Category: anger

How to manage defiance and oppositional defiant disorder

How to manage defiance and oppositional defiant disorder

Troubled children and teenagers who are pathologically defiant have a brain condition with many possible causes or diagnoses.  Whether they are overtly aggressive or “passive-aggressive,” parents have options for reducing defiance and limiting the stress they bring into the household.

anterior cingulate gyrus
In a healthy brain, the pink region doesn’t light up quite like this when a person is confronted with a limit or rule. A healthy child starts considering options and ways to work around.

If your child is defiant to a degree that affects their life functions, this is what it looks like in their brain.  The pink color of this curving central region indicates intense electrical activity.  This is the brain scan of a 13-year-old boy with severe oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).  Hyper-charged activity in this region can also be responsible for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), unstoppable rages, pathological gambling, chronic pain, and severe PMS.

It is called the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG), which allows a person to shift attention to different subjects and think flexibly–something defiant kids don’t do well.  Nor do they regulate emotions, something the ACG also does.  Children with a hyper-charged ACG have “a pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which 4 or more of the following are present:

  • Often loses temper
  • Often argues with adults.
  • Often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules.
  • Often deliberately annoys people.
  • Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior.
  • Is often touchy or easily annoyed by others.
  • Is often angry and resentful.
  • Is often spiteful and vindictive.” 

–From the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition,” published by the American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

Typical traits of defiant children.

  • screaming teenage girlThey act younger than they are. Don’t expect them to mature quickly.
  • They live in the here and now, and can’t think about the past or future.  They don’t see how their actions result in a series of consequences.  They can learn sometimes, but only if it is pointed out immediately after an incident.
  • They don’t notice their effect on others.  Sometimes you can ask one of the others how they feel immediately after an incident, or you can gently report how it makes you feel.
  • Their brain is easily overloaded, and they have a hard time with changes.  And yet, you can use this overloading problem to your advantage (more below).
  • They cannot follow your reasoning, so don’t try.
  • Defiance may be a strength in their future. With mature skills, they’ll better resist negative things they’ll face in life.

Unrelenting defiance is a true disability that negatively affects a child’s life and future.  I’ve seen highly intelligent defiant or ODD diagnosed children experience academic failure or enough suspensions or expulsion to hold them back a grade.  This is a can’t-win-for-losing path that really sucks, doesn’t it?

Two different psychiatric approaches to defiant behavior and ODD

  • Treating it as a form of attention deficit disorder;
  • Treating it as form of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The attention deficit approach uses therapy in combination with medications, such as Straterra (chemical name is atomoxetine), Ritalin (methylphenidate), Risperdal (risperidone, an antipsychotic), and Depakote or divalproex (a mood stabilizer).  This is not a complete list because new compounds are being formulated to reduce side-effects.

The depression & obsessive-compulsive approach combines therapy in combination with serotonin-based antidepressants such as Prozac (fluoxetine) or Zoloft (sertaline), and Anafranil (clomipramine, for anxiety). Again, this is not a complete list.

Treatment must also include holistic or ‘lifestyle’ approaches.

These are absolutely essential.  No amount of medication or therapy will help a child whose physical body is in poor shape!  The brain is an organ too, like the heart or liver, and needs the right nutrients and oxygen delivered through the blood.

  • avocadoEat brain food that includes nutrients and minerals listed in these articles:  The best vitamins for your child’s brain, and The brain diet for troubled kids.
  • Avoid foods that cause mood extremes and limit cognitive functions (such as memory and processing speed) such as:  food fried in oils other than olive oil, refined sugars and starches (flour, white sugar), saturated and hydrogenated fats, diuretics like caffeine, and any other foods that have dyes or nutrients removed by processing (for example, apple filling in pastry instead of actual apples).
  • Get more sleep and exercise – these have an immediate and direct impact on brain health!  In even one day, a brain will under-perform if there’s been inadequate sleep or exercise.  Sleep restores brain function and memory, and exercise pumps oxygen to the brain and causes the release of positive hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • Drink water (sports drinks are OK too if they don’t have caffeine)

Defiance and ODD often include symptoms of other disorders

  • 50-65% of defiant children also have ADD or ADHD
  • 35% develop some form of depressive disorder
  • 20% have some form of mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder or anxiety
  • 15% develop some form of personality disorder
  • Many also have learning disorders

Anthony Kane, MD 

Other conditions can cause defiant and disruptive behavior

  1. Neurological disorders from brain injuries, left temporal lobe seizures (these do not cause convulsions, no one can tell these are happening), tumors, and vascular abnormalities
  2. Endocrine system problems such as a hyperactive thyroid
  3. Infections such as encephalitis and post-encephalitis syndromes
  4. Inability to regulate sugar, resulting in rapid ups and downs of sugar in the blood
  5. Systemic lupus erythematosus, Wilson’s disease
  6. Side-effects of some prescription medications:  Corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory and arthritis drugs such as Prednisone);  Beta-agonists (asthma drugs such as Advair and Symbicort)
    –From Peters and Josephson.  Psychiatric Times, 2009
  7. Autism spectrum disorders
  8. PANDAS – an acronym for a strep infection-caused disorder that can make a previously normal child violently resistant.  (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections)
  9. Dehydration

If your child has these traits, it will be easier to reduce defiant or ODD behavior

  • A normal IQ
  • A first-born child
  • An affectionate temperament
  • Positive interactions with friends their age
  • Nurturing parents who can consistently set clear behavioral limits

–From the Journal of American Academic Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2002.  Author J.D. Burke.

Choose your battles
Let’s face it, consistently enforcing limits isn’t possible 24/7.  It’s exhausting.  Take a break; let some things go.

Parenting that works for ‘normal’ children does not work for defiant children or teenagers.

First, be kind to yourself; this is hard.  Get enough sleep, maintain your supportive relationships (spouse or partner, children, friends), schedule breaks and getaways, and guard your physical and emotional health.  Don’t expect quick results because success may take weeks or months. 

Address just one issue at a time, then strengthen yourself for running a marathon.

Find something positive to do together.  Your child needs for closeness and appreciation and joy, like everyone.  Ask your child what positive activity interests them most, or try new activities until one brings about a good chemistry between you and your child.

Praise is a powerful tool for managing disruptive behavior.  Make an effort to inject positive energy into your relationship with your child or teen.  It’s likely that this relationship has become mostly negative over time.   Caution: don’t expect thanks when you praise your child.  They are typically self-absorbed and not thinking about you.

Set limits – “Consistent limit setting and predictable responses from parents help give children a sense of stability and security.  Children and teens who feel a sense of security regarding the limits of their environment have less need to constantly test it.”
–Webster-Stratton and Hancock, Handbook for Parent Training, 1998

ignore childActively ignore – This works for best with children between the ages of 2 and 12.  It involves purposefully withdrawing your attention away from your child when they are misbehaving, such as a temper tantrum, whining or sulking, baiting or teasing, or making continuous demands or loud complaints.  Pretend you don’t care and even turn your back if possible.  Give attention only after their behavior is ending or over.

Make the behavior uncomfortable.

  • Example:  If your kid swears, test them, “C’mon, you can do better than that, be creative, I’ve heard all those things before.”  They can get frustrated when they aren’t getting the reaction they want from you, and defy you by giving up.
  • Another example:  Your teen refuses to get out of bed for school.  Don’t nag or repeat, repeat, repeat.  Remove the bed covers and set them far enough away that your child has to get out of bed to retrieve them.  (“Managing Resistance,” John W. Maag)

Give multiple instructions at once, where at least one of the instructions is what they want to do, and one is what you want them to do.  “Close the door while you’re yelling at your sister and don’t forget the light.”  Your child will be overloaded as they try to figure out which thing they’re supposed to defy.  Kids tend to get flustered by the mental effort and comply without knowing they’re doing it. (from “Managing Resistance,” Maag)

Use reverse psychology: it’s a good kind of manipulation.  Insist or pressure your child to do something they think you don’t want them to do, so they will defy you and do it… which is indeed what you wanted in the first place.  Pretend to agree or disagree with a behavior or choice so that you get the outcome you want.

A mother I know did this with her 14 year old daughter who’d threatened to cut off all her hair and self-tattoo her face.  The mother said she “went ballistic” over the idea of her beautiful hair being cut (even though she knew it would grow back, whereas a tattoo would be permanent).  The results were exactly what the mother wanted.  Her daughter totally butchered her hair, and the tattoo idea never came up again.

Offer unexpected rewards – On random occasions, reward appropriate behavior with something they like.  They are more likely to do a desired behavior if they expect something they want and aren’t sure when it will be offered.

Redirect their attention.  If you’re entering a situation where you know your child will become defiant, distract them.  Make yourself a list of actions or behaviors you can do that are distracting during times when their defiance should not be tolerated, such as when there’s a threat to safety.

Keep your power. Claim your throne as ultimate decision maker and boundary setter.

Don’t treat your home like a democracy or try to be fair and equal.  Be a benevolent dictator.  A troubled child should not have an equal say in how things are done.  To keep your authority and power in the household, tell your defiant child that you’ll listen and consider compromise, but make no promises.

Never justify your decision or provide reasons.  Reasoning does not work; it only promotes endless arguments. As your child ages into adulthood, an adult child will continue to require limits, and limits will still need enforcement. To a parent, it will feel like you’re treating your adult offspring as a child. YOU ARE and you should be, and this is the interesting part:  they won’t notice.

Allow some aggression.  When it’s appropriate and safe, ask your child to do more of what they’re already doing so that they turn around and defy you by stopping the behavior. Example: your child refuses to take a direction and throws a book on the floor in anger.

  • Parent:  “There’s only one book on the floor. Here is another one, now throw this on the floor.”  (Child throws book down.)
  • “Here’s another one. Throw this down too.”  (Child throws book down.)
  • “And here’s another, throw this down, too.”  (Child stops throwing books in defiance.)

Be a marshmallow.  Show no resistance.  Instead, listen and respond to how they feel, not what they say.  Show them you are open talk later when the stress dies down.

  • Teen:  “I hate you f- -king b- -ch!”
  • Parent:  “Sounds like you’re really angry.”
  • Teen:  “Shut up you stupid c – -t!”
  • Parent:  “Can you tell why me you’re angry so I can do something about it?”
  • Teen:  “Leave me alone f- -k face!  Stop patronizing me!”
  • Parent:  “OK, I hear you don’t want me to patronize you.  I feel this is stressful for both of us, so let’s take a break and talk about it later.”
  • Teen: F—k you!  I’m not talking to you ever.  (Well that’s not true, but they may ‘defy’ you by avoiding the behavior.) 

Call their bluff.

  • Child:  “I’m going to run away!”
  • Parent:  “OK, if you do, call me, and I’ll bring your stuff and maybe a snack.  Here’s the runaway hotline phone number if you don’t want to call directly.”  Then walk away.  If they do run and call, you’ll know where they are and can fetch them or call the police.
  • Child:  I’ll kill myself!  (This rarely true if shouted in anger and defiance. Your child may be throwing out threats to see how you react and get you to back down.)
  • Parent:  “If you really mean that, this is serious and means we need to get you to a hospital!  Let’s get ready and go because you need to get assessed.”

Warning, once you make progress regaining authority and reducing defiance, a honeymoon phase will be followed by a huge backlash… but this is a good sign! 

It’s proof your work is having an impact.  Extreme resistance to behavioral change is a common response called an “extinction burst;” see diagram below.  Pressure builds because it’s exhausting to try and control an urge to misbehave, and they eventually explode.  This as predictable so plan ahead.  The extreme “burst” is evidence the ingrained behavior is ending or going extinct.  There may be more bursts that test your resolve.  Eventually, your child likely stops defying at least one rule.  Pick the most critical behaviors that need extinguishing and keep up the effort.  Eventually, they back off again, and the pattern continues until it’s just not worth it to defy these rules anymore.

extinction burst

–From “Behavioral Interventions for Children with ADHD,” by Daniel T. Moore, Ph.D., © 2001, http://www.yourfamilyclinic.com/shareware/addbehavior.html .  The author requests a $2 donation through PayPal to distribute his article or receive printed copies.

Some rules for you

Don’t blame your child.  It’s easy to think they’re being bad on purpose because they’ll act like it, and show amusement when they’re bad or belittle you. Keep in mind that their behavior is no one’s fault, and your child would not choose to behave like they do if they understood what it meant.

Don’t ignore other challenges that might be responsible for their behavior.  They may face bullying at school, lack of sleep, or stress from things at home for example.

teenage mouse
Seriously, defiant teenagers think this way, and can’t see the obvious right in front of them.  I got this cartoon from a therapist who treats teenagers with criminal convictions, who are required by juvenile court to get counseling.

Always enforce your rules as immediately after the fact as possible.  Why:  If enforcement comes later or only occasionally, the child does not connect the broken rule with the punishment. They really don’t, even when you explain it quite clearly.

Don’t direct anger at your child.  If you do, apologize.

  • They can use your reaction against you, and tease or bait you to get you angry again
  • Don’t model that anger is an OK response to stress.
  • Do model that apologies are a proper response

Avoid explaining and justifying rules. Defiant children and teenagers are not able to reason once their emotions take control. They will only resist harder and pelt you with arguments. (What’s interesting is I’ve observed parents trying to reason with young children (4 or 5), too young to be reasonable in the first place, or with young adults (early 20’s) who have a long track record of being unreasonable.

Don’t interpret everything as pathological defiance or ODD.  Some rebelliousness is normal for children.  It’s especially so if parents are over-controlling.

Don’t keep trying the same things that still don’t work.  Like yelling or repeating yourself over and over (Don’t be embarrassed; we’ve all done this).

It helps to lower your expectations for your child’s behavior and progress.  What you want may be totally unrealistic, and more than you and your child can handle.

I once saw a bumper sticker that said “I feel much better now that I’ve given up hope,” and found it strangely comforting. 

Don’t jump to conclusions that demonize the child.  I often hear parents say:  “Why does he keep doing this?, or, “Why doesn’t she stop after I’ve told her not to, over and over again.”  Then they answer their own questions:  “It’s because he always wants his way,” or, “She’s doing this to get back at me.”  As they tell their story, I hear them taking things personally:  “He does this just to make me mad;” “She manipulates the situation because she wants more (something) and I won’t give it to her.”  Is this really what you want?

Two training approaches that help parents like you: 

Parent Management Training:  this is an intensive educational program that has been proven to help parents handle extremely difficult children, including those defiance and ODD.  PMT teaches parents precisely how to assert consistency, keep interactions predictable, and promote pro-social behavior in their child.  A good explanation can be found at this link: Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.  Examples of parent management training include:  the Total Transformation and the Incredible Years.

Collaborative Problem Solving:  CPS teaches how to negotiate with a defiant or resistant child.  This may seem like giving in, but it depends on how one negotiates or comes to a compromise.  If defiance is a result of something the child needs but can’t express appropriately, a CPS approach helps the parents hone in on the  underlying need, which may be simple and easy to address.  A great place to find out more is on the Think:Kids website.

Find the energy and doggedness to be consistent, and the compassion and forgiveness to be nurturing.
This is a heroic endeavor.


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Is my teen ‘normal’ crazy or seriously troubled?

Is my teen ‘normal’ crazy or seriously troubled?

girl in rear view mirrorA high percentage of teenagers go through a rebellious or ‘crazy’ phase that is normal for their age and brain development. The difference between normal teen-crazy and truly troubled behavior is when the teenager falls behind his or her peers in critical areas.  At a bare minimum, a normal teen will be able to do the following:

  • Attend school and do most school work if they want to;
  • Have and keep a friend or friends their own age who also attend school;
  • Develop a maturity level roughly the same as his or her peers;
  • Exercise self-control when he or she wants to;
  • Demonstrate basic survival instincts and avoid doing serious harm to themselves, others, or property.
  • Enjoy activities that interest them.

boy in baseball capIt is normal for many teens to be inconsistent, irrational, insensitive to others, self-centered, and childish.  Screaming or swearing is normal–regard this the same as a toddler temper tantrum.  Outlandish imagination and ideas are normal in the adolescent phase too. These are behaviors that crazy teens grow out of unless something else is holding them back.  What you’d call troubled behavior, the kind that necessitates mental health treatment, is a matter of degree.

This is your challenge:  How do you tell the difference?  Troubled teens with mental disorders have the same challenging behaviors as ‘normal’ crazy teens… How do you know if they need serious mental health treatment?  Look for pervasive patterns of social and behavioral problems that stand out against their peers, patterns which persist or occur in different settings Look back at how long these patterns have been occuring.  Are the patterns repeating themselves, or are behaviors increasingly worse? Do you You your troubled teen is slipping behind and won’t grow out of it.

screaming boySigns of abnormal behavior

A sudden change in behavior.

  • An abrupt change in friends and interests, and loss of interest in things your teenager used to enjoy.  This might indicate the onset of a serious mental illness or drug use or both.
  • Unusual ideas, or obsessive beliefs, or unrealistic plans, see:  “Unsettling: what psychosis looks like in children and young people.”
  • Others think there is something abnormal about your child.  (e.g., your child’s friend comes forward, their teacher calls, other parents keep their children from your child, or someone checks to see if you’re aware of the nature of his or her behaviors).


Unsafe behaviors
 (“Unsafe” means there’s a danger of harm to themselves or others, property loss or damage, running away, seeking experiences with significant risk (or easily lured into them), abusing substances, and physical or emotional abuse of others.)

  • If a troubled teenager does something unsafe to themselves or others, it is not an accident, but something impulsive, intentional, and planned.
  • They have a history of intentional unsafe activities.
  • They have or seek the means to do unsafe activities.
  • They talk about or threaten unsafe behavior.


How psychologists measure the severity of a child’s behavior 

“Normal” is defined with textual descriptions of behaviors, and these are placed on a spectrum from normal to abnormal (or “severe emotional disturbance” – SED).  Below are a few examples of a range of behaviors in different settings.  These descriptions are generalizations and should not be used to predict your child’s treatment needs, but they do offer insight into severity and the need for mental health treatment.

School behaviors

Not serious – This child has occasional problems with a teacher or classmate that are eventually worked out, and usually don’t happen again.

Mildly serious – This child often disobeys school rules but doesn’t harm anyone or property.  Compared to their classmates, they are troublesome or concerning, but not unusually badly behaved. They are intelligent, but don’t work hard enough or focus enough to have better grades. They could use help from a school counselor, teachers, and possibly a therapist for themselves or the family.

Serious – This child disobeys rules repeatedly, or skips school, or is known to disobey rules outside of school.  They stand out in the crowd as having chronic behavior problems compared to other students and their grades are poor even if they’re very intelligent.  This child needs mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Very serious – This child cannot be in school or they are dangerous in school.  They cannot follow rules or function, even in a special classroom, or they may threaten or hurt others or damage property.  It is feared they will have a difficult future, perhaps ending up in jail or having lifetime problems.  If they cooperate, this child requires intensive mental health and or substance abuse treatment.

Home behaviors

boy looking right

Not serious – This child is well-behaved most of the time but has occasional problems, which are usually worked out.

Mildly serious – This child has to be watched and reminded often, and needs pushing to follow rules or do chores or homework.  They don’t seem to learn their lessons and are endlessly frustrating.  They can be defiant or manipulative, but their actions aren’t serious enough to merit intensive treatment, though a school counselor or private counselor would be very beneficial.

Serious – This child cannot follow rules, even reasonable ones.  They can’t explain or take no responsibility for their behavior, which can include damage to the home or property, or harm to themselves or others.  They need mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment.

Very serious – The stress caused by this child means the family cannot manage normally at home even if they work together.  Running away, damaging property, threats of suicide or violence to others, and other behaviors require daily sacrifices from all.  Police are commonly called.  This child needs intense psychiatric treatment and/or substance abuse treatment, and likely residential treatment.

Relationship behaviors

somber boyNot serious – The child has and keeps friends their own age, and has healthy friendships with people of different ages, such as with a grandparent or younger neighbor.

Mildly serious – This child may seem extra immature.  They will argue, tease, bully or harass others, and most schoolmates avoid them. They are quick to have temper tantrums and childish responses to stress that always require extra attention from parents and caregivers.

Serious – The child has no friends their age, or risky friends, and can be manipulative or threatening. They can have violent tendencies, poor judgment, and take dangerous risks with themselves and others.  They don’t care about others’ feelings, or may readily harm others physically or emotionally.  This child needs therapy and psychiatric mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment.

Very serious – The child’s behavior is so aggressive verbally or physically that they are almost always overwhelming to be around.  The behaviors are repeated and deliberate, and can lead to verbal or physical violence against others or themselves.  This child needs intensive psychiatric and/or substance abuse treatment.

Pay attention to your gut feelings.

If you’ve been searching for answers and selected this article to read, your suspicions are probably true.  Trust your intuition. Most parents have good insight into their child.  If you’re looking for ways to “fix” or change your child, there just aren’t any easy methods or medications or therapies to do this except over time.  Treatment means multiple life changes in addition to medication and therapy, and these can include help for insomnia, a change in diet, treatment for digestive system problems, and household changes to reduce stress.

Mental illness is serious and recovery is a long slow process.  It is  understandable if you want them to recover quickly–your stress can be intolerable.  Avoid pushing for recovery because it will only stress your child and lead you to disappointment.  Instead, cooperate with professionals (teachers, treatment providers), and prepare yourself for a parenting marathon.  What’s the best way to prepare?  Work hard on your own mental health and wellbeing.  Lower your expectations for steady progress.  This advice and wisdom from other parents may help you face this daunting task.

boy in plaid shirtEarly treatment, while your troubled teenager is young, can prevent a lifetime of problems.  Find a professional who will take time to get to know your child and you and the situation, and who will listen to what you have to say–a teacher, doctor, therapist, psychiatrist or other mental health practitioner.

–Margaret

Your comments are encouraged.  Your story helps others who read this article.


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Why teens run, and what you can do about it

Why teens run, and what you can do about it

It’s an emotional shock when your teen runs away the first time. Your feelings are complex:  anger at his or her rebelliousness; fear for his or her safety; shame that you may be called a “bad” parent or that your behavior caused your child to run.  Runaway teens also have complex reasons for running, and they may or may not be the parents’ fault.

Why they run

Basic teenage development All teens go through a stage where they define themselves as unique, and start demanding two things: 1. freedom; 2. a say in their life.  These are necessary and important for maturity—some do it gracefully and some don’t.  Even teens with a mental illness will go through this normal phase.

Rebellion Most rebellious teens do not run away because they may have better survival instincts.  If a teen is emotionally behind their peers, using drugs or alcohol, and part of a risky crowd that encourages them and undermines their parents’ authority, it’s likely they’ll run.

Mental disorders Mental health problems magnify any or all negative aspects of rebellion and immaturity.  They also disrupt a teen’s thought patterns and cause irrational ideas and fantasies.  They have a high likelihood of running.

Family stress This is the biggest reason: “65% of youth reported running away because of family conflict.”* Think about what’s going on at home that a teenager can’t handle (they are not as strong as they act).  Is there non-stop fighting between members?  Are they being nagged or constantly criticized, and not shown support or love?  Like all children, teens still deserve support and love.  Are they being bullied, or physically or sexually abused?  *National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY

What you might observe that foretells running

  • Changes in behaviors or normal patterns mean something is wrong.
  • Teens who suddenly stop eating or begin to overeat, sleep all day or never sleep, spend all their time with friends, or never want to leave their room.  Sudden mood swings mean teens are unsettled and restless, and they’re not coping well with stress.
  • Outward rebellious behavior is often the start of trouble, but not always.  Inward rebellion is also a problem, such as depression and isolating from their family.
  • Falling grades, truancy, school behavior, and breaking house rules are all symptoms that your child is having problems.
  • Disclosure of intentions to run away.  Some teens will hint that they want to run away and some will outright threaten their family with running.
  • Expressing fantasies that they will ‘divorce’ their family.  Teens often believe they can be legally emancipated before age 18, skip high school and get a GED* and a job, and be free.  A juvenile court judge told me otherwise!  The legal test for emancipation is very restrictive.  *General Educational Development exam–a less valuable substitute for a high school diploma.
  • Accumulation of money and possessions. To survive, runaway teens need resources. Some prepare for their run by saving any money they receive.  They might keep a bag or backpack of clothes and food in the closet to make a quick escape.
  • Risky friends have a very powerful influence on the decision to run away.  Relationships like these almost always include substance abuse.  The risky associates include adults who undermine the parents, and who coach teens how to get away from home. They provide them with cigarettes and drugs, and possibly take advantage of them.
  • Full time access to unmonitored and unrestricted communication, and easy access to transportation, especially a car or an at-risk acquaintance with a car.

What to do if you suspect your teen might run away

“Clearly and calmly let your teen know you are concerned about them, and that their behavior makes you afraid they might run away from home. Invite them to talk with you or someone else about what is troubling them and be supportive of finding positive ways of dealing with their stress.”

Let them know you don’t want them to run away and you’re committed to helping the family work things out, and let them know you are concerned about their safety.

If your teen is intent on running away, give them the phone number of the National Runaway Switchboard* so that they can find safe options while out on their own.”  This does not mean you approve.  A good analogy is informing your kids about contraceptives even though you don’t want them to have sex.  *1-800-RUNAWAY

Give them some facts: Your teen should know the laws, and they should know about youth shelters.  This may help them recognize that you are concerned for their safety… just like you told them.

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Are you thinking about running away?

Are you worried about staying with a friend and getting your friend or their parents into trouble? Does it matter if you’re reported as a runaway or not? Deciding on whether or not to run away and where to go can be difficult. Here’s what you should know:

  • In most states it is not illegal to run away.
  • If you leave home without permission or stay away longer than you’re supposed to, and you are under the age of 18, your parents can file you as a runaway with the police.
  • If the police find you, you will be taken home or to police headquarters, and your parents will be called to pick you up.
  • If you are staying at a friend’s house or somewhere your parents didn’t give you permission to be, they can face possibly legal consequences.
  • If you are filed as a runaway, your parents can press charges against those allowing you stay with them or abiding you.
  • If you go to a youth shelter, generally they have to contact your parents within a certain amount of time to obtain consent for your stay.  Often, you are allowed to stay only 72 hours (3 days) before you must return home.  This gives you and your parents time to cool off.
  • If you are staying with a friend, in most cases the police are only allowed to do a courtesy check; which means they are not allowed to search your friend’s home without a warrant.
  • It is always best to check with your local non-emergency police hotline or legal aid when it comes to specifics because the law varies.

Hopefully the information listed here answered some of the questions you may have had. If not, you can give us a call and we can help.  1-800-RUNAWAY

(Parent: list the names and addresses of local youth shelters here—not adult shelters)

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Get to know their friends and their friends’ parents.  If anyone who knows them is concerned about your child’s safety, they may help you if there’s a problem.  Other parents can keep an eye out for your child as well as their own.

Statistics indicate that most children stay in the same general area that they live in. Some go only as far as a friend or relative.  You must know where and be able to communicate with the responsible adults.

Get to know the at-risk youth

and adults that your teen associates with. “At-risk kids hang out together, they know each other’s stories (true or not), protect each other, and keep parents out of the loop.  What if parents got together too, shared stories, and supported each other?  Everyone has the same goal of protecting their child.  Kids’ unsafe plans and activities are no match for the many eyes and ears (and cleverness and wisdom) of all their parents combined.”  Gang up on your kids: Parent networks for tracking at-risk children

If your teen is staying at a friends’, this may be helpful.  You might negotiate with the parent for a friendly arrangement for ‘shelter’ until things calm down.  If you cannot communicate with this parent, they may be guilty of custodial interference.  This is illegal and should be reported to the police.  More often than known, some parents actively encourage other parents’ children to leave home, as well as provide them with alcohol and drugs.

What to do if they run

Notify the police and file a missing persons report.  If your teen has a mental disorder, bring this up on the call and be specific (he needs to take medications, she has a history of assaulting others, he has threatened suicide, she might be out of control and unable to respond if you shout at her…).

Are you worried that your police report will go on your child’s record?  Don’t.  Even if your child is charged and convicted as a juvenile, his or her record can be expunged (erased) at age 18 with good behavior.

The National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY operates a 24-hour confidential hotline for teens and their families. Leave a message with them for your child, www.nrscrisisline.org. They also provides bus tickets to get kids back home to their families

Spread the word among friends and your child’s friends that you reported your child, and ask them to ask your child to call or give a message to you if they see them.  Also spread the word that protecting a runaway is a crime.

Track.  “Friend” your child on Facebook, or find someone who can and will report to you.  Set your computer up to track and store web search history and email.  Search their room.  Get their cell phone contacts if possible, track their GPS location by cell phone, and get every address and phone number of every friend.  All of this is legal.

Investigate.  This is not a situation where you respect your teen’s privacy.  Besides tracking their activities above, drive around and look for them.  Be sure they and their friends see you because then the risky friends will avoid your child.

Check in with your child’s teachers or counselor for any information that might be useful.

Take care of yourself and your other children. This is a difficult time and you don’t have to deal with it alone. Turn to people you know and trust for support. The NRS is available 24 hours every day and offers information and support for parents too.

Ask yourself the hard questions:  Is life at home that bad?  Is there abuse (emotional or physical)?  What changes am I willing to make to reduce my child’s stress at home or at school.

Good news from statistics

  • 85% parents reported that the issues that led the youth to run away were somewhat, mostly, or completely resolved within a month.
  • Most parents reported that their youth used alcohol or other substances less once they returned (68%).
  • Most reported they engaged in physical fights less (64%).
  • Most reported they broke the law less (66%).
  • Of those who ran once, 75% did not leave home again.

Creative things other parents did that worked

True story.  A father made business cards to give to everyone who was ever in contact with his 15-year-old daughter.  It had her photo, contact information, and the message that he and her mother loved (name) and wanted to ensure her safety and appropriate behavior.  He made a point of personally visiting with her friend parents where daughter went.  She hated her dad for this, but never ran again, and every time she visited a friend, the parents always reminded her to call her own parents and report her whereabouts

True story.  Two 13-year-old girlfriends decided it would be fun to run away and party.  During the week they went missing, their frantic mothers collaborated on a ‘full court press’ to notify others and get their daughters back safe and sound.  They printed flyers with photos of their daughters, their phone numbers, and offered a $25 reward, no questions asked.  These were given to the police, posted at school, at youth shelters downtown, and at business hangouts the girls were known to frequent (a mall, a fast food place, a big box retailer).  Both girls were eventually returned safe and sound, and they were really angry.  Apparently, street kids and risky adults spurned the girls because of the flyers, for fear of attracting the attention of law enforcement.

–Margaret

 

Do you have a runaway story?  Please comment on what worked to return your child, or what didn’t work.  Thank you.

ARE YOU OVERREACTING?

ARE YOU OVERREACTING?

Your child’s incessant problems and scares can literally give you symptoms of PTSD and anxiety disorder that you can’t control.

Like many parents, you might go to extremes to control situations so they won’t get out of hand. You don’t intend overreacting, but so much frustration has built up that any little irritation sets you off like rocket.  You’re battling to make things stop now.

Overreactions are emergency alarms without the emergency.

You can’t see it coming, but then it happens.  In an instant you are on an unstoppable mission to fix, contain, punish, or halt anything that upsets your sense of well-being, imagined or not. Overreacting is a sure sign of stress and that you need a break!  Overreactions may also come from the anger of losing the day you planned, or the life you planned and came to expect.

Dad, project strength on the outside, even when you don’t feel it on the inside. Relieve your tension later, away from the family or co-workers, by doing something physical, for example.

If you are overreacting to gain control, you are actually losing control.  Your parenting choices need considered, thoughtful decisions instead of an automatic 911 call. When your blood boils, you’re not aware how your behavior creates a toxic environment around you and the rest of your family… nor how it worsens a troubled kid’s behavior.

  • Do you worry even when things are fine?  Do you find things to worry about that aren’t problems?
  • Are you so stressed and traumatized that you just can’t stand it anymore and want the behavior to stop immediately, yesterday?
  • Is every little minor thing a reason to pull out the heavy artillery?
  • Do you overwhelm difficult situations with your own anxieties or explosions?

It’s common for parents with really difficult kids to get stuck this way, so forgive yourself if you overreact, and stop and look at what this does to your relationships and interactions with your troubled child.

  • Do you stop eating, or start drinking, when your stress is just an overreaction to a situation you’ve already handled?
  • If you’ll do anything to make your child stop a challenging behavior, might you go too far with little things? Will you call the police because they slammed the door?
  • When others hear you constantly complaining, might they consider that the problem is you?
  • Do you mirror your child’s bad behavior to show them what it looks like? Are they interpreting this the way you hope, or are you lowering yourself?
Mom, you know this helps no one. You have every reason to “lose it” but find a safer way to relieve tension. Get away occasionally, or distract your worries with friends or an activity you enjoy.

Overreactions sabotage opportunities for improvement. They terrify everyone , and your family starts to hide things from you, or downplay things, just so you won’t overreact or worry yourself to death. When family members feel a need to keep secrets, the isolation feeds your worry. Members will smooth over problems or distract you with lightness to counterbalance your fearful or explosive state of mind. Now you are less in control and receive less of the support you need for your own well-being.

If you feel paralyzed by worry or lash out as a way of coping, you are disabling yourself stress and/or depression. Before you completely lose control and your self-respect and parental authority, take care of yourself and get help for both your physical and emotional exhaustion. Check in with others and ask them if you are thinking clearly or realistically.

You must be emotionally centered and healthy or you will never be able to help your child become healthy.

Remember, your child and family need you to be 100% together.  Let some things go for the greater peace.  Center yourself so you can notice when your child is doing well and offer praise.  When centered, you are flexible, patient, compassionate, and forgiving.   This draws people towards you, to look after you and care for you.  Go ahead, aim for sainthood.  Just starting down that path would relieve everyone else’s stress over you.

–Margaret

What to do when they stop listening

What to do when they stop listening

You don’t need to be this frustrated

At some point in their development, all kids stop listening. It’s frustrating but normal. There are lots of good advice for getting normal children and teens to listen, or at least follow the rules and directions given by the parent. But it’s different when your child has serious behavioral disorder and when their behaviors are extreme or outright risky. Your priority may be to prevent destructive behavior and family chaos when they hate you, blame you, or are willing to take extreme risks. Then who cares about the dishes or homework?

First things first, avoid upsetting yourself.

Avoid repeating things over and over, raising your voice, or expressing your frustration. It really matters.  This stresses you as much as it stresses them. Children and teens with disturbances have a hard time tracking, and it may be pointless to expect them to listen. Your child or teen is overwhelmed by brain noise and does not hear even hear you.

But what if they are refusing to listen?  That’s a different issue.  They ARE listening, and they are definitely communicating back to you.  This is resistance and defiance.  (see Managing resistance – tips and advice )

Things to do when they stop listening

Use technology: texting and email.

This mother should be texting her daughter instead

Therapists encourage high-conflict parent-teen pairs to communicate exclusively using email and texts, even if the parties are in close proximity, like at home together, like even on the same room! Think about this. You are using their chosen medium; you can keep it brief and concise; both you and your child have time to reflect on your response. Your conversation is documented, right there for both of you to track. No one is screaming or repeating themselves or using angry tones of voice.

Word of caution

Watch what you write. Don’t use emotionally charged words. Be sure to read texts and emails over and over before sending!

“The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2006 revealed that studies show e-mail messages are interpreted incorrectly 50% of the time.”

Move somewhere closer or farther, change your body language, no glaring

Instead of communicating with your voice, use your body. For some children and teens, an arm around their shoulders calms them quickly. Or try standing calmly and quietly. Or put some distance between you and your child’s personal space, even if it means stopping and getting out of the car and taking a short walk. Experiment to see what works for your situation.

Use a third-party

Maybe you are the wrong person to carry the message and settle a tense situation. Don’t be too proud to admit that, for whatever reason, your child will not listen to you no matter how appropriately you modify your approach. So use a substitute or third-party. Is there another person who has a better rapport and can convince your child to complete a chore, do homework, leave little sister alone—a spouse, a grandparent, a teacher or counselor, a therapist? What about a friendly animal, live or stuffed? For young children, you can bring out Kitty and ask her to tell Joey that mommy and daddy only want him to do this one simple chore.

Draw a picture, make a sign

As a young child, I recall my parents hounding me for something, I don’t even remember what.  Then they’d ask, “What do you want me to do, draw a picture?” Well, yes in fact, I understood pictures and they didn’t frighten me as much as my parents yelling at me. Pictures and signs work, put them up where the family can see them (and your troubled child won’t feel singled out). Maybe a funny comic gets a point across in a non-threatening way.  Some sign ideas: “It’s OK to be Angry, not Mean,” “STOP and THINK,” “Our family values Respect and Kindness,” “This is a smoke-free, drug-free, and a-hole free home.”

Time outs for you
.

Take your own sweet time to calm down and think things through what to say when you’re challenged by your offspring. Consider how you’ll respond to swearing. Put him or her on hold. Don’t return texts or email right away, “I’m busy and I’ll reply in 30 minutes.” Be specific on time, then follow through, or they might learn to blow you off with the same casual phrase, expecting you to forget. 

A Precaution

Watch your tone of voice

We are hardwired to detect emotions communicated through tone. Even infants respond to tone of voice even though they haven’t learned language.

From infancy, we are wired to pick up emotions in the voice—it’s literally in our brain.  Your tone is very powerful and can be calming or destructive. Think about asserting strength and caring in your voice without lecturing. Be assertive but forgiving. Be firm and not defensive. Don’t get caught apologizing for upsetting your child or justifying your rules. 90% of parents know the right thing to say, but its common to say it the wrong way.

Is your child bullying you with their behavior?

I’ve observed child verbally bully and abuse their parents. This is not communicating and not negotiable. You have options for standing up to this without making things worse. Temporarily block their email or calls, or ignore and let them go to voicemail. Declare bullying unacceptable. Pull rank and apply a consequence. You cannot let their harassment continue because they will use it on others.

About that mean-spirited voicemail or email.

When you get an ugly message, tell yourself you are hearing from a scared, frightened person, and you’re the one whose feelings they care about the most. See this as a good thing. They are trying to communicate but it’s mangled and inappropriate. You want them to stay in contact and engage with you even when its negative. When a disturbed child stops communicating is when you must worry.  It hurts, but your hurt will pass.  You can handle it.  They will still love you and some day they will show you.  Be patient.
If the things they communicate hurt.

It is best that you take your feelings out of the picture and seek other sources of affirmation and support—this can’t come from your child. If they write “I hate you,” maybe they are really saying “you make me mad because you are asking me to do something I can’t handle now.”


Good luck out there,
–Margaret

 

Please share your comments. They help other parents who read this article.

Practical ways to calm yourself, your child, your family

Practical ways to calm yourself, your child, your family

You need peace and calm in your household, and you can provide the touch that supports all other approaches:  Therapy; disciplined meditation and yoga, anti-anxiety medications (don’t be afraid to use them), but they’re not the best long-term solution.  There are proven techniques for calming yourself, your stormy child, and all other family members.

1. Calming yourself in the tension-filled moment

Become consciously aware of your tension and ask:  What are my options for coping with my tension right now?  Brainstorm options ahead of time and create a list because you won’t be able to process in the moment.  For example:  take a very deep breath, then silently count to 10 backwards.  Another idea:  eliminate distractions.  Turn off the cell phone, send others out of the room, pull the car over, turn off the music…  You must strategically choose your response to a common situation.

Ways to calm your child in the moment

Note:  the techniques are different for each child depending on their disorder and its characteristics.  Experiment to find out what works with your child’s typical patterns at home, in school, with others, and in other situations that are stressful for them.

In a steady voice, give them directions or requests to calm down.  You will need to repeat yourself periodically as they struggle with their inner storm.  If you ask them to move to another space or use their own calming, skills, use your body language to initiate the act.  If you ask them to take a deep breath, do it yourself.  If it helps them to punch a pillow, punch it yourself and hand it over.

2. Be your own cheerleader.

Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control;” “I am the calm upon the face of troubled waters…”  Have fun with it.

3. Give your child a calm place to go.

There’s nothing like a kid cave, or a blanket fort, a special garden spot, or other time-out space, even the car.  My personal favorite is a tree house.

4. Give them extra time to “change channels”

An anxious child or teen is stuck in a fear loop, and has great difficulty moving from one environment to another–something called “transitioning.”  Some typical transition problems occur when: coming home from school; getting out of the car after a long ride; going to bed after a stimulating activity; and waking up in the morning.  Plan extra time for transitions.  If they are too wound up but not hurting anything, wait them out.

5. Redirect their focus to physical action.

Draw attention to something to distract them in the moment (this is a useful kind of channel-changing).  A young child could be directed to a physical activity (draw, grapple with clay, throw a Nerf ball against the wall), a teen can be allowed to play their favorite music (if you hate it, have them use headphones, or you use earplugs, seriously.); shoot baskets; or take the dog for a walk.

6. Other supports

Animals heal, but strategically pick the best animals.  See “Animals that make the best therapy pets.”  Think of a calm smiling dog, a calm affectionate cat, or a little mellow animal like a hamster or turtle, and you’ve got pet therapists.  Energetic or barking dogs or scratchy kitties probably won’t work.

A big squeeze.  People and many kinds of animals are comforted with enveloping physical pressure, like a full hug.  I’ve completely wrapped anxious children and teens in a blanket or coat, and they quickly calmed down.  Teach your child the self hug… and hug yourself often, too!

You may be able to stop things before they start.  Once a situation has passed, ask yourself what happened just prior to your child’s episode.  Was there a trigger?  Did they just transition from one kind of place to another?  Do you have options for removing the trigger?  Triggering events can be so small or elusive that you miss it.  The child’s sibling could have sniffed or rolled their eyes without you noticing.  An object your child or teen reached for (like a remote control) could have just been unintentionally grabbed by someone else.  If you can identify the little frustrations that send them to the stratosphere and address them immediately, it will reduce the length of distress.

Calming your home for the long term

Calm your emotional self first and think Zen.  If you can take 5 minutes during a day, even a stressful day, sit quietly and breathe, and consciously work at eliminating all thoughts, ALL THOUGHTS, you would calm down.  Not thinking anything is the hard part of meditation, yet it is the skill that makes it work, and there’s proof.

Maintain bodily calm with the big three: exercise, sleep, and healthy diet.  I know you’ve heard this a million times already, but there’s good reason and proof.  If you can’t simultaneously maintain all three habits in your family, take one at time and you will still see benefits.

Calm the sensations that exist in your home environment.  Reduce noise, disorder, family emotional upheavals, and the intrusive stimulation of an always-on TV and other screen time, etc.  Create a place for quiet time in your home where anyone can go that’s contemplative, where people agree to behave as if they’re in a library, or a place of worship, or a safe zone.  Or create a time period for settling in, such as right after school, or right before dinner.

Did you know that psychiatric hospital units are designed to keep patients calm?  I’ve toured a number of psychiatric hospitals, and the best ones I saw had these elements.

  • Soothing visual environment:  they had windows and lots of light, plants, beautiful aquariums with gorgeous fish and lots of bubbles, and a TV screen with a film or a burning log.  All great for relaxation and brain-calming.
  • Soothing sound environment:  besides the bubbling aquarium, there was low-energy music of various styles.
  • Soothing physical environment:  soft furniture, a large table where people could gather in the comfort and buzz of a group, and nooks where people could remove themselves from the group buzz to avoid over-stimulation or listen to music on headphones.

Add these to your home too, or create a special calming room: Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums for kids with autism or other disorders.

Two things to avoid

1.  Do not communicate strong emotions in your voice.  What you say absolutely does not matter as much as how you say it!  Negative tone of voice is the only thing an upset child or teen will hear.  Yes I know, this is hard to control when you are excited or under stress! (Later on, after the incident, apologize for how you said something, but don’t apologize for an appropriate direction or request you made.)  Practice vocal neutrality.  Take a deep breath and an extra 2 seconds to squash the urge.  Which is better: “Will you please let the cat out?” versus “Will you PULLEEEEZ let the cat OUT!!!

2.  Don’t pressure the child to calm down when they’re not ready—it takes time for anyone to unwind.  Wait patiently while a child or teen works through ugly emotions and finishes spewing their ugly stuff.  Let them have their catharsis.  We all need to release our stuff, and we all need others to patiently listen and endure.

In my support group, I’ve observed that very stressed parents need at least one solid hour to vent and cry before they’re calm enough to benefit from other parents’ supportive words and sympathy.  They start out with ugly or devastating emotions–things they might not say to anyone outside the safety of the group–and eventually calm down and come to peace with their situation.  That’s when they are able to listen to the support and advice from other members.

–Margaret

– – – – – – –

ABSTRACT – Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density
Britta K. Hölzelab, James Carmodyc, Mark Vangela, Christina Congletona, Sita M. Yerramsettia, Tim Gardab, Sara W. Lazara
Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging,Volume 191, Issue 1, Pages 36-43 (30 January 2011)

Summary in plain English:  Meditation causes structural changes in the brain associated with memory, empathy, and stress, according to new research. Researchers examined MRI scans of participants over a period of 8 weeks. Daily meditation sessions of 30 minutes produced measurable changes in subjects with no previous meditation history. The anxiety and stress region of the brain, the amygdala, produced less gray matter. In a non-meditating control group, these positive changes did not take place.

“Therapeutic interventions that incorporate training in mindfulness meditation have become increasingly popular, but to date little is known about neural mechanisms associated with these interventions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate symptoms of a number of disorders. Here, we report a controlled longitudinal study to investigate pre–post changes in brain gray matter concentration attributable to participation in an MBSR program. Anatomical magnetic resonance (MR) images from 16 healthy, meditation-naïve participants were obtained before and after they underwent the 8-week program. Changes in gray matter concentration were investigated using voxel-based morphometry, and compared with a waiting list control group of 17 individuals. Analyses in a priori regions of interest confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls. The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

What to do about screaming teenagers

What to do about screaming teenagers

When their screaming starts, you brace yourself.  You armor your gut to protect it from the verbal pummeling.  Their cruel words pierce your heart.  When it’s over, you want to strangle them or abandon them in a wilderness.  In his  play, King Lear, William Shakespeare wrote, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”  That was 500 years ago and little has changed.

BUT THIS WILL PASS.  Your teen will quiet down and apologize someday… it may take a few years, but someday.  Until that bright day, remember that you’re tough enough to take it, and tough enough to persevere in the face of high drama and lots of noise.  You are not failing as a parent, but proving you care enough to be a good parent.  Paradoxically, your screamer appreciates your engagement because it’s reassuring to them.  Screaming teens are horribly insecure, and need you to prove you care for them.  This isn’t rational, or fair, but don’t take the screaming personally.  And don’t take it seriously unless the behavior is new or out-of-character, or unless your screamer makes threats of harm.

Difficult teenagers are inconsistent, irrational, insensitive to others, self-centered, childish and…  should I go on?  It may have nothing to do with a disorder per se.   Screaming teens are as normal as screaming babies.  Regard their screaming as you would a toddler temper tantrum.  It is a phase that most teens grow out of unless something else is holding them back.

The way to handle a screaming teenager is to handle yourself first, because you are the king or queen, holder of all power in the parent-child relationship, and you must use your power wisely.  Don’t scream back. Don’t reward screaming by losing your cool. Don’t get hooked.

When the screaming starts, do a personal check-in on your thoughts and feelings

How am I doing?
I am handling it.  This isn’t as serious as it seems.  It’ll be over in less than 10 minutes.

How am I feeling?
I choose how to feel and I won’t let this bother me.  I will rise to the occasion and come out stronger.

What are my options?
I will be persistent until I regain power over our household.  I will live within my values.  I will take care of myself when it becomes stressful.

Keep your expectations realistic

  • You don’t need to be in total control, just one step ahead of your teen.
  • Be prepared for screaming to worsen before it gets better.
  • If you get an apology, accept it, even a weak apology.
  • Don’t expect to hear that they love you, or that they appreciate what you’ve done for them.
  • They will not give you credit for being the good parent you are, yet.

Two simple demands:
1. lower the volume,
2. clean up the language.

Set the boundary on the loudness of screaming and the use of mean-spirited, foul language.  Remind your teen that it’s OK to be angry; it’s not OK to assault with screaming and ugliness.  Give them an example of what you’d rather hear, for example:  “You are not being fair to me;”  or “Don’t say that about my friends…”

If they can’t communicate themselves in a straightforward non-screaming manner, then restate what you think they mean, using different words so they know you got their message: “You think I’m being unfair to you,”  “You don’t like me criticizing your friends.”  Ask them if you are correct.  Make it clear you got the message even if you disagree with them.  It becomes awkward to scream once you’ve shown you heard them.  It will take them off guard as they think of some other thing  to be upset at you about.

Until a teen can manage basic communication with you, they are not ready to discuss the substance of their complaint.  Make a sincere effort to look deeper and try to understand what’s bothering them.  You will often get this horribly wrong and upset your teen immeasurably, but they will realize on some level that you are aware of  their deep pain and seething rage… and feel more secure.

This mother should be texting her daughter instead

Use technology and avoid screaming altogether.   Get on your cell phone and text your child, or use email.  This works surprisingly well because you’ve entered their virtual world where they feel safe from your presence, and have time to contemplate and cool off.  Writing/texting is slower, and that’s the point.  Therapists often direct feuding parents and children to communicate only by email for a while.

Listen to what they need and feel, not to what they say.

Most teens have similar needs: to feel heard, to be loved, to make one’s own choices.  Take these away and you have an angry screaming teenager.  But teens also struggle with emotional distress:  family instability, problem with a love interest, or something else they don’t want to share with you because they’re afraid of how you’ll react.  Teenage years are emotional hell, remember?  Ugly rumors on social sites, bullying, grade worries, frets over appearances… would you want to go through your teens again?  Does the thought make you want to scream?

A teenager may be a screamer because of genuine physical discomforts.  Physical things make people irritable, and teens more so:  lack of sleep, dehydration, lack of exercise; excessive sugar and fat; constipation; the monthly period.  A change in the length of daylight affects mood, whether going into the spring or into the fall.  Don’t forget to assess the home environment.  Has there been a significant change in family life?  a traumatic event?  Always consider drug and alcohol use.  If their behavior is unusually or uncharacteristically aggressive or violent, or if it’s changed for the worst recently, get a urinalysis and look for methamphetamine or marijuana. UA kits are available at drug stores or online.  Go through a  medical diagnostic checklist when the misbehavior starts.  Sometimes a few glasses of water is all your teen needs to become human again.  Have a glass yourself.

What if you, the screamee, are the problem?  Are you too strict?  lenient?  picky?  Do you nag without realizing it?  You might be the one who needs to change.  If so, admit when you’re wrong and be the first to apologize and set the good example.  My first apology to a recalcitrant child was awkward and defensive, but I had to swallow my pride and apologize for something I said.  Over time, it got easier, and apologies happened normally and easily in the family.

Self care, find a way to let yourself down easy

Leave people and chores behind for a while, go scream in a pillow, and pull yourself together.  Talk to someone who can listen or provide a point of view that’s helpful.  Set aside a dollar after every screaming fit, and treat yourself to something special later.  Let your screamer know that you’re looking forward to their next screaming episode so you can save more and get something nice.

Humor heals

Don’t forget to laugh.  Any parent who’s survived the teenage years will understand that we all need a sense of humor.  It may be a little twisted, but I find these bumper stickers funny.

“Mothers of teenagers know why some animals eat their young.”

“Grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your own children.”

“Few things are more satisfying than seeing your children have teenagers of their own.”

 

Do you like this article?  Please rate it at the top, thanks!

–Margaret