Category: discipline

What to do when they stop listening

What to do when they stop listening

You don’t need to be this frustrated

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

First things first, avoid upsetting yourself.

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

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

Things to do when they stop listening

Use technology: texting and email.

This mother should be texting her daughter instead

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

Word of caution

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

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

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

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

Use a third-party

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

Draw a picture, make a sign

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

Time outs for you
.

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

A Precaution

Watch your tone of voice

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

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

Is your child bullying you with their behavior?

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

About that mean-spirited voicemail or email.

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

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


Good luck out there,
–Margaret

 

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

The 12 Commandments for Parents of Children with Behavioral Disorders

The 12 Commandments for Parents of Children with Behavioral Disorders

Parents!  Want to know how to make it?  These commandments were written for parents with children with serious (physical) disabilities, but they apply to you too.

  1. Thou art thy child’s best and most consistent advocate.
  2. Thou hast valuable information about your child. Professionals need your input.
  3. Thou shalt put it in writing and keep a copy.
  4. Thou shalt not hesitate to contact a higher authority if you can’t get the help you need.
  5. Thou shalt keep records.
  6. Thou shalt seek out information on your child’s condition.
  7. Thou shalt have permission to be less than perfect.
  8. Thou shalt not become a martyr, thus, thou shalt take a break now and then.
  9. Thou shalt maintain a sense of humor.
  10. Thou shalt always remember to tell people when they are doing a good job.
  11. Thou shalt encourage thy child to make decisions, because one day, he or she will need to do so on their own.
  12. Thou shalt love thy child, even when they don’t seem lovable.

– – – – – – – This is a revised version of “The 12 Commandments…” published by the Pacer Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) for children with physical and medical disabilities. www.pacer.org.

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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For Fathers Who Raise Troubled Kids

For Fathers Who Raise Troubled Kids

Fathers are critical to a troubled child’s wellbeing.  Yet in my experience, they aren’t as present in support groups or meetings set-up for a child’s care.  It’s not that they don’t care; they need a different kind of support.

Every year, I attend conferences around the nation that focus on the families, children, and policies associated with children’s mental health.  The majority in attendance are women.  I was a social worker in children’s mental health for 5 years, and a parent advocate for insurance parity in my state.  In every meeting I attended were lots of mothers and female social workers, and one father.  Parents who attend my family support group are also mostly woman:  bio mothers, adoptive mothers, girlfriends, stepmothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters involved in caring for a troubled child.  I always encourage moms to bring in the dad, stepdad, eldest son, brother, boyfriend… any male who’s important in the child’s life, and some are able to convince them to attend at least once, and it always seems to help.  I’ll call them all “dads” here,

We need the men.  I know they are out there.  I know they are engaged in raising a troubled child and perhaps alone with their concerns.

At a national “Building on Family Strengths” conference in Portland, Oregon, was a presentation on the subject of dads helping dads.  It was the first time I attended a seminar where mostly men attended.  I asked the panel, founders of Washington Dads, www.wadads.org, “why hasn’t there been a gathering like this before?”  Apparently, panel members tried to find help and it wasn’t there, so they started a support organization for themselves.  They believe it’s the only one like it in the nation.

“We’ve been down on our knees in pain for our kids…”

The messages – One panel member said men feel they are supposed to fix the problem, but since they can’t  they feel like failures.  Another said that “dads are often not the main caregivers, and perhaps they lack experience,” and after trying what they think will work, are at a loss when it doesn’t.  Another, “we want a quick fix, but a clear concrete fix will do… we want to know how to problem solve.”  That’s a big one, men fix things, they want to get together and hash out solutions.  “Men talk solutions right away instead of talking through emotions.”  They said men like rules or instructions such as Collaborative Problem Solving techniques, the use of technology, and concrete, measurable plans such as IEPs. (Here is another story about a father who wants to fix his daughters illness.)

In general, moms tend to feel guilty, but dads tend to be resentful or feel like failures:

  • Their family’s problems are right out there in public
  • Mom is too lenient and easily gives in to the child.
  • The child gets all the attention; other family members are neglected.
  • Quality relationships with all family members are lost.

According to the dads’ panel in the seminar, sad’s emotions are there but expressed very differently.  “Some men need to vent aggressively… blow a gasket, but only other men are OK with this.”  Some want to reveal things to each other they wouldn’t share with their wife or partner; “men need to bond without women present” and with personal face-to-face contact.  Men tend to have custody issues too, and often face challenges to their rights to visit their children or maintain relationships with them.

Gentlemen, trust me, moms want you to have support that works for you.

Can you help me out?  I’d like to find other articles about issues fathers face:

  • custody of the children
  • disagreements with mom
  • their influence on treatment, or placement, or educational issues
  • their need for social support with other men

 

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Research on the very positive influences of fathers

Devoted dad key to reducing risky teen behavior – Moms help, but an involved father has twice the influence, new study finds  [EXCERPT],  By Linda Carroll, June 5, 2009

Teenagers whose fathers are more involved in their lives are less likely to engage in risky sexual activities such as unprotected intercourse, according to a new study.  The more attentive the dad — and the more he knows about his teenage child’s friends — the bigger the impact on the teen’s sexual behavior, the researchers found.  While an involved mother can also help stave off a teen’s activity, dads have twice the influence.

“Maybe there’s something different about the way fathers and adolescents interact,” said the study’s lead author Rebekah Levine Coley, an associate professor at Boston College. “It could be because it’s less expected for fathers to be so involved, so it packs more punch when they are.”

Dad’s positive effect
Parental knowledge of a teen’s friends and activities was rated on a five point scale.  When it came to the dads, each point higher in parental knowledge translated into a 7 percent lower rate of sexual activity in the teen.  For the moms, one point higher in knowledge translated to only a 3 percent lower rate.  The impact of family time overall was even more striking. One additional family activity per week predicted a 9 percent drop in sexual activity.

Child development experts said the study was carefully done and important. “It’s praiseworthy by any measure,” said Alan E. Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University.

Why would dads have a more powerful influence?

“Dads vary markedly in their roles as caretakers from not there at all to really helping moms,” Kazdin said. “The greater impact of dads might be that moms are more of a constant and when dads are there their impact is magnified.”  Also, Kazdin said “when dads are involved with families, the stress on the mom is usually reduced because of the diffusion of child-rearing or the support for the mom.”

In other words, dad’s positive effect on mom makes life better for the child, Kazdin explains.

The study underscores the importance of parental engagement overall, said Patrick Tolan, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois in Chicago.  “For one thing, the more time you spend with them, they’re going to get your values and they’re more likely to think things through rather than acting impulsively.”

Coley hopes that the study will encourage both moms and dads to keep trying to connect with their teenage children, even as their kids are pushing them away.  “…it’s normal for teens to want to pull away from the family, [but] that doesn’t mean they don’t want to engage at all,”

Linda Carroll is a health and science writer living in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Health magazine and SmartMoney.

– – – – – – –

The Father-Daughter Relationship During the Teen Years – Ways to strengthen the bond  [EXCERPT],  by Linda Nielsen

According to recent research and my own 30 years of experience as a psychologist, most fathers and teenage daughters never get to know one another as well, or spend as much time together, or talk as comfortably to one another, as mothers and daughters.  Why is this bad news?  Because a father has as much or more impact as a mother does on their daughter’s school achievement, future job and income, relationships with men, self-confidence, and mental health.

When I ask young adult daughters why they aren’t as comfortable sharing personal things or getting to know their fathers as they are with their mothers, most make negative comments about men.

  • “Because he’s a man, he doesn’t want to talk about serious or personal things.”
  • “Because men aren’t capable of being as sensitive or as understanding as women.”
  • “Because fathers aren’t interested in getting to know their daughters very well.”

If a daughter grows up with these kinds of negative assumptions about fathers, she will not give her father the same opportunities she gives her mother to develop a comfortable, meaningful relationship. As parents, we strengthen father-daughter relationships by teaching our daughters how to give their fathers the opportunities to be understanding, communicative and personal.

Creating more father-daughter time alone – Regardless of a daughter’s age, the most important thing we can do is to make sure fathers and daughters spend more time alone with one another.  Since most fathers and daughters haven’t spent much time together without other people around, they might feel a little uncomfortable at first.  If so, they can start by taking turns participating in activities that each enjoys.  One idea:  The father could choose 15 or 20 of his favorite photographs from various times of his life — as a little boy, a teenager or a young man — and then use the pictures to tell his daughter stories about his life.  The key to the success of this father-daughter time is that they alone are sharing this experience.

Staying involved during dad’s absence – Teenage daughters and fathers can strengthen their relationship during dad’s absence through e-mails, letters, pictures and a touch of silliness.  Before dad departs, for one example, father and daughter can talk about how much their relationship means to each of them and agree to write or e-mail at least twice a week.

Linda Nielsen is a psychology professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Her most recent book is Embracing your Father: How to Create the Relationship You Always Wanted With Your Dad. For more information on father-daughter relationships visit www.wfu.edu/~nielsen/.

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Early Father Involvement Moderates Biobehavioral Susceptibility to Mental Health Problems in Middle Childhood

Boyce, W. Thomas; Essex, Marilyn J.; Alkon, Abbey; Goldsmith, H. Hill; Kraemer, Helena C.; Kupfer, David J.;  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, v45 n12 p1510-1520 Dec 2006

[my summary in everyday English:  When fathers are engaged in nurturing and parenting a child from infancy, the child develops healthy responses to social situations when they reach the middle childhood years ~age 9.  The father’s engagement actually improves brain function on the emotional level and reduces activity in the stress area of the brain.  If a father is not involved, the child is at a high risk of behavioral problems.  Also, if a mother is depressed in their child’s early years, the child is at an ever higher risk of behavioral problems.]

Get your power back and reduce your child’s tantrums

Get your power back and reduce your child’s tantrums

If you have lost control of your troubled child and your household (most of us have), you know how hard it is to get things back on track.  This is especially for following house rules. Each time you try to enforce a rule, it’s ignored, or your child throws a huge tantrum, and you give in rather than expend more of your precious energy.  Who wants to invite another backlash?  Who wouldn’t give up, and choose the lesser of two bad options by allowing them to get their way?

A powerful tantrum is a good thing… only if you’re holding the line.  It’s evidence that you are regaining authority.

This seems counterintuitive, but the more your child fights back, the more power they lose, and the more you recover your authority.  It is normal to fight back harder and harder against rules and boundaries, then have an over-the-top tantrum.  It’s a psychological response that psychologists call an “extinction burst.”  It means the original behavior goes extinct and behavior improves thereafter.  It has been measured through behavioral observations of people of all ages and has nothing to do with troubled behavior.  The term “extinction burst” is even used by dog and horse trainers to describe a behavioral change in training. 

It goes like this: parents set a rule and start firmly enforcing it, and one of two things happen: 1) a huge tantrum, or 2) things are OK for a little while, and then tantrums start again.  If you can hold the line, psychological studies show that when massive tantrums fade, the extinction burst peaks.  They give up their own power and change their behavior.  Look at this diagram:  The vertical scale indicates level of bad behavior.  When a rule is firmly enforced (intervention), the tantrum peaks then it falls off quickly.

If you can stick it out through that huge tantrum, you will see fewer tantrums over time.  It works, but one must be like a rock and have support when The Big One happens. But be prepared, you might need to face several extinction bursts.  Little by little, simple rules will be followed, or they’ll be followed most of the time (you will always be tested).  But by this point, enforcement becomes easier.

Plan for major tantrums ahead of time and recruit help for holding a firm protective wall.

For explosive and aggressive children, it can be scary or dangerous to be on the receiving end because you know about the potential for violence and harm.  Prepare family members and others, and explain how the tantrum will be handled and how everyone will be kept safe.

Rules for house rules:

  1. Few
  2. Fair
  3. Strictly Enforced

Run a tight ship at home, but only have a few hard-and-fast rules, maybe 2 or 3, to save your energy.  Holding fast on enforcement is draining. Pick the rules carefully because they need to make sense and feel fair to everyone. Rules should also consider safety and family wellbeing, examples: we will eat every dinner together as a family; curfew is 8 pm; if there is any outburst, the person must stay in their room for 15 minutes, then they can come out, etc.

You may be surprised how relieved everyone will be after living through chaos for so long!  They will be thankful someone is finally in charge instead of the troubled child.  When I put on my armor and set about getting my power back, it was exhausting and very stressful, but consistent order brought a sense of security and safety. Use common sense and be flexible, set aside some rules temporarily if your child is in crisis or the family is too stressed at the moment.  Be very strict on only a few critical things, for example:  have zero tolerance for violence against others and alcohol and drug use.

You earn more respect when you are in control and better protect everyone’s peace of mind. 

You are the king or queen of your home, it is not a democracy.  Make reasonable and fair rules, enforce the rules with an iron hand at first, and then relax bit by bit, and live in a peaceable kingdom (with problems you can handle).

 –Margaret
When parents disagree on discipline

When parents disagree on discipline

Your primary relationship comes first

Stress can affect the most solid relationships. Families like yours, with a troubled child, have a higher divorce rate than the general population, 50% higher. Coping with your child will bring out any and all relationship issues that may have been manageable under normal circumstances. If your relationship is falling apart, and it was mostly healthy before this period of stress, then it must be a priority over the child for now. Get counseling, if not together than singly. Or ask for help from supportive friends–prayers, cheerleading, or the opportunity to vent. Partners must stand by each other and present a solid front as the family leaders. This is just as important for your child as it is for you. Let this draw you closer together rather than pull you apart.

The most common situation I’ve seen is men emphasizing discipline and women emphasizing protection–neither is wrong.

This must be worked out and balanced.  Your mission must be identical and your goals must be balanced.  Sometimes the child needs discipline, and sometimes they need protection and nurturing.  Discipline need not be uncaring or harmful, and protectiveness need not be enabling.  While your grapple with this ongoing polarity, here’s a good way to manage in the mean time.

  • Stand strong, shoulder-to-shoulder
    If you strongly disagree, then together make a list of the things you agree on and worry about the disagreements later. This list should include:
  • List each parent’s strong points, so you can remember what attracted you in the first place, and strengthen your bond and respect.
  • Never ever argue in front of children, and make a rule for how and where to argue.  Observing parents arguing creates problems that worsen your child’s behavior.  Stress is an obvious result.  But what about kids who manipulate their parents in order to get their way with something?  Parents can be played against each other!  This happened to me and it damaged my relationship with my children’s father for years (yes, we divorced too).  Don’t let this happen to you.
  • An agreed-upon role for each parent, which is something that they’re good at.  If one parent is competent at handling a specific challenge, the other steps back, and vice versa.
  • Take turns managing the household for a period while the other takes a break.
  • Set aside personal feelings temporarily to co-manage one specific little problem at a time, a problem you both agree on.

Have each other’s back

A true story with names changed:

Susan and her daughter Pam were constantly fighting over who hurt who the most by what each said. Jason, husband and father, was frustrated and angry by these conflicts, but avoided interfering because he knew he’d upset both his wife and daughter. Yet Jason was always able to calm Pam down quickly because their relationship was different. One day, Jason took his wife aside and suggested they try something. He suggested that Susan step back from certain daily interactions with Pam, those which always ended in fights, and let him do the communicating. Susan did not like the idea that Pam had “won” by getting all of her dad’s attention, nor did she like the implication she couldn’t handle their daughter! But Jason came up with the idea that if he saw Susan and Pam slipping into a fight, he would use a code phrase, like “Hey dear, can you help me find the _____?”, and Susan would catch herself, save face by stepping out to look for the ____, and let Dad take over. This worked wonders rather quickly. Nothing was ever discussed openly, but after a few weeks, both mother and daughter started to catch themselves starting a fight, and one or both would find some reason to step away from the situation.

–Margaret

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