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When Kids Get Ugly: How to Stop Threats and Verbal Abuse (Part 2)

by James Lehman, MSW
When Kids Get Ugly: How to Stop Threats and Verbal Abuse (Part 2)

In part two of this two-part series on verbal abuse, James Lehman, MSW explains what you need to start doing as a parent to stop this pattern of behavior from occurring in your home.

“You are such a b---h. I hate you! I don’t care if you say I can’t go over to Jake’s house, I’m going anyway—and you’d better not try to stop me.”
—Ben, Age 14, to His Mother

There is no excuse for abuse, physical or otherwise.

Before we discuss ways to stop verbal abuse, threats, and intimidation, I want to say that these are very difficult issues to deal with individually in your home. This type of behavior is generally a manifestation of a much bigger problem and a symptom of something more global that is going on with your child. While I’m going to try to focus attention on these individual behaviors in this article, I can’t stress enough that parents need to have a systematic way of dealing with these problems so that they don’t simply move from crisis to crisis with their child. Parents need a comprehensive structure, a set of guidelines and procedures from which they can draw guidance and strength in order to deal with these very serious things as they occur. If your child doesn’t want to go to school, resists getting dressed, has behavior problems in school and at home, and is threatening you and being verbally abusive, know that his whole level of functioning is off: being abusive to his siblings or to you is only one piece of it.

Children Who Threaten, Intimidate and Verbally Abuse Family Members
There is no excuse for abuse, physical or otherwise. That rule should be written on an index card with a black magic marker and posted on your refrigerator. The message to your child is, “If you’re abusive, there’s no excuse. I don’t want to hear what the reason was. There’s no justification for it. There’s nobody you can blame. You are responsible and accountable for your abusive behavior. And by ‘responsible,’ I mean it’s nobody else’s fault, and by ‘accountable’ I mean there will be consequences.”

Related: Does your child yell, call you names or swear at you?

Many siblings will tease each other excessively from time to time and even have physical fights with each other. There’s a difference between that level of rivalry, and a situation where one sibling is picking on, demoralizing and targeting a younger sibling as an object of abuse. These are two very different situations and neither one should be taken lightly. But certainly, when you see a situation where there’s clearly a perpetrator and clearly a victim, it has to be dealt with in the strictest, sternest ways.

Remember this: if you have an older child who’s abusive, and you let that child get away with this kind of behavior, your younger child will start to realize that his sibling is more powerful than you are as a parent. The younger child will begin to think that you can’t keep him safe from his older sibling. Once he realizes that, the next thing he’ll start to do is give in to his older sibling. You’ll hear the oldest sibling say abusive, foul things and then you’ll hear the younger kid say, “I’m sorry.” These are very powerful, damaging things to be happening in the family and should not be taken lightly. As far as the nature of the consequences or the nature of the limits set in this situation, again, that belongs to a more comprehensive discussion about how families should run and how parents should manage their families using a comprehensive structure.

When your child abuses anyone in your family, tell him,There’s no excuse for abuse. You’re not allowed to abuse people. Go to your room.” Be prepared for him to blame the victim, because that’s what abusive people do; it’s an easy way out. Abusive people say, “I wouldn’t have abused you but you…” and fill in the blank. So your child might say, “I’m sorry I hit you, but you yelled at me.” What they’re really saying is, “I’m sorry I hit you, but it was your fault.” And if you listen to the apologies of many of these abusive kids, that’s what you get. “I’m sorry, but you wouldn’t give me a cookie.” “I’m sorry I called her a name but she wouldn’t let me play the video game.” What they’re constantly saying is, “I’m sorry, but it’s your fault,” and it absolutely does not mean they’re sorry. It means, “I’m sorry, but it’s not my responsibility.” And when a child doesn’t take responsibility for a certain behavior, they see no reason to change it. They’ve just learned to mimic the words. It becomes another false social construct that comes out of their mouths without any meaning or understanding behind it whatsoever—and if you buy into it, you’re allowing that child to continue his abusive behavior and power thrusting.

Having Problem-Solving Conversations with Your Child
When children use abusive behavior to solve their problems, it’s important that they learn a way to replace that behavior with healthier problem-solving skills. It’s just not enough to point out—and give consequences for—that abusive behavior. It’s also important to help your child replace their inappropriate behavior with something that will help him solve the problem at hand without getting into trouble or hurting others. Here’s the bottom line: if we don’t help kids replace their inappropriate behavior with something healthier, they’re going to fall back on the inappropriate behavior every time. That’s their default program.

Parents also should develop ways to have problem-solving conversations with their kids. So the next time they’re faced with a similar situation, they need to ask themselves what they can do to solve the problem differently, besides hurting someone’s feelings, being abusive or threatening. For instance, the next time your verbally abusive daughter calls her younger brother names and threatens him in order to get him off the computer, you should not only correct her, but later, have a conversation with her when things calm down. That conversation should be, “The next time you’re frustrated when you want to get on the computer, what can you do differently so you don’t get into trouble and get more consequences. What can you do to get more rewards?”

I think the focus should be on how the abusive child should avoid getting into trouble and being given consequences, rather than on how they should not hurt their brother. Abusive people don’t care about their victims. I don’t think we should be appealing to their sense of empathy and humanity. I think we should be appealing to their self-interest, because self-interest is a very powerful motivator. Look at it this way: if they had empathy or sympathy, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

Intimidation and Threats of Violence
If a parent is frightened about physically destructive behavior, destruction of property, or threats of violence, I want to be very clear about this: Call the police. It’s very simple. “He threatened to hurt me and I don’t feel safe with him here tonight.” What will the police do? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you, your child will know that you’re not just going to sit around and be bullied. It’s not what the police do—it’s what your child will understand. So call the police if you think you’re in danger. Call the police if you’re assaulted. And keep calling the police until they do something.

Related: Learn how to manage your angry child.

If you’re frightened, make sure you don’t have weapons in the house. Make sure you don’t have violence in the house. Get rid of the violent music. If your child threatens violence or gets violent, that music should be gone, as well as video games that promote violence. If you have an abusive child in the house, movies, video games and music that glorify or glamorize violence should be banned. That’s one of the things your child should lose the right to immediately. And you can say, “You no longer have the right to listen to that kind of music because you weren’t able to manage it.”

You should also call your state’s Department of Child Services and say, “My son is threatening me,” or “My son hit me.” Don’t be afraid they’re going to take your child. They don’t want to take financial or legal responsibility for him, unless he’s in danger. The idea is that you’re making noise; you’re creating a paper trail. You’re letting people know that these things are happening from an early age, because if the day comes when your child hurts somebody, your goal is that he will be held accountable.

Parents who are afraid of their kids getting locked up for this kind of behavior do not understand the juvenile justice system whatsoever. The wheels of justice turn excruciatingly slowly. Nobody wants to lock your child up. In fact, if your child has severe behavior problems and behaves criminally at home, you’ll be lucky if somebody decides to lock him up. If he’s so out of control that the authorities hold him responsible by locking him up, do not fear that a bit. The juvenile justice system and the child welfare system are overwhelmed and under-funded. But we use them because if your kid does change, fine. If the child doesn’t change, then there’s a body of evidence that says, “This kid has been out of control for a long time.” And you’re going to want that body of evidence sometime, because believe me, if you’re talking to your child’s probation officer when he’s 15 or 16, you’ll be glad you have three years where you’ve documented what this kid has put you through.

If your child is starting to threaten you or abuse you verbally, is there still hope to turn his or her behavior around, even if he’s a teen? There’s always hope. But hope without action and change is pointless. If you want your child to turn their behavior around without them making some very fundamental changes right away, I don’t hold out much hope for that. If you have a middle- to older-aged teen and they’re threatening you, being verbally abusive and intimidating, and you’re not able or willing to take some risks, I personally don’t think there will be any turning around. Nothing changes if nothing changes. The sooner you start, the better chance you have of changing this behavioral dynamic, but it will mean changing your whole family dynamic. In other words, if you want to change the way your child is doing things, you’re going to have to change the way your whole family is doing things.


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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."


Excellent statement - abusive kids don't care about their victims...appeal to their self interest. Hmmm

Comment By : LW

Very good article. I like the comment about being willing to take risks - I think that is so true. I also like the reminder about not appealing to their empathy - it can be such a frustrating dead end.

Comment By : daisy

Calling the police does eventually work. The problem is that when they do NOTHING but have a little talk with him he feels like there is nothing we can really do. He actually invited them to lock him up at times and they called us right away to come get him. It DOES work eventually you just have to keep the paper trail going.

Comment By : dann1970

Accurate and right on the money! Call the police and do not downplay the seriousness of what the child has done. You are not doing the child a favor by excusing their behavior.

Comment By : Beth

Appealing to an abuser's self-interest is enlightening counsel because abusers are very self-centered. They don't function "normally" with human empathy and concern for others; it's all about THEM. So we must approach their problem differently, appealing to THEIR interests; not their victims'. Excellent article!!

Comment By : ssm

For years I had always told my daughters to 'solve the problem'. So after my divorce when I lost some control of my kids due to my lack of focus -- I followed this advice to the LETTER a few years ago with both my daughters. And did have to escalate them to the school and police a few times. The school helped with some school-based probation, the juvenile system helped with some forced probation activities. Both those did help in turning them around - as well as this expert advice from Lehman. Cars were taken away and sold. Cell phones were cancelled -- all until they could prove that they had gotten control of their behavior and became accountable. It was HARD to call the police but I had no choice left as a single mom. I want to say with great pleasure that my older daughter made a 180degree turnaround -- so much that I LOVE having her around and she is going off to a great college this fall. My younger daughter is making great strides, but at 16, she has a little more growing to do. But here's the best part --- BOTH of them now say to me when they are frustrated -- "Mom, I need to solve this problem -or- we'll figure something out". Thank Mr Lehman!

Comment By : wwuptowngirl4

Changing oneself is truely the key in changing family dynamics and "out of control" behavior by children. I have spent the last 4 years working on changing my response to abuse from my children. I am testiment that it works. Each of my children have changed the way they manage their anger, dissappointment and fears primarily because I learned that nothing changes until I change how I manage the problem. The fact that the system doesn't want to lock up your child is true. The times I called for help, I received the immediate response, however follow up was up to me. They are limited in what they do after the fact. It is up to the parent to get information to create different results in the home/child's life. I have been using The Total Transformation for three years. The program is a solid solution to the trials of parenting. Though I have participated in many parenting classes/seminars and one on one training at the University, the simple easy to use CDs of the Total Transformation have been my constant companion in my car, office giving me the needed words to handle some very difficult teen problems. Many thanks to James Lehman for putting this product out for the many parents struggling to manage difficult children. I might add that this program works when dealing with difficult managers, co-workers too!

Comment By : CB

What do you do about a 16 year old who is defiant, meaning we just moved into a new house and she slams her door. She has already got the casing torn off the door from slamming. I've taken it off and went to do so again the other day and she stood in front of me (heavier than I am) and would not budge. I tried to move and her and she would not move, thus I couldn't do what I had intended (take the door off). She has also done this by refusing to give me the phone when I need it and have actually "wrestled her to the ground" to get it off her. She lies, skips classes and is always mad and mouthy when asked to perform her duties around the house. Everything this a struggle unless it's something she wants, then she's as nice as pie. "Frustrated Mom"

Comment By : Cheryl

Yes, you are so right that the wheels of justice turn slowly. We had a three-year paper trail with documentation on three year's worth of calendars, our son had been involuntary transferred from two schools and had been to court twice and failed one stint of informal probation that resulted in another stint of higher level informal probation. One night after our son, who does not hold a driver's license and who has never had a driver's training class, took our car again, I was able to talk the policeman who came to our home into arresting him for car theft. He agreed, telling me that the juvenile hall would be calling within a few hours to pick him up because theft of a family vehicle was not considered a serious crime but that taking him in to the hall might get the child's attention. I turned off the house phone and my wife and I turned off our cell phones because we were exhausted and needed a few hours sleep. After we woke up, we called our family therapist to let her know what had happened. She said she would call back within ten minutes. When she did call me back, she had advice from the counseling agency's parent advocate. Because we were the victims of a crime, we could refuse to pick up our son and bring him home. The court does not advertise the fact that they can not send the perpetrator home with the victim. It was one of the hardest things we ever did. But as James says, nothing changes if nothing changes. We had to take that risk. The judge placed our son in a therapeutic setting where he is getting around-the-clock help and we continue family therapy. When he gets out, he will have either changed and learned how to function in life and treat people appropriately or not. At that point, he will be of age and we can make a decision about whether or not he comes home or goes out on his own without the threat of being arrested for felony child abandonment. It may sound harsh, but after five years of abusive behavior (propery destruction (car and home), disrespectful behavior, name-calling, theft of our money and cars, et cetera) from our son, we got the guts to take care of ourselves.

Comment By : Glenn

What do you do about a 16 year old who is defiant, meaning we just moved into a new house and she slams her door. She has already got the casing torn off the door from slamming. I've taken it off and went to do so again the other day and she stood in front of me (heavier than I am) and would not budge. I tried to move and her and she would not move, thus I couldn't do what I had intended (take the door off). She has also done this by refusing to give me the phone when I need it and have actually "wrestled her to the ground" to get it off her. She lies, skips classes and is always mad and mouthy when asked to perform her duties around the house. Everything this a struggle unless it's something she wants, then she's as nice as pie. "Frustrated Mom"

Comment By : Cheryl

This describes my 12 year old son perfectly. He is very verbally abusive to my 8 year old son and often gets physical with him (for example when he wants the remote control, he'll just grab it or wrestle him till he gets it) My younger one adores the older one and is beginning to be a victim to everyone doing whatever anyone wants, good or bad. I haven't had a reason to call the police yet, but it scares me that he could end up hurting someone some day. I have just started sending him to his room when he calls his brother names. He's really hurt the little one's self esteem. I'm more worried that the younger one will ever recover from the verbal abuse.

Comment By : mombee

What if your child is doing all these thing and he is 6 years old? I know it sounds crazy, and we are trying to provide a great home for him. But Do call the police?

Comment By : Rick

I am on the brink of calling the police. I can't stand the destruction of property and the abuse. Yesterday my daughter threw the TV remote control at me and it hit me in the jaw when I turned off the TV because she'd just ordered a Pay Per View movie. I should have just walked away and called the police, I know that. But I'm more afraid of that then she is. The backup here is invaluable.

Comment By : SJB

I have a 12 year old daughter who often will hit me and her father. She has a younger sibling who watches this. My husband has driven to the police station but I was afraid to have him go in. I guess I should let me the next time it happens. My daughter gets very upset that her reputation is going to be ruined. She is an excellent student and behaves well outside of our four walls

Comment By : jjserve

More articles like this, please. Thank you.

Comment By : ociana

* Dear Mombee: I think your intervention can do a lot to help your younger son’s sense of himself. When you stop these situations and tell your children, “There’s no excuse for abuse” you’re sending the message that the "victim" in these cases does not deserve that treatment -- and the abuser is out of line. That’s why James says in this article that it’s very important to take action each time, so that it’s understood that this is not tolerated in your home. By doing this you’re requiring your son who is bullying to learn other ways to manage his frustrations and you’re preventing your other son from feeling that he deserves this treatment -- or from aligning with those who bully him for his own protection. Two great articles by James Lehman you might find helpful are: Siblings at War in Your Home (Declare a Ceasefire Now) and The Lost Children: When Behavior Problems Traumatize Siblings. Thanks for your question. It brought up some really good issues. Keep in touch with us and let us know how it’s going.

Comment By : CAROLE BANKS, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear SJB: The idea is that if all your work in your home is not accomplishing your goals with your child, it may be time to involve other resources in your community. You may consider using the assistance of a family therapist to help improve the interactions with your child. If your child is really struggling, ask your pediatrician about getting set-up for a thorough evaluation. That can be really helpful because you will learn where to focus on the skills your daughter needs. If your she is unsafe and is harming herself or others, you may want to call the police to help escort her to emergency services, for example. As James Lehman says, set up a structure where you can tap into resources for guidance and strength as needed.

Comment By : CAROLE BANKS, Parental Support Line Advisor

Greetings: We have gained the same advice from others. Our issue here is that we live in an "unincorporated" section of our city. The result? We have almost no back-up, even with a city policeman living down the street from us. We have been through incredible strain the last three years. It was worse in CA. before we moved to ID. Our son has moved out, after being on probation twice (now on supervised) and over six drug related misdemener charges in three years. He is not moving back in. If he loses his job due to his lifestyle, he can live at the Lighthouse. We also have no family he can live with. So... the advice concerning call the police, etc. was good. It showed us what we needed to do concerning posting rules and exactly what would result from violation of said (7 day or immediate eviction) rules would result in.

Comment By : mightyhorn

What if your child is 6 years old and doing these things. Last night my six year old scratched, hit, kicked, and screamed horrible things at me, my husband, and his 2-year old sister.

Comment By : kitcat

* Dear jjserve: This is such a difficult situation for your family to be in and I share your concern over the younger sibling who is witnessing this. When your efforts as parents are not enough to turn this around, when limit setting and consequences are not effective, when your daughter is trying to solve her problems by being violent or using intimidation to get her way, it’s time to reach outside of your family for help. In James Lehman’s article, When Kids Get Violent: “There’s No Excuse for Abuse” he states that he would not hesitate to call the police if a child were using violence in the home. If your child will not cooperate or comply with your parental authority, use a higher authority to help your child comply. Those services could include calling the police, or notifying your local community mental health center for family therapy or social service supports. James says that when a child has resorted to using violence, it is likely that your family will need the assistance of a comprehensive behavioral program to turn this around. Please keep in touch with us and let us know how things are going.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

thank you for the article, My 13 year old has been had anger issue thats becoming worse everyday. Screams at me and tells me she hates me and wished I would die. Summer break is coming soon and as a single mother I cant leave her at home by herself. Can only imagine what would happen when Im at work. Shes lieing, running away (police picked her up after I called them) sneeking out and staying out all night when shes suppose to be under adult supervision at her friends house. Overnight stays have been halted. She is grounded off the house phone, Ive canceled her cell service and internet service at home. Im tring get get help from social service (guidence) but with low income its hard to pay for. I have high Insurance deductables and they want money up front that I cant pay unless Im on a payment plan. Im Lost, hurt, confussed, and at my wits end. If it wasnt for my faith I have no idea how I could of made it this far. They say terrible twos are bad. I'd rather go back to terrible twos then go through this with a teenager. I never treated my mother like this, never would of dreamed of it no matter how angry I was at her. Thanks to sites like this Im feel Im not alone. God Bless us parents of teenagers.

Comment By : Robin

* To Rick and Kit-Kat: Even with kids as young as 6, we can still set limits on this behavior by stating, “It’s never okay to hit.” Then give your child the structure to calm down. Perhaps that’s going to their room to rest for awhile, or sitting quietly next to you. The goal here is not to ‘punish’ because of this behavior but to re-direct your child and reduce the over-stimulation so your child calms down. Role model healthy ways to express you own strong feelings. Kids learn much more from watching us then from what we say. Help younger kids learn the language of feelings so that they will eventually become good at identifying their own triggers. “It looks like you’re overly-tired. Let’s get you some rest.” “You seem very frustrated. Can you tell me what you need?” Once you have learned what helps your child to calm down, you can suggest they use that skill. “Try taking a few really deep breaths.” Hitting and biting are usually a child’s last resort when they are over-whelmed with handling a situation. In regard to calling the police for violent behavior in very young children, James Lehman states in his article, When Kids Get Violent: “There’s No Excuse for Abuse” “My experience is that the police are most helpful when dealing with pre-teens and teens. Parents may also need to call the police for younger children because the situation has become physically unmanageable. Know that with much younger children, calling the police will not have the impact that it has on older children.” The younger the child, the more they will need your example and your coaching to learn how to eventually problem solve for themselves.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I agree with you 100% my son is sixteen years old and punches holes in the wall when he is angry. Completely defies anything myself or husband has to say and calls me all types of names. I am very scared for him, he seems to be self destructing and very angry and blames us for his issues. Lord knows i need help

Comment By : ladylove95

The article is terrific; now a grandmother; was a school psychologist and think I should be able to handle my 14 year old grandson - apparently I can't as he had a huge tantrum at my house (had had one two weeks earlier with his mom) that included abusive toward me and threatened intimidation - I didn't call the police because of my worry that my daughter would be displeased (that says a bundle, doesn't it?!) but encouraged by this article and others, will do so next time - it's clear that boundaries are not strong enough for him - and that he's been overindulged by mother and by grandma. My question - what should I do if he will not apologize? I have asked him for a 3 sentence apology by email - 1. I .....5 things he did; 2, I am ...... (whatever he feels); and 3. Next time I feel angry or frustrated at Grandma's I will.... 2 things he will do to calm himself down. I think this is reasonable; but he will not do it. Thanks for listening.

Comment By : SukyB

* Dear SukyB: If your grandson is trying to gain control over you by intimidation, this is serious, abusive behavior and you may be unsafe in times like these. Consider stating in your email that you ‘felt unsafe’ when he was trying to intimidate you by threatening you and before you will be comfortable having him visit you again, you need to know what he will do differently if he becomes angry. Asking for this information from him is more important than demanding and getting an apology. This request really focuses on his behavior and not on your feelings. If you keep the attention on the feelings issue, he may get stuck in some faulty thinking--telling himself that you’re the one who made him mad and now you expect him to apologize to you! You want him to focus on his actions and you want him to think about an alternative behavior when he’s angry. There’s nothing wrong with apologizing to each other, of course. James Lehman says that apologizing is not enough—the real important piece is the child learning better ways to solve the problem of losing their temper.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 14 y/o is horrible to me, for the last 2 yrs he's been physically, verbally abusive to me and to his stuff and the house. holes in walls , broken xboxs and cmptrs. We see psychologist and therapist and have tried so many different drugs. He's autistic aspergers, and it's only the two of us. I dont know what else to do, this is worse than being married to his father, we divorced when my son was still less than a year old , his father had a drug problem. We lost my mom a couple of years ago and it's been hard on all of us, she helped me with him and now I don't have any support. The kid has no friends or outside interests barely gets through school and I can barely get any work done with all of this stress the kid causes me. I need help and no one has come through.

Comment By : cweaver

I am very disheartened with my sons behavior. He is so abusive that if he were my husband I would have left years ago. I am so tired of being called names and disrespected that I have lost the ability to really care. I just want it to be quiet. My other 2 children are not like this, so why is this child abusive? He swears, puts up the middle finger, calls me names, belittles my ideas and tells me to shut up. If I didn't have other children I really would have left by now. I am so sad.

Comment By : mtl

I am going to try these techniques but am so afraid. I am almost 5 months pregnant and have a sweet 8 yo daughter here also. My son, 14, does not get along with my husband, though we have been married for 10 years. We are a more strict religious household as far as limiting computer time, spending alone time with the opposite sex and dressing appropiately. We have always had trouble with him with aggression, since he was 3 and had been on ADHD meds for the last many years but now refused to take it. He gets mad if we ask him to pull his pants up or do his homework. That is when the cussing and belittling starts. He is NOT like this at school, straight A student, or with others. It is ONLY US! When I took him to the bus stop this morning I had to sit there and listen to him cussing me out. I do not like him and can not continue to live like this. I will try everything said here, I hope it works for the sake of my family.

Comment By : sandmama

* I appreciate your willingness to try the techniques and suggestions you find here on EP. The good news is, even though you say you've had a tough time with your son for years, it is not too late to help him learn better, more appropriate skills. You do not have to live with verbal abuse in your home. First, I would encourage you and your husband to agree on which one of your son's behaviors to target first. As difficult as it may be, James would recommend you ignore things like his clothing - that is a power struggle you won't likely win (for more on this, see "power struggle over haircuts") You might start with his cussing and belitting, as I bet that behavior shows up in a lot of different situations. Decide ahead of time what the consequence will be for using that kind of language when he is angry. In a relatively calm moment, sit down together (you, your husband, and your son) and let him know: "When you don't like what we tell you to do, you get angry, and when you get angry you yell, hit, swear, etc. (be specific about his behaviors). That is no longer acceptable. From now own, if you are getting angry, we expect you to control your mouth and your temper. You don't have to like our rules, but you do have to follow them. If you choose to yell or swear, you will lose access to your electronics until you have been calm for an hour (or half an hour - whatever is just beyond his current ability)." If he only has half an hour of computer time per day, he might lose some of that time until he can calm himself down. Remember to keep your consequences within the same day so that he has a chance to do better the next day - if he has dug himself a hole in which he has no computer for the next month, he has no reason to improve. During this discussion about your rules and expectations, find out what your son will do to control his temper. Just saying "fine, I won't get mad" is not realistic. You might give him some suggestions for what he can do to help himself calm down, or he may have some ideas of his own. If he can control his temper at school, he can use some of those skills at home. Once you have seen some improvement in this area, you can move on to the next behavior on your list. Remember, you are your son's coach - through limit setting and the use of effective consequences, you can help him behave as well at home as he does in other environments. You might check out these articles for more ideas: Why don't consequences work for my teen, End the Nightly Homework Struggle, My Kid Will Never Change, and F--- You, Mom; how to stop your child from cursing in your home. And, if you are a Total Transformation customer, you can call the Support Line - They talk to hundreds of families just like yours every week. They can help you customize a plan for your family. Good luck.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

my son is 9 years old and he is constantly calling every one at home idiots when he does not get his way.This is getting out of hand and when i try to discipline him his mother finds a reason for his verbal abuse to be justified.example his six year old sister was bothering him,or he is tired,or he hurt himself,this is getting very frustrating.after reading this article i believe that zero tolerance on abusive language to myself his younger siblings and his mother should be the way to go.can you suggest ways of getting him to realize that this will not be tolerated at home or anywhere else.

Comment By : gilbert

* You will have a difficult time getting your child to stop calling others names when one parent tolerates the behavior. You might check out the articles on working together as a team. Once you have found a place of agreement, you can move forward. The truth is, as James says, there is no excuse for abuse, verbal or otherwise. You could let everyone in your family know that no matter who starts it, or how tired you are, it is not okay to call someone names. Help your son come up with other things he can do when he is frustrated, like take deep breaths, or go to his room for a break. When you notice him getting stressed out, remind him he has to help himself deal with his frustration without calling names. If you and your wife can agree, you might consider suspending his access to electronics until he can get his temper under control for a short amount of time. Good luck, and let us know how it's going.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

Very good article. I recognized my son, and my family situation. But, at the end, the last line said "...if you want to change the way your child is doing things, you’re going to have to change the way your whole family is doing things." But, left us hanging. HOW??? -Thanks, Baxter Louise

Comment By : Baxter Louise

* Dear 'Baxter Louise': The Total Transformation Program is more structured then the series of articles and will give you instructions in detail on how to make changes in your home. Each of the seven lessons focuses on important skills, establishing a foundation before using more intricate skills. It also includes a workbook to accompany the lessons. When completing the exercises in the workbook, you take the general concepts you have been learning and apply them to the specific behavioral challenges your family is working on. The beginning lessons will teach you how to change the focus of the relationships in your home by explaining in detail and giving specific phrases to say to create that ‘culture of accountability’ that James talks about. This happens by changing the thinking and behavior of the parent first so that they can then teach their child to change theirs. James explains how to assume control and authority in your home, how to approach behaviors as problems that need to be solved, and what parenting techniques are not effective and which are. He will help you to recognize the techniques your child uses to avoid responsibility. It’s important to be able to understand the problems so that you can solve them. You will learn how to appropriately teach and coach your child, how to help them see that negative behaviors do not solve their problems and how to require them to work with you to come up with solutions to handle their problems more successfully in the future.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I wish I Had read this years ago. My is now 18 and in the process of moving out(his choice). I worry for him, his has such anger and manipulative behaiviors. Always angry and those that love him the most. It doesn't seem to matter how much I read about defient children, I will always wonder if I was responsible.

Comment By : stepmom in alabama

This is a great article, and it describes my husband's behavior towards our youngest daughter (age 17) terribly accurately. It's as if he is a child himself, and he blames her for his verbal abuse. She is a difficult teenager, so it's easy to find blame, but as parents, we need to be calm and unified. However, I can't condone his behavior. I think his verbal abuse has contributed to her difficulties. What should I do?

Comment By : nrg

* Dear ‘nrg’: You are right that we [parents] need to role model for our kids how to behave correctly. That is something you can do. Sometimes when other family members observe you using a good technique from the Total Transformation program, they will begin to use it too. In Lesson 2, James Lehman talks about ineffective parenting techniques. One of those ineffective techniques is the ‘Screamer’. James understands that the Screamer parent is acting out because they are utterly frustrated and lack an alternative. In Lesson 3 of the program he teaches three effective parenting roles--the Teaching and Coaching Role, the Problem-Solving Role, and the Limit Setting Role. Knowing and using effective parenting roles will eliminate the need to use techniques that are not helpful. You might tell your husband that you understand how frustrating it can be when the kids upset us and let him know you have found an article they he might find interesting. Direct him to: Trapped in a Screaming Match with Your Child? 5 Ways to Get Out Now Tell him about the Total Transformation program, which has real solutions that can help, and a Support Line service to call and talk to for one-on-one coaching. Let us hear from you. We have ideas that can improve the situation you describe. We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Im a single mother of four teenage daughters and help raise my niece and nephew to say the least we have a mix of diffrent personalities and problems. I was at my wits end with my oldest daughter thats 17.I had looked into bootcamps,boarding schools,foster homes, therapy and nothing was working. She has convited of asault drugs in school. she would leave home anytime walk right out the front door after everyone would be asleep sex drugs you name it weve been thru it She has made our home life a living nightmare.she bullied everyone in the home and basically ruled the roost so to speak The defining moment for me was she left one night just as she has done on numerous occasions and took my 13 year old with her this timei could see a trend starting and i knew i just could not live thru another angry life destroying child thats when i came across total transformation i thought anything is worth a try to save my daughters life to be able to get the once loving caring daughter i once had but had vanished somewhere along the way i really didnt have much hope in this program so many have failed before but with the start of the very first disk i started seeing results a new calm had come over our home i started seeing glimpses of the child i had raised we are now starting on the second disk and i know its going to be a bumpy road but for the first time in 3 years i have hope and sanity. i want to thank you this is trully a miracle i know we have just started but it is amazing i can actually have a conversation with my daughter now and we dont end it with screaming yelling slamming of doors i have and will continue to recommend this program to every parent i come across

Comment By : trullyhopefull

My son says he hates me and says he tells his friends what a terrible mother I am. Is this o.k. just to let go...Is this normal? He is 14. This behavior is causing a lot of stress in our family

Comment By : angledog

* Dear ‘angledog’: Sometimes kids do say hurtful things when they’re angry, but it’s not ‘okay’ for them to do this. When this happens, James Lehman suggests saying, “It’s not okay to speak to me that way. I don’t like it”—then turn around and walk away. Go take a break and allow your son to cool off too. There’s no need to react to his remark that he complains to his friends about you. Just focus on requiring family members to speak respectfully to each other, and when they do not, tell them that it’s not okay.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

There are two young men in my life - one is 14 and the other is 16. Their father and I have been divorced since they were in early elementary school. After two years of marriage and two children later, their father became emotionally and verbally abusive towards me and eventually broke up our family by having an affair with our next door neighbor who was also my best friend. By his choice, there has never been any communication or co-parenting between us even though I have tried hard to keep him updated and have asked him for help with different abuse issues with the boys. I finally learned the hard way that he was not going to help me in any way. He takes the boys' word for different situations and sides with them. As he once told me, there are two sides to every story and he knows what it was like to live with me. He is a totally different person from who I thought I married. He lives just a few minutes away from my home and he has always made it a point to see the boys almost every day. The boys mostly lived with me until recently when I finally had to remove my younger son from my home after several years of his verbal and sometimes physical abuse towards me and his older brother. When he got bigger than me I was afraid he would eventually really hurt me. Sadly, he now lives with his father. My older son recently turned 16 and got his drivers license and thinks he has free rein. He has also turned on me and told me that he doesn't have to be accountable to me. He has become very verbally abusive and hateful. Through their years of growing up, my boys have seen and heard their father verbally and emotionally abuse their stepmother (not the one he had the affair with). I believe the boys think it is okay to treat women this way and that includes their mother. Both boys seem to cooperate with their father and seem to respect him. What their father has yet to figure out is how the boys have been playing us against each other because our our lack of communication over the years. When I set rules, they fall through because their father doesn't agree with me and undoes what I do. If I take away a privilege, he gives it back on his end. I can't win and feel like a total failure. Enought said. I am a single mother and I am losing my children and I need help. I am absolutely heartbroken and although I try very hard, I can't help but blame myself to a certain degree for the way things have turned out. I am also ADD and have not always been as consistent as I should have been. Is it too late for me to save my relationship with my children?

Comment By : cadams

* Dear ‘cadams’: There are a lot of techniques in James Lehman’s Total Transformation Program that will help you interact more effectively with your sons. The #1 technique on the CD entitled “Ten Ways to Turn around Your Child’s Behavior in One Minute or Less” is ‘Assume Control’. A lot can happen in your interactions when you alter your own perspective. When you become different, you have created change in your relationships. James Lehman explains the technique of ‘Assuming Control’ by instructing us to, “Be self-confident without being hostile.” It’s not necessary to raise your voice or make threats to be effective. Give simple directions that give an air that you’re in control. Make the statement, “Where are you supposed to be?” Then say, “Go there.” Don’t ask, “Why aren’t you there already?” because this is asking your child to give you an excuse. Give a simple explanation but don’t overly-explain or justify yourself. James says, “If you sound like you’re in control, you’re on your way to being in control.” You write that your ex has never been willing to co-parent with you. This is often the case. Divorced parents commonly have different parenting styles and different house rules. In these circumstances we recommend that you do not ask your ex to give a consequence during his visits with his sons for something that happened in your home. You can wait to problem solve and give consequences when your child is back from their visits with their Dad. Require any child living with you to follow reasonable house rules, regardless if they are 16, 18, or older. Many kids have ‘faulty thinking’ when they turn certain ages like, “No one can tell me what to do.” As adults, it’s easy for us to see the error in this statement. James wrote a really helpful article that addresses your situation with your 16 year old: “Your Child is Not Your Equal” Don’t forget, you can also call the Support Line and speak to the trained specialists for more ideas on using the techniques from the Total Transformation Program. Keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My eight year old is defiant and abusive, mostly verbally. We get a lot of "I don't care" "your so mean", "you don't love me" comments from him. I have tried to remain calm, but eventually resort to spanking. My wife and I both are yellers and screamers and I understand the wisdom preached here to stay calm and not drop to their level, but I find my self not having many options or a plan to get him calmed down and then an appropriate punishment for his actions. I have tried to send him to his room, and many times he keeps the arguing up till there is repeated trips to his room. How do you handle the whole "sending them to their room". Do they stay there for a period of time or just till their calmed down. We just feel like we walk on "egg shells" around him to keep him from blowing up... as my wife says its no way to live.

Comment By : tdrobashane

* Dear ‘tdrobashane’: We’re sorry to hear that your family is experiencing this difficult cycle of behaviors. It can be exhausting for everyone. It is possible to change, however, and the Total Transformation Program will teach you how to use more effective parenting techniques so you don’t have to resort to spanking. At times, it can seem like the only way to get our kid’s attention is to yell at them or spank them. But we find that spanking is not an effective tool for changing behavior. In fact, we don’t recommend any punishment that causes physical pain. A spanked child sees the parent as “out of control” emotionally and you don’t want to set up a confusing situation where you are hitting and yelling at him while telling him to calm down. Do your best to remain calm and have your voice in control when correcting him. When you want your child to calm down—you have to be calm yourself or they can’t pull it off. Instruct him to “Find a way to calm yourself down.” Then try not saying anything to him. Let him stomp off to his room, for example, without commenting on it. If he becomes angry and makes remarks like “I don’t care” or “You’re so mean”, just ignore those statements. Just pay attention to the behavior you’re asking him to change—which at that moment is going to his room to cool off and calm down. You will want to use the instructions in Lesson’s 5-7 to help your son learn to recognize his faulty thinking and what triggers his anger. There are many other tools the program provides to help your family. One tool is the Support Line service. Call us and let us recommend more techniques from the program. We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

In our family, it is the other way around. Our 10 year old grandson threatens and torments and abuses his 12 year old brother.

Comment By : PegO\\\'MyHeart

OMG I am so glad I found this article. When my 14 yr olds father returned to her life the abuse began and has escalated to physical violence and her being hospitalized twice and a family therapist who keeps telling me to choose my battles while her therapist and mine say she is abusive toward me since there are no consequences for behavior when she is with her father she often times runs to her father when I say no or discipline her and he then turns to the court system. I am so lost but this article helped me to see this is a real issue facing some parents..He even let her have a party after hitting me repeatedly on mothers day and then manipulating the situation to get placed in a phsyc hospital.. what is a mother to do when dad fails to back me up and gives back phones etc ans says I know how you are..???

Comment By : Tired of being told to choose my battles

* To ‘Tired of being told to choose my battles’: It sounds like you are involved in a very challenging and hurtful situation with your daughter and her father. Being a teenager and having an absent parent suddenly come into the picture is a big change. James Lehman felt that children act out because they lack the skills to adequately solve their problems, emotional or otherwise. Going through a big transition or change of any kind can really cause a child’s problem solving skills to break down. The most difficult part of this whole situation is that you just can’t control her father and what he does. It is not surprising that he seems more focused on trying to have a good relationship with her than trying to be an effective parent. The best thing you can do, mom, is to focus on what you can control and that is yourself, how you react to difficult situations, and the rules you have in your home. Unfortunately, this is not an easy solution and I realize it is easier said than done. We recommend that you continue to utilize the supports you have in place locally such as your therapist and the police when she gets violent. Here is an article called Disneyland Daddy that talks about a similar situation—you might find that parts of it are helpful. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

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

Hi, I just read both part 1 & 2 of "when kids get ugly: How to stop threats & verbal abuse" and I have to say I was at first very excited hoping there were some tools offered to parents. The message was, "there needs to be changes to get changes" but the only tool I found was how to suggest to my son how he could have said something better or done something better as to not get a consequence. To appeal to self interest vs. emotion or empathy for the victim. That was very helpful, but the only other advice was to call the police. I was hoping for more tools. I'm desperate as a single mother for new tools. I do say what can you do better and I do phone the police. I was hoping for more suggestions. I will read again, maybe I just missed it. Thanks, Shelly

Comment By : Sdm

My son is now 21 and still exhibits these behaviors - I think that we are at the 'call the police' phase or ask him to leave our home. I wish that I had read this article years ago and stopped making excuses for his behaviour.

Comment By : wits end

We have been thru this for two years now....she is our niece and we 'saved' her from California when her Mom died from overdose. Physical, emotional, verbal abuse...State does NOT want her; but we are DONE also.

Comment By : diane

My son is 9 and is currently going through all that was described in the above article. His teacher has thrown her hands up and has informed us that he probably won't pass fourth grade. My nanny is sick and tired and doesn't want to watch him anymore, only my other two children - which she loves and who loves her. My husband works long hours and is gone a lot and I work during the day. Our issues primarily revolve around my son and school, my son and the nanny, and my son and his father. My relationship with him isn't bad and he doesn't really give me a hard time. I think mostly because I'm working. I'm at a point where I can't afford to hire another nanny and I'm actually considering quitting my job to stay home with my son and home school him - which I can't financially aford to do at all. We've tried about everything and things are still getting systimatecally worse. Not sure what else to do at this point but to quit my job and stay home with him.

Comment By : Keala

Daughter 19, not getting up on her own for work, believe drugs are involved cause of boyfriend, which is a drug addict himself, she is still living at home. When bf cannot get a hold of her he called our house on our new phone number we had changed cause of him and hung up four times and was trying to get a hold of her, but we have told him not to call our home. Documented all phone calls of him harassing us on the phone, and we have told her and him we want nothing to do with him or his family, but when he could not get a hold of her he decided to come over and ring my doorbell. Called the police, now pursuing no tresspass warrant and turned harassment calls over to police. Today, was another bad day, daughter would not get up for work even though her alarm is ringing and three people trying to wake her up. Probably drugs again. I banged on door and things went all out of whack from there. Had to call police again cause of her verbal attacks. We have a car for her, but will not sign it over to her just because of stuff like this and her bf is controlling of her. He got into trouble with his parents and wrecked his car four or five times, parents are stupid enough to get him yet another car, but a used one this time, not brand new like his last one he wrecked four times and got him on an insurance where is miles are restricted so he forces his control on her trying to utilize the vehicle we wish we could give her, but because of him as well as her attitude are very reluctant and as of today because of her attitude will not. Police asked her to leave our premises. She gave me a guilt trip while walking out the door. I did not budge, and she has been texting her dad (her cell phone, we cancelled hers and she got her own) with guilt trips, but not budging. We have told her and the police have told her when she is living under our roof all she has to do is obey the rules, that is it. But, her missing work, staying out til 1 or 2 a.m. and having to be at work the next morning and the lateness she says is her bf fault (once again showing her lack of responsibility towards herself), and she wants us to sign the car over to her? She's missed two days of work this week, and we know it is because of drugs, the bf and her irresponsibility towards doing what is right!

Comment By : concerned

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