often have a mindset that it’s not right or it’s not fair that their child should want to buy a toy or get distracted or not follow directions. That thinking just adds fuel to the fire of personalization. Know this with younger children: Whatever it is they’re doing, they’re usually not doing it to you. The more able you are not to project sinister motives into your child, the more objective you will be able to remain. The fact that you feel embarrassed by your child’s behavior does not mean in any way, shape, or form that your child is trying to embarrass you. Your child is either over-stimulated or distracted by something that’s not on your agenda. Sometimes children become locked in a power struggle that they don’t know how to resolve and don’t know how to stop. Remember, the time to teach them how to avoid power struggles is when you’re not in one. When a parent gets locked in a power struggle with a child of any age, the parent is the one that needs to have sufficient skills to avoid and manage it.

Decide What You’ll Do Ahead of Time.
There are two things that I think parents can do that will help them a lot when it comes to managing their emotions. The first is to plan ahead, and the second is to have a bail-out plan. Parents needs to plan for situations where they think their buttons are going to be pushed. Those situations are pretty easy to figure out if you just sit down and write yourself a list. First, write down situations and places outside of the home that are problematic. Examples might be going food shopping, going to the mall, or going to restaurants. You†probably know ahead of time that you might†have problems managing your emotions in reaction to your child’s behavior during those trips. Let's face it, it’s easier to figure out what you’ll do when you’re calm and sitting in your kitchen than when you’re in aisle 3 of the local supermarket.

If your child does something in particular that aggravates you, plan on what your response will be. This is easy because you don’t have that many options to begin with. You could inform your child that you’ll give him one warning and then you’ll both be leaving the store if he misbehaves. You can plan on going to your car until your child calms down and you think they’re ready to try again. While you’re in your car, you can talk to your child about what they can do differently when they don’t get their way again after you go back into the store. If your child doesn’t calm down in the car, or if calming down in the car has not worked in the past, then you have to go home. After you go home, you can try it again later that day or the next day. In many cases, your child will learn how to handle these situations, but they won’t do it while they’re in the store. When children are in stores, malls or at playgrounds, it’s easy for them to become over-stimulated. Once that happens, it’s almost impossible for them to respond to outside direction unless it is very clear and powerful.

For kids ages 3 and up, a discussion about what’s going to happen before they go into the store or the playground while you’re still sitting in your car can be very helpful. With young children especially, writing down three rules on an index card to read before you leave the car can be significant in helping them learn self-management skills. There is something powerful to children about having something in writing. So you keep these rules in your glove compartment and before you go somewhere, review them with the child. The card could say: “No asking for extra things, we’re here to pick up specific items today. If you ask for extra things, you’re going to be told ‘no.’ If you or act out you will be removed from the store or the playground.”

Have a bail-out plan: Plan how to bail out of conflicts when your buttons are pushed, so that you don’t lose your temper. For instance, if you’re going to talk to your child about something anxiety-provoking or emotional, be prepared for when that child doesn’t react the way you want them to. Already know in your mind what you’re going to say or do. There are two ways to go about this: one is to calmly say to your child, “I have to talk to you about something important, I’ll be up to your room in about 15 minutes and I don’t want to argue or fight.” This gives your child time to prepare for the discussion. Also, during that time, you can decide what you’re going to do if your child starts to argue. The most obvious thing is to tell the child, “I don’t want to be talked to this way. I don’t like it,” and then leave the room. You can also say, “We can try to talk about this at 6 o’clock, until then, no cell phone, video game or TV.” Parents who are mentally prepared for how they’re going to act when children react have a much greater chance of not losing their temper.

If You Lose Your Temper
Acknowledge to your child that you’ve lost your temper, but not in overly emotional terms. Just as we want to teach children to own their behavior without a lot of justifications and excuses, so should we model that behavior for them. I think the best thing to do is admit you were wrong and explain to your child what you’ll do differently next time they act that way instead of losing your temper. But work out with yourself what you’ll do differently the next time you’re at the point of losing your temper. Also, I believe parents should have a support group they can talk to if they find themselves losing control of their temper often. I say “group” but it may only be one or two people with whom you can share about how you’ve lost your temper with your kids. It is very helpful to have somebody outside of your family, preferably with children of their own, to talk to about the day-to-day parental situations which occur. If you don’t have that in your life, the Parental Support Line for the Total Transformationģ Program can really help with these types of situations.

How to Calm Down When Your Anger has Reached the Boiling Point
When we’re talking about parents calming down, we’re talking about them “self-soothing.” In other words, they soothe themselves by managing their own thoughts, not by controlling the environment around them. So when your child is challenging your authority, what you are thinking will be critical to how you will respond. If you’re thinking, “This behavior isn’t fair, everybody thinks I’m a failed parent, other parents don’t go through this,” or are repeating some other self-defeating self-talk, things are sure to escalate. But when you’re thinking, “I can handle this, this is a child misbehaving, not a reflection of my parenting skills, other parents go through this, what can I do safely about this now,” there’s a much better chance that there won’t be a conflict. Remember, advice such as “Count to ten” only works if you try to think positively while you’re counting to ten. So if you’re counting to ten saying, “Don’t overreact, this is just childish behavior, how can I best handle this, what does the child need from me now,” there’s a good chance counting to ten will work. Similarly, if you have a conflict with your child at home and you go into another room and take ten deep breaths—that’s a seven second inhale, seven second hold your breath, seven second exhale—and you think positively while you’re doing that, like “How can I best handle that situation, how important is this to me, how can I make this work without fighting,” you’ll have a much better chance of resolving this situation effectively.

Whatever’s going on, whatever your child is doing, losing your temper won’t help. It may feel good in the short term, because you feel powerful, but in the long run the child has learned an ineffective lesson about managing anxiety or conflict.

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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."


OMG! thank you......thank you for printing this article. I have been struggling with my 10 yr. old going on 20 with his button pushing. I must say that the above mentioned, is definately worth trying. I've learned to take time out for myself and sending my child to his room to do the same for about 10 min. when I could predict an argument is about to happen. Believe me it helps with improving the situation. We then are able to bring the problem back on the table with a clearer mind and he realizes that it's not that easy to push Moms buttons after all.

Comment By : gypsy

Reading your article I discovered that I do need help to help my children. You are the best, everytime I read your articles there is something new for me to apply to my life.

Comment By : Wanda

Wow, I wish I had seen this yesterday, before I blew up at my kids. I feel like such an awful parent. And this is right, what am I teaching them, but it's okay to yell and scream. I just sometimes get so frustrated with their excuses, laziness and lying that it hits me all at once.

Comment By : D

Thank you SO much for this article. I am not an out-of-control parent, but I sometimes have trouble with the "what other people are thinking" issue. My son just turned 9 last week and has ADHD. One of the most difficult things we have had to learn from each other is to not yell. He tends to do that, and I used not to be a "yeller" at all until he frequently yelled at me and I became VERY frustrated, especially during homework sessions. One day he told me that he really didn't like me yelling at him, so we agreed to tell each other when the other was yelling, and to stop right then. He actually was the first to remind me (I thought I would be reminding him first!). I apologized and we were able to continue our discussion. I called him on it just this morning, and once again, it worked. We are becoming very successful in that area. That just shows me that he can actually reason and communicate if I will allow him to. Thanks again for ALL of your newsletters. They have been a great help to me!

Comment By : sams_mom

What I would like to see are more options for exact phrases parents can say in the moment of an 'episode', and more examples. My son is 4, and while I have 3 older teenage children I find I have a whole new set of challenges with him that I never had with my older ones which are girls, and sometimes am at a loss on how to react. Like a parent said above, I'm not an out of control parent, if anything I think I'm in danger of being a permissive parent, which I don't want to be. I dread playground and park outings sometimes with my son because he just doesn't listen and he invades people's personal space. He gets crazy around other kids, takes their toys, puts his hands in peoples faces and puts things on their heads, and he thinks he's funny. Meanwhile I am mortified and chasing after him trying to physically retrain him, telling him 'gentle' and 'we ask' and 'we don't touch', but his behavior only changes temporarily, never long-term. He has a whole different behavior at home when it's just me and him and his sisters, and he does attend full day preschool so I know he is used to other children. I like the idea of the index cards to remind him and me of our plan and the rules before even getting bout of the car, and while I have used the immediatly leave approach it doesn't seem to stick with him longer than one day as a consequence. Still, there was a lot of good advce here and I appreciate having this newsletter to continue giving me ideas and helping me to improve my parenting skills. Thank you!

Comment By : Wendy

we have children that when told that we need a "cooling off period", they chase us down. if we go into our room, they unlock our door and continue to argue. if we choose to leave the house they make a scene in our driveway. they also will physically "bar the door" and if we need to leave we have to physically remove them from our path, they flat out refuse to stop arguing. if they miss curfew and we tell them we will talk about this tomorrow, they won't give up and the arguing can go on until 3:00 in the morning. this started when they were 14 and continues now that they are 19 1/2. needless to say, we are exhausted.

Comment By : g

Couldn't have come at a better time. We had a episode at home with my 16 year old son and as I was telling him what time I wanted him in bed by for the summer, he started to complain. Unfortunately their step dad joined in and with a raised voice projected his imput. I had to get him aside and ask again if he would not interfere as I was going to handle it; it was starting to escalate. I let things cool down and then told my son what time and the reason why. He then got ready for bed and gave me a kiss for the night. I was checking our email and this article was there. Thank you! Carol

Comment By : Carol

Thank you for the continued articles and help. Our 17 year old son has always challenged us and we have lost our tempers often. I wish we would have had this advice 10 years ago but, it can still work now. We also have a younger child that we can apply these techniques to. It's very useful and I can pass this along to other parents who struggle.

Comment By : Julie

I loved this artical I know it is going to help me. I need to give positive reinfourcement to myself more often when my son try his magic on me THANKS

Comment By : Tizi

This is for g: I had the same problem with my youngest daughter who was 12 going on 20. I would need a timeout and would go to my bedroom. I would lock the door and she would pound on it furiously. One time I went outside to get in my car and leave, but before I could even turn the ignition key, she jumped on top of the car and pounded on the windshield. She has calmed down considerably since then (she'll be 14 in two months) and I wish I could give you some advice, but she just sort of outgrew it and realized that I need some down time or I'd blow up right then and there. I do let her know when I'm getting to the temper point and that we should take a break. For now, she's listening

Comment By : Michelle

Thanks for this atricle. I have enjoyed reading it and will use it wisely.

Comment By : M.

This is a great article. I know there are some things that I need to work on! Thanks!

Comment By : Jaxzen's mom

I am having issues with my children respecting boundries. My room and my things. Stealing, back talk, breaking things unintentionally and just plain ignoring my wife and myself. These are the things that cause me to lose my temper. Hopefully I will be able to use some of the items in this article to calm myself down and get the children to do as instructed.

Comment By : Overworked, fustrated and unappreciated in VA

Thank you for this article. Yesterday my 17 year old daughter and I were having a disagreement and she just went balistic and came at me to punch me in the face. I really got scared but told her I would call the police which stopped her. I was very shaken and felt sooo alone, but after reading others responses I at least do not feel alone or like a loser. I am now trying to come up with consequences for her. Advice please? D.

Comment By : Dawn Walker

P.S. I did not want to sign my name and then I realized how much shame I carry around about this situation. How do you let go of that as a parent?

Comment By : Dawn Walker

I am not the biggest fan of Dr. Phil right now, but he is correct in that everyone has a currency level. We can slowly but surely start removing things from our children's lives until we finally reach that one thing that changes their attitude. My heart breaks for "g" - wow, I think it's time for you to pack their bags, put them on the front porch and change the locks. They are over 18, you are no longer responsible for them. If you love them, send them on their way and take your life back.

Comment By : Tamara

this is for g - respect is something they dont give you because they never see you giving it to yourself. If you allow your grown "children" to treat you this way, how will the younger ones learn anything different. Stop this insanity. Put them out on porch, change the locks, then be prepared to start respecting yourself, and your home. It's the hardest thing we've ever done, but guess what....it does work. Don't give in, don't back down, this is the mother of power struggles and it starts within you! Good luck.

Comment By : Sherry

I was a single parent of 3!28,27 and 25 now. The card thing is excellent for younger ones. The 30 day is to long. I did wkly easier on all of us,with a reward if they were good. AS they got older we did the chore list for the wk.with a reward of $.this worked great, our house was always clean.My children were good at saving their $ to buy the things they wanted...Every night we had a 20 mins. to Mom talk. That was a Hr. which almost always turned out to be 2 Hrs. We do not yell, we do not interute when someone was talkn.When we were done we had open discusion. This worked really well when they were teens,YOU HAVE TO TALK TO THEM!! About EVERYTHING. One thing I have learned as a single parent is; you are their TEACHER..If an arguement was going to start,I would get up and remove myself and go to my room.Let them calm down and return to TALK.When they did act up I would take things from their room for a few days for punishment,TV, stereo, video games,CDS.I can remember ONE time my boy had nothing in his room but his bed,dresser and light bulb. I remember him asking when can I have my stuff back Mom? I replied, "Straghten up, you can have it by the wkend,if not,when you move out!" His eyes got real big.He told me he didnt like his room like this,I didnt neither.He got his stuff back and straighten up. Told me he was really sorry.I am not just THEIR MOTHER I AM THEIR BEST FRIEND. We have a very special relationship as they have grown. I Thank God for this too. They call me now for advise. All I can tell you is sit down with them calmly and TALK,TALK,TALK THEY WILL LISTEN.Always tell them YOU LOVE THEM even when they are bad.My oldest girl is going to be a Lawyer,my middle girl works at a Nursing Home and my boy is a Barber.I am very proud of my children.

Comment By : Ruthie

Thanks for this article. It is very insightful and helpful. My son will push buttons to get me to change my mind while in front of friends or company visiting. So much so, that it makes my friends uncomfortable. I don't know what to do. It is apower struggle. I try to remove him and talk to him in his room, but he won't go to his room. I try ti ignore him and he still keeps on going. If i were my friends I wouldn't want to come over anyomore. I don't know what to do.

Comment By : Dee

I totally went ballistic on my 8 yr old son. I have 2 others (6 and 10) that I am able to work things out with, but my 8 yr old can be very difficult. It started over a hair cut. He said he finally wanted one so I made an appt then he wouldn't get out of the car. He wasted my time, the hairdressers time and he threw himself on the ground. I was extremely upset and spanked him in the car. He was in his room all night (we did talk about what happened). The next morning we talked about his hair again and he said yes let's get it cut I'm ready now. I took him again and he pulled the same thing - everything after that was a repeat of the day before. I'm at a loss as to what to do next. This article has helped some. Thanks.

Comment By : cs

Normally, I'm calm, cool, and collected. I'm able to maintain that state in my job and dealings with everyone else I know (even other parents' misbehaving children). However, my 15 year old sone (ADHD, ODD) has HUGE anger issues himself. The smallest, most insignificant thing will make him extremely angry for an hour or more. During his anger sessions he becomes violent, ruins property, breaks things, hurts our dogs, and sometimes becomes physical or physically threatening with his mother or myself. THAT is when my fuse becomes very, very short; and it's the only time I ever lose my cool. Usually, like I stated, he becomes angry at some small thing. But then it seems like he talks himself into becoming angrier and angrier. Then, he tries to get some kind of reaction from us by doing something he knows will anger us. If we react as he wants, it fuels his anger. If we do not react how he wants, it fuels his anger. The whole time it's almost like his higher brain functions have been shut off or submerged. I've tried to find ways to calm him (which usually increases his anger), calm myself, we've left the house to escape the "danger zone", even completely detached myself from the situation and reacted to him with no emotion whatsoever (just stared without saying anything). NOTHING seems to do the trick. Sometimes the only thing that seems to curtail his anger is when he goes to sleep (and "reboots"?). I need to find some way to calm him down before someone gets seriously hurt. I am not talking about anything resembling "normal" anger here, I'm talking about what I can only describe as blind rage. Help.

Comment By : wwday3


Comment By : ANGIE

All this advice sounds great, but did you all theses issues growing up? Did our parents have to go to forums to get help on sassy children and anger management? My parents certainly didnt have an of the problems that we all appear to have today with our children...I was respectful did my work... as I respected my parents. My parents did not have to raise their voices, or lift their hand, but I had enough respect to know what would happen if I didnt tow the line......today schools let the children make their own decisions on whether they do well or not...no detention, sitting in the front of the class for bad grades, sitting in on breaks......the lack of discipline program that schools promote does not appear to be working well for the masses, as it seems to me that there are tons of parents out there with issues with their children from Drug and Alcohol Abuse, to Anger Problems, and Aggressive Behavior issues. I personally think that as we give our schools the privilege of our children for most of the day when they are younger, there should be more consequences from them at School. I feel that they have our children for most of the day and more structure should be inforced during the day at a younger age. I was not born here, and did not go to school here so I think back and compare the education there to here. In the 4th grade in the country I grew up, we were subject to detention, missing breaks, and other conseqeunces for not turning in work...none if this lets manipulate the parents and teachers there was a united front....it is frustating as a parent to go online look at a missing grade, try to deal elicit whether the work was actually turned in or not, place a consequence on your child for getting a bad grade or not doing the work when it would help if a teacher would have a consequence as school too or a the least communicate. I find the schooling system in the US to be sadly lacking and feel that it is big reason for our children having disrespect, feeling entitled, and testing every limit out there. I certainly didnt test my teachers in school as I knew the consequences both at school AND at home.

Comment By : annem

I found your article quite useful except for the lack of advice of what to do when most tense moments occur under the intense pressure of getting out of the house in the morning for work and school. Not always does it seem there is time to walk away and count to 10 and then come back to continue the conversation. Desperatly need advice for these moments because the boiling point happens far to often.

Comment By : sandy

* Dear Sandy: We do get a lot of calls about the morning stress on the Support Line. Itís a challenging time for most families. Sometimes changing the structure, planning ahead, and organizing can help. Have a specific spot for back packs, boots, coats, your car keys. Set out everything for the next day well before bedtime. That could mean clothes, all homework is doneónothing saved for the AM rush. Some parents pack lunches the night before, set out bowls and cereal for breakfast. Have the clock help you in the morning and have a routine--brush teeth, get dressed, comb hair. Everyone eats breakfast at 7:00 AM. If you have problems with kids refusing to get up, have a consequence of earlier bedtimes. Tell them you will consider changing it back if they demonstrate for one week that they are up and not too groggy. (Watch out for TV. Donít have it in their room to fall asleep to and donít allow it on in the morning. Itís too hard to get them to stop watching it). Okay, so youíve done all the prep work and you still have a morning thatís stressful. Try your best to role model how to keep you cool, to slow down a bit to reduce stress for the child. Try to be cheerful and patient. If your child starts to escalate, gently coach them to use one of their coping skills, such as taking some deep breaths. Itís never helpful to threaten a consequence in those moments--that just increases the kids stress. Remember, your goal is to get them to calm down. If the morning does not go well, let it go in the moment but take time to talk about it later on in the day. Have a problem solving discussion with your child on ways to make tomorrow morning go smoothly.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

This was a great article. I wish I had help with my daughter now. She seems to think that her best friend's mother is her mother because she gives her everything and won't listen to me at all. My daughter disrespects me, tries to rule over me, control me, calls me names, gives me the finger, threatens to run away, etc... if I don't give in to her demands. Her father seems to think this is normal and gives in to what she wants. He won't stand by me in any decision, so what do I do?

Comment By : arawaine

This was a great article. I wish I had help with my daughter now. She seems to think that her best friend's mother is her mother because she gives her everything and won't listen to me at all. My daughter disrespects me, tries to rule over me, control me, calls me names, gives me the finger, threatens to run away, etc... if I don't give in to her demands. Her father seems to think this is normal and gives in to what she wants. He won't stand by me in any decision, so what do I do?

Comment By : arawaine

* Dear arawaine: I understand the longing to be your childís friend in the way she is friends with her best friendís mom. Your relationship will change when sheís older. In the meantime, she needs a mom and youíre the only one who can do that job. You are right to be concerned that your husband and you do not support each otherís discipline decisions. A child who knows that one parent will come to their defense against the other will continue to misbehave. Parenting brings into focus how we were raised as children. Itís sometimes hard to reconcile our differences and provide a united front to our children because we each have our past experience and our current ideas about discipline. Sometimes itís simply necessary to compromise our personal ideas and find a point of agreement with our partner for the sake of helping your child develop appropriate behaviors. Kids actually feel safer when they can count on their parentís decisions, including discipline. Maybe you and your husband can agree on what attitude is common in teenagers and when that attitude crosses the line, such as that famous hand gesture you mentioned and name calling. Noticing and acknowledging where you can agree instead of staying focused on where you donít agree might help you begin to support each other and present yourselves as a team that agrees on basic rules and consequences. Perhaps you could also ask your husband to read this article by James Lehman. It discusses cursing. However, name calling and vulgar gestures fall into the same category. ďF--- You, Mom!Ē How to Stop Your Child from Cursing in Your Home http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Stop-Your-Child-from-Cursing.php If new behavior that you havenít discussed as a team presents itself to one parent, try saying, ďLetís take a timeout here. Iím going to discuss this behavior with your Dad and weíll talk to you later.Ē Remember you can also call the Support Line. These specialists are able to point you in the direction of specific program techniques that will help you address the behaviors youíre working on. Thanks for your question. Iím sure a lot of parents share your experience and concerns.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My sons have behavioral disabilities, and the best thing we did for them was teach them about the consequences of their behavior--both good and bad. Both of them remember me telling store managers that I am sorry I have to leave my cart in their store with all my selections in it, but that I hoped they would understand the need to fulfill my promise to my sons to teach them appropriate behaviors. Through the years, I am periodically approached by other shoppers with wild-child things in tow who say, "Mr. Aldman says you can help me make my kids behave." No parent should be embarassed by doing what should be done. On the contrary, if you don't do what your children need--on the spot--that should be more embarrassing. Strong parents raise kids who know how to make good choices. Creating that strength sometimes puts us in a bit of a spotlight (no, it's our kids who do that), but trust me, if you are managing things correctly and powerfully, everyone in the store is cheering you on! What's embarrassing about that?

Comment By : Michele

Well this says more about your ability to control your children (powerfully) I brought my children up in a very Democratic Family Style , and they learned how to manage their own feelings of anger in an appropriate way. They would never have dreamed of screaming and shouting in a supermarket. I believe in empowering children to become independent as possible through love, education but not by a powerful authoritarian regime. Joseph: Child Psychotherapist.

Comment By : Joseph27.

Love you guys, I look forward to all your great articles. I too would ask for sample phrases to say when my 11yr old son is not listening. I have to constantly repeat myself when asking him to do something. Then after the 4th or 5th time I wind up yelling. How can I get my son to hear me?

Comment By : Nicosmom

* Hi Nicosmom: It can be very frustrating when you feel like you have to repeat yourself over and over to get him to do something. Another author on this site, Debbie Pincus, talks a lot about the concept of boxes; that is, what is your responsibility and what is your sonís responsibility. It is your responsibility to let your son know what your expectations are, and it is your sonís responsibility to meet those expectations. We recommend telling your son once what is expected of him, and then walking away. It is then his choice whether to do it or not. If he chooses not to do what is asked, then you can hold him accountable for that. For example, you might say ďYou need to empty the dishwasher. Until thatís done, you are not allowed to watch tvĒ, then walk away. He knows what he needs to do, and what the consequence will be for not doing it. I am attaching another article by Debbie that you might find helpful: Irresponsible Children: Why Nagging and Lecturing Don't Work. Good luck to you and your son as you work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

What I want to know is how to deal with my adult children. They are rude, disrespectful and downright hurtful at times, they think they're right about EVERYTHING, they are self righteous, etc etc. One is going to be 30 this year and the other is going to be 32. You'd think they would be grown up and more mature by now. Both live on their own, one has a child of her own now. They were my step kids and then I adopted them....now I'm thinking I made a big mistake. I could go on with a list of stuff, but I am just wondering what to do. I don't tell them how to live or what they should do with their money, but they have no problem telling my husband and I this. I have tried talking to them as an adult, as they DEMAND the respect of an adult....ok fine, you got it...but when I try talking to them, they get mad and I'm always to blame in their eyes. I just don't know what to do....because of their behavior I am considering divorcing my husband just to get away from all of them!

Comment By : At my wits end

* To ĎAt my wits endí: Itís definitely not easy to deal with an adult child who is disrespectful and has a bad attitude. Itís certainly not okay for your kids to be hurtful or disrespectful. That said, itís most effective if you ignore their attitude or any minor disrespect. When they cross the line into verbal abuse (yelling, name-calling, etc.) then itís best to cut off communication with them immediately. You can hang up the phone, walk away, or leave their home. Itís best to focus on what you can control which is the limits that you set with them and how you respond when they cross those boundaries. Iím including an article about adult children that is geared toward adult children who live at home, but many of the concepts can still apply in your situation: Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this. Take care.

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

The tips and the different advice are wonderful, but what about if you are dealing with a split home? My son is a wonderful person overall but we have quite a few issues with discipline due to the different homes. My son is 12 and he is a gifted underachiever. That simply means he is incredibly intelligent but doesn't aspire to do anything he doesn't feel is important. His grades are rather poor and it is a constant struggle to get him to complete his chores without a fight. I have attempted to ground him from TV, friends, and his cell phone while relaying what his punishment was to the other household. He simply waits to go to his fathers house because he has no consequences for his actions there. Their philosophy is they believe he can make his own choices and they shouldn't attempt to micro manage him. I do understand that to an extent but where is the line between allowing them to do whatever they please and being a parent? Like I said overall my son is a wonderful person, but we don't have a relationship because it seems as though I am always "the bad guy". What can we do differently to be sure to give him the guidance he needs while still allowing me to have a relationship with him full of love and not anger? Working with the other household has not proven to be much of a possibility. It might also be helpful to mention he moves from one house to another every other week.

Comment By : Mom that cares too much

* To 'Mom that cares too much': It is difficult to parent across separate households, mainly for the reasons you note here. When you are not around, it is hard, if not impossible, to enforce what the consequences are for your sonís behavior. James Lehman talks about creating a culture of accountability in your home. Mainly, that is an agreement of ďThis is how Iíll talk to you; this is how I expect that you will talk to me. These are the rules you are responsible for following; these are the consequences Iím responsible for enforcing to hold you accountable.Ē The tough part about this is that you canít control what happens when your son goes to his dadís house. His dad isnít responsible for enforcing the consequences for your house at his house. Rather, it is more effective to focus on what you can control-namely, the house rules in your home. You could, for example, let your son know that he is not allowed certain privileges at your house until his homework and chores are completed for the day. I am including links to some articles you might find helpful: How to Control Your Kids Outside of the House (Hint: You Can't) & How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

This article was very useful. Thank you for helping me place more "tools into my toolbox." I appreciated your practical advice.

Comment By : jaxh

my child will not calm down what should i do even if i follow theese steps

Comment By : the mum that loves her son alot

* To ďthe mum that loves her son a lotĒ: Thank you for taking the time to post a comment. Temper tantrums can be some of the most difficult behaviors for a parent to address. We recommend first focusing on your response. Itís important to remain calm when your child is having a hard time controlling himself. Here are a couple of articles that may be useful in helping you develop effective ways of responding to your son. How to Handle Temper Tantrums: Coaching Kids to Calm Down & Stopping a Temper Tantrum in its Tracks: What to Do When Kids Lose it. Good luck to you and your family as you work through this situation. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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