Your client has read the parenting books, implemented the ideas, and tried new techniques but nothing seems to work. The siblings of the difficult child benefited from intentional parenting, but not the one it was intended to help. In fact, that child is getting worse and the parent’s exhaustion level is through the roof. The child was diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), which explained the behavior but did not assist with parenting.
For the most part, the parents are on the right track with firm boundaries, negative consequences for poor choices, positive rewards, and looking at the motivation behind the behavior. These elements are essential to intentional parenting yet it is not enough. Instead, the small changes sometimes make the biggest impact. Try adding these three rules for better results:
No questions. Questions like, “Why is your room still messy?” “Why did you do that?” and “What were you thinking?” are unproductive. When a child answers these questions honestly with “I forgot,” “I don’t know,” and “I wasn’t thinking,” this is will frustrate the parent even more. Interrogating a child is almost never productive as it fosters rebellion in their heart. It may provide some answers, but the negative consequence of a strained relationship is more damaging. Instead of questioning them, make statements like, “Your room is messy,” “Your behavior is not acceptable,” and “Think about this.” Statements, rather than questions, reinforce boundaries and provide security to the child.
No explanations. Long-winded explanations border on lecturing. Remind the parents how they felt when they were a kid? Did they enjoy lectures from their parents? Perhaps they tuned them out after a period of time or had a silent conversation in their head. Don’t repeat the same mistake. Instead, be short, sweet, and to the point. Long-winded explanations invite opportunities for a child to argue back as they discover potential loopholes. So, keep justifications to one or two sentences at the maximum.
No emotions. Getting angry, becoming emotional, crying, laying guilt trips, or even nervously laughing are all inappropriate emotions during discipline. Feeling these emotions is normal and can be expressed privately, but doing so in front of a child while disciplining will add to the tension of the moment. Instead deal with the moment as needed and then go back to the child later when emotions are not angry, teary, guilty or laughing. Then explain to the child the emotion felt in one or two sentences. This small change teaches a child not to react when emotional, but rather to reflect and then respond.
Small changes can make a big difference in parenting a difficult kid. Sometimes just having a workable plan can reduce exhaustion. Immediately after implementing these ideas, the child is likely to be more demanding, more time-consuming, need more attention, and use more energy. Give it a few weeks for them to get adjusted. In the end, the parent will feel less drained and more prepared to handle the next challenge that arises.