Hope for Parents of Defiant Teens: 6 Ways to Parent More Effectively


“I feel alone,” a mom of an out-of-control  teen said to me recently. “I  don’t go out much anymore, and to be honest, my  family isn’t really invited to  things because of my son’s behavior.” If you  have an acting-out child or teen,  you probably feel isolated. You’ve gotten tired of hearing criticisms from  family  and friends, and perhaps you’ve pulled  back from social functions. I  think when you have a child who’s out of control, in many ways  it’s like living  with an alcoholic family member. After a while, parents give  up trying to  change anything, and they often don’t talk about it, either—they just  keep all  their shame, blame and sense of failure inside.

“Parent  the child you  have, not the child you wish you’d had.”


You’re likely to isolate even  more as your child’s behaviors become more  extreme. You question your parenting  ability, even though your child’s behavior  may not have anything to do with  what you did or didn’t do. Here’s the simple  truth—some kids are just more  difficult than others. That is why it’s so  important to “parent the child you  have, not the child you wished you’d  have.”

Related:  Are you parenting an acting-out child or teen?

It’s important to stress that anyone can change at any time—even your   acting-out child. Part of what kids need when they’re out of control is for   parents to make some changes so that the child can feel safer. No matter how   they act, kids don’t really want to be that out of control, because it doesn’t   feel safe. Here are—6 things I suggest to parents in this situation to help   them take back control of their homes and start parenting differently.

1. Know your bottom line. Know your bottom line and stick to  it. Developing self-respect helps you set  more limits; it also builds on  itself. When you set limits, be ready and  willing to follow through. Don’t use  idle threats because your child may call  your bluff. For example, your bottom  line might be that your teen won’t be  allowed to take the family car out on the  weekend if he swears at you or calls  you or other family members names during  the week. Again, if you’re going to  set a limit, stick with it. Don’t let him  have those car keys on Friday night  if he called his sister a “b—h” on  Wednesday. Don’t be surprised if there is  a negative reaction from your child.  Just remember, he needs to own his  behavior and be accountable for it. Things  won’t change for your teen if he’s  making it your problem as a parent.

2. Teach your child to problem solve. As a parent, you are  the   teacher, coach and limit setter for your child. Part of  your job is to  teach her how to solve her problems appropriately. When things  are calm, you  can say, “This behavior won’t solve your problem. Yelling at me  because you’re  angry about having to go to bed won’t help you—it will only get  you into more  trouble. So how can you solve this problem differently next time?” Listen to what she has to say, and suggest ideas if she   can’t come up with anything. Some examples might be: “You could walk away. You   could write down how you’re feeling on a piece of paper or in a journal. You   could listen to music.” This is really powerful because you’re saying, “It’s   not about me, it’s about you. And it’s not in your best self-interest to behave   this way. How can you change what you’re doing so you don’t get into trouble   next time?”

Related:  The secret to better child behavior.

3. Aim for small victories. Take small  steps and look for  gradual change. The change could be as small as disengaging  from an  argument rather than getting drawn into a power struggle with your  child.  One way to start is to stand up for yourself. Saying something like, “Don’t   talk to me that way, I don’t like it” is an immediate victory and it starts to   shift your behavior. It helps you to start moving forward as a positive,   effective parent. Look for small successes and take a moment to acknowledge   them when they happen.

4. Work on one behavior at a time. Choose the  behavior  that’s the most serious to address first and begin to plan the steps to change  this. Work on getting that under  control and then move onto the next behavior  on the list. Let’s say you’re the  parent of a teen who’s engaging in risky  teen behavior and breaking curfew,  swearing, not doing his homework, and  being disrespectful. What can you  realistically aim for here? You have to  figure out as a parent what you can  live with and where to start. You can’t  tackle everything at once or you’re  going to fail. Look for safety issues  first. Ask yourself, “How do I keep the  rest of my family safe? How do I keep  my teen safe the best I can?” Work on  getting your teen home by curfew by  setting limits around it and enforcing  consequences, and then move on to the  next thing on your list.

5. Be “planful.” Plan out what you’re going to say to your  child ahead  of time, before he acts out again. Deliver your message in as  matter-of-fact of  a way as possible. Besides helping you to remain businesslike  and objective,  this also helps you to separate from your child’s behavior by  not getting drawn  into a fight. The conversation can be, “Your behavior isn’t  acceptable. I’ve  decided it has to change, and this is what the plan is.” Or “We as parents have  decided to change to this plan.”

Related:  How to give consequences that will work for your child.

6. Ask for help. Stretch your expectations of your support  system.  If you stay isolated, things often get worse, making you feel more  alone than  ever. You might not think there’s anybody out there who will listen  or help, but  you might be surprised at how people react. A friend might be  willing to meet  you for coffee once a week and talk, for example, knowing that  you’re going  through a bad time. As a parent, it’s critical to ask for help and  talk about  what’s going on, whether you go to a therapist, find a support  group, talk to folks  at your child’s school or find a trusted family member or  friend to confide in.  Just put it out there and be open to feedback.

When Kids Push Back After You Make Changes

You can’t always predict what  will happen when you start making changes in  your parenting style. Some kids  will “push back,” but others might not. Your  adolescent may say she hates you,  but if she’s doing exactly what you wanted  her to do, you’ve won a small  victory. If your child does push back and act  out, respond with consistency.

Understand that once you start  saying, “This is the way I need things to  be,” and holding firm, you’ve made a  decision. You’ve done something that  brings respect back. It doesn’t mean the behavior  will immediately get  better—it may take months or years of ups and downs. But the  important thing  is, you’ve broken that cycle. Once you make a decision and set  a limit, you’ve  broken the cycle of being at the mercy of your child and his behavior.

Related:  How to parent your defiant child or teen more effectively.

I truly believe that no matter  how bad things feel, change is always  possible. Remember, as we change, we help  our kids change—and even small shifts  in behavior are important. When we become  stronger, we set an example for our  kids in their own lives. There’s no magic  to any of this, it’s really about you  as a parent altering how you respond.  Realize that once you take on the role of  a more effective parent, you will  likely keep things moving forward, and with  each new success, you’ll feed on  your ability to parent more  effectively


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