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Archive for May, 2012

Is your child the “problem” or are their behaviors the symptom of another family issue?  I have worked with families in therapy and in coaching who are struggling with the behavior of a child.  When we talk about what is happening, they are absolutely correct to be concerned about the behaviors and to get support to address them.  Whether the child is completely withdrawn or acting out and not obeying rules, the concerns are valid without a doubt.  What is always interesting to me, however, is what we are able to uncover when digging a little deeper.  Often times, we find that the “problem” behaviors are actually a mask for other problems or concerns that may be going on in the home.  I am not saying this is always the case or that anyone is to blame for this, however, it is important to recognize this as a possibility because once families see this…things can change for the better.

It is very common for parents to be in situations where they are carrying around a lot of stress (financial, career, relationship, etc) and because of this stress, they may have a change in their presentation.  They may be more shut down or they may have less frustration tolerance and a shorter fuse at home.  This can then result in children either acting out in response to a parent’s short fuse or in children withdrawing in an effort to avoid the negative mood or fighting of parents.  Children sometimes engage in certain behaviors as a means of trying to control a situation they do not like or as a means of getting attention or letting parents know that they are not OK with what is going on.  Of course, it is preferred that they use their words and express themselves verbally however, children and teens are often not at a point developmentally where they can do this effectively or they do not feel they can speak up about something that is bothering them.  There are many ways this can play out in a family but what is important to note is that in such situations, the child can be labeled as the “problem” which results in a lot of focus being placed on the negative behaviors of the child which can then result in even more negative behaviors.  When this happens, the real concern is not addressed (parents who are carrying around too much stress, parents who are having adult relationship issues or financial issues, etc.) who now have even more stress and frustration because of their child’s behaviors so the problem is less likely to ever improve.

Below are some tips for parents who may be in this situation.  These tips will help you look at the larger picture and assess if there are things that are within your control to change which can result in positive changes for the entire family unit:

  1. Identify clearly the behavior you see in your child which is problematic and be clear about what you would like to see different.
  2. Try to see if there are any patterns to this behavior (certain time of the day, days of the week or following certain situations).
  3. Objectively think about how it may be connected to other things going on in the home (during hectic times, following someone having a bad day at work, following an adult argument, when others are preoccupied with other things in the home, etc).
  4. Even if you are not sure if there is a connection, try to see how this behavior can fit into the bigger family dynamic and then think about what you can change within the family dynamic.
  5. Change something – think about what you can change and stick with it for a few weeks and see if things get better.  Some examples may be:  focus less on their negative behavior and give them more praise when things are going well, make sure they are not exposed to adult arguing, take an extra 10 minutes after work to de-stress so that you come home in a better frame of mind or let them know that you will need some time when you first get home to unwind so that you feel less stress.  There are many, many things you can try based on your individual family situation so get creative!

When we live as part of a family system, the behavior of one impacts the behavior of all – even small changes can result in very positive and lasting results for all members of the family.

For more parenting information and free resources go to www.HowToParentATeen.com

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I feel that talking about and planning for summer is an important topic each year.   Teenagers look forward to their summer break and usually start the countdown right after April vacation.  Whether you have a teenager home from college or a teenager out of high school (or middle school) for the summer, you are potentially less thrilled than they are about the summer “break”.  Parents often struggle with the summer breaks because they feel like their teen may have too much unstructured time or that they may “sleep their days away”.  In addition to this, they generally also want their teens to be able to have some time to relax, have fun and enjoy their time off from school.

I have found that when teenagers do not have any plans or expectations for the summer that it does not go well.  It is generally not healthy to have teenagers sleeping all day or not having any sort of responsibility for the entire summer.  Of course there are some teenagers who will work all summer full-time and there are some who will fight the idea of working or committing to any schedule as long as they possibly can.  It is my experience that doing some planning for the summer and giving teens choices produces the best results that are agreeable to both teens and their parents.

Below are some suggestions I have given to my private clients that I have seen work out well for teenagers during their summer breaks:

  1. Have a discussion with your teen prior to the summer where you set some expectations.  (For Example:  “I know that you want to have time to spend with your friends and relax this summer but three days per week you will need to be up and ready to leave the house by 10am –  the other days you can relax and sleep in more if you want”)  Such discussions both set the expectation and offer your teen some choice.
  2. Let your teen know that they will have household chores to do – outline them clearly (maybe make a chart) and negotiate any allowance they will receive (if this is something you have for them but it is certainly not necessary) if successfully completing their chores.  Hold them accountable to doing their chore before you give them any allowance.
  3. Let your teen know that they will be expected to work (if age appropriate) or volunteer for a certain number of hours per week.  I have had families who have had their teens volunteer at the following places, however, there are many, many more based on your teens interests and your location:  animal shelter, nursing home, hospital, library, daycare center, in a work setting that is of interest to them similar to an internship or apprenticeship, soup kitchen.  I once worked with a girl who volunteered to help clean in a gym in exchange for a summer gym membership which worked out really well.
  4. If your teenager is old enough to work, have them start filling out applications now – the earlier the better rather than waiting for everyone else who is finishing up school to begin doing the same thing.
  5. If your teen is not old enough to work you may encourage them to offer to mow lawns, walk dogs, baby sit locally, etc.  These are great ways to begin to teach responsibility and to help them earn a little extra money.
  6. Explore any appropriate summer sports leagues / camps.  This is a great way to help structure your teens days if this is an area of interest for them.
  7. Explore other enrichment activities:  art classes, music lessons, sewing classes, computer classes, photography classes, sailing classes, dance classes, etc.  Many of the local community colleges have programs for students during the summer months which offer a wide range of classes.

It is always best to find something that helps build both responsibility and competency in your teenager which will benefit them as they grow into young adults.

For more Parenting Tips designed specifically for parents of teenagers, go to www.HowToParentATeen.com.

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Does your teen have Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or do you suspect they do?  If so, they will respond differently than most teens when you try to set limits or implement consequences.  They will often rebel and will challenge you more, disregard rules more and sometimes even thrive on conflict and pushing your buttons because it gives them a sense of power and control.  Having a teenager who is ODD does not make them a bad person by any means.  Teens with ODD are often very bright, creative, determined and have many of the same strengths other teenagers have.  With that said, they can be very challenging and tiring for parents because of their determination and willfulness.  Below I offer a brief clinical description of ODD and then some tips for parents of teenagers with ODD who are struggling with managing their challenging behaviors.

Criteria for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD):

At least 4 of the following behaviors must have been present for 6 months or more for a child to meet the formal clinical diagnosis for ODD

  • Often loses temper
  • Often argues with adults
  • Often purposefully defies rules
  • Often purposefully annoys others
  • Often blames others for their mistakes or bad behavior
  • Often is easily annoyed by others
  • Often is angry or resentful
  • Often is spiteful or vindictive

(All of these are behaviors that most parents see to some level in teenagers, however, teenagers may meet the criteria for this diagnosis if the behaviors are frequent and more severe than the average teen)

In addition, these behaviors:

  • Cause significant problems at home or at school
  • Are not due to another Mental Health diagnosis
  • Do not meet the level of Conduct Disorder (teens with conduct disorder are more likely to be violent, steal and become involved in criminal activity)

If you believe your teenager has ODD, you can certainly explore getting professional support for them as well as for you since parenting can be increasingly challenging and frustrating.  There are formal evaluations that can be done by a therapist or even at school if you feel these would be helpful.  The good news is that many teenagers grow out of this diagnosis and the challenging and rebel behaviors go away as they enter adulthood.  One of the biggest frustrations for parent with teens with ODD, as I mentioned above, is getting them to follow the rules and to care about the consequences.  Below are some suggestions for parents who are struggling with this issue:

  1. Be really clear about the rules and keep them as consistent as possible:  I often suggest that parents write the rules down and both parent and teen sign them which makes it harder for teens to challenge them, manipulate them or say they did not know about them in the moment.
  2. Do not give chances:  the rules need to be the rules ALL the time and need to be enforced consistently.  If a teen with ODD thinks they have any wiggle room or that they can bully or badger you into changing the rules, you will be challenged over and over which will result in your feeling completely drained.
  3.  Only issue consequences you can enforce 100%:  this is the biggest and most important part of all of this.  Teens with ODD are those who, when grounded from the phone, will still sneak on it when you are sleeping.  Or when they are grounded from going out, they will sneak out the window.  If you issue a consequence you cannot fully enforce, you will lose powerSome examples of ways I have helped parents with this issue are:  completely turning off the cell phone service or blocking the internet service in the house, taking away a laptop or unplugging the keyboard from the computer and locking it in the trunk of the car where it cannot be accessed, restricting providing rides for teens to do fun things or restricting spending money given to them.  They will still try to get around these things and will likely have some level of success.  If you restrict them from the phone, they will use friend’s cell phone, so what is important when issuing these consequences is to say something to your teenager like, “Because you did not come home again on time for your curfew, I have taken your cell phone and you will not be allowed to use it for one week”.  (you are not saying that they are not able to talk on the phone at all for a week because you know they can use a friend’s phone – you are saying they will not be able to talk on THEIR phone for a week which is something you CAN control 100%).

This can be tiring to say the least and parents often feel like they are being punished too by having to turn off the internet or dealing with their teenager’s constant badgering when consequences are issues and enforced.  This is all very true and is the reason why many parents throw in the towel and give full control over to their teenager.  But it does not have to be that way – get the support you need and if you are consistent, you will see progress.

For more tips on staying consistent, go to the How To Parent A Teen website at www.HowToParentATeen.com and download the free audio program for parents of teenagers.

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“Island of Competence” is a term coined by Dr. Robert Brooks and is a term I love. What this is (and this applies to adults too), is a term for those things inIsland life that make us feel valuable and make us feel good about ourselves.  These are the things that give us a sense of accomplishment and that make us feel important despite all the things that can make us feel the opposite of this.  Our Islands of Competence are our strengths.  Teenagers need these islands in their lives so that they can feel connected, important and like they have something to contribute to the world.  Without this, they are swimming around in a sea of feeling like a failure, like they don’t belong, like they are not wanted and like they are not valuable.  Floating in this sea of negativity and loneliness for too long can have many potential negative consequences for teenagers (depression, anger, falling in with a negative crowd, engaging in at-risk behaviors or self-destruction).  If your teenager is experiencing any of these, you may want to seek professional help but also, really try to help them find their Islands of Competence.  Teens would much rather be involved in things that they can be proud of and which make them feel good about themselves than in negative things – they may just need some help, support and encouragement so that they are able to see what positive things they can offer the world.

So, as a parent, how can you help your teen find their Island of Competence? 

1.       Make a real effort to frame things in the positive when possible.   If your teenager is having difficulties in school that need to be addressed, make sure the discussion also includes the positive things they are doing because perhaps those things can be used to help resolve the negative things.

2.       Be open.  Be open to topics or interests your teenager brings up, even if they seem bazaar or unusual to you.  Try to keep an open mind and have your teen educate you about them.  Be interested and see if these interests can be channeled into a positive activity, hobby, etc.

3.       Reinforce the positive.  We get more of what we focus on so focusing on the positive things your teen is doing or the positive things they are expressing interest in will get you more of those things.  “Catch them being good” and don’t let the frustrating or negative things they are doing completely overshadow any positive things.  This will open their eyes to their own positive qualities as well.

4.       Help your teen reach outside their comfort zone.  Teens may sometimes have interests that are not “typical” teenage interests so they will talk themselves out of them because of their fear of what others may say or think.  Help them to not do this.  Help them to pursue their interests and feel safe doing this so that they are able to give new things a try.Father and boy

5.       Help them see their talents.  Take notice of all the little things your teen does well and tell them about these things as they come up.  Encourage other adults in their life to do the same.

6.       Help your teenager brainstorm ways of connecting with others around their strengths.  Whether it is sports, drawing, writing, singing, dancing, reading, debating, swimming, mentoring younger children, talking to or keeping the elderly company, caring for animals, science, bike riding, cooking, taking pictures, hiking, playing a musical instrument, volunteering, or so many other things…help them see how these things make them special, valuable and how they can been used to connect with others.  Sometimes this takes brainstorming on the part of parents also but it is well worth it to see your teenagers find their own Islands of Competence.

Go to the How To Parent A Teen website for more tips and support specific to Parenting Teens.

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I have worked with so many parents who talk about the frustration and sadness they feel about how rude, disrespectful and entitled their children can be at times and with the amount of arguing that goes on in their homes.  I think what can be so difficult is that as adults, many of us could never imagine speaking to our parents or doing the things that we see some children doing today.  Let’s face it, we are living in a different time with kids being exposed to things that make them want to grow up faster, with kids being exposed to other kids doing bad things more often and with increased challenges in supervising children (more parents working, social media, more controversial content on TV, etc).  These are certainly not excuses for bad behavior, however, it helps to remember that kids today are living in a different world and navigating through different challenges.

What these behaviors can do for many families is create unbelievable conflicts where parents are accused of being old-fashioned, not understanding, unfair, ridiculous…and worse.  This leaves children extremely frustrated with their parents and leaves parents extremely frustrated, hurt and disappointed with their children.  The dynamic that then plays out is one where children and their parents are on opposite sides of the battle field, both fighting for the “win” they so desperately want.

The problem is, it should not be about a win/lose situation.  It should be about what is best for the family and what is in the best interest of the children.  When parents are able to shift their mindset to this, situations can be easier to manage and responses can be more thoughtful and proactive rather than only reactive.  When parents remain calm, they are more in control and children understand this.

Let’s face it though, it is not easy to stay calm when your child is challenging you, questioning you, nagging you and telling you how awful you are, right?  What is important though, is that you DO stay calm during these times.  When anyone yells and repeats themselves over and over, it is generally coming from a place where they feel out of control (kids do the same – the less they feel heard, the louder they yell).  When parents yell and make harsh decisions in the moment based on strong emotions, children sense this and they know that they are in the driver’s seat.  If you are a parent who has done this, you are far from alone – most, if not all parents, do this because it is a natural reaction to a strong emotional state.  However, it typically results in either an unrealistic, excessive punishment, in saying things that shouldn’t be said or in having a completely ineffective conversation.

If you are a parent who wants to reduce your arguing with your teenager, try implementing the tips below:

  1. Control your behavior, don’t try to control theirs:  you have 100% control over your reactions and if you remain respectful and calm, it will make a difference.  When we change our behaviors, the behaviors of those around us usually change.  Don’t spend all your energy trying to make your teen stop yelling or swearing…just control what you do.
  2. Give your teen a quota:  expect that your teen will make some mistakes and will become emotional and remember that they have many lessons to learn during this time in their lives.  If you give yourself a quota (for example…your teenager will yell about a rule at least once per week), then you are going to be better prepared for this when it occurs and will not respond in a reactive way.  Over time, you will be able to help them better manage their emotions if your emotions remain under control.
  3. Don’t feel the need to rescue them all the time:  your teen will make mistakes and may have to tolerate some uncomfortable consequences for these mistakes.  This is healthy and will help them learn to be good decision makers.  Don’t feel like you need to control or prevent them from making all bad decisions.  They will end up resenting you for trying to “control them” and will never fully understand the consequences of bad decision-making.
  4.  When they are talking…listen:  when your teen is talking (even if you feel that the arguments they are making are not legitimate), listen to them.  Let them know that you are hearing them so that they don’t have to keep raising their voice.
  5. Walk away:  don’t continue to engage in an unproductive conversation that keeps going back and forth.  If you are on one side of a tennis court and walk away, the other person can no longer hit the ball back and forth – the same is true with interpersonal interactions.  If you disengage from the fight, there is no longer a fight to be had.  Simply say something like, “I don’t think this conversation is helpful to either one of us so I am going to leave until we are both calm enough to talk about this in a better way”.  Then leave (walk off the court)…if they want to get in the last word or comment as a means of re-engaging you…resist and urge to respond and maintain your control.

This is not always an easy thing to do but when done consistently it really makes a difference.  For some great tips on additional techniques that will improve your communication, relationship and overall parenting confidence with your teen – go to www.HowToParentATeen.com  and  gain instant access to the free audio program titled 3 Power Strategies for Parents of Teenagers.

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Parenting a teenager (or any child for that matter) is not an easy job, yet it is the most important job in the world.  Parents are faced with daily challenges and decisions that need to be made based on their gut, intuition and common sense – as well as being based on the love and committment they have for their children.  This sometimes leads parents to just want to make difficult situations their children are facing go away – why wouldn’t they?  They love their children and don’t want to ever see them in pain, in trouble or suffering in any way.  The problem is this however…pain, trouble and suffering are all part of the human experience.  I know we don’t like to think about it but throughout our lives, we are always going to be faced with challenges, with situations that scare us and with situations that make us sad.  These situations are part of life and we will need to deal with them when they cross our paths and children will need to deal with these same things when they are adults.

So as a parent, rather than rescuing your child from the tough stuff,  you want to give them the tools they will need to deal with stress, frustration, fear, sadness and all the other things that WILL affect them in their adults lives.  You will want them to learn the skills to deal with these situations when they are children, rather than when they are adults and the stakes are much higher.

Below are a few tips you can use when these difficult situations arise for your child so that you are teaching them skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives:

1.  Help them talk about the situation calmly:  role model being calm yourself and help your child learn to express what they are feeling and what their dilemma’s are in a clear, calm manner

2.  Help them review all options available to them:  don’t give them the solution but rather, ask questions that will help them see all of the possibilities they have for solving their situation in a way that results in the best overall outcome

3.  Resist the urge to give them the answer or to intervene on their behalf:  try to hold back, even if it is difficult, and give them the space to try to figure out how best to proceed when they are in a difficult situation (obviously if there are safety concerns you should intervene and do whatever is necessary to keep your teen and others safe)

4.  Offer suggestions for dealing with difficult emotions:  children need to learn frustration tolerance and emotional management skills which will allow them to be more effective in managing difficult situations.  Listening to music to calm down, exercising, talking, writing or journaling, distracting their mind, deep breathing and many other activities can help when emotions are high and thinking becomes clouded

5.  Support them in developing a plan to avoid a similar situation in the future:  rather than lecturing, blaming and telling them what they did wrong, encourage them to talk to you about how they think they can avoid having a similar situation happen again in the future.

It can be tempting to fix things and make life as easy for those people who you love the most, however, when you do that, valuable lessons get lost and the development of critical skills does not take place, leaving children without the necessary skills they need to be successful in their adult life.  For more information and parenting advice, go to www.HowToParentATeen.com and sign up for our weekly Ezine and Free Audio Program:  3 Powerful Strategies For Parents Of Teenagers. 

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