Parenting 101

Parenting 101

If you are under a lot of stress, and just getting started looking for help, this basic advice may help you understand your situation quickly and ease your greatest concerns.

You may feel alone, but millions are struggling too.

Parents with a disabled child worry about their future too. The difference is that your child’s disability is invisible, or people believe their problems are something else. But remember, a disability does not mean failure or loss of a good future.

Parents around the world feel alone in the struggle to raise a troubled child.  It’s not about the parents.  No matter what the age of the child or their diagnosis, mental problems are a tragic human condition. Behavioral disorders cross all populations, from all walks of life, and all educational levels, cultures, beliefs, and races.

It’s no one’s fault.

  • It’s not your fault. You’re doing the best you can. Be kind to yourself.  Parenting like this is hard.
  • It’s not the child’s fault. He or she would do better if he or she could.  It’s a genuine disability.
  • It may not even be in the brain. Medical conditions can cause serious behavior problems.

Don’t obsess on “Why?”  Instead, think “What can I do?”

Knowing why will not help your parenting!  You can start to help without a diagnosis or known cause.  The steps to returning order in your life and home are the same for all families,  no matter what the child’s age, diagnosis, or cause for his or her troubled behavior. There are many approaches and most of them work very well.

Causes for Children’s Behavioral Disorders

  • Family history of mental disorders
  • Trauma history
  • Toxins, marijuana and other drugs
  • Diabetes, epilepsy, thyroid dysfunction, and other medical conditions
  • Stressful living conditions (divorce, poverty, domestic violence)
  • Brain damage: injury, fetal exposure to addictive substances
  • Unknown causes!  Research is still discovering important information.

You can handle this.

You can raise a difficult child and keep yourself and the rest of your family safe. But this is important to know: your natural parenting instincts for raising children, like incentives and consequences, rarely work for troubled children, if at all. Each child needs a customized parenting approach based on his or her unique strengths and challenges.

You deserve respect and support.

This is the toughest parenting job of them all.  You deserve lots of praise for trying to be the best parent you can be, yet many get little positive support and lots of unwanted advice.  Your child has a serious disability, and your family deserves the same compassion and support as any other family with a disabled child.  Mental disorders can be fatal, and have higher mortality rates than childhood cancers.

You have the courage and backbone.  (You really do.)

You wouldn’t be seeking answers here otherwise.  It takes courage to admit you’re overwhelmed, or that your child has a serious illness, or to face your grief for your child.

Take care of yourself FIRST

“One day I realized I am the ship. If I go down, we all go down.” –Erin

The task you face may require superhuman backbone and discipline, patience, forgiveness, and relentlessness. You are about to run a 1000 mile marathon, row across an ocean, and climb a mountain.  Set aside all non-critical life demands and take care of yourself.  Your mental and emotional wellness is crucial.  A drowning person cannot save another drowning person.  Once you are OK, you will figure a lot out on your own.

Ease your stress (these really work)

Do something to feed your soul.
  • Do something that makes you happy, indulge, steal moments away from your family.
  • Talk with someone who won’t judge you.  You need to process and vent without someone who just listens.
  • Read something that helps you escape reality for a while.
  • Take a coffee break, or a vacation, even if it’s brief.
  • See a therapist for yourself, to learn ways to cope and feel better about yourself.
  • Get treatment, an antidepressant for a few months to help you catch up
  • Practice daily mindfulness such as yoga or DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy)
  • Let your child ‘win’ small battles over unimportant things

Get a life!

You and other family members must take time out to do something enjoyable.  Set aside the troubled child’s needs for a while and do what you want to do. This is not selfish or neglectful.  There’s only so much your family can sacrifice.

Surround yourself with positive people. 

Good people are good medicine for stress. If you have ‘friends’ who are needy, toxic, or draining, avoid or remove them from your life. A good friend once taught me how to identify people who’ll help in times of distress. She said, “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”

Have a S.A.F.E. attitude every day

As a parent, make these your family priorities:

  1. Safety First – ALL will be kept safe from pain, fear, or violence, including visitors and pets.
  2. Acceptance – Accept things the way they are now and move forward from here.
  3. Family Balance – Not too much for one, not too little for another.
  4. Expectations that are realistic – Progress will be slow–one step forward one step back. Take things one day at a time. Limit pressuring him or her to achieve your desired outcomes.  In some aspects you will need to lower the bar.

Balance your life.

Don’t starve yourself, your family, and basic life needs. Look for ways to reduce the time and energy spent on your troubled child.  They will be OK; they may even get better. 

A troubled child may gradually consume more and more time, robbing attention from everything else.
When parents can balance their time as needed, it stabilizes the family, which can stabilize a troubled child and reduce their stress.

Your life and family will not be ‘normal’ but that’s OK

  1. Families with a physically disabled or sick child share your concerns too and make many sacrifices. Their lives will never be normal either.
  2. You may not see challenges faced by seemingly ‘normal’ families.  People often hide their struggles, just like you probably do now.

Treat the symptoms, not the cause

Your goal is not to cure your child, but to reduce their troubled behavior and teach them to self-manage.  This is an entirely different approach instead of endlessly attempting to correct behavior.  Teach your child how to care for their mental health by training them to pay attention to unsafe moods/feelings and beliefs that worsen their wellbeing.  Make it easy for them to ask for help.  Show them actions they can take.  Your child may need self-management of their symptoms for the rest of their life.

Examples of Symptom Management

  • All disorders – Need regular sleep for 8 – 10 hours a day; need diets that avoid “fast food;” need exercise; need positive social interactions
  • ADD, ADHD –  Does best in a highly structured and scheduled life.  Regimen works better than freedom.
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) – Same as above, but take on only one issue at a time so enforcement is easier.
  • Schizophrenia/Schizoaffective Disorder – Ask them what they need to lower stress and anxiety, then help them get it.  It may not make sense to you; it only needs to work.
  • Bullying – Bullies are usually victims and vice versa.  Reduce the triggers that cause bully behavior or confront the bully, and teach a bullying victim self-protection skills. ( ADD, ADHD, and ODD are most often bullies and victims.)
  • Depression – Provide stimulation, contact with others, conversation, exercise, responsibility for another’s care.  Ask them what helps.
  • Bipolar – Handle depression like the above. Handle mania depending on the symptoms. If they have positive or happy mania: ignore things that are harmless but watch for increasing extremes; stimulate with safe activities. If they are irritable & angry: redirect the anger into high-energy activities that are harmless (wear them out).  Help them recognize their condition and respond appropriately.
  • Explosions – Create a safe place for a child to rage as long as they need, where nothing can be damaged.  Talk about the cause later when your child is calm, and make a pact and negotiate how certain things can be handled in the future.
Don’t forget the therapeutic value of a simple blanket fort.
Modify the home environment to reduce challenging behavior

  • ADHD kids do not do well in a home that’s chaotic, neither do kids with autism or schizophrenic disorders.
  • Children with bipolar symptoms get bored easily and need help harnessing their energy. Stay alert to risk-taking, anger, loud fast speech, explosive energy, and redirect it away from family members and pets.
  • Children with depression withdraw into their dark place and stay there; they need light and uplifting sensory experiences.
  • Anxious children should not be forced to face their fears, however, they should be nudged to pay attention to their fears and try to tolerate them.

“We could only mentally plan for 3 hours at a time, then we got to where we could plan a day, and now it’s 3 days.”
–parents of two young boys with ADHD

Soften your tone of voice!!!

Children are more powerfully affected by your tone of voice than by the words you say.  This is according to research on immature or impulsive children and teens. Controlling your tone of voice may be difficult to do if you’re upset, which is understandable, so practice what and how you’ll speak when in a tense situation.

SAFETY:  Plan ahead for WHEN things go wrong

When your family is facing an uncontrollable situation, have a crisis plan to turn to, and write it down ahead of time.  Ideas:

  1. Read “Call 911 – Make a crisis plan for your troubled child”
  2. Download this handout:  “How to Make a Crisis Plan.”
  3. Or this handout:  “How to Call 911.”

Your plan simply says what everyone should do.  All family members should contribute ideas to this plan, including the affected child if appropriate.  You will be so glad you did.  When things fall apart and get scary, everyone will know what to do or what not to do.  This will ease the emotional distress and allow quicker emotional recovery afterwards.

Definition of a crisis

A crisis is when someone gets hurt, or is at risk of being hurt–a child might attack someone, destroy property, run away, cut themselves, attempt suicide, or make specific plans for harming themselves or others.  A crisis is when a child’s behavior is persistently extreme and abnormal, such as excessive agitation, hearing voices or hallucinating, sleeplessness, screaming or very inappropriate behavior. A crisis is when they are suffering.  Consider if they are threatening harm versus if they have the means to harm at hand (e.g. weapons, drugs, etc.) and a history of harm.  That’s a crisis.

Ideas for a crisis plan

  • Appoint tasks to family members so they know what to do and what is expected. If a crisis can’t be managed, call 911 and report a mental health crisis and a need for emergency services. A child may need to go to the hospital.  There is usually a local mental health crisis number to call for immediate advice or connection to emergency services.
  • Have back-up:  other family members or understanding neighbors or friends.  It helps to know that someone will show up when you’re overwhelmed.
  • Remove all means of harm or have a “lock down” plan (barricading members in a room for their safety, sending a sibling to a neighbor’s…)
  • After the crisis – Talk with a friend, or get professional help such as therapy for yourself.  Take a “mental health day”  to tend to your and everyone else’s well-being (go out to eat, watch a comedy, walk in nature).

About house rules and chores

Don’t do this ever! A child living with emotional abuse feels worthless.  He or she will grow up unconsciously proving it… or choose not to live at all.

They should be Few, Simple, and Fair (parents follow them too)

No more than 2 or 3 really important ones; it’s easier to enforce and less stressful.  Let some things go.

Specific (who, what, when, where, why, how)


  • Have at least one meal together at the table every day.
  • Limit time on digital technology to 2 hours max (except for homework).
  • Settle 15 minutes in your room after arriving home from school
  • Get 30 minutes of exercise indoor or outdoor every day.
  • Clean the dinner dishes by 7 pm
  • No abuse or damage:  anger is OK but not screaming, verbal abuse, or door slamming, etc.

All children need these

  1. Exercise
  2. Adequate sound sleep, cool dark room, no screen time before bed
  3. Good diet:  lower in fats and sugars;  higher in fruits, nuts, vegetables, and lean protein
  4. There opinion heard. You aren’t required to comply, just listen and acknowledge
  5. Appreciation for the strengths they exhibit

What helps different disorders (examples)

  • A bipolar child with mania needs a safe way to expend energy, and opportunities for creativity.
  • An autistic child might need a low-stimulation calming room, and repetitious thinking tasks
  • A depressed child needs social contact or other stimulus to be drawn out of their interior.
  • A defiant child needs repeated, immediate enforcement on only one limit at a time
  • An ADHD child needs schedules and lines not to cross, and opportunities for creativity and multitasking.
  • All children need an emotionally safe and supportive environment.

What does not help

    • A noisy chaotic home
    • Fighting among family members
    • Teasing or bullying at home or school,
    • Pressure to manage more than they can handle,
    • Lack of sleep and exercise, fast food diets, and
    • Ignoring or denying a child’s genuine needs or problems they can’t handle

Techniques for raising your child

  1. Observe their behavior without emotions or judgment. Notice when they do well and make note of the situation:  in the morning? during a meal?  around lots of activity or when alone?  Now pay attention to what makes behavior worse, the triggers.  Put your best energy into the former, and avoid anything difficult in the latter.
  2. Remove triggers that set off unsafe or inappropriate behavior.  Triggers can be simple things like transitions from one environment to another, which feels to your child like “changing channels” too quickly. Example: when going to or from school; or when getting into and out of the car. Ensure they are not being teased by siblings or by other upsets.
  3. Look for little things that calm or improve your child’s behavior.  Some children do better when in a quiet room alone (schizophrenia, autism, anxiety).  Some children and teens need music and activity around them to settle their nerves and help them focus (ADHD).  Some do better with rigorous exercise (depression), or some need to do yoga poses or keep their hands busy (anxiety disorders).
  4. Catch your child or teen doing something good and point it out.
  5. Negotiate. This may seem counterintuitive, but yes, you can negotiate with your child without giving in. This technique is called Collaborative Problem Solving or CPS, and it works remarkable well. Check out these books by Ross W. Greene.

Your highest priorities

Your problems are too numerous to solve all at once, so go for the critical priorities:

  1. YOU.  Your well-being and physical and mental health
  2. Family safety
  3. Your income and other basic necessities
  4. Your troubled child

Admit it if you need your own mental health support

There’s awesome healing power in a friend who listens without judgment.

“I only cried like ugly-cried for 6 times today, and that was good.”  –Kelly

Many parents bravely try to forge on even when they’re clearly not getting anywhere.  Seek and use mental health supports like these:

  • A therapist and possibly medication.  It’s the emotional crutch you need as long as your emotional ‘leg’ is broken.  Therapy can help so much!
  • A support group.  There are parent support groups out there for parents and family members of someone who is mentally ill, like mine.  If it’s only for adults, still go.  To find groups in the U.S., look up National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Federation of Families for children’s Mental Health (FFCMH)  If you can’t find a parent group, then join a social group that’s very positive and supportive of its members–it can be anything from a religious community to an art class to a breakfast club.
  • For one-on-one help, I am also available.

There is no one right way.

Be flexible and adjust your approach.
Trust your judgment and intuition.  It’s most often right.

Healthy families will have these.

  • A couple stands by each other and supports each other; they put the stability of their relationship first, even if they don’t always agree.  If the parents are divorced, they still try to work together on the child’s behalf.
  • Parents regularly reach out to others they trust, and avoid those who take their energy or bring them down.
  • Siblings are supported and protected by the parent(s), and given attention and appreciation for what makes them special. They are asked about their feelings, and helped to take care of themselves and avoid their troubled brother or sister.
  • Pets are appreciated and cared for.
  • Basic needs are met:  healthful food, a maintained living space, clean clothing, income, sleep, and play.

21 Replies to “Parenting 101”

  1. I am asking for help here with my 16 year old son. He suffers from severe anxiety, OCD & agoraphobia brought on by my ex-husbands abandonment 3 years ago. I feel as if I am loosing my mind. I have been trying to help my son through this & he does see a therapist, but I have no support & go through this alone. 2 weeks ago my son said he wanted to commit suicide. I had no idea he was this distraught. I have been trying to do everything I can to help him & nothing is getting any better. I can only work part time because of his mental health issues & my ex barely helps financially. We live in poverty & every day is difficult, but I do the best I can for us. My son has gotten more angry over the past few weeks & has asked me why I try, why don’t I drink to numb the pain, how can I go on when our life is so bad. I have even been afraid of him recently. I feel that if I tell his therapist how much pain I am in that nothing will change. I have asked him for help before (support group, something,) but he hasn’t helped me. I feel like I am drowning & nothing will ever get better for us. I feel like the worst parent because I have told my son how hurt I am by the way he has been treating me lately & I really do feel horrible for telling someone how I feel. I have gotten no support throughout this entire time (3 years.) Why do I feel so bad? Shouldn’t I be healthy too? Why do I need to apologize for doing the best I can for my son to my son? He has said the our life is shit & that it will never get better. He has said this for a long time & while our life is difficult I still try to make things better & to be positive. Today I just want to never wake up again. Everything hurts so much. My family doesn’t understand & says I’m “not being tough enough with my son” when he suffers from mental health issues. My friends have become distant because they don’t understand either. My ex doesn’t care about anyone, but himself. How do I find strength when I want to stop the pain of each day? I would never do something to hurt myself & leave me son. I am just so very tired of being alone trying to handle this all. I just don’t know where to turn. Again, my son’s therapist has done nothing to help me & I can’t afford to go to a therapist myself because I don’t have health insurance. I have looked for free support groups in my area, but haven’t found anything.

    1. Hello Lynn,

      I’m so glad you wrote. After reading your email it seems clear that you are struggling with serious depression and need help for yourself before you can help your son. It’s not your fault, you’ve done nothing wrong, you are so correct that you need support for yourself, and I hope you can reach out today, as soon as you read this. These are some ideas.

      — In every state is a service called 211. This phone line links you to people who can help you with services, and if you are in poverty with a sick child, there is lots and lots of free help out there for you! They can tell you what’s available: free therapy and treatment for you; assistance with other medical care you may need; support groups for you and/or your son, and more. You don’t have to go through this alone!

      — In every county is an emergency crisis line, sometimes it’s run by the county, sometimes by a non-profit organization. Call them and tell them what you’ve written to me about. You do not have to be suicidal to need crisis help. Call anytime; they are available 24/7.

      — In every state is a NAMI organization, and they have chapters in different parts of the state. NAMI stands for National Alliance for Mental Illness. This doesn’t mean you are mentally ill, but you and your son are experiencing a ‘mental health crisis.’ NAMI runs many kinds of support groups but each chapter is a little different. Go online or call for assistance. You can find a chapter closest to you at this link:

      When you feel better, you will be able to do what you need to do. But now, take care of yourself first. Another single mom I know with a very troubled, angry teenage son said it best: “I was trying so hard but I was only getting worse and worse myself, then I realized that I am the ship, if I go down, we both go down.”

      There are two things I can say about your son’s anger:
      1. He is being just like every other moody 16-year-old boy. Even the best, most loving and financially-comfortable parents can have a teenage son like this: mean-spirited, blaming, accusatory. It’s not anything you or they deserve–some teenagers are just difficult and it hurts like hell. You are not alone.

      2. If he’s taking anger out on you then he’s probably not going to hurt himself. Steal this time away and heal yourself. He may use your withdrawal as an opportunity to be more abusive, so expect that and don’t let it stop you from putting yourself first. Your life WILL change. When you are better and getting support, you will know what to do to raise him like he needs to be raised. You will have the strength! Count on it. I’ve been in your shoes. Life gets better.

      Please take really good care of yourself–put yourself first. The world and your son will not fall apart.


  2. Thank you so much to teri and Margaret. I am going to go back to counseling for myself if nothing else. And I have discussed with my husband sitting down and making my son sign a contract for the rules of the house after turning 18. I do feel that if he acts out of control and decides to move out or drop out before graduation he should receive no monetary help or privileges from us (phone etc) I want him to know that graduating is the first priority. And I owe it to him to continue to support him. But i won’t allow him to be out of control either, weather he has graduated or not. Thanks for the great advice

  3. @ Margaret. .I cannot begin to tell you how much your comment and support meant to me when I read it. It’s so hard to explain to others who will either judge or who just don’t understand, and most days I feel that includes my husband. Don’t get me son is very unmotivated, lazy and still disrespectful many times. But i feel that I owe it to him to support him (with limits of course) through high school and beyond. If I kick him out at first chance of his disrespect I think it would be disastrous. Yet I do see my husbands side, while he needs boundaries and tough love I know it has to be done with love, and I believe while my husband loves him, my son feels he hates him. My husband seems to not believe, or doesn’t deal well with feelings. And he says he won’t do any more. It’s so hard because my husband is a wonderful person whom I do love. It would be easy to walk away if he weren’t. But i know I can’t turn my back on my son and so here I sit in the middle and blamed constantly. I don’t know which way to go… sometimes I have felt like God was punishing me…. why is it the most horrible people you know. .have the best behaved kids? And while u try so hard…your kids seems to be the troubled kid/kids… it just feels unfair. But i know my son is a wonderful kid and I just hope I can steer him to a good future. Praying every day….

    1. @Shari…Finally i see there is someone that is in my exact situation!! My son and his stepfather havent had the best relationship and now that hes older and testing his limits, its just bad all the time. But yesterday i had enough of the way he treats him. I stood up to him and said that I am a mother, he is my son, he came first. If he cant accept who he is then Im out! So i packed my bags and was about to head out the door. He stopped me and apologized for the way he is towards him. Said he just cant trust him. I said i understand, a mother sees things with her heart, but he can see right past the BS and know when hes lying. I told him that no matter what all he does, i still love him unconditionally. This is something that is hard for him to understand because he has never had to go through this with a biological child. Things are always different when a child is not your own flesh and blood. But that doesnt mean that they have to treat them like crap! My son is always telling me how much he hates his stepdad, and i dont blame him! But at least my husband knows where I stand now. Plus…..the bags are still packed and ready to go!! As Margaret said, go get help. It makes a huge difference to have someone to talk to! Plus your husband may have a change of tune when he sees that you are getting that help and wont put up with how he treats your son! Good luck!

  4. Wow..where do I begin? I am feeling very hopeless and desperate lately. My son had ADHD and will be turning 18 in less than 3 weeks. He has always been a difficult child to parent. He has had a few run ins with juvenile court one which resulted in him being on probation for 5 months. He had been disrespectful for a long time, although he has improved over the last year. While he used to be in trouble alot at school, that has not happened for about 1 yr. His grades are poor but he will be a senior this year. His disrespect has transitioned to being directed at his dad (stepdad) for a few years now. We greatly disagree on disipline. He believes in “tough love” and he and my son have been in many face to face screaming matches. My husband had told me he will kick him out of the house the next time it happens if he’s 18. I believe my son does need disipline, but my husband’s way is to scream and call my son names and had told him he will beat his a** like he’s a stranger and he will never amount to anything. I am not ok with this. But our arguments never get resolved. I feel like I owe my son at least until he graduates high school. And I am at a huge crossroads in my life and Marriage. I don’t know what to do.
    My son’s biological father has never been present and his stepdad Is the only dad he has ever known, but my husband says he is now done and refuses to do anything else (spend time with him etc) I just feel like if I kick him out before he graduates, he won’t have anyone. I don’t disagree with my husband but I think he is immature on how he addresses the situation but he thinks I don’t care that my son disrespects him. I don’t know how to go forward, please help…thank you so much

    1. Hi Shari,
      I’m so glad you wrote and asked for a second opinion. You are in a really tough place and getting out of it will be difficult, so brace yourself, take a deep breath, and find supportive people in your life. This is not about your son, it’s about your husband forcing you to choose between him or your son. Trust your instincts not to undermine your son at a time when he really needs your help. Instead, focus squarely on the problems in your marriage.

      The first thing to do is to find a professional marriage counselor and visit together with your husband. He may refuse, in fact, asking him may make him really upset, so make an appointment and go on your own. You may need to go without his knowledge to keep the peace. Just go! You can provide more details to the counselor, who will be able to guide you towards choices appropriate for your situation.

      Your son’s future depends on steady ongoing support and protection from intense negative emotional treatment. This support must continue after the age of 18. See the article on this site titled “ADHD kids become troubled adults.” You can prevent your son from heading down this path, but it means you need to work on issues with your husband. Words hurt, they especially hurt kids with behavioral problems because they are more vulnerable and sensitive.

      I want to point out a couple of things you wrote that should give you hope, evidence that is really positive. You wrote that your son is showing signs of pulling himself together–this is huge. Troubled teens often don’t reach this point until their 20’s. After some serious problems a few years ago (trouble with the law and in school), you indicated that he’s steadily improved in these critical areas!

      You are wise and you are being a good parent for seeking help now. Hang in there, and remember to get support for what may be an emotional roller coaster ahead.


  5. Hi,
    I am the mother of 4 children ranging in age from 21 yrs to 5 yrs.
    One of my children, now 18 yrs was diagnosed with ADHD as a 13 yr old.
    I knew from the time he was very young that something was not right but was told by the specialist when I had him checked at 7 that he was just an active normal boy.
    I did most of the caregiving as my husband worked long hours in our business.
    Our son struggled through primary school and intermediate and was labelled by teachers as being difficult and unfocussed, most of the time teachers did not accept ADHD as a valid condition.
    Anyway, he was formally diagnosed as having ADHD at 13 yrs and was put on Ritalin. He hated taking this, said it made him feel dull.
    When he was 14 yrs, he became very defiant and abusive, physically and verbally. He and my husband had an altercation one evening (my husband tried to restrain him when he was being verbally abusive to me) and my son went to school the next day and told his school counsellor that his father had abused him. This was immediately notified to Child Youth and Family Service and I had to take my son for medical checks at the hospital. CYFS wanted to have my husband charged by the Police (ironically I worked for the Police)and banned him from being in the home. I had a very young child as well as the other three and was having to work shifts. It was a very stressful time for us. Anyway, there was no evidence of abuse and after a week CYFS just dropped the case, we were left to try and sort our lives. My husband was left too scared to effectively parent our son from this point and we ended up going through a hell 3 years directly following this, with our son running the family and “knowing his rights”. It was a very difficult time and ended when my son got involved with an equally out of control girl. He ran away from home and refused to attend school, got involved in some pretty risk taking behaviour, and was threatening suicide. He ended up having a fight with another boy who had disrespected the girlfriend and was charged by the Police with assault, he was 17 yrs and was charged as an adult. He narrowly avoided a custodial sentence and it was obvious that he could no longer live with us, we had to put a non-trespass order in place which is one of the most heart breaking things I have ever had to do in my life. I found an alternative home for him with a family member. This did not work as my family member used marijuana which made him think mum and dad had no idea and this was okay behaviour. The last 12 months have continued to challenge both him and us but he did complete a course and has found work. He is in a good place at the moment and is living with flatmates who understand his quirks and do not influence him in a negative way. He has almost completed his probation period, is clean of drugs and the girlfriend is now an ex. We still have calls from him (he lives in another city) late at night asking for advice, but nothing as scary as we have been through.
    My advice to other parents in a similar situation is to love them no matter what and be there for them when they need you. They are still your babies at the heart of it.
    The whole experience has left me very wary of organisations like CYFS. It would have been better for them to support our family rather than try to have my husband convicted of a crime. As it was they did neither.
    One positive out of the whole thing. Our 21 yr old daughter is in her third year at university studying law and is hoping to become a lawyer specialising in family law at the end of her degree.

  6. Hello, I have a 11 year daughter that I am clueless on what is going on with her because she doesn’t talk to me. I come to her and sit her down and have long conversations with her and ask her whats wrong with her, like how she is feeling and what are her thoughts. But all I get is silence or she says noting is wrong or both. The problems that I been having with her is; in the beginning, she started stealing small things which turned into stealing bigger things, more important things like money from me and food and then lies about her stealing it even when the proof is right in her face. It’s like she believes her lie so blinded, that she ignores the truth. And this has bee going on for 4 years. Her father and I have been divorced every since 2006 before she started doing the stealing and lying. I thought that maybe that was the reason she was doing what she is doing until this recently happen. My 11 year old daughter has 5 other siblings living in the house (1 boy who is 13, 4 others are girls at ages 9, 8, 6, and 2 and she bullies them and say mean things to them all, except for my son and my 2 year old daughter. She doesn’t mess with them 2 but just my 9, 8, and 6 year old daughters. Its gotten worse this pass week when my husband and myself found out that she would force herself sexually on my 3 daughters I just mention. at this point I don’t know what to do. I am frustrated and tired and overwhelmed. I thought of sending her to a center for children who takes children out the home and diagnose them and the children reside at the center until the children gets better and they are discharged. I don’t know if i should take that route due to not knowing what this will do to her emotionally and physically and mentally what she would think of me afterwards. We wouldn’t be able to visit her until weekends only. At this point I know what needs to be done but I don’t know how to start or where to go. Please HELP! Thanks!

  7. I am so glad that i found this site!! I was originally looking for a forum for parents of troubled teens. My son is 15 and is on probation for possession of a controlled substance. I was the one to turn him in. It was my last route and i was not going to let this go on any longer. He didnt know it was me until his father (we are divorced) told him about 6 mos ago. Since then he has such a hate towards me. Im am the main disciplinarian and his dad is the “friend”. So my son sees me as the one that “caused all of this”, ex. probation, therapy, drug tests. I have learned over the last few weeks after things got pretty bad to just back off of him. That the more i push, the more he resists. He is also (undiagnosed) ADD. I have found that Monster energy drinks, as much as i hate them, seem to work wonders for him. His grades are improving and the teachers have seen a huge improvement in him. I just need to try and mend our relationship but i know that will also take time. Your site has given me hope and reassured me that im doing all that i can. Thank you!

    1. Traci, you’re doing all the right things and they seem to be working. Congratulations!

      For you and for any other parents experiencing the wrath of their child, I want you to know that you WILL get your relationship back! I’ve had the opportunity to witness the worst possible broken parent-child relationships turn around when the parent was persistent, had a good attitude, and received emotional support from others.

      This is how it unfolds: you maintain a bridge, even a weak one, by making steady small steps toward outreach. The child will heap abuse on you, but step back and take it on the chin and try again later. Outreach can mean thanking the child for something nice they did (even if they didn’t intend it); a small gift; expressions of pride in something they’re good at–especially in front of others. Note: Never ever criticize the other parent no matter how much they manipulate your child and undermine your authority–your child will eventually figure out that their “friend” parent is just using him/her as a baseball bat to attack you. The “friend” parent will eventually feel your child’s wrath too and want to send him/her back to you, the disciplinarian who cares the most.

      Continue strict discipline on a few important things, e.g. bad language (“You can be angry but you can’t call me a ——– in my presence”.). Continue to set appropriate boundaries and rules, be firm, accept the blame they heap on you; it is clear evidence to them that you care. Continue to stand up for your right to insist on good behavior (school attendance, no drugs, no running away, etc.). Your child WILL notice your attention to their wellbeing, and he/she will admit it someday but don’t expect anything until their mid-20’s or so.

      Hang in there everyone; your relationship is resilient if you keep that bridge built.

  8. As I sit here reading the overwhelming information before me all I can do is cry, because after 14 years I finally came face to face with every symptom that I have spent so many years trying to figure out in my daughter, even my distinct reactions to her behavior were found within the info on these pages. I just cannot believe that within 10 minutes of reading through this I realized with no uncertainty that she suffers from ODD and while my heart is still very heavy with the pain of dealing with this for so long ,not to mention the mental and physical exhaustion, I dont feel so alone anymore. Not sure where to go from here, any advice greatly appreciated. Thank You so much.

    1. Hello Sheron,

      Thank you for letting me know that you found some answers and clarity here–it is very much appreciated. This has been my cause: no parent should go through the pain and confusion of a troubled child alone. And you are definitely not alone. There are millions of us out there who suffer in isolation; we grieve for our child and for the loss of our own sense of well being.

      There are ways to help your daughter and limit her behavior. She will need both medical and therapeutic support–and you may need this too. Both are necessary for mental health treatment to work. Your child should be assessed by a child psychologist or psychiatrist who can recommend a set of treatments for her. Next comes you: get mental health treatment for yourself too! You need help grieving, managing stress, and learning some techniques for working with a defiant child.

      Look for a parent support group in your area. Start by visiting websites of the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health ( and the National Alliance for Mental Illness ( Both organizations have chapters across the nation that offer support groups. If there isn’t a group for parents with children; it can still be helpful to find one for families of adult children. They will have wisdom they gleaned from when their own child was young.

      Last but not least, take care of YOU. Steal time away for yourself and don’t feel guilty or selfish. In addition to a lot of self care, you need support from others too. Ask for it and accept it when it comes. People love to help when they are asked, and then told what they can do. I found that all I needed was someone to listen without interrogating or challenging me, and without offering inappropriate advice. Just to listen and show sympathy and let me get out my stress/pain/frustration/anger/tears.

      Hang in there. You have a long road but you will get stronger and you will be able to improve your child’s behavior and your life at home.

      Take good care,


  9. We took, our son in when he was three and a half. He is biologically my husbands cousin. He was in a terrible situation in which DFCS had stepped in with his biological mother and removed him from her care. Rather than him go to foster care, we took him in on temporary custody. His biological mother left and did not return and so when he was 5 we formally adopted him.
    He has struggled since he was very young with a lot of different things. He did very well for a long time in our care and seemed to love and appreciate us. But, as he has gotten older (now 12) things have been rapidly declining. He has always been in trouble at school since pre-k for bullying, stealing, lying, threatening, etc. Despite our best efforts he continues to display these behaviors and as he has gotten older the worse it has gotten. He has also set fires and hurt/killed animals MANY times over the years. He has no remorse for any of his inappropriate actions. He is an extremely intelligent child, but he seems to constantly battle with himself. He knows right from wrong, but he continuously chooses wrong. He says that it excites him. Over the last several years things have become increasingly difficult. He constantly causes chaos in our home by whatever means possible and he has threatened us and abused us both physically and verbally multiple times over the years. He threatens us on a regular basis and completely destroyed his room and other parts of our home. He also urinates and defecates in his room even though he has his own bathroom.
    About a month ago, he got very mad with us over something, we still have not figured out what, and he took the lighter fluid for the grill and poured it in trails all over our porch and up the side of our house and then into the grill. He then lit the grill on fire. It ended up exploding and burning his face and arms. When we took him to the ER to treat the burns he told the doctors initially that he did this to hurt himself. He was sent involuntarily to an inpatient mental health facility by the doctors for 7 days. Upon his release from there he was sent to an outpatient mental health facility. He has since told us and his therapist that he has been lying and manipulating the therapy sessions and that he likes doing that because it excites him to get away with it and when he gets people to believe his lies. He has also stated that he has no desire to change or to accept or use the help that is being given to him. He has also admitted to making up terrible lies because he wants to see if he can get his dad arrested. He unfortunately is very talented at manipulating and lying and he is easily believable. He has been caught by both family and school personnel over the years telling very elaborate lies.
    Because of his high intelligence level and his ability to be VERY engaging and charming when he wants to we have had little to no help from the schools over the years. They just call and email us literally every day and tell us that we need to deal with it. He threatened several girls at his school last year that he was “going to rape them” and when my husband told the principle to call the police the principle refused to call and said that this was a situation that we as the parents needed to handle.
    This past Friday evening we had to take him back to the ER because he was threatening that he wanted to die and that he wished his dad was dead. We took him to the ER and they admitted him back into the inpatient program. He stayed there 5 days and he is now back home and in the out-patient program again.
    He has seen multiple doctors, therapists and psychologists over the years. We have had diagnosis and opinions that he has any of the following problems (maybe all, maybe some) ADHD, Bi-Polar, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Conduct Disorder – Anti-Social Personality Disorder.
    We have continuously told the doctors and therapists that we are terrified for him and us. We have to padlock our bedroom and our pantry where we keep the kitchen utensils every night. In the past year we have had 5 different medical professionals tell us to turn him over to the state.
    We are at a complete LOSS. Most of the medical professionals tell us he needs to be in residential care…but, we are finding that to be almost impossible to get done.
    My husband and I are good people, we have never been in any trouble. We own a modest home and a we have also built a small business from scratch. We are SO exhausted and so worn out and we feel like all we do is run in circles and stay on high alert all the time.
    Any suggestions or ideas?

    1. Hello Amanda,

      What a tough story; this is impossible to endure for long. I would like to share some initial thoughts I have and they might be difficult to read. Hopefully, they will come across as something you already know in the back of your mind.

      If any of the personality disorder diagnoses are true (i.e. conduct and anti-social personality disorder and ODD), your son may never be “OK” or even “sort of OK.” Without intensive help now, while he is 12 and still young enough, he will become more dangerous to you and your husband, and then to others. When a young child sets fires and kills animals multiple times, this can indicate psychopathy, the kind that harms others without remorse. I worked for 2 years in a psychiatric residential care facility for children and adolescents, the state hospital in my state, and your son fits the description of the most disturbed children there.

      This is not your fault, and it’s not his fault either. It’s no one’s fault. He would naturally do better if he could, but he really can’t. I have to give you tons of credit for the amount of effort you’ve put in these years for a child so seriously troubled. Know this for certain, you gave not failed.

      Like the medical professionals, I recommend you consider the residential care route.

      1. It is the next thing to do medically speaking.

      2. It is the moral thing to do. He is very sick, think of it as a disabling illness like cancer. A parent and caregiver should seek appropriate health care if the child is not benefiting from two decent caring parents in a decent home.

      3. Residential care works. There’s no shame in it–it’s just longer term hospitalization that includes includes school and physical activity, as well as a host of mental health therapies that only work in intensive 24/7 one-on-one care settings. A regular family home with 2 working parents cannot provide this.

      4. Residential care is not something most people can afford unless they are quite wealthy or have extraordinary health insurance, so parents like you and me depend on arrangements with the state. In Oregon, when my daughter first entered the facility, she was considered a “household of one” and her income level (zero) made her eligible. State mental health funds were matched with the insurance from her father’s policy.

      5. You won’t be abandoning him if you voluntarily hand his care to your state and they take guardianship. You are still the parents in the eyes of the law, and can still withdraw him from any program if you want. If he was voluntarily put in state care, trust me, they would put him in residential care. It’s not impossible, contact your state’s children’s services division and ask that he be assigned a case worker for “severe emotional disturbance” and for “being a danger to himself or others.” Use these words because they have legal implications. Other terms used in the behavioral health care professions are “failure to thrive” and “at-risk.”

      6. Other things you can do:

      –demand an IEP from your school and don’t take no for an answer. It is federal law for them to provide special accommodations to disabled children, and in the eyes of the law and medical professions, he is disabled. Check out

      –call the police on your own son. The juvenile justice system is designed to rehabilitate at-risk kids. Your son’s history clearly shows this is a mental health issue and not a delinquency issue or parental neglect issue. He would then be put into residential care.

      Sadly, we parents must take desperate measures and assertively, relentlessly advocate for our child. And when we do, we can be criticized by others. But it’s the right thing to do and is your only option at this time.

      Good luck, and for goodness sakes, take good care of yourself!


  10. Hi, I am in desperate need of advice! I am a single mom to a 6 yr old boy who has exhibited symptoms of impulsivity and explosiveness since birth really. He was DX with MOOD-DISORDERS-NOS just 8 months ago. He had a really good school yr with very little relapses in school he was assing a crisis intervention para for extra individual behavior supports, his academics are really good and he had no LD’s. However in the past 2 months I moved into my own apartment away from my entire family, and he has been so violent in school!!!! (I was staying there for a yr or so after the split up with his absent dad).

    THE PROBLEM: When we moved May 2013, he was able to finish the school yr in his current school even though it was so far away….. he started punching kids in the face out of anger, he punched his crisis intervention para and was very distructive of property in the classroom, he got suspended 3 times in a weeks times….. nothing different happend in the school, just the regular stuff….but his behavior was very violent and explosive again, even with medication and a considerable amount of therapy! I am afraid that September will come, he will be going to a new school due to us moving….and he will be direspectuful, violent and this will all affect him in a negative way….I already had to quit my job a yr ago because the phone calls from school and the cosntant needs my son had, I am doing grad work and have a new bf…Im trying to “get a life” but my current relationship and babysitters are becoming overwelhm with My sons behavior!!!!! I feel soooo isolated and like everyone points the finger, not knowing that I have tried soooo many things and Im really a dedicated mom…But I fear my son needs way more than what I can do for him. Im slowly loosing hope in myself :/

    He has remorse immediately after incidents!
    He is undercontrol 75% on a good day but on a bad day he is on a roll.
    He is the only child and the dad is absent.
    I need to teach him new coping skills, and some for myself too!

    Hit adults and kids
    Throws objects
    Makes very serious threats ( about killing himself and others)
    Tries to hurt himself
    Exessive crying

    Any insight is good. Thanks!

  11. hi I have a15 yr old daughter that ever time she does something She always says she doesn’t do anything. then when ever you tell her to do something she says no. she doesn’t like to stay quiet she always has something to say. she is very disrespectful with adults also likes to fight back. what do I do it’s very bad because she has younger sister and brother

    1. Hi Jessica,
      Some of the things you describe are normal for many teenagers. This doesn’t mean they are “troubled” or have a mental disorder. They can be horribly mean and cruel and hurtful, but they usually start growing out of it by the time they turn 18. I know that’s a long time to wait, and that her behavior is difficult for her siblings, but talk to other parents and ask their opinion. She may be immature but not mentally ill.

      There is a simple rule that seems to work with some teenagers when they get angry. First, let them know it’s understandable if they get angry, lots of people get angry, but it’s not OK to behave badly and hurt others. The rule is to find a way to express anger differently. Ask her to write it down, or send it by text or email. Let her express it safely without screaming and bad language in front of her brother and sister.

  12. hi i have a daughter ever since she was 2 i notice that her behaviors at school were bad she was first diagnost with metally handicap and adhd then emotionally handicap and speech language impaired over the years its gotten worst they added bipolar if you tell her no she breaks stuff shes always says shes bored she hurts people been kicked out of 2 schools she was in a special school my wife and family are all afraid of her kids are afraid of her i sent her to my brother and wife to see if she changes butshe hurts my brother and his daughter did so much stuff in school threatened people that she was gonna kill them and now they are sending her back she is only been gone since july and did a many numbers of things up there and im afraid to bring her back she is very dangerous the school and counselors say that she needs to be in a residential or mental institute because she is a danger to have out you dont know what she is capable off i need some help bad before she goes farther and follows with her threatening family friends everyone she needs to be stoped i live in orlando fl and shes been in resitential for 3 days 1 month she shows them shes good she comes out and starts back up she fool people and she lies to get away and be brought back home but now theres more people that seen her and been with her they now how she gets and they are afraid for there live i always think she has more diagnosis i think she is sqisofrenec because she could hurt you and then start talking to you like if nothing ever happened please help

    1. Hello Amos,

      You and your family should not have to live with this. Your daughter is seriously mentally ill and should be getting mental health treatment in residential care. Try again to get her admitted, especially since others are agreeing that she is a danger to others. Can you get a psychiatrist, other doctor, school counselor, school psychologist, or therapist to refer her? They may also need to work with an insurance company or the state of Florida to get it paid for.

      Your family and other school children must be protected from your daughter’s violence. It is a safety issue. When she is out of control, I STRONGLY suggest you call 911 for the police and your local mental health crisis line. You want her violent behavior to be seen and officially documented, which will lead to the mental health care she needs. Many of us parents with troubled children depend on the police when there is violence. She might also get help from the agency responsible for people with developmental difficulties, since it seems she doesn’t function at a normal level.

      Good luck, and take good care of yourself and your family,


  13. What can I do if my “just turned” 18 year old daughter ran off and moved in with her boyfriends mother who has suspected bipolar disorder? I am afraid for my girl who has had her own problems over the years living with these individuals that are not mentally well themselves. Do I have any recourse or action? My girl has had behavioral issues for quite some time now meaning she tells wild lies and has issues with boys, i.e. sending inappropriate images to boys on her cell phone. She was also born to a methamphetamine addicted mother who is now deceased. We adopted her when she was 2 years old and have had her ever since.We were strict with her but this was because she kept getting into trouble. She has never been in legal trouble, as far as we know but we worry this might happen at the rate she is going. Now that she is 18 it seems we have no rights as her parents. I am worried she is going to wind up on the streets, pregnant and in trouble with the law. At this point I do not believe she is on drugs and or abusing alcohol. I worry about her being and living with this mentally ill family. Please help direct and guide me. Thank you.

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