Category: defiant

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.

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.  The patterns repeat themselves and are increasingly worse.  You suspect 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.  Most parents have good intuition about their child.  If you’re looking for ways to “fix” or change your child, they’re aren’t any easy answers nor medications or therapies which do this.  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.  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.

– – – – – – – – – –

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)

 – – – – – – – – – –

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.

Solid Wisdom for Parents of Troubled Children and Teens

Solid Wisdom for Parents of Troubled Children and Teens

 

Other parents have gone before you and faced the challenges that come with a very troubled child.  Get a jump on your task and learn from other’s experience. Wisdom is out there.  You can avoid common mistakes and the stress they cause everyone.

First things first:

You are not alone. All families experience the same fears no matter what the child’s challenges: guilt, anger, frustration, failure, and mental and physical exhaustion.

There is a way. The steps to finding peace in the home are the same for all families and all children regardless of diagnosis

You can start now. You can improve behavior without having a diagnosis, and the techniques work for the majority of difficult children.

There is reason for HOPE. Your child has the capacity to do well . With your support and treatment, difficult children improve.

Have realistic expectations: They may need extra support into their 20’s… but that’s OK. There’s time to catch up with their peers on education and life skills.

Plan ahead for a crisis, brainstorm options for an effective response and create a checklist. You can’t think clearly in a crisis that you didn’t see coming.

What helps your child in the long-term

Pay attention to his or her STRENGTHS not weaknesses. Always find something great about them.

Guide them to their gifts. Give them ample opportunity to do what they are already good at.  They may not be able to be well-rounded, so don’t force them.

What helps you day by day

  • Be your own cheerleader. Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control.”
  • Regularly talk through your feelings with others who understand and won’t judge.
  • Get a life, maintain personal interests, and occasionally set thoughts of the child aside without guilt.
  • Commit to doing the best you can, and accept that this enough – plan to let go someday.

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

How to calm down a tense situation 

In a neutral patient voice, give directions or requests. You will need to repeat yourself, calmly, several times. Your voice should not communicate strong emotions. Tone of voice, not words or volume, is what creates a bad response.

Don’t rush calm. 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.

Bring in help – a therapy animal or another person who can calm your child if you are not able to calm down.

Reduce sensory chaos in your home:  noise, disorder, family upheavals, the intrusive stimulation of phones and excessive screen time.

Ideas for managing resistance or defiance

You want your child to be resistant to the negative things they’ll face in life. It represents willpower, and is a strength to cultivate… but only certain defiance.

Be quiet and LISTEN. If you respond, address how they feel underneath, 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 and your child may do as told.

Actively ignore – for a child who demands inappropriate attention, stay in the vicinity but don’t respond, look away, act like you can’t hear. They can eventually give up. Works best for ages 2 – 12.

Mix it up – Be unpredictable. Give a reward sometimes but not all the time. Try new ways to use incentives or set boundaries and structure.

9 common parenting mistakes

If you’ve done any of these, don’t worry.  Forgive yourself.

1. Treat your household like a democracy. Your child should  have an equal say in decisions.

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. Treat your child like a rational mature adult.  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 history 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 your 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.

Not problem children, but problem symptoms 

When you observe these behaviors, remember that many of them are normal for children from early adolescence into adulthood. For troubled children in particular, expect these and don’t be frustrated by them.  What you focus on instead are things pertaining to their safety, education, and physical and emotional health.  If these are going along OK, you can work through the other problems with immaturity later.

Problem symptoms

Does not show common sense and is not influenced by reason and logic (irrational because are thinking is driven by: chemistry, neurological issues, past trauma…)

Has no instincts for self-preservation, and poor personal boundaries (brain disorders delay or limit their capacity for social learning and awareness)

Has no well-adjusted friends, or has friends who lead them in risky directions (they’re being bullied? good friends leave because of their behavior? risky friends share and understand their problems? risky friend are using them?)

Doesn’t respond to rewards and consequences (rational thinking competes with mental noise in their head: paranoia, anxiety, panic, fear, depression. ADD, ADHD)

Has limited character strengths of honesty, tolerance, respect for others, self-control (social learning is delayed or nonexistent)

Seems lazy or apathetic or lacking in willpower (clinical depression, marijuana use, or the result of taking their phone to bed)

Does not make plans they can realistically achieve, hangs on to fantasies (“magical thinking”, mania or hypomania, anxiety, ADHD…)

Acts younger than their peers, they will not be ready for adulthood by 18  (common to many normal children, your child may grow out of it or improve with treatment)

Lives in the here and now; doesn’t think about the past or future (also common to many children, they may grow out of it or improve with treatment) 

Does not notice or care about their effect on others.  (self-absorption is normal to some degree, but not in excess, instead it could be from:  depression, schizophrenia or psychosis, autism spectrum disorders, narcissism, or many other disorders)

Make these your priorities, in order

1. You and your primary relationship(s)

2. Basic needs and responsibilities: housing, clothing, food, income, health

3. Your challenging child or teen.

Ineffective:  This is often how parents end up spending their time when a child has a mental illness. Make the slices equal in size–not too much for one, not too little for others.

 

Good:  The really important foundations in your family need adequate time.  Don’t let your child dominate.  Everyone will do better when your household is stable.

Lean in.  One day at a time.  Deep breath.  Hope is. 

 

–Margaret

 

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

Managing defiance: tips and advice

Managing defiance: tips and advice

If you raise a defiant child or teen, this is a most important piece of advice:  take care of yourself, your primary relationships, and the rest of your family. You have a life, and your other children need nurturing.  Schedule regular times for you and the others to relieve tension and do something that takes you out of the home and brings you joy.  The time or expense is worth every bit as much as psychotherapy.

These are typical traits of defiant children.

  • They 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.

 

One of the most effective things you can do is control your tone of voice.

Managing defiant children is a balancing act.  If you go too far asserting authority you can draw more resistance, especially if you become emotional.  Your defiant child is very sensitive to a tone of voice that sounds (even a tiny bit) defiant or impatient or angry.

Practice ahead of time

Before you make a request or set a boundary on your child, practice what you will say in advance.  Play the dialogue out in your head—imagine their reaction to your request or rule, and practice that neutral tone of voice.  Remind yourself that you are the authority, and that you are more resolved and persistent than they are.  Your message doesn’t have to be rational or justified.  You may get away with things like, “Because I’m the mommy (or daddy) and I say so”.

Approaches that work

Be a benevolent dictator

Since your home is not a democracy and your child does not run the household, they are not entitled to have all their needs fulfilled or opinions considered.  When they make a demand, thank them for letting you know their opinion, and explain how you will weigh their needs with those of everyone else.  Your child will find your decision completely unfair, but remind yourself that “fair” is not “equal.”   (It’s not desirable to treat everyone and every situation equally.)  Say it’s the best you can do for now.  As their accusations fly, dial back your interest, get busy with something else, and become distracted

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 it 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 book, throw this one down, too.”  (Child becomes frustrated and angry, but 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 to genuine talk later when the stress dies down.

Teen:  “I hate you, you f- -king b- -ch!”

Parent:  “Sounds like you’re really angry.”

Teen:  “Shut up you stupid wh- -e!  You 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, so I won’t.  I feel this is stressful for both of us, so I’d like to take a break and maybe talk about it later.”

Call their bluff

Child:  “I’m going to run away!”

Parent:  “OK, if you do, find a way to call me, and I’ll bring you your stuff and maybe a snack.”  Then walk away.  If they do run and call you, you’ll know where they are.

Reverse psychology

Parent:  “Oh my God, I can’t believe what you’ve done to your hair, that’s horrible!  What are people going to think?  That’s worse than tattoos.  You have to stop this nonsense!”

(One mother used this technique to get her daughter to stop her plans to make a homemade tattoo on her face.  After all, hair grows out, but facial tattoos can be forever.)

Overload their brain circuits

Give your child or teen multiple instructions quickly, and include things they do and don’t want to do.  It becomes too much work for them to sort out what to defy.

Parent:  “Keep up the yelling and close the door on your way out.  And be sure to get louder out there so all the neighbors can hear.  Dinner is at 5:30.”

(What happens?  The door is slammed maybe, but your child is home at 5:30 for dinner.)

Actively ignore

This works best with children 2 through 12.  They try to get a reaction by annoying you or threatening to do something you don’t want them to do.  Stay in the vicinity but don’t respond, look away, and act like you can’t hear them.  Go into another room or outside, for example, and the annoying child will follow you to continue to get your attention with annoying behavior.  If they flip the lights on and off, or ring the doorbell repeatedly, or turn up the volume too loud, maybe you can switch a circuit breaker off and walk away… or if driving, you can pull over, stop the car, and get out and wait.  This article can help with other ideas.  Defying ODD: What it is and ways to manage.

Mix it up

  • Be unpredictable.  Give a reward sometimes but not all the time, and your child will keep trying the good behavior to get the reward.
  • Instead of a consequence, occasionally use bribes to stop a behavior.
  • Allow them to do something they like to do, but within limits of boundaries.
  •  Choose your battles; let your child win unimportant disagreements.
  • Be sneaky on occasion if  (or frankly manipulative) if nothing is working.  For example: suggest you’re considering a very serious consequence that you don’t intend to follow through on.

Have realistic expectations

It’s easy to get stuck in rut—it happens to everyone—but your child is stuck too.  Remember,  it’s not the child’s fault and it’s not your fault.  Your child may not go through life the same as others and may always have problems, but your job is to help them learn from their mistakes the best you can.  This may not happen for many years.  If your child’s condition is serious, they may face serious problems because of their disability, but you’ll know you’ll have honored them, lived your values, and loved unconditionally.

It is heroic to stick it out with your defiant child or teen when you don’t see progress.

Hope

  • They have the ability to do better.
  • With treatment, children improve (e.g. therapy, exercise, medication…).
  • Things usually work out.
  • Help is out there.

–Margaret

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Defying ODD: what it is, and ways to manage.

Defying ODD: what it is, and ways to manage.

ODD is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, it is not in the character or ‘soul’ of your child or teen, and not something they can control.  If your child could do better on their own, they would.  You are the one who can make the most difference.

If you think your child or teen’s defiance is oppositional defiant disorder, there are practical ways to manage your child’s exasperating condition.  This information comes from psychiatric, psychological, and child behavior resources and can help you work effectively with mental health providers or teachers.  You’ll need to ask them focused questions to learn everything they know about ODD.  Professionals pay better attention to knowledgeable parents (which shouldn’t be the case, all parents deserve attention).  Go in armed with knowledge.

anterior cingulate gyrusThis is what ODD looks like.  The pinkish curving region in the center of the 3-D brain image below represents hyper-charged electrical activity in a 13-year-old boy with severe oppositional defiant disorder.  This feature is typical of ODD, but also typical in individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), “Road Rage,” pathological gambling, chronic pain, and severe PMS.

The name of this region is anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG), and scientists believe this area is responsible for enabling a person to shift attention and think flexibly, traits which are deficient in ODD kids.  It is also the brain region known to regulate emotions.  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.

There are two different medication approaches to ODD:

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

The attention deficit approach may use Straterra (chemical name is atomoxetine), Ritalin (methylphenidate), Risperdal or risperidone (for patients with low IQ), and Depakote or divalproex (a mood stabilizer).  This is not a complete list because new compounds may come into the market.

The depression & obsessive-compulsive approach may use serotonin-based antidepressants such as Prozac (fluoxetine), and Anafranil or clomipramine (used to treat OCD).  Again, this is not a complete list.

Oppositional defiant disorder often includes symptoms from other disorders, so you may be coping with more than defiance.  Below are common disorders that combine with ODD:

  • 50-65% of these children also have ADD or ADHD
  • 35% of these children 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 of these children have learning disorders

Anthony Kane, MD 

Other medical conditions that can cause disruptive behavior like ODD:

  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, rapid increases and decreases of blood sugar
  5. Systemic lupus erythematosus, Wilson’s disease
  6. Side-effects of 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.

ODD is a disability.  It isn’t easy to manage, but you can do it.  Your child may need multiple medications and a large variety of approaches to therapy and behavior modification.  You will need patience as his or her teachers, doctors, or specialists try different approaches until they discover one that improves your child’s behavior, so hang in there!

Some good news, if your child has these traits, it will be easier to improve or overcome ODD behaviors:

  • 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.

** Let’s face it, consistently enforcing and reinforcing limits, over and over to exhaustion, isn’t possible 24/7.  You are only human.  Take a break; let some things go.  Forgive yourself for not being perfect.

People’s natural instincts of parenting do not work with an ODD kid.  They need completely different techniques than normal children. 

How to reduce ODD behaviors

Shield yourself.

First get a shield, then prepare yourself for the intensity of parenting a defiant kid because you are about to run a marathon.  Get enough sleep, maintain your other important relationships (spouse or partner, children, friends), schedule breaks or getaways, and guard your physical and emotional health.  Don’t expect quick results with these techniques; it may take weeks or months… years.

Tips from professionals that may work for you:

Parent Management Training – PMT refers to intensive educational programs that are “evidenced based,” proven to help parents gain the skills they need for extremely difficult children, especially those with ODD.  These programs are intensive, but substantiated interventions in child mental health.  PMTs help parents assert consistency and predictability, and promote pro-social behavior in their child.  A good explanation can be found at the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.  Examples include:  the Total Transformation and the Incredible Years.

Find something positive to do together.  Your child has normal needs for closeness and appreciation and joy.  Ask your child about their interests, and if their ideas don’t work for you, try new activities until one brings about a good chemistry between you and your child.

Praise is a powerful tools 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 been close to 100% negative, yes?   Caution: don’t expect thanks or joy from your child once they’re praised; it’s not 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 childActive ignoring – 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 in a temper tantrum, or when whining or sulking, or when making continuous demands or loud complaints, etc.  Pretend you don’t care and even turn your back if possible.  Give attention only after the behavior is over.

Make the behavior uncomfortable for the child/teen.

  • 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 give 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, jmaag1@unl.edu)

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,” see above)

Reverse psychology:  Yes, this works, and it’s OK when important.  Example:  your child is bouncing on the furniture.  You turn on music and say “hey, try this, see if you can bounce to the beat, it’s harder to do on the floor.”  This is a good kind of manipulation.

Unexpected rewards – Occasionally 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.

“Why should I have to do this when it’s my kid’s responsibility to behave?”

It’s your responsibility as a parent to do what you can to help your child be successful.  ODD is a genuine disability that negatively affects their life and future.  I’ve seen highly intelligent ODD kids experience academic failure or enough suspensions and expulsions to hold them back a grade.  This is a can’t-win-for-losing path sucks, doesn’t it?  Just do what you can the best that you can.

Warning, once you notice some success with enforcement, things get worse at first – Defiant behavior will increase once your parenting changes.  This as a good sign—you are regaining your authority!  Your child’s backlash is a common human psychological response, and it’s called an “extinction burst,”  see diagram below.  As parents change their approach to handling inappropriate behavior, the child becomes more defiant to test their resolve.  View this as predictable and plan ahead.  It won’t last, and they will eventually comply with this one rule.  They then find another rule to defy and ramp up their defiance.  As you enforce it, they back off again, and the pattern continues until it’s just not worth it to defy these particular 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.


Tips for effective parenting of an ODD child through adulthood

supreme rulerDon’t treat your home like a democracy, where everything must be fair and equal.  You must be the supreme ruler, the benevolent dictator.  Your child does not have an equal say in how things are done.  Parents must keep their authority and rightful power in the household, tell your ODD child that you make the important decisions, and your decisions may not always seem fair. Tell them you’ll listen to what they have to say but make no promises. Once you’ve made a decision, avoid explaining your reasons when they challenge you. This helps you keep your power and limits endless arguments and accusations that drag you down. As your child ages into adulthood, you must still hang on to your power. The adult child will continue to require limits, and limits will still need enforcement. To a parent, it will feel as if 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.

Don’t blame or belittle your child-–this goes for all children–but a difficult child can bring out the worst in an exhausted parent. 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 ODD is no one’s fault, and your child would not choose to have ODD if they understood what it meant.

Don’t ignore your child’s unique challenges that have nothing to do with ODD.  They may face bullying at school, lack of sleep, stress from a chaotic home, or other challenges… like any other child.

teenage mouseAlways enforce rule breaking 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 describe it clearly.  Or, they believe they can still get away with breaking a rule and then talk their way out of consequences later.

Don’t let your stress turn into anger directed at your child.

  • They can use this against you by teasing or baiting to get you angry again!
  • You’ll be modeling that anger is an OK response to stress.

Take care of your emotional wellbeing. Check in with yourself if you feel you are losing control. All parents with troubled children need to work extra hard at maintaining a level head. It’s a good skill to have anyway.

Avoid justifying your rules or offering explanations. Children with ODD are not able to reason when they turn defiant. They will only resist harder and use your words to argue more with you. Even if they can understanding your reasoning in a calm moment, this will vanish once they become defiant again.  (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 ODD-defiance.  Some rebelliousness is normal for children, especially if parents are over-controlling (and why wouldn’t you be–who wants another battle).

Don’t keep trying the same things that still don’t work.  Like making excuses; like yelling.  (Don’t be embarrassed; we’ve all done this.)

Don’t jump to conclusions that demonize the child.  It hurts you as much as it hurts them. 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?

Find the energy and doggedness to be consistent, and the compassion and forgiveness to be nurturing.

 


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When is it OK to search a teen’s room?

When is it OK to search a teen’s room?

“My son is always in his room and gets extremely upset if I go in there. He says he has a right to privacy, but I suspect something bad is going on, and want to search his room when he’s not there. Would I be violating his rights? It is OK to search his room?
–Mother of 15-year-old boy

I’ve gotten asked this question many times. The answer is “Yes” in the following circumstances:

  • Your child’s behavior has been changing recently, or they have become more secretive, irritable, or defiant than usual
  • He or she has left old friends for new ones whom you are concerned about, or has fewer and fewer friends
  • His or her grades have fallen recently even though they were formerly a good student
  • You sense that he or she is depressed or overly anxious or paranoid
  • Your child pressures you for money, or steals it from you, or finds ways to get money
  • You’ve tried talking with your child about general things in life, school, or feelings, and were met with anger or excuses or deflection.

If there is any concern that something that can be dangerous is being hidden from you:  search your child’s room.

When a young person gets very upset about invading their privacy, they likely are hiding something from you because they know you’ll disapprove. What could it be? Drug or alcohol use? An inappropriate relationship? Porn? Cutting or self harm? Severe depression? The onset of paranoid psychosis?

You have ample legal rights as a parent, but use them wisely and cautiously.*

If something is going wrong with your child and they need your help, you must do a balancing act: 1) get the facts; 2) maintain their trust and keep open lines of communication. Some of the dangerous activities above are common for ‘normal’ difficult teenagers, who can grow out of it or be rehabilitated with treatment and ample family support. Some of these are emergent mental illnesses that need treatment immediately. Why immediately? The sooner the child gets treatment at early onset, the less likely their disorder will develop into serious symptoms as an adult. Mental illnesses are degenerative to the brain, but you can stop it from going further if you start treatment early.

*”Your rights as the parent of a teen with a mental disorder.”

You can search through all their items for things that are or may lead to unsafe behavior. Things you might look for are razor blades, illicit drugs or drug paraphernalia, over-the-counter drugs or drugs that can’t be purchased under the age of 21 (e.g. Benadryl), pseudo-drugs like bags of incense powder, weapons (knives, guns), porn, sexual items, blood on clothes from cutting, etc. You can read your child’s email and texts to search for dangerous activities, plans, or people who may be negatively influencing your teen. You can remove any dangerous or inappropriate item and not return it–it is not stealing. No officer, no judge, no social worker would ever find you guilty. You would be praised instead.

“He was so mad at me when I found a bong in his room and took it.”

He said,”you’re stealing from me!”

“It’s my house and it’s not supposed to be here.”

“But it’s mine! I paid for it! It was really expensive! I’m reporting you for stealing!”

Also search other potential hiding places in your house or any other storage areas. If you find nothing unusual or dangerous on a search, great! You’ve at least satisfied your rightful need to know. Now, when you speak with your child about problems, you can set some fears aside and listen to him or her without bias.

Trust with a teenager is everything.

If your child finds out you’ve searched their room, yes, you will lose their trust, and he or she may go to greater lengths to keep secrets. So don’t tell them. And don’t bring up anything else you discovered if it’s not directly related to safety! What if you find stacks of incomplete homework? Forget it. Did you find food scraps in the bed? Forget it. A moldy sandwich in the closet? Don’t say anything that reveals you searched their room. As a responsible parent, safety and mental health trump lazy, messy behavior. Find other ways to address these.

In dire circumstances, a parent may need put some values aside.

What if you find something dangerous? Act on it immediately. Your child will feel violated and you’ll lose his or her trust, but it’s temporary. Do not defend your decision or try to rationalize it. It’s better to have uncovered a secret and opened the way for getting help. Now the tables have been turned on your child. Under serious circumstances, their trust of you is less important than your trust of them.

 

Good luck.