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Questions for an Online Family Therapist
QUESTION: Do you have a tried and true discipline for a teenage daughter who is caught smoking?
ANSWER: Sorry dad. You’re not going to like my advice, but here goes:
You will not be able to stop her from smoking. Pick your battles carefully – and this is not a battle you should fight. In fact, the more you worry about it or lecture her, the more she will smoke! But you can stop her from smoking on YOUR property. Here’s what you can say to your daughter:
“I can’t keep you from damaging your health by smoking. But it’s your health – not mine! However, I don’t want you smoking in my house or anywhere on my property. If you choose to smoke on my property, you’ll choose the consequence, which is grounding for 3 days without privileges (e.g., use of phone, T.V., computer, etc.).”
If your daughter smokes on the property, follow through with the consequence. If YOU smoke, keep your cigarettes with you at all times.
QUESTION: What if you haven’t been the greatest role model for your kid in the past and are just starting out to become one? What can I do to help my kid not follow in my footsteps??!
ANSWER: Simply think about what you say and how you act in front of your child. Your child learns social skills and how to deal with stress by listening to and watching you.
Do not take part in illegal, unhealthy, or dangerous practices related to alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs or he may believe that, no matter what you say, these practices are OK.
Perhaps most importantly, know that you are a good mother in spite of some bad choices you may have made in the past. The past is NOT the present, and no one should be held hostage by their past.
QUESTION: My son is ADHD, but I don’t like the idea of him being on strong medication for it. Is there any natural way to treat ADHD?
ANSWER: There are many natural treatments for ADHD, but few of them have ever been compared to a placebo, so it is hard to know if they really work.
The only natural treatments worth considering for ADHD are those based on increasing certain fatty acids in the brain. There are abnormalities in these fatty acids in the brains of people who have ADHD.
Omega-3 fatty acids may work best. Sources of Omega-3 are fish, flax seed oil, and some greens. Of these three, fish oils may work best and are worth trying — not because they work so well — but because they have few side effects. But there’s no hard evidence that they work at all.
Sorry I don’t have better news for you.
QUESTION: My 12-year-old ODD daughter is at a school where groups of kids get dropped off at the mall to go to the movies, or just roam around, and then picked up by a parent a few hours later.
My husband does not want her to be able to go and do this with friends, and I am unsure as to whether to let her do this. It seems that many parents are letting their kids do this, and in this day and age I’m not sure how safe/unsafe this is.
My daughter feels very frustrated and “micromanaged” by her father and I, and is feeling that our over protectiveness is prohibiting her from having a normal social life with her friends. What do you think?
ANSWER: “Self-reliance” is key. So, whenever you and/or your husband are undecided about what to do, you should ask yourself the question: “Will the decision I’m about to make promote or inhibit the development of self-reliance.” If your decision will promote self-reliance, then go ahead with the decision. If not, then don’t.
Thus, I believe you will be promoting self-reliance in your daughter by allowing her to develop social skills in the form of going with peers to the Mall. This also provides a testing ground for her to make good or bad choices (more self-reliance promotion).
“Over-protectiveness” is another form of “over-indulgence.” And over-indulgence is the cancer that contributes to emotional and behavioral problems in our kids – the #1 contributor!
The four methods of over-indulgence are:
1. Giving the child too much stuff (materialism)
2. Giving the child too much freedom (activity-ism)
3. Over-nurturing (i.e., parent provides too much assistance or protection)
4. Soft structure (e.g., lax rules, no chores, no family activities)
In the spirit of fostering the development of self-reliance, your daughter should EARN her trips to the Mall. To allow her to go without “earning” her trip is synonymous with giving her a free “hand-out” of freedom. Free handouts create (a) disrespect, (b) resentment, (c) a sense of entitlement, (d) dependency, and (e) a strong desire for more and more free handouts.
For example, she might be able to do a few chores in anticipation of an upcoming trip to the Mall. Also, you could require her “check-in” via landline or cell phone at hourly intervals while she is away. And you could require her to be home by a specific time.
QUESTION: Tonight I have been reading about discipline vs. punishment. As I understand the idea, I warn my son that he will receive a consequence if he does not follow a particular house rule – but if he ignores the rule anyway – I then enforce the stated consequence. That seems like punishment to me. What am I not understanding?
ANSWER: Let’s look at the difference:
— Punishment is what parents do when they are angry with their child and want some form of revenge.
— Discipline is what parents do when they help their child learn to make better choices.
— Punishment is about parents trying to win a power struggle with their child.
— Discipline is refusing to engage in a power struggle by calmly issuing a consequence as a learning tool with no ulterior motives.
— Punishment is based on pride and ego.
— Discipline is based on love and caring.
–Punishment is NOT instructive.
–Discipline is instructive.
QUESTION: On Monday night when I got home from work, my 17-year-old son had broken my glass dining table top into pieces. He also burned papers in the kitchen. I called the police (of course), but they could only talk to him because he lives there. Here is the problem: I told him that I would not cook in the kitchen nor would I purchase food from outside until he cleans the kitchen. This is the third day and the kitchen has not been cleaned, as far as the glass and burnt paper. This morning when I got up, I noticed that he has punched another pane out of his bedroom window.
What do I do? Do I continue to stick to my ground about not cooking or not purchasing food (McDonald’s, Chili’s, etc.), thus allowing him to feed himself? There is a lot of food in the kitchen that he can easily prepare.
1st — Do you live in the states? If so, what state? You should go to your local Juvenile Probation Department and file a complaint. No one should have to live like this! He is a danger to himself — and you!
2nd — I would go ahead and clean up the mess, but he should pay for ALL the damage eventually, either with money he earns from doing chores around the house or money earned from his place of employment. If he’s 17, he should be working, not sponging off of you.
NEVER purchase food for him from a restaurant. If he wants to eat out, he must use his own money.
I think it would be o.k. to cook WITH him, not FOR him. In other words, he must be in the kitchen with you and help with food preparation as well as “clean up” (e.g., help wash dishes).
I’m going to be very blunt here (and please don’t get angry with me for saying this) — your son is obviously spoiled rotten!!! Plus, I’m terribly concerned for your safety.
QUESTION: My 18 year old has finally got a job & is doing well, but we are experiencing terrible problems getting him up in the morning in order to get to work on time. He won’t take any responsibility for this himself, but shouts abuse at us when we try to motivate him. What advice do you have?
ANSWER Unfortunately, you can’t motivate him! Do yourself a big favor and get out of the business of playing “alarm clock” – “waking up” is your son’s job.
The more you take responsibility for your son “waking up,” the less responsibility he will take. The problem is an ownership problem. Let go of ownership of your son’s employment. No more nagging him to get up. This problem belongs to your son. When you give up ownership, your son will have to make a choice – he’ll have to decide if he will or will not accept ownership of his employment. And he’ll lose the power of pushing your “employment buttons,” to frustrate and worry you.
Out-of-control teens intentionally try to keep parents in the position of taking responsibility for “waking them up.” Often parents are in a never-ending cycle of their teen’s sabotage. Since parents are continuously telling their teens how important it is to get to work on time, their teens use this information to anger them. The more parents try, the less out-of-control teens work.
Many people who are successful in life performed poorly early in their teenage “work life.” Remember your high school reunion, and remember the people you never expected to do well because they couldn’t keep a job for very long — but they did do well eventually.
Your son is not going to end up sitting on the street corner with a tin can waiting for coins to be handed him from sympathetic passersby because he can’t find or keep a job. Get rid of the fear that his choice to “sleep-in” will damage his future. When he decides it’s time to take responsibility for getting up and off to work, he will.
Buy him an alarm clock. If it goes off and he chooses not to get up – it’s his problem. He may have to get fired a few times before he “wakes up” and figures out that mom is not going to continue to treat him as though he were a small child. You must let him make mistakes and bad choices. He’ll not learn otherwise.
QUESTION: My son feels offended because I went to the school and got a drug test to be performed on him. What I can do to ease the hate he now feels toward me? How can I make him talk to me again without giving him the edge?
ANSWER: I don’t think you son hates you. Sit down with your son and have the following conversation:
Tell him that you love him so much that you are not willing to stand by and watch him make poor choices and engage in self-destructive behaviors that will hurt him — and his family. This is why you are using “tough love.”
You’re not out to make his life miserable …you are trying to help him grow. If you didn’t love or care for him, you wouldn’t bother with him.
Resist your impulse to strive and struggle for your son’s acceptance. Don’t strain to get him to “like” you as you begin to set some limits with his behavior. Instead, enjoy the process of the good parenting you are doing. His acceptance will come independent of your striving for it.
Love and caring for your son is about process, not outcome. And process is about purpose. And purpose is about doing what you know in your heart is the right thing to do whether your son sees it yet or not.
Believe it or not, one day your son will see the bigger picture and realize you were doing him a favor all along.
QUESTION: Last night my son David asked me if he could go camping with his friend and his friend’s father this weekend. He is doing better in school this year than last but not still quite as well as he could. I do see his efforts and don’t want to discourage any positive even if it isn’t what I would like to see completely. However, I was going to let him go and then in an argument that he swears he didn’t start he pushed his younger brother in anger. This is not a new problem and we have handled it with appropriate consequences.
David’s stepfather told him immediately that he wasn’t going on this trip. I am not sure that is the right thing to do because we haven’t really prepared him or any of our children for this new approach we are all taking. I guess I feel that we haven’t really stood too strong up till now and to choose something that means this much to him without him really knowing the consequences before the action is unfair.
All my children know that there is no physical abuse or verbal abuse tolerated in this home. I have recently started working full time and am not even home anymore (which I am adjusting) in order to take these situations on.
Anyway, I feel it is unfair and will only cause him to feel helpless and angry and pull away. I don’t feel that we properly prepared him for these consequences. Am I just seeing this the wrong way? Do you agree that it is the right or the wrong way to approach this incident?
ANSWER: Ideally the parent would neither retract a consequence once imposed, nor withhold a reward was issued (i.e., once you impose a consequence — stick to it; once you reward — follow through in spite of subsequent behavior problems).
So if you already told your son that he can go camping, he should be able to go. There was no contingency attached to the ‘deal’ (e.g., “If you don’t push your brother, then you can go camping”).
But the larger issue is fostering the development of self-reliance. Thus the question now is “what did your son do to EARN his camping trip?”
“Ignoring misbehavior” is an over-rated parenting strategy. But when it comes to “sibling rivalry,” ignoring misbehavior is the best approach. This is difficult for most parents, because the idea of an older sib hurting a younger, smaller weaker sib is seemingly intolerable. But when parents refuse to play referee, the siblings are forced to develop “give-and-take” social skills that are greatly needed later in adult life. (I’m an older sib, and I can tell you that older sibs do not kill their younger brothers and sisters.)
Also, it would be best for you and your husband to consult one another before making any decisions regarding your children’s rewards or consequences. When one parent makes a decision alone that the other parent does not agree with, then one or the other is forced into the position of being the “bad guy.”
QUESTION: My son starts fires. He recently decided to catch playing cards on fire and throw them under his bed. We could have had our house burnt to the ground. My husband wants to take him to a burn unit to show him what kind of damage can happen to the skin when burned. Does this sound like a good idea or not?
ANSWER: Not! Remember that defiant kids enjoy intensity. So a trip to the burn unit will not intimidate him, rather it will intrigue him.
Often times, parents will attempt to “scare” their children into behaving properly. For example, parents may want their child to:
— take a tour of juvenile detention
— take a tour of adult jail or prison
— go through the “scared straight” program (where kids go to an adult prison and get yelled at by a bunch of incarcerated convicts)
— go to the local morgue to view the deceased, mangled body of someone who was not wearing his seat belt or who drove drunk
These are examples of “traditional” parenting strategies that make a bad problem worse.
Why? Because it provides a high level of intensity (i.e., interest, fascination) — and defiant children love intensity.
Worse yet, exposure to such things de-sensitizes them, thus yielding the opposite effect from what the parent wanted to accomplish (i.e., rather than scaring the child, they have now raised the curiosity level in the child). Fear-based motivation has the opposite effect with defiant children.
QUESTION: My ex-husband is not on the same page with me regarding discipline. Sometimes he cooperates with me, other times he does his own thing — which undermines me.
My oldest son lives with his father, but visits me a couple times a week. My son does not like visiting me though, because I have rules and his dad does not (not many anyway). Any advice?
ANSWER: I think I detect a bit of cooperation from your ex, although he does not like to be the “bad guy” and does not like to be put in the middle (i.e., between you and your son).
Is he open to trying a few new things? If he will get on the same page with you, the two of you will have tremendous success with your eldest son.
However, if your husband “does his own thing” as far as discipline (or lack thereof), then we must revert to a different strategy: look at what you CAN control.
If your ex seems to always work against you (e.g., withdraw a discipline you have already imposed, blame you for the families problems, etc.), then I encourage you to cultivate the “art of letting go.”
“Letting go” would look something like this:
— Your ex has his rules; you have your rules
— When your son is with dad, he can operate under dad’s rules
— When your son is at your residence, he must operate under your rules
— If he does not like your rules, he can choose to (a) follow your rules anyway, or (b) leave your residence and go back to dad’s
— If your ex is working against you rather than with you, take no complaints from him regarding your son’s behavior (e.g., You might say to your ex, “If you are having problems with our son while he is at your house, I cannot help you as long as you operate under a different set of rules than what I have.”)
I think your ex needs to experience some painful emotions associated with his poor parenting choices.
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