In trouble

Sometimes I believe my son actually ENJOYS all the negativity his oppositional and defiant behavior brings upon him. Could that possibly be the case? Can a child really “enjoy” being in trouble constantly? If so, what can I do about it?

The short answer is, “Absolutely!” Like so many facets of behavior, however, there are deeper issues that play into what’s going on.

Power and Control

One huge issue is the power and control a youngster like your son experiences when he can control the emotions and behavior of an adult. Early on in my practice, I had a young patient who had his father by the throat (figuratively speaking, of course). He could make a lot of stuff happen by squeezing on that hold. Unfortunately, Dad played right into the son’s game. All the boy had to do was forget a chore, for instance, and Dad would go into a tirade.

Just imagine this picture. All the boy had to do was neglect taking out the trash and he got a first-rate floor show, and he knew he made it happen, and could make it happen any time he wanted. Although the boy didn’t like the hard edge of Dad’s wrath (consequences bordered on abuse), part of him delighted in the power and control he had over the old man.

Your situation probably is not as severe as the example I just shared, but I strongly believe that an adult’s response to oppositional, defiant and noncompliant behavior has a great deal to do with those behaviors happening again and again. It’s not the sort of payoff you can reach out and touch, but it’s a powerful, intangible payoff that a youngster can grow to prefer. Why? Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley say it well in their book, Transforming the Difficult Child:

“The energy, reactivity and animation that we radiate when we are pleased is relatively flat compared to our verbal and nonverbal responses to behaviors that cause us displeasure, frustration or anger.”

How Do We Change Things?

1. Refuse to become overly upset. If there is a consequence to be applied, apply it, then physically remove yourself from the situation, if you can. Youngsters don’t like consequences. If you hang around, they just might go through their entire script of unhappiness.

2. Work out all the consequences in advance, and write them down. Discuss with your child what would be reasonable consequences for forgotten tasks or inappropriate behaviors. When they are not in a defensive mood or “on-the-spot,” many youngsters will come up with excellent consequences as you consider what would be reasonable and fair for a given situation. (These are called “elicited” consequences. If the youngster helps you with the consequences, he’ll be less likely to say they are unfair when you later have to apply them.) Type all this up on the computer (better yet, let the youngster do it). Go over it again with them, and give them a copy of the signed document. Later, instead of telling them the consequence for a behavior, produce the list, and ask them to read it to you. There’s something about a child or teen stating a consequence in their own voice that takes a lot of the fight out of the situation.

3. Attend to your child when he’s NOT in trouble. Although this makes a lot of sense on the surface, we live in a busy, busy world. When our kids create trouble, we have to attend to it, but it’s easy to let relationships slide when there’s no emergency. Make a commitment just to be with the youngster for a few moments on a regular basis. A parent’s physical presence, especially in those few moments before their child goes to sleep, is a powerful and positive thing.

4. Consider ways to provide additional empowerment. For some kids, getting adults worked up into a full lather appeals to them because they feel that’s the only way they have any power at all. A simple way to increase empowerment is to offer more choices, where appropriate. In assigning chores, for instance, give them five tasks and explain they can give two of them back to you if they do three of them by a certain time.

5. Learn to live more calmly in an imperfect world. This one certainly applies to all of us. I have to work on it every day.

Jim415smAlthough a nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist, Dr. James Sutton deeply values his first calling as a teacher. Today he is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters and his skill for speaking, writing and training on this subject. He is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network, a radio-style podcast and blog promoting happy and healthy youngsters and families.
Photo credit: horrigans / Foter / CC BY-NC

Faced with Unwanted Behavior?

Faced with Unwanted Behavior? Ask, “What Does it Mean? Not, “What Do I Do?

unwanted behavior

Children of all ages demonstrate unwanted behaviors. They don’t always do what good-hearted parents wish. Babies cry after they’ve been fed, changed, stimulated and hugged. Toddlers make messes after you’ve just cleaned up. Two- and Three-Year-Olds thrive on saying, “No.”

And so it progresses as children, tweens, and teens don’t follow rules you carefully lay out on their behalf. What’s a parent to do?

You lay out your expectations, set routines, and give all the love you have in your heart. But kids still misbehave. Why? What’s it all about anyway?

Three Big Questions to Ask Using Parental Intelligence when Kids Demonstrate Unwanted Behavior
1. WHY?”
2. What Does Behavior Mean?
3. How Do I Understand My Child’s Mind?

There seems to be a common parenting belief that unwanted behavior must have immediate consequences. It’s counterintuitive to not act instantaneously when your child is disobedient. Discipline and punishment are considered the cornerstones of parenting. But how do you punish what you don’t understand?

How Unwanted Behavior Can Show Positive Emotional Development

It’s also counterintuitive to consider that unwanted behavior can be positive; that behavior can guide parents. But if behavior is understood, if we know what it’s about, that’s precisely what you may learn.

Three-Year-Old Example:
You ask, “Why does my three-year-old love saying, “No” when I ask him to put his toy in the bin?” With the answer you make a discovery about his growing development. He says, “No” not because he doesn’t want to listen to you, but because he’s exercising his newfound autonomy.

If you tell him to stand in the corner until he listens, he feels defeated and maybe even scared depending on your tone of voice. But if you realize it’s about feeling independent, a positive developmental step, you might say, “Okay. Put it in the bin when you want to.”

Presto! He puts it in the bin. If you thought his misbehavior was about not learning to listen or cleaning up, you would have been incorrect. Oops! He just wants to show you he can think for himself. He feels proud that he puts his toys away.

Unwanted Behavior is a Catalyst to Change

Teen Example:
Your teenager starts slamming doors. You might take away her technology for the weekend for not having regard for others. However, she just hides away in her room frustrated and angry because she doesn’t feel understood. After the punishment, the doors are slammed again. What’s going on?

Punishment is making things worse because now your teen isn’t even talking to you. You start to notice that the doors slam when you and your spouse are arguing. It dawns on you there may be a link between the parental ruckus and the door slamming.

One quiet evening, you mention to your daughter that she seems to slam her door when you and your spouse argue. She says bluntly, “Are you getting a divorce?”The whole picture changes. She was scared that her life would change. While the arguments were going on, she didn’t have the courage to speak up and express herself except by the action of slamming the door and hiding in her room by herself.

Now that you understand, you have an open discussion about whether the arguing was something she needed to worry about or not. Slamming the door actually was a catalyst for talking together.
She doesn’t have to know what her parents are arguing about if it’s not in her best interest, but now she knows she can tell her parents how it is affecting her. This paves the way for future discussions and a stronger parent-child relationship.

Key Elements of Parental Intelligence
• Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior
• Understanding What is on Your Child’s Mind.

Once the meaning of behavior is understood, you know your child’s thoughts and feelings, underlying problems surface, resolutions follow, and parents and children grow together.

Four Tips for Using Parental Intelligence when Faced with Puzzling Behavior

1. Step Back before you take any action when your child misbehaves. This means refraining from immediate consequences and punishment until you understand the puzzling behavior. Don’t judge or make assumptions about the behavior. Stay calm and you’re child will see you trying to refrain from reacting too quickly and will calm down, too.

2. Speak in Quiet Tones when you see unwanted behavior especially if your child is screaming or raising his voice. When you speak in quiet tones, your child has to strain to hear you. This will calm him down and get his attention.

3. Contain Your Gestures when you see disturbing behavior. If your child, for example, is jumping up and down in distress, waving her arms, lying on the floor or other disorganized movements your more restrained gestures and gentle movements will provide the safety and security needed during those moments.

4. Be Respectful of Your Child when she is in distress emotionally. This means avoid yelling or speaking to your child in ways you wouldn’t want to be spoken to. Sometimes children say things that hurt their parents’ feelings and it’s tempting to strike back and regret it later. Monitor your choice of words so you stay in the position of the older generation who is able to sustain a barrage of comments from a child who is out of control or scared. Then your child feels safer and calms down because he knows he’s with a trusted adult who loves him.

laura hoffmanLaurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with specialized clinical training in infant-parent, child, adolescent and adult psychotherapy. Her new book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, and wherever books are sold. Dr. Hollman has been on the faculties of New York University and the Society for Psychoanalytic Study and Research, among others. She has written extensively on parenting for various publications, including the Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, The International Journal of Infant Observation, The Inner World of the Mother, Newsday’s Parents & Children Magazine, Long Island Parent, and her popular column, PARENTAL INTELLIGENCE, at Moms Magazine. She also writes blogs for Huffington Post.

Photo credit: theloushe / / CC BY-NC-ND

Tips to Organizing Your Kitchen Cabinets

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mason jar craft

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Young professor

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Happy Birthday baby!

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