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Working through The Total Transformation: One Mom Tries to Deal with Her Son's Disrespect and Backtalk

Posted by Lola Howle

My 13 year old son with ADHD is as big as I am and when he refuses to comply, I often lose my temper. That’s when my son’s ability to manipulate goes into high gear. As soon as I lose it, he dramatically flinches. My guilt meter shoots off the chart. Pretty soon, consequences for his behavior are forgotten. It’s an unhealthy cycle that does nothing to help my son learn problem solving skills.

My gut reaction is to get defensive when I perceive disrespect through disobedience. Sometimes that results in overreaction, screaming, and finally remorse. I know I need to take a “time out” when I feel my buttons being pushed, but I worry the time lapse dilutes my ability to assign effective consequences. My attention-deficit son usually forgets the event five minutes after it happens. When I come back with consequences, he acts shocked and confused about what he did wrong.

I really enjoyed reading Carole Banks’s blog concerning respect recently, as this issue has become a hot button for our family. I constantly find myself telling my son that he needs to respect me and his grandmother and his teachers. Banks makes a good point when she says, “It takes more than asking for a feeling to fix the problem.” The Total Transformation Program tells us to ignore attitude and focus on behavior, but it’s hard for me to separate them. I emotionally equate respect with obedience and even a little fear, because that’s how I grew up. Eager to please, I rarely said no to my parents. In contrast, my son thrives on saying no.

As I worked on the action steps in Lesson 3 of the Total Transformation Program, I struggled to come up with the list of consequences for bad behavior. A few rewards could be turned around into negatives like less game time or no cell phone. Other rewards were things like going to friends’ houses, renting movies, iTunes purchases, or eating out. He doesn’t appear very impressed when those types of things are withheld, however.

Many times the consequences only result in more bad behavior, because he refuses to comply. Honestly, I’m afraid I may run out of consequences. I was only partly joking with his father (my ex-husband) when I suggested I might put a lock on the outside of my son’s bedroom door to enforce the “go to your room” consequence. Dad wasn’t amused.

Here’s the unfortunate pattern: My son comes home from school and goes straight to his room. My elderly mother toddles along behind, picking up the pencils, notebooks, socks and shoes left in his wake. He knows I want him to pick up after himself. But grandma’s tidying mode is permanently on auto pilot. I’ve tried closing his door and letting the mess pile up, but grandma can’t take it. (Retraining my son is challenging, but changing an 80-year-old’s view of how to run her own household is unthinkable.)

Still, he ignores his good fortune and prefers to argue. My son rudely tells grandma to stop bothering him. He ignores even the most benign questions about his day. He refuses to do homework or he says he doesn’t have any. We can’t tell by looking at his cluttered notebook. He either refuses to take out to garbage or says he’ll do it later and never does. Posting a chore list on his door and taking away his allowance made no impact. After almost a year, he doesn’t seem to miss his weekly $5.

Grandma complains about his tendency to lounge around the house in his underwear. He won’t turn the TV volume down and refuses to help grandma find the channel with her favorite evening news show. He’d rather lecture us about spoiling the dog, putting the TV in the “wrong” place, and feeding him “crappy” meals. On and on it goes, until he tells grandma to “shut up” because she’s crazy/stupid/senile. Grandma threatens to hit him with the flyswatter or call the police. He gets my laptop, since his computer was confiscated already. I tell him to put it away. He says no. I wrestle the laptop out of his arms while dodging kicking feet and swinging elbows.

In the meantime, grandma toddles out with the trash and I can barely remember what started it all. He will not go to his room, so he lounges on the sofa in his boxers. Which actions get which consequences and in what order? I’m a little afraid. What will I do the next time he says no?

I’m at square one with setting limits. Taking these first steps has been tough for me. My son has stopped cursing as much, which helps my morale. I don’t know if my home will ever achieve a culture of accountability. I do know, however, I want to earn my son’s respect. To do that calls for establishing parental authority, learning to coach and stay consistent. It means becoming a person who won’t take no for an answer.

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