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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Ron’s Reading: Keep Your Love On: Connection Communication And Boundaries

by Danny Silk

One of the most common aggravations experienced by parents is the “power struggle”. It usually happens when the parent has to get to work or needs to finish dinner or help the child with their homework. Right in the middle of this urgent time, the child decides to exercise their will and demand a treat or refuse to put on their shoes or wants to argue about some topic they really don’t know anything about. Regardless of the circumstance, the outcome is two yelling, arguing, snorting, bug-eyed people who just want the other person to do what they want them to do. No fun for anyone!

Why does this happen so often in families? Danny Silk is one of my favorite authors and I recommend his books to many of the parents I work with in family therapy or parenting workshops. In his book: “Keeping Your Love On: Connections, Communication & Boundaries” he shares how a family is a group of powerful people who are trying to learn how to live in powerful ways. He writes: “If you heard someone described as a powerful person, you might assume he or she would be the loudest person in the room, the one telling everyone else what to do. But powerful does not mean dominating. In fact, a controlling, dominating person is the very opposite of a powerful person. Powerful people do not try to control other people. They know it doesn’t work, and it’s not their job. Their job is to control themselves.” 

The trick, for parents, is not to demand respect but to create a respectful environment where non-respect, talking back and control simple can’t exist. Their just isn’t enough oxygen for those negative elements to survive. Learning how to be a powerful and responsible person is one of the most important tasks of parenting. 

You can get more information (and read along with me) on Danny’s book here: Keep Your Love On: Connection Communication And Boundaries

(affiliate link). 

What else is Ron reading? Click here to see…

The 5 Freedoms For Happier Relationships

By Virginia Satir

What is here,
Instead of what should be,
Was, or will be.

What one feels and thinks
Instead of what one should.

What one feels,
Instead of what one ought.

For what one wants,
Instead of always waiting
For permission.

In one’s own behalf,
Instead of choosing to be
Only “secure”
And not rocking the boat.

How often are each of these five freedoms present in your life?
1Never 2 Present  3 Infrequently Present 4 Often Present 5 Always Present

#1 – To See and Hear



#2 – To Say



#3 – To Feel



#4 – To Ask



#5 – To Take Risks




The Identified Problem in the Family is NOT You or Your Child by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Some people call them the “black sheep” of the family and are content to let them stay that way. Others try to change them and take them to psychologists and doctors. A few give up on them all together. This child is the “identified problem child” and many homes spend a lot of time and energy dealing with the member of the family. This rebellious, acting out child is most often seen in dysfunctional homes, where substance or physical abuse is taking place. The identified problem child serves a very important role in this type of family by balancing out the imbalance and protecting the abusive parent from outside interventions. In a lesser degree, even nonabusive families have children who cause more stress and trouble than other children in the home. This child resists parent’s efforts at discipline, is constantly mischievous, and appears to enjoy the attention that getting into trouble provides.

Family therapists have determined that the symptoms of the “identified problem” child are often a reaction to the family’s state of imbalance.  This imbalance can be anything from severe abuse to a mild family stressor, such as the illness of a parent or the loss of fathers job. The negative behavior of the “identified problem-child” may be an effort, albeit unconsciously, to alleviate the families pain.  The child becomes a stabilizing force to reduce stress and thereby return the family to its previous state of balance, even if it is an imbalanced one. A teenagers acting out, a school-age child’s poor grades, a young child’s temper tantrums — all may be efforts to stabilize an unstable system.

Thomas was an “A” student up until his parents announcement of their divorce. Suddenly, he began getting failing grades on his school report card. Fortunately, his parents recognized this behavior as a reaction to their devastating news and brought him in for therapy. After some time, Thomas’ bad grades were more than his depression over mom and dad’s split. They were also a way for him to save his parent’s marriage by forcing them to focus on him and away from the pain of the divorce.  He overheard his parents saying that they would have to come to the school together to talk to his teacher. This was a glimmer of hope, however feeble and small, that he could influence his parent’s decision.

Many parents react to the behavior and not to the underlying family system issues that might be taking place.  This is because, for many parents, it is easier to use the child as a scapegoat then focus on their own issues and problems.

Susan was an overly aggressive child.  She was kicked out of several preschools and was finally referred to a therapist when she viciously bit another child, drawing blood. The doctor recommended medication, but at 4 years of age, the parents felt something else might work.  Over time, it was found that Susan hurt other children to express her own feelings of being hurt.  Due to her poor communication skills, she demonstrates her own internal state by aggressively acting out the role of “I hurt, therefore I will hurt others.”  Her biological father had abandoned Susan when she was just a baby and her mother had recently married another man that Susan didn’t like. Her mother never saw the rejection as a reason for her behavior because she was so young when the biological father left.

When children are misbehaving they are said to be “acting out.”  What is the child acting out, exactly?  According to family systems theory, they are acting out the family’s pain.  Stated another way, when the family experiences sudden change, for better or worse, and members undergo stress, the “problem child” pops up ready to stabilize the family system.  Parents who are able to read their child’s behavior in this way will be able to help them express it in a more positive manner and cope with their “big” feelings or anger, frustration, and loss.

In some cases the best way to deal with the “child’s problem” is to include the whole family. Obviously, the child is not the real problem anyway and the whole family is affected by, and affecting, the child’s behavior. The first task of the family is to unmask the real problem and relabel it as a family issue versus a child centered one. This can be difficult, as other members of the family may have to share some of the blame and resist stepping down from the ideal child or parent pedestal. The next task is to find family focused solutions to the problem. This might involve improving family communication, adjusting family boundaries and rules, and renegotiating family activities.

In the case of Thomas, the parents did not get back together but they did increase their involvement with him and reassure them of their love for him, regardless of the divorce. It took a while for his grades to improve but with patience and cooperation they were able to get them back to normal. With Susan, the family started more family oriented activities and had the new father pick her up from preschool a couple of times a week to spend some one on one time together. This helped her feel connected to the new dad, lessening the hurt she felt from her biological father. With time, she started calling this new person “dad” and her aggressiveness completely stopped.

Not all children act out because of internal struggles but it does occur frequently enough that parents need to look for this as a possible explanation for their child’s behavior. They will have to set aside their own issues and struggles to accomplish this and that could be a difficult thing for many. Family members may need to redraw family roles and responsibilities, and change, even in the best of circumstances, is a difficult experience. The intervention for identified problem children is to look at the entire family system. Sometimes, the problem is bigger than we think!


Grieving All The Way: 12 Ways to Cope with Grief during the 12 Days of Christmas.

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

“Grieving boys,
Grieving girls,
Grieving in the home.
Oh what terrible pain it is 
when you lose someone you love.”

(Loosely sung to the tune of Jingle Bells).

This song is not meant to be disrespectful. It is meant to demonstrate how disrespectful society can be to children who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Christmas, according to our stories, is supposed to be a magical time of the year. Children, who have lost someone they love to death or divorce, shouldn’t have the wintertime blues, should they? They should be dreaming of a white Christmas, not having their dreams shattered, right? The true story of Christmas is that many children are grieving the loss of loved ones during this season, causing Christmas morning to turn into Christmas mourning. Parents can help their children by giving them twelve gifts, for the twelve days of Christmas, to help them cope during this painful time:

Gift # 1: Educate yourself about grief. Parents can unwittingly pass on their anxieties and fears to their children. Even the best actors will give themselves away. Children are tuned into adult’s nonverbal signals. Trying to hide painful feelings or awkward emotions will only increase children’s anxieties. They will assume they are “bad” or “responsible” for the absence of the loved one. Instead of hiding your emotions, learn about the stages of grief by reading books on the subject, attending support groups for families of loss, or working with a qualified family therapist. The better you care for yourself, the better you can care for your child.

Gift # 2: Let children teach you about grief. Children respond to loss in different ways. No way is the right way. Let children teach you how they think, feel, and respond to the loss. Walk along side the child in his or her personal journey. Notice the path and scenery as well as the direction you are headed. If children are taking a destructive route (suicide or self-harm) steer them in a different direction. Don’t wait till you are stepping over the edge. Be on the look out early in the journey for upcoming dangers. Talk to qualified educators and therapists about the warning signs of suicide, chronic depression, unrealistic fears, and other self-destructive behaviors if you are concerned.

Gift # 3: Wrap your child in relationship. Just as you would wrap a Christmas present in beautiful wrapping, with string and ribbons, you can wrap your child in relationship. Healing comes in connection with healthy people. It doesn’t make up for the loss, but it does provide children with a safe environment to heal. This requires that parents spend quality time with children and permit free expression of thoughts and feelings about the loss. If a child doesn’t want to spend time with a parent or healthy adult, give him or her some space but remain available to them. Occasionally ask them how they are feeling about the loss and stay involved, physically and emotionally. 

Gift # 4: Talk openly and honestly about the loss. Many cultures avoid the topic of grief. Because the person is gone, we want the painful feelings to be gone too. But this isn’t how grief works. Grief has its own time and space to do the work of healing in children’s lives. Children need to be able to talk openly and honestly about the loss. They may have questions that can’t be answered easily. Don’t avoid them. If you don’t know the answer to the question, be honest and say so. Never tell children silly stories or lies, by saying, “Grandpa went away on a trip.” 

Gift # 5: Don’t wait for the big talk. Use little, everyday experiences to talk to children about loss. If you find a bird has died in your yard or the gold fish dies in the fish tank, use that time to talk about your child’s thoughts and feelings around their loss. When your child’s friends move away and go to another school, talk about how that feels in relation to mom and dad’s divorce. Treat loss as a “serious curiosity.” Children are naturally curious and talking about your thoughts, feelings, and ideas about loss can be an equally natural experience.

Gift # 6: Respect children’s responses, however negative they may be. Some of children’s responses to loss might be unpleasant (grumpy, rude, oppositional), unattractive (poor hygiene, messy room, poor grades) or even frightening (inconsolable crying, insomnia, and refusal to eat). Take the necessary steps to respond to their responses. Don’t judge them or shame them. Respect their responses as one of many ways to cope with a difficult, overwhelming situation. Of course, not all responses are constructive. Stop destructive ones, but do it in a sensitive manner. In addition, children should not be allowed to set their own limits by avoiding responsibilities and rules. Continue to set limits while being flexible and understanding.

Gift # 7: Expect and understand that your child may have bodily reactions to loss. When children’s hearts hurt, so do their bodies. They may experience some somatic problems, such as, stomach aches or headaches. This can be perfectly normal and if not due to a physical problem, will go away with time and support. Always check these bodily reactions out with a physician to be sure. If conditions persist, and have not physical cause, consult with a child or family therapist.

Gift # 8: If someone has died, allow the child to attend the funeral. Although children are young they need to participate in a ceremony designed to say goodbye to a loved one and find some emotional closure. Although you should never force a child to go to a funeral, don’t exclude them either. Let them set the pace for each part of the ceremony. At each step of the way, ask them if they wish to participate. They may be comfortable attending a service but not viewing an open casket. Respect their wishes. Have someone who can take them home or wait outside with them if you wish to continue and they do not. 

Gift # 9: If the lose does not involve a death or a funeral, create a ceremony to perform with the child. Rituals, traditions, and ceremonies are important physical markers of our emotional territory. They create a solid boundary for starting and stopping an activity or relationship. In the case of a divorce, no ceremony exists for a child to gain closure. Make a special dinner and eat it in memory of the person who has left. Find rituals to mark the goings and coming of children from mom’s house to dad’s house. During the Christmas holiday, find special ways to celebrate that are uniquely different from the past, such as, caroling, doing volunteer work, baking breads, hanging a special ornament, reciting the advent message, etc.

Gift # 10: Give children permission to feel relief without it being interpreted as a lack of love. In some circumstances the loss of a loved one may bring relief. For example, a family member may have suffered from a chronic illness that produced great physically pain for the victim as well as emotional pain for the family. A divorce may result in the reduction of abuse (verbal, emotional, or physical) that occurred in the home prior to one parent leaving. Children may interpret this relief as a lack of love for the loved one. Explain the differences and give them permission to feel relief that the pain has stopped, not their love.

Gift # 11: Focus on the spiritual. Use times of loss as motivations to learn more about your religious beliefs and culture. Great comfort can be found in this neglected aspect of us. Turn to your religious and cultural leaders for support. Read age appropriate materials, with your child, on religious and cultural thoughts. Attend religious and cultural functions. Don’t worry that you won’t have all the spiritual answers to loss. That really isn’t the point. Although you will find some answers, the greatest benefit is recapturing or nurturing your spiritual self. 

Gift # 12: Prepare for hard work. Grieving is complicated. Fortunately, it is also natural. If you trust the process, the work will not be as hard as if you resist it. If you or your child have not been comfortable expressing your feelings, in the past, grieving may be harder. But it will not be impossible. In fact, grieving is inevitable. Let it do its work in you, to heal you and your child, so that you and your child can do the work of grieving. And in so doing, have a merrier Christmas!