Recently, a frustrated mom sat in my office and said, “I just don’t know what to do anymore. We’ve tried everything! There’s no punishment that gets through to our child; there’s nothing we can say that will fix her behavior. There’s so much going on we just don’t know where to start.” Sound familiar? Parents often get by on intuition and advice from others, but let’s face it–that’s not always enough, especially if you have a child who doesn’t respond well to your attempts to manage their behavior. All kids push the limits, but the stress this causes parents can range anywhere from overwhelming to nearly unbearable.
There are so many parents out there who would give anything to have some peace and quiet at home, and peace of mind about their family life. Not only are you struggling to keep your head above water, you’re caught in a flood of behavior issues that pop up one after the next— and you may also be struggling to just hold on so you don’t get swept away. If your child has ODD or ADHD, it can feel like every day is a new parenting obstacle course. What I say to parents who come to me feeling this way is, first take a deep breath. You’re not alone. And what’s more, you didn’t find yourself in this situation with your child all at once, so you don’t need to put pressure on yourself to climb your way out of it all at once, either. We all go to that place of fear and negativity when we’re anxious about our kids or our parenting. Fear says, “You have to fix this right now or else!” But if you put that feeling aside, logic might tell you that you and your child are both human, and can only do so much at one time. So instead of trying to turn around five years worth of issues in a matter of minutes, it’s more effective to think about one thing you can start doing differently today to be a more effective parent than you were yesterday.
Once you’ve shifted your thinking a bit and taken some pressure off, there are some other practical steps you can take to start to regain your sense of control and confidence as a parent. Here are some of the suggestions parents have found most helpful over the years.
Sitting down and making a list of every single thing you want to change about your child is not what I mean here—any parent could easily come up with a dozen or so things they want to change! Looking at such a big list will only make you feel more overwhelmed and cause more stress in the long run. What I do suggest is to just think about your top three concerns. What behavioral issues are causing the most chaos and stress in your home? Choose the three most troublesome issues and write them down. Your list might look something like this:
Then ask yourself, are there safety issues because of this behavior? Issues that pose a safety risk, either to your child or to others, should always be dealt with first. Once you’ve considered any safety risks, rank your top three concerns in order of priority—and the top issue on the list is where you put your focus for now. Those other two things might need to wait until you build up your confidence and have more energy. Working on just one thing is enough. Remember, when tackling multiple behavior issues as a parent, it’s important for you to take one step at a time. Eventually, those steps will add up to better behavior and more effective parenting.
Know what your expectations are—what do you want to see your child do? Make sure you are able to communicate your expectations in clear terms. Describe actions that you see and hear rather than using words like “good,” “nice,” and “better.” Action words are much clearer, and far less subjective than adjectives. Here’s an example. A parent who wants their child to put forth more effort in school might say, “You need to quit goofing off in school. I really want you to get better grades and study harder.” A clearer way to say that is, “I want you to listen and pay attention in school, and when you get home I want to see you sitting at the table for an hour each day doing schoolwork. The electronics will be off, and you won’t have any privileges until you’ve worked for an hour. Once your grades improve to Bs and above, we’ll revisit this plan.”
Before you talk with your child, you should also come up with a plan on how you will hold her accountable. What will you do if she does not meet your expectations? How will you respond? In the moment, it’s most effective to restate your expectation and then walk away. When things have calmed down, problem solve and then give a consequence if the situation calls for it. When you have established your plan and you are sure you can follow through with it, clearly state your expectations to your child and let her know what is changing.
In The Total Transformation program, James Lehman tells us that parents often over-explain themselves because they think this will make their kids understand. The truth is, lectures and speeches aren’t effective. James recommends instead to have conversations that are focused on what your child’s responsibilities are, and how he can meet them. For example, what can your child do instead of leaving the house without permission when he thinks you’re being unfair? How can he stay out of trouble next time? It’s extremely important for you to take on the role of “coach” and help your child learn new behaviors that are more effective. Put things in your child’s best interests, rather than trying to convince him he needs to change so he’ll get into college, stay out of jail, or be able to keep a job in 10 years. Set the speeches and justifications aside, and focus on developing the skills your child needs to do better. Let your consequences do the convincing.
It’s important to expect setbacks with progress. Change is a slow process that you just can’t rush. Think of the caterpillar inside a chrysalis, awaiting the day he is ready to break out and take flight for the first time as a butterfly. That caterpillar knows he can’t speed up his transformation without jeopardizing his well-being. He knows that the time will come and he must be patient. It’s far more effective for a parent to also take one day at a time, and take it slow when making changes at home. Things will get better, but sometimes your child will still make a mistake. All is not lost—just take a deep breath, follow through with your plan and remember that you can handle this. Start with a fresh slate each day and stay positive.
There is power in numbers. Whether you’re a single parent, happily married, or somewhere in between, parents need a support system. Find a way to build in some time for some social support each week so that you can recharge your batteries and feel refreshed and motivated to continue on. If the problem feels too big for you to handle within your family or social circle, seek support elsewhere. This is not a sign of weakness, but a measure of resourcefulness, commitment to change, and a good way to add some more tools to your parenting toolkit. Your child’s pediatrician, teachers, and this website are a good place to start. All of these resources can help you gain a new understanding of your child, make suggestions, and help you to figure out what next steps you should take if you feel like you keep running face first into a brick wall. Parenting classes, support groups, or counselors and therapists in your local area can also be a huge help.
When you’re faced with so many behavior issues you don’t know where to start, it’s not easy. Remember, your journey toward more effective parenting will start with just one step. And by accepting that this will take time and choosing to be positive and have patience, you can take that first step toward progress, starting today.
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Related Content: No Means No: 7 Tips to Teach Your Child to Accept ‘No’ for an Answer
Sara Bean, M.Ed. is a certified school counselor and former Empowering Parents Parent Coach with over 10 years of experience working with children and families. She is also a proud mom.
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I’m sorry to hear
about this situation with your daughter, and I hear your concern that your
other children might start to copy this behavior. One step I recommend is
talking with your daughter during a calm time, and https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/parental-roles-how-to-set-healthy-boundaries-with-your-child/ with her. For example, you might tell her
that certain topics are off-limits, and you do not feel comfortable discussing
these with her. You might find some additional strategies for you to use
in our article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/my-child-thinks-hes-the-boss-how-to-get-back-control-of-your-home/.
Please be sure to write back and let us know how things are going for you and
your daughter. Take care.
Not sure what to do
I hear how concerned you are about your daughter, and the
choices that she is making right now. At this point, it could be useful
to contact your local law enforcement agency to see if they might be able to
offer you assistance in bringing your daughter back home. It could also
be helpful to talk with her before she comes home about your rules and expectations
for her behavior, as well as her plan for following those when she is back in
your home. Sometimes, parents find it beneficial to involve a neutral
third party, such as a family counselor, who can work with you to develop an
action plan to follow when your daughter returns to your home. For
assistance locating resources in your community, try contacting the http://www.211.org/ at 1-800-273-6222. I
recognize how challenging this must be for you and your family, and I wish you
all the best moving forward. Take care.
We have a 13 almost 14 year old, that absolutely has defiant behavior. He has had tantrums, he has been abusive, and at times even bordered on physical. He has missed school because of his behavior, refusing to go. He has also fallen behind in his work, mainly because he is just not putting n the effort.. We told him we would not allow him to play in his football game - a big deal because he will set a record for most games played. This will crush him. I want to find more positive ways to help move him forward. I think the punishment, even though it is well deserved, and we told him this was an absolute consequence, may have the opposite effect. at the same time, we want him to take us seriously when we give him a consequence.
Are there ways we can begin to turn this around. Is keeping him out of the game the right move, or are there other ways that are more effective.
You ask a great question. Generally speaking, it’s not
usually productive to use activities that can’t be earned back as consequences
as explained in the blog How to Give Kids Consequences That Work.
It’s usually more effective to use everyday privileges such as cell phone,
computer time, or video game time to motivate your child to make better
choices. For example, if the issue is your son isn’t going to school, perhaps
you link his electronics privileges to him getting up and going to school every
day. If he gets up and goes, then he earns his privileges. If he chooses
not to, then he doesn’t earn his privileges that day. He would have another
opportunity to earn them the next day by making a better choice. You can find
more useful tips for motivating your son to do better in school in the article 10 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Do Better in School. I hope you find this
information useful. Be sure to check back if you have any further questions.
Raising young children certainly does offer some challenges and
having three young ones who are so close in age must be even more so. I can
only imagine how upsetting and exhausting your situation must be. It’s
understandable you would feel at the end of your rope. I think many
grandparents inMore your situation would feel the same way. A couple things you may
find helpful are developing a self care plan for yourself and also picking one
acting out behavior at a time to focus on. Too often, we try to change
everything all at once and this can leave both the guardian and the child
feeling overwhelmed. Instead, develop a specific action plan that includes both
ways of holding the child accountable as well as ways of developing a more
appropriate replacement behavior. For more information on deciding which
behavior to focus on as well as ways you can begin to address that behavior,
you may find these articles helpful “My Child’s Behavior Is So Bad, Where Do I Begin?” How to Coach Your Child Forward & How to Discipline Young Kids Effectively: 4 Steps Every Parent Can Take. One word of caution: expecting 100% compliance from 4 year old,
or any child for that matter, is probably inviting failure. It’s going to be
important to work more towards increasing compliance than on perfect obedience.
I had mentioned self care as another important suggestion. Too often, parents
and guardians put themselves on the back burner, to the detriment of everyone
involved. It is almost impossible to be an effective caregiver if you are
feeling exhausted and overwhelmed all the time. Taking time out, even in small
increments, can go far towards helping you maintain your composure when
interacting with your grandson. Self care can be as informal or formal as you
choose and can include anything from going for walk, meeting a friend for lunch
or finding a kinship support group or individual counselor you can talk over
your struggles with. We have a couple resources you may find helpful. First,
the 211 Helpline can give you information on community services and supports.
You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-6222. Another
great resource for grandparents who find themselves parenting their
grandchildren is http://www.aarp.org/relationships/friends-family/g.... We
appreciate you writing in and sharing your story. Your grandchildren are very
fortunate to have you in their lives. I hope you will continue to check in and
let us know how things are going. Take care.
hi recently i had my girlfriend and her son move in with me. ive known them for 14 years but i was married, im now seperated. i love my girlfriend but her son who is 15 wont listen to any of my house rules. baseicly ive have just a fewMore and really feel they are not asking to much. 1. no more than two friends over at once. he brings 4 over lots of times but mostly 3. i dont know these kids and really dont trust just anyone in my home. 2. no one is allowed in the house if me or my girlfriend are not here. when we get home their is always someone in the house. 3. no drugs in the house. constintly they are smoking pot in the room. to me these are not even really rules but things that should be a automatic respectfull thing to do. he tells me ok he wont do it anymore but with in hours right back at it. what should i do about this behavier?
It is so good that you are reaching out for support. Navigating
a significant transition like this can be a delicate thing to do, especially
with an adolescent. They are in a developmental stage where they are pushing
for their independence and setting limits can often lead to power struggles. A
good thingMore to keep in mind is that while you are certainly a supervising adult,
it is going to be most helpful to make sure that you and your girlfriend are in
agreement about the house rules. Once you are sure, we recommend that
she take the lead in implementing them consistently. The value in
this approach is that limits are maintained in your home while you are taking
the important steps of making adjustments to the relationship with your
girlfriend’s son now that you both are living together. Even though you
have known him for a long time, things change when people begin living in the
same space. It could be beneficial for you both to take the time to get to
know what each other is like in this situation so that when limits are set, it
does not turn into a battle of wills. Here are articles by James Lehman and
Carrie and Gordon Taylor that have some very useful tips for blended families http://www.empoweringparents.com/My-Blended-Family... , http://www.empoweringparents.com/Blended-Family-Th... . Thanks for writing
and we wish you well as you move forward.
I'm a mother of 2 boys, 4 & 9. Fiancee gained custody of his kids in June as their mother attempted suicide for the third time in the two years Ive known her, the boy9 and girl12. The girl is dark, shes an artist, very non ambitious unless its toMore do with art or music, failing 7th grade. Monday she said she finally made a friend and asked for her to come over so I was all for it and said yes. She wanted to walk to the park w/her friend so I said sure. Came back and guess what, she was high on pot. This new so called friend had pot. I was furious. Its clear she needs therapy, but she's been grounded from everything (ipod, ipad, phone, tv, xbox) and clearly does not care. I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Her dad and I have tried everything to help her, she's not latching on. We've tried everything over the past few months that was suggested and punishment and discipline aren't working. We don't know where to go from here. She isn't smoking pot to be cool, she said she's smoking it because she likes the way it makes her feel. What do we do next? We are so lost, we don't know what is left to do. Please help. Any suggestions are welcome.
As a very similar teenager I now know there are things that would have worked for me- the brooding artist.
Incentives based on interests. Concert tickets based on good grades. Promise of art camp if she stays clean and sober. Shopping for her style of clothes if she has 1 month of good attendance. Also making your house an artists Mecca. Maybe an art set up in your garage, musical instruments so she can form a band, even a pool table or something her friends would want to play. Kids get high when they need to numb pain, boredom, feeling disconnected. Finding out what her main issue is and helping her to express her angst through art will empower her and build her confidence.
Watching an adolescent go through such trying times can be
tough. The transitions your family are going through are very difficult. Add to
that the developmental challenges young people face and this is a tricky
situation to navigate. It sounds like you have tried many strategies to help
her and there hasn’t beenMore much that has seemed effective. One thing that
is important to know about guiding behavior is the idea that consequences or
rewards alone do not change behavior. A child may know that something needs
to change, but can get overwhelmed and not know what to do if it seems too hard
to accomplish. Coaching a child to find appropriate ways to cope with
difficulties is also an important and useful strategy. Sara Bean talks about
this concept in her article http://www.empoweringparents.com/the-surprising-re.... It also may be beneficial to seek out support
in your area. Given her recent life experiences, she may benefit from
specialized care such as a support group or individual counseling. You can
find out about resources in your area by calling The National Health and Human
Resources Helpline at 211 or 1-800-273-6222 .
This will be the 4th time she's gotten in trouble for smoking pot wish us since living there. All the other times were when she came home from her mothers for the weekend. Her friends where her mother lives are all drug users and goth.
We speak with
many parents who have gone to great lengths to get a child out of bed in the
morning for school. Out of frustration, and not seeing other options,
parents describe examples of taking all the blankets off the child’s bed,
making great amounts of noise, and even pouring water on the child in an effort
to get them out of bed. While I understand the motivation behind doing
this, this is not a course of action that we recommend because it tends to have
the effect of escalating a situation instead of gaining the child’s
compliance. By pouring water on your child, you are not teaching him how
to get out of bed on time independently; rather, you are teaching him how to
resist you. A more effective route might be to talk with your child
during a calm time about specific actions he can take to ensure that he is up
and ready for school on time each day. You may also choose to link a privilege
your child values to being ready. You can find more strategies to address
this situation by reading http://www.empoweringparents.com/My-Kid-Wont-Get-Out-of-Bed-Stop-the-Morning-Madness-Now.php I understand
that this is a frustrating situation, and I hope that you will check back and
let us know how things are going. Take care.