I regularly speak with parents with children with a brain disorder and a history of serious behavior problems. Many are truly at the end of their rope. The parent is so exasperated by their child’s relentless acting out, they start repeating themselves to exhaustion. and wondering why the child isn’t getting it.
They plead for answers: “Why does he keep doing this?, or, ” Why doesn’t she stop after I’ve explained things over and over.” Then they answer their own questions: “It’s because he always wants his way,” or, “She’s doing this to get back at me.”
The parent then lists all the ways they’ve tried reasoning with their child or disciplining with consequences. As they tell their story, they continue to ask questions and provide answers, going around and around and around: “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.” What’s interesting to me is that these children can be quite young (4 or 5), too young to expect reasoning in the first place, or they can be young adults (early 20′s) who have a long track record of doing things that don’t make sense.
Saying something a 1000 times doesn’t work. Your child tunes you out.
Parents’ stress and frustration vanish if they accept that their child is not ready to reason or control their behaviors. It’s not their fault, and not the parents’ fault. Irrationality is the hallmark of brain-based problems, and chronically challenging behaviors are the evidence.
If you feel you have run into brick walls over and over again, and your child is not learning what you’re teaching, do both of yourselves a favor and stop trying the same things that still don’t work. Stop assuming they will listen, or that they even can listen. Your child or teen does not have an evil plan to push your buttons and control your moods like a puppet.
When you find yourself trying to reason with a troubled child or teen (or young adult), step back and calm yourself this way, and ask what your child needs in the moment. Then change your whole approach.
Try different ways of communicating, such as softening your tone of voice.
- Pay attention to whether they respond best to words or images, and use what works most naturally for them. Try using touch to communicate, or withdrawing touch if that’s threatening to them.
- Post (polite) signs and simple house rules in the house as reminders for things they need to do every day.
- Show instead of tell. Your child or teen may not be able to learn through their ears. Or they tune you out. Demonstrate how instead of telling them how.
- Avoid explaining how their behavior will hurt them in the future. Children and teens often cannot track how pushing one domino leads to all the dominoes falling.
If you’re nagging and harping and chiding your child, forgive yourself.
It’s so common one might call it normal. You are still a good parent who wants the best for your son or daughter. Over the many years I’ve facilitated parent support groups, I’ve heard so many regret how they’ve treated their child once they begin to understand that it won’t work. You are not alone. Raising a child like yours is tough, but you’ll move on and figure things out. Don’t give up.