Wisdom and guidance is out there. These techniques are taught to parents in special educational programs, but they are applicable to any parents.

First list your child’s strengths

child drummingExamples:

  1. He or she has family support
  2. Can be gentle and nurturing (with animals, young children)
  3. Does well at _______ (writing, music, sports, playing with a sibling)
  4. Has never harmed him or herself, talks tough but doesn’t act on it
  5. Is able to attend school, is able to make passing grades
  6. Talks to you about how they feel

See their potential and not their flaws.
Guide them towards things they are naturally good at.
Steer clear of things they can’t do. 

mom with daughtersList your own strengths

  1. You want to be a good parent and gain wisdom
  2. You have supportive people in your life, and you reach out and accept help
  3. You take care of yourself, you practice self-calming
  4. You have a good attitude and realistic expectations

Maintain your confidence

  • Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control.”
  • Regularly talk through your feelings with others who understand and never judge.
  • Get a life; maintain personal interests; and regularly set concerns for your child aside without guilt.
  • Commit to doing the best you can, and accept that this enough – plan to let go someday.

You know you’ve done a good job when they are able to take responsibility for their own care. This is a monumental personal achievement!

Tips for settling things down

  • therapy gerbilDon’t rush it. Give the child plenty of time to unwind and settle. Calm is more important than quick.
  • Ensure there’s a calm place to go – a time-out space, even for you.
  • Get an appropriate therapy animal – a calm and durable creature unlikely to be harmed.
  • Reduce chaos at home: noise, disorder, family emotional upheavals, intrusive stimulation from technology…

Use a NEUTRAL Tone of Voice

In a neutral unemotional voice, give directions or requests . You will need to repeat yourself, calmly, several times. Your voice should not sound anxious, fearful, angry, confrontational or manipulative. The wrong tone in your voice creates the wrong response in your child.  It’s hard to do, so practice ahead of time.  Practice what you’ll say and how you’ll say it.

Tips for managing defiance

Willfulness is a strength to cultivate IF it can be directed towards the positive.  Your child will need to defy the odds someday, like dangerous influences and people, or the urge to give up.

  • ignore childBe quiet and LISTEN. If you respond, address how they feel, not what they say.
  • Use reverse psychology:  ask them to do something you don’t want them to do, so they can defy you and do the opposite.
  • Choose your battles. Let them think they’ve won on occasion.
  • For an ODD child, give multiple instructions at once, including things they do and don’t want to do.  It becomes too much work to sort out what to defy.
  • Actively ignore – Stay in the vicinity but don’t respond, look away, act like you can’t hear. They eventually give up. Works best for ages 2 – 12.
  • Mix it up – Be unpredictable. Give a reward sometimes but not all the time. Try different incentives, experiment with different ways to set boundaries and structure.
  • To think about discipline ask “where’s my leverage?”  Every child has something that teaches them a lesson them, for example: one child may feel “punished” if sent to their room to be alone; a different child may feel “punished” if required to hang out with mom or dad for a period of time with absolutely nothing to do.
  • Remember that your child changes.  What works now will stop working eventually.  Be flexible, stay creative.

You only need to stay one step ahead.  One step.

Avoid these 9 common parenting mistakes

  1. Treat your home like a democracy, let your child have an equal say in decisions. Always do as they ask.
  2. Find fault with them and tell them about it repeatedly. If they do something positive, it’s not good enough.
  3. Pretend your child has no reason for their behavior. Ignore his or her needs or challenges. Are they being bullied? Are they having a hard time sleeping? Is your home too chaotic?
  4. Make rules and only enforce them once in a while, or have consequence come later.
  5. Don’t treat your child appropriately for his or her age.  Make long explanations to a 3-year-old about your reasoning.  Assume a teen wants to be just like you.
  6. Expect common sense from children who are too young (5), or from young adults with a long track record of not showing common sense.
  7. Keep trying the same things that still don’t work. Repeat yourself, scream, show how frustrated you are with them.
  8. Jump to conclusions that demonize the child. “You are manipulative and deceitful,” “You don’t listen to me on purpose,” “I’m tired of your selfishness…”
  9. Make your child responsible for your feelings. If you lose your cool, insist they apologize.

Adjust your expectations

teenage mouseDon’t be frustrated by these common behaviors in children and teens regardless if they have a behavioral disorder or not.  The only difference with your child is that he or she faces greater consequences and takes more time to grow out of them.

  • Does not show common sense and is not influenced by reason and logic;
  • Has no instincts for self-preservation, and poor personal boundaries;
  • Has no well-adjusted friends; has friends who are risky or troublesome;
  • Doesn’t respond to rewards and consequences;
  • Appears to have limited character strengths: honesty, tolerance, respect for others, self-control;
  • Does not make plans they can realistically achieve, hangs on to fantasies;
  • Acts younger than their peers. Will not be ready for adulthood by 18;
  • Lives in the here and now; doesn’t learn from the past or plan for the future
  • Doesn’t notice their effect on others.

When in doubt…

oxygen tank

Three long slow breaths.
Your brain needs oxygen to think.
Your brain needs an extra few seconds to think clearly.

Trust your judgement.
Trust your intuition.
Take breaks.

6 Replies to “Wisdom”

  1. I have a four year old little boy who is very out of control and needs help. I have tried everything i can to get him help but some doctors think he needs therapy. He has a 3 year little brother who is autistic and he has tried multiple times to hurt him where he could almost kill him. I have been smacked, mouthed to, been called adult names that I dare not say and more. I need help.

  2. My 16-year-old son has ADHD, bouts of depression, and was diagnosed last year with dylexia and dysgraphia. He has had difficulty in a traditional school environment for the past few years, hence the pyscho-educational testing that uncovered his learning issues. His ADHD creates a lot of executive functioning issues (disorganized, difficulty with time management, difficulty getting up and out in the morning, etc.).

    We went through a period about 3 years ago of what seems to fit the description of ODD, but his doctor said the ADHD and depression can create the same issues. On a positive note, once we and our son were aware of the full scope of issues, we were more clearly able to address them. He was depression-free all of last year despite the stress of struggling through his first year of high school, which was great. Wanting him to have a better educational experience, we hired an Educational Consultant to look into schools for him. He was involved in the process, and we ended up deciding on a boarding school in Virgina that we visited and he really liked. This is NOT a therapeutic school — it is a prep school for boys that has a lot of experience with ADHD boys and has a learning center that supports LD kids. They are accredited and very respected — we did a ton of research before sending him there.

    My question is this: you say (as does anything else we read or hear) that ADHD kids need structure and discipline. I fully believe this, but my son has fought against structure and rules since he was 13. He hates to be told what to do and/or how to do it, and he feels any disrespected and “unheard” when he says he doesn’t want to do something but is told he must or that it would be best for him. He started out absolutely loving the school, but over the past few weeks he says he has come to hate it. He originally struggled with getting himself up on time and had consequences for being late, but he managed to overcome this issue. What he still has trouble with is, of all things, cleaning up his room enough to pass twice-weekly room inspections. As a result, he is constantly on the infraction list and has consequences (generally what they call a “walkabout”) multiple times each week. His free time has been curtailed and he is very resentful.

    He is excelling academically and really likes the boys at the school, and he has a few adults that he really likes as well. The school is in a wonderful setting and offers all the outdoor activities and athletics that he enjoys. He has come to resent the structure so much, however. that he keeps saying he wants to leave. I feel like structure is what he MUST have in order to be able to function now and later in life, and he MUST learn to operate within that and to follow rules. It is very hard, however, to have your child constantly say he is miserable and can’t bear to stay there. He also says he is feeling depressed again, so we are adjusting his medication and have arranged for him to Skype with his therapist at home weekly. I guess what I’m looking for is … will this get better if we just give it time? We were just there for Parents Weekend a month ago, and he was only having minor complaints. Just looking for some insight into what might be going on and how to handle it as parents. Thanks so much

    1. Hello Jennifer,

      I read your letter a couple of times looking for clues that may explain your son’s resistance to structure. I have several thoughts, and one of them may apply to your son. But first, something important to note: teens with behavioral diagnoses will still have ordinary adolescent behaviors, such as volatility or immaturity or lack of commonsense, which comes with puberty, social pressures, and neuronal “pruning”. It can be hard to tell what’s normal crazy and what’s abnormal crazy.

      1. His defiance starting at 13 may be normal, just aggravated by ADHD, or

      2. If he was doing well before and something changed recently, it may not be because of school rules and structure, but something behind-the-scenes: is he being bullied or teased? Is he having disagreements or fights with someone? Is he unable to tell you that something is bothering him because he’s too embarrased to tell you or afraid of what you’ll think? Or,

      3. The disciplinary actions may just be too much. He may feel that he’ll never be able to do anything right and that trying is pointless. The punishment is backfiring. It’s reinforcing failure rather than motivating achievement. Perhaps the school is frustrating your son beyond reason? WITHOUT REPLYING, with an open mind, ask him what would improve his experience at school, and listen to his opinion carefully and believe him. Ask: What would make it easier to stay at your school and go along with the program? It may not be the rules at all.

      4. Its common to overdo discipline for difficult kids. Some parents will ground their son or daughter or take away their phone for a month as punishment. That’s too long. A week might be too long. But two days without a phone, and another two days when it happens again, and another two days, and another, and the child gets a repeated lesson. It’s more disruptive and inconvenient for him if it happens often, and it is more likely to get the point across.) Perhaps the school is frustrating your son beyond reason?

      5. No question, but your son is depressed, perhaps for an environmental or situational reason. The depression may lift when the underlying problem is cleared up. He may also be enduring significant anxiety (very common with ADHD), which is making him more irritable and defiant.

      I don’t think time will improve this situation. Trust your instincts and respond to his misery. He’s old enough to be asked for his opinion on how to improve the situation and be listened to thoughtfully, and to be required to participate in a solution. He needs your support. Don’t worry about the structure now; someone who’s miserable is consumed by that and unable to function normally if they tried. Its like he has the flu, treat the flu and renew structure once he’s better.

      Take care and good luck,


  3. Are you saying to do reverse psychology, hoping they will defy you? I do not understand this. That does not sound right.

    1. Perhaps my description of the use of reverse psychology needs expansion or clarification. It does not mean telling your child to do something inappropriate as a way to trick them. Instead, reverse psychology can be a technique for stopping something that’s already started–something that needs to stop.

      Example: by 15, my daughter started making designs on her arms by cutting her skin or burning it with a soldering iron. I was powerless to stop her. There was no way to hide all the items she might use to scar herself, and talking about it with her was pointless. In fact, it only made her proud that I was upset (even psychotic, she took pleasure doing things that upset her mom, argh).

      Then one day she talked about putting a third eye in the middle of her forehead. Her plans involving an Exacto blade and a ballpoint pen. Forbidding it would guarantee she’d self-tattoo her face. Instead I said something like “just don’t damage your beautiful hair.” (People always commented on her hair and it’s lovely color.)

      What happened? She absolutely butchered her hair. It was hideous and heartbreaking and I told her so, and it made her very proud. From then on, as her hair grew out and its true color started showing at the roots, she would use dyes or paints or glue or whatever(!) to brutalize it. Each time I let her know how sad I was that she treated her body so badly.

      But once the hair abuse started, she never again cut or burned herself or talked about self-tattoos. There are scars are on her arms, but none on her face. And her hair is back to loveliness. For parents like us, we need every possible tool to save our troubled children from themselves; we have to be Extreme Parents. Reverse psychology and manipulation are not appropriate for normal children under normal circumstances. “Normal” doesn’t describe us. And while I believe that us non-normals are justified in using reverse psychology, we are still bound to using it wisely and sparingly.

      We are the parents who are continually forced to make difficult choices because our options are so limited. I welcome your feedback or comments; there is never one right way.


  4. This is the first website that really gives me some hope. Have had troubles with my now 19 year old daughter since her childhood. Nothing seems to help.

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