My 12-year-old daughter has become very defiant. She refuses to do her homework or help out around the house and often screams at me. How can I get my daughter to listen to me and stop fighting with me?
Your daughter is testing you, and from what you have shared, she is winning.
There are times when parents need to go back to "square one." When you have some time alone, sit down and list your expectations for your daughter. Expectations could include doing chores around the house and using good social skills like asking for permission before making plans with friends. Another expectation could be calling to tell you where she is if she goes to a new place while she’s away from home.
Next, list privileges she can access by meeting your expectations. Privileges could be using the phone or computer, watching TV, playing video games or spending time with friends. If she does not meet your expectations, she will lose these privileges, perhaps one at a time. She cannot regain access to them until she demonstrates she can meet those very expectations that caused her to lose them.
If your daughter is behaving the way you described, she should have NO privileges until her behavior changes. If you feel this is something you can’t handle on your own, a professional counselor can help you implement this process in your home. Unless you take action now, your daughter’s behavior will most likely only get worse as she gets older.
I have four children: three boys ages 20, 13 and 11; and one girl, age 16. My two youngest sons fight and call each other names. They are mean to each other. I have unsuccessfully tried to stop this. Do you have any suggestions?
It is a good idea to take the time to sit down and develop a plan to affect change. Define exactly what you want your children to do when they have disagreements or conflicts. Consider how you want their interactions to look and sound, including what tone they use and what words they exchange. Describe how one must listen while the other speaks and vice versa. If they cannot solve the issue themselves, then provide them with the opportunity to come to you for help.
Then consider the negative consequences that will be earned if they do not utilize this new way of communicating and resolving conflict. We recommend using the smallest consequence possible that will affect change. It must be meaningful to the boys, be equal in size to the severity and frequency of the infraction and be immediately carried out.
Planning these consequences in advance of the behavior is helpful. Doing so will make it less likely that emotions will dictate your actions. Negative consequences entail both loss of privileges and added work chores.
If you are parenting with the boys’ father, include him in devising this plan. You must both agree on the plan and also agree to be consistent in implementing it. Then at a neutral time, present this plan to your entire family – not just the two youngest members.
Start out by telling them that things have to change and that this change begins now. Say that all of us have differences of opinion and personality conflicts throughout our entire lives. The sooner we handle them in an acceptable way, the better off we will be. This is how you expect conflicts to be handled in your home. Then define your expectations and ask if everyone understands what you have said.
You are NOT asking for their opinion or input or whether they agree with you. You are only asking for understanding. This is not debatable! Then move on and let them know that there will be consequences earned immediately if this new method is not used or followed. Again, this is not debatable!
Let your sons know that you understand that it takes two people to fight, so when arguing occurs both parties will earn consequences. It does not matter who starts it or whether you were there. If you hear angry voices or name-calling, the new way of behaving is not being used. You are not an investigator, and you will not make changes to the consequences or expectations based on what they say or who is to blame.
When you address the negative behavior again, begin by describing what you just heard and saw. Then issue the negative consequence, reteach your expectations and have them practice by redoing what just happened. Make sure to follow through on the consequences. If using added chores, have them do the chores together when possible.
My husband and I have five children. The oldest two are from his previous marriage; the younger two are from my previous marriage; and the youngest is from our marriage. He has been divorced for six years; I have been divorced for three years. We have been married for almost two years.
We are stationed overseas, and the oldest children don’t get to see their mother very often. She does not seem to care. She only calls every three to four months. Just recently, our 9-year-old has begun acting up at school. She throws temper tantrums when she does not get her way, yells at her father and me and is physical with her sister to the point of leaving bruises.
We have tried numerous punishments, such as taking away privileges, sending her to bed early, making her stand in the corner and writing “I will not bite other people” over and over. But nothing seems to work, and I am running out of options. Please advise me on how to handle our daughter before her behavior gets even worse.
When a family breaks up, whether it is due to divorce or death, each member handles that traumatic experience in a different way. Sometimes the developmental level the child is at plays a role. It may be helpful to seek professional intervention at this time. Look for a therapist referral from a Family Advocacy or Family Readiness program or from your community.
Meanwhile, when your daughter gets upset, give her some calming techniques as more appropriate alternatives to temper tantrums and violence. Talk about this when she is calm. Offer her some suggestions that have worked for you. Give her reasons why she should try these techniques when she is angry. Then have her practice those in pretend scenarios that you know have triggered her anger in the past and that are likely to occur again.
At the end of the school day, review her academic work and ask her if she felt anger or frustration during the day and how she responded to those emotions. If she handled them well, praise and reward her. If not, teach her some more acceptable ways to respond. Don’t forget to practice.
All of your children have the right to grow up in a safe environment. Her behavior is threatening this safety. While you are seeking help for your daughter, establish a safety plan for your other children. When your daughter gets angry, make sure her siblings know what to do and where to go so they are safe.
If your daughter’s bedtime routine allows, review her day and have her rate it. If she handled her feelings well, offer praise and a reward. If not, talk about alternatives and pray for more success tomorrow. This should be the main focus with your child. Do not just administer consequences for negative behaviors; teach more socially acceptable alternative behaviors.
Two years ago, my husband left my daughter and myself. We moved in with my parents four months ago because of our financial situation. My parents both have counseling degrees, which they think gives them the right to tell me that I am parenting my daughter incorrectly. It is undermining my authority with my daughter. She does not listen to me, but instead turns to my parents when she gets in trouble.
I have tried talking to my parents, but they will not change. They believe that they know better. I am at my breaking point and feel trapped because I cannot afford to move out. I have lived on my own for 12 years, but now that I am back in my parents’ home they treat me like a defiant adolescent. What can I do?
This type of living arrangement can be very stressful. It takes adjustments on all parties’ parts. But you are the mother and her father is not living with your daughter, so you are and should be her primary parent. As such, you are the one making all of the major decisions in her life. You should be the one to implement consequences and to reward positive behavior.
Do your parents criticize your parenting in front of your daughter? Do they make negative comments in front of her? If and when the three of you differ on parenting techniques, this disagreement should not take place in front of your daughter.
Talk to your parents at a neutral time when your daughter is gone or asleep. Remain calm and tell your parents that you need to be your daughter’s sole parent. Have reasons to back up your rightful claim. It is important that you remain calm.
If you feel that you can’t have this conversation with your parents, is there another adult who is removed from the situation who could serve as a mediator? You could seek help from a counseling agency perhaps. Since moving out is not an option right now, you must find a way to live peacefully with your parents.
How adults interact with each other teaches our children how to interact. Your daughter looks to you and your parents for role modeling. Do keep in mind that your parents are not required to take you in. You could live in a shelter, which would be very trying.
Our 6-year-old son becomes physical – hitting, pinching and kicking – his classmates when he believes they are not following the rules in a game or they are bothering him. We have taught him strategies to deal with his frustration such as walking away, squeezing a ball or talking to the teacher. Although he can verbalize these practices, he cannot employ them in the heat of the moment.
We have tried punishment (no TV) and a reward for a full week without incident, but neither seems to be working. In fact, it is getting worse. Now he is lying about his misbehavior. His teacher is removing him from the classroom when he becomes aggressive. He will not tell us the truth when we ask; we have to consult the teacher.
The school counselor suggested a speech/language evaluation, and we are waiting for the results. In the meantime, what specifically can we do to send the message that hitting and lying have consequences? Do we take privileges away? He has a Cub Scout camping trip coming up. Would it be an appropriate consequence to take this away, or is this consequence too far removed from classroom infractions?
We are very happy that your son is being evaluated for a speech/language deficit. We are also glad that you are communicating with school staff, and that you have taught him acceptable alternatives to use when he feels frustrated.
Using consequences in conjunction with teaching alternative behaviors is generally the most effective way to change a behavior. Perhaps you need to tweak what you are currently doing to bring about the desired result.
First, provide him with the words he can use when others don’t follow the rules or bother him. Give him the words and have him say them back to you. Pair these words with the physical alternative that you have taught him. Next, have him SHOW you that he understands by practicing at home. Use both pretend and real-life situations that have occurred in the past. Keep the practice brief and make it fun. Do it daily until it becomes second nature. It is like a fire drill. You don’t just tell your children what to do: we have them actually do it and do it frequently.
You ask about appropriate consequences. Effective consequences are meaningful to the child, are equal in size to the infraction, occur immediately after it and are contingent on the behavior. Your son’s consequences must be immediate so he can make the connection between his misbehavior and the resulting action (cause and effect).
Whether it is a positive or negative consequence, it must be immediate. Perhaps his teacher can reward him with a token each time he uses words instead of his fists when he is frustrated. Or maybe she can reward him for every 30 minutes that he demonstrates appropriate responses. Then at the end of the day, he can trade in his tokens for a special privilege.
You can reinforce this at home. Ask the teacher to send a note home each afternoon reporting his behavior. Have him reenact his successes at school for you at home. Praise him and continue to encourage him. Do this daily since waiting a full week may be too long a period for a 6-year-old. As his behavior improves, immediacy will not be as important. But for now, it is very important.
Canceling the camping trip, therefore, would not be the most effective consequence. However, do alert the Cub Scout leaders about your son’s behavior issues and suggest how they can handle his frustration should it occur.
Our adult daughter and her 3-year-old son are living with my husband and me. We are concerned about her parenting and its adverse effects on our grandson.
Our daughter is very independent and does not welcome advice from us. She works varied hours, comes home tired and is irritable with her son. She is always telling him “no” and even pushes him away. When I call her attention to this, she snaps at me.
She is not willing to go to parenting classes to improve her skills. She has even left her son in our care so she could live with her boyfriend. Our grandson’s father walked out on them, but now my daughter is thinking of getting back together with him. I have discovered that the two of them smoked crack before our grandson was born and that she smoked marijuana while she was pregnant.
Our affectionate, precious grandson is now waking up in the middle of the night crying. He is not wet, hungry, thirsty, etc. We can’t calm him; it is like he is in a trance and is unaware of his surroundings. During the day, he is loving and attached to his grandfather and me, frequently giving us hugs and kisses. He loves to read and draw and has a good attention span.
Has he been hurt by his mother’s prenatal marijuana use? How can we help him through this difficult time with our daughter’s unsettled behavior?
It is likely that the instability your grandson has experienced is now taking a toll on him emotionally and behaviorally. It sounds like there is tension at home. We strongly encourage you to avoid adult conversations in his presence. Wait until he is asleep or is in another room. Children are smart. They pick up on tension and they know when adults are arguing. Overhearing adult conversations can be confusing for them.
It is also important to provide as much structure and stability as you can since this gives children a sense of emotional and physical safety. If your daughter agrees, establish a consistent daily routine. This will create predictability in your grandson’s day, which will be comforting for him. Children crave routine and respond well to schedules. This, in turn, allows him to feel safe as he navigates the world and interacts with those around him.
It is difficult to know exactly why your grandson is crying at night. He may not be able to express why he is upset because he may not even know the reasons himself. He could be experiencing night terrors. Offer him hugs and kisses. Comfort him. Tuck him back into bed and assure him that he is safe and all is well.
If you are concerned about his prenatal exposure to marijuana, have him evaluated by his pediatrician. And continue to offer him your unconditional love and plenty of praise. Hopefully, your daughter will begin to learn from your example and place her son’s needs before her own. If not, you will remain a consistent source of love and support.
I caught my son and his good friend fighting together recently. They were choking each other and calling one another names. Should I tell them not to fight like that anymore?
Whenever we are dealing with a child’s behavior, we always want to respond in a way that will be effective, not only now but in the future as well. The best way to do that is to teach. If it is a good behavior, such as sharing or caring, we should describe the behavior and relate it to a specific skill that our child used. Point out how it will benefit him to continue to use that skill in the future.
If the behavior is inappropriate, such as choking or calling a friend insulting names, discourage the behavior by:
- Stopping the behavior.
- Issue a consequence for that behavior, such as apologizing.
- Teach a better way to respond when your son is being called names or when he feels like calling others names.
- Practice the good behavior.
Help your son practice handling the situation with his friend differently. Pretend to be the other child involved, and actually have him show you how he can do it differently. Ask him to practice his apology in a sincere manner. Until he follows through with the apology, he does not have any privileges. Point out to him that the longer he waits to do it, the more difficult it will be.