Love Never Gives Up

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

A recent article by Scientific American reviews desperate attempts to change unruly teen behavior around. One of the toughest challenges is to reach an adolescent who is angry, defiant and acting out in destructive ways. Confrontational strategies and harsh punishment, the article explains, has only short-term benefits. No studies prove lasting results from this type of “scared straight” intervention. So what does work? The article ends with this summarization:

“…results show that merely imposing harsh discipline on young offenders or frightening them is unlikely to help them refrain from problematic behavior. Instead teens must learn enduring tools—including better social skills, ways to communicate with parents and peers, and anger management techniques—that help them avoid future aggression. Several effective interventions do just that, including cognitive-behavior therapy, a method intended to change maladaptive thinking patterns and behaviors, and multisystemic therapy, in which parents, schools and communities develop programs to reinforce positive behaviors. Another well-supported method, aimed at improving behavior in at-risk children younger than eight years, is parent-child interaction therapy. Parents are coached by therapists in real time to respond to a child’s behavior in ways that strengthen the parent-child bond and provide incentives for cooperation [see “Behave!” by Ingrid Wickelgren; Scientific American Mind, March/April 2014].”

What can you do to strengthen your bond with your child? How can you reach his or her heart, locked behind a wall of pain and anger? Don’t expect overnight miracles. Turning your defiant teen around will require consistency and continual micro-shifts of change in you and your child. You will probably blow it on days and be exhausted from the effort on others. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Focus on who the child will be and not on who they have been or what they are doing. Consequences are natural and necessary. Boundaries are even more important! Just don’t equate your love with positive behavior. Nothing your child does should make you love him or her any less and nothing can make you love them more. 

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” I Corinthians 13:7 (NLT)

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Is It Talking Back or Assertiveness: How to teach appropriate behavior

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

Parents will tell me that they want a child who can speak their mind and express themselves in an articulate and assertive manner but no one enjoys a child who argues, talks back or refuses to do anything they are asked to do. Typically, we call this latter description: Oppositional or Defiant behavior. 

Clinically, it is describe as any person who shows a pattern of…

A.  negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present:
(1) often loses temper
(2) often argues with adults
(3) often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules
(4) often deliberately annoys people
(5) often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
(6) is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
(7) is often angry and resentful
(8) is often spiteful or vindictive

It is hard to differentiate between talking back and being assertive. When this is the case, I suggest that parents have children “Redo” a defiant comment or action. Ask the child to repeat what they want in a different tone of voice, manner of approach or without the tantrum or door slamming. It is important that parents stay as calm as possible. Take a few deep breaths and ask the child to do the same and then have them “Redo” the behavior one to five times. The reason for the longer repetition is that not only does it reinforce the behavior in a positive manner and teach a more appropriate social skill but it also “satiates” (read “bores the child”) the inappropriate behavior. Children hate boring tasks but will feel rewarded when they get what they want through appropriate words and actions. 

Hey, try this on your husband too 🙂

Learn more power parenting tools with Ron Huxley’s parenting book: 

Love and Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting

Nagging Never Works

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

Parenting teenagers can be a frustrating time for parents. They feel the need to nag, threaten, lecture and even yell to get them to be compliant. Research shows that this parenting actions create oppositional and defiant children. This is the opposite of what parents want. They desire compliant, fun-to-be-around children. 

Of course, no one likes to be nagged. Parents do not like it from their spouses or employers, so why would we think that children like it? How you show a child to do something and ask them to do it makes a lot of difference in how motivated they are to comply with you. 

Dr. Kazdin, Ph.D., author of the book The Kazdin Method: Parenting the Oppositional and Defiant Child, suggest parents have their practice the behavior they want when they parent is not frustration (which could be a rare moment). This practice is fueled by the parent being playful about it and using praise in very specific ways. Humiliation and shame is not the motive here. Even though Kazdin is more focused on behavior than attachment, the reparative actions of practicing in a playful way mimics what parents would do with younger children in a natural way which is typical of therapeutic work with traumatized children. 

What can you practice with your defiant teen that would build skills and not resentment? How can you increase cooperation with specific praise of your teens efforts to be helpful instead of argumentative? How a parent parents is a more powerful method than what tools a parents uses. 

Learn more power parenting tools with Ron Huxley’s parenting book: 

Love and Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting