Refinement - A Parent's Strategy For Success

Mark Huttenlocker

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We are trying some new disciplinary strategies for our out-of-control teen, but we are not seeing any changes in his behavior yet. What might we be doing wrong?



Here’s what I see in those cases where parents seem to have difficulty getting ‘off the ground’ after they have adopted a new set of parenting techniques for out-of-control teens:

Some parents have always been indecisive about what course of action to try with their child. They jump from one parenting technique to the other without giving any one technique enough time to be effective, or they try a new parenting technique once and then give up in frustration because it didn't work fast enough.

Some parents will say, “We've tried everything and nothing works with this kid. " On rare occasion, this may be true. What I usually see is parents drifting from one parenting tool to another without refining their parenting tools.

Here are several ways to refine:

=> Realize the same discipline may not work for all children, because of the unique features of different children

=> Try to blend a combination of several parenting tools to create a more effective discipline

=> Do NOT believe it when your children seem unaffected by discipline. Children often pretend discipline doesn't bother them. Continue to be persistent with your planned discipline, and consider yourself successful by keeping your parenting plan in place. When children pretend a discipline doesn't bother them, parents often give up on a discipline, which reinforces the child's disobedience. Remember, you can only control your actions, not your children's reactions.

Let's trouble-shoot.

Below is a summary of “parenting basics” that every parent should be utilizing. If parents do not implement ALL of these, it WILL be the “kiss of failure. " For example, the transmission in your car has hundreds of parts, but if just one little tiny part is not working - the whole transmission does not work. The same is true with these “basics. ” Omit just one, and the whole parenting-plan fails to run.

1. Are you asking your son at least one question each day that cannot be answered with a simple “yes" or “no" to demonstrate that you are interested in what is going on in his/her life?

2. Are you saying to your child “I love you" everyday and expecting nothing in return?

3. Are you eating dinner together at least one evening each week - either at home or out?

4. Do you catch your son in the act of doing something right at least once each day?

5. Do you give your child at least one chore each day?

6. Do you find something fun to do with your teen each week?

7. When you are undecided about what to say or do in any particular situation, are you asking yourself the following question: “Will this promote the development of self-reliance in my child, or will this inhibit the development of self-reliance?" If it is supportive of self-reliance, say it or do it. If it is not supportive, don't!

8. Is your son EARNING ALL of his privileges?

9. Are you issuing consequences for misbehavior that is not accidentally rewarding misbehavior?

10. Are you avoiding ‘power-struggles’ at all costs?

If you answered “no" to any of the above, you are missing some important pieces to the puzzle. Most parents DO miss a few pieces initially - you can't be expected to remember everything! But don't get frustrated and give up. We must be willing to hang in there for the long haul.

I'm talking about refinement here. Refinement is a necessary tool to use in order to truly be successful with parenting strategies for out-of-control teens.

HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS: Parents who refine are, on average, 95% - 100% successful at getting the parent-child difficulties reduced in intensity and severity (i. e. , the problems are easily managed).

The same can be true in your case. Keep up the good work. Continue to refine. Refinement is a process, not a one-time event.

Mark Huttenlocker, M. A. , is a family therapist who works with teens and pre-teens experiencing emotional/behavioral problems associated with ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Autism, etc. He works with these children and their parents – in their homes. You may visit his website here:


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