I am a single parent.  How do I  motivate my teenager to continue to be a good student when the other parent doesn't care?

Keep in mind that you can only be responsible for yourself. In a perfect world, your ex-spouse would encourage your teenager also. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Provide lots of positive attention for good grades. Encourage your teen to explore career opportunities in the areas they are interested in. The motivation you referred to must come from within them if it's going to be effective. That's why they will work harder to reach a goal they want rather than one you've picked for them. Getting good grades is often not as important as being with friends or playing. Verbal reinforcement may not be strong enough to overcome the pull from friends and other fun activities. The way around this is to make using the car, phone, stereo, etc. depend on their grades. Good grades gets good perks.

How do I get my children to help each other, i.e., school work, chores, and perhaps tutoring?

Step one is to be a good role model. Our children learn to value certain ways of behaving by watching us. If we demonstrate a lack of responsibility by trying to get out of things we were supposed to do or not help a family member who asks for help, our children see this and learn that it's ok to be that way. Step two is to set up a behavior program for your children that rewards them with something special for the desired behavior. I know, you're saying that they should do chores because they are part of the family and should just help. I agree. If they were brought up that way, they probably do help. If this is something new for them then you will have to provide special incentives to help them learn to help out. Develop a behavior program that rewards them with something they want for performing the behaviors you want.

My teenager has suddenly become disrespectful.  What do I do?

Adolescence is a time when teens are trying to develop a sense of independence from their parents. It's a hard time for them because they don't have an instruction manual telling them how to grow up healthy. Then again, we don't have an instruction manual either. Here are some guidelines. Explain to your child that you recognize his/her desire to be independent or to make their own decisions. However, disrespect is not an option and will be dealt with in a negative manner. Consequences such as loss of priviledges, TV, computer, car, phone, etc. should be handed out for disrespectful behavior. In all fairness to your children, stop and explain what you consider disrespectful and what is not. Don't just assume that you are all working with the same definition. If you want the disrespect to end, you must give your children a chance to present their side. You have to listen and be fair with them. That does not mean always giving in but it does mean at least considering their side. If your child perceives you as being fair, there will be less strife at home. He or she might not be happy but there should be a minimum of conflict. Remember, your child is growing up and should be taking on more responsibility for their own behavior. One more thing. Pick your battles. Not everything your child wants or wants to do is of equal importance. Some behaviors have grave consequences while others are relatively unimportant. It's OK to give in to the unimportant ones while holding on strictly to the serious ones. Even better, use the ones that don't really mean much to you as a reward to your child for doing something you want or for not doing something you don't want them to do. For example, as long as you don't drink or smoke, you can wear your hair anyway you want. Rule breaking or disrespectful behavior should result in an immediate negative consequence or your child will win and you will lose control of the family. 

Is your child or adolescent giving you problems? Do you have a parenting question or need help from an expert?  Do you wish you had an instruction manual? Stop worrying and do something about it.  Let Dr. Yarnell answer your questions about bringing up your children.
My 10-year-old daughter is depressed since her grandmother died three months ago.  What can I do to help? Does she need counseling?
Dr. Yarnell:
Your daughter is experiencing a normal reaction to the death of someone close.  The best thing you can do to help her get through this is to empathize and get her to talk about her feelings.  Actually, talking about what and why you are feeling the way you do is the best immediate treatment for helping someone (adult or child) over the death of someone close.

If your daughter will talk to you, that is great.  She may have questions that are really scary to her.  For example, she may ask, "Since grandma died right after she had a cold and you have a cold right now, are you going to die when your cold goes away?" Or, "Will I die if I get a cold too?"  These may be dumb questions for the adult mind but they are not dumb to a child.  To the mind of a child, cold and death are connected.

Getting your child to talk may not be easy because sometimes she really doesn't know what's bothering her.  That's when you become a detective.  As a psychologist, one technique we use to help us find out what children are thinking is to have them draw.  We all reveal something about ourselves when we draw a picture.  Get a box of crayons and some paper.  Have your daughter draw a picture of her grandmother, of her and her grandmother, or a picture of herself.  Have her draw a picture of how she feels or of something she wants to do.  Use the drawings to open up a discussion with her about her feelings about her grandmother's death.

If none of this works or if you feel uncomfortable doing it, then you should seek the help of your clergyman or a counselor.

Dr. Yarnell:
Dr. Yarnell:
Dr. Yarnell:
Dr. Yarnell:
How do I keep my children from getting angry at each other?
Step one is to look at how you handle your anger.  Are you a good role model?  Do you yell, scream or hit when you get angry.  If so, it will be difficult to convince your children that yelling, screaming or hitting is not a good technique to use when you are angry.  If you do not deal with your anger well, then you may want to make changing a family project.

Step two is an age old favorite that really works.  When angry, count to 10 before saying or doing anything.  If you're really angry, you may have to count to 50. This works for a few reasons.  It's a distraction and it gives you or them some time to cool down.

The real reason it works is because anger is an emotional, right brain activity and counting is an analytical, left brain activity.  The counting moves the brain activity from reactive to analytical and the anger is cut off and will decrease.

Step 3 should be done right away while you or the children are in the non-emotional, left brain, analytical mode.  Ask yourself what you are really angry about or have your children ask themselves what they are really angry about.  The real reason we get angry is not always evident. We may be getting angry for different reasons than we think. Once you know what the real problem is, see if there is a better solution than yelling, screaming or hitting.  Even if a solution cannot be found, the angry outburst should have died out by this time. 

One final step will sometimes help children learn the process.  Role-play the last few times you or the children got really angry.  Yell, scream, and stomp.  Stop and count to 10.  Then look at what was the real cause of the anger and try to find a solution that doesn't involve anger.This can be a fun game that everyone can learn from.

Count to ten, find the real cause of the anger, and solve that problem.  Be a good role model.  You and your children can eliminate much of the stress and anger in your life.

Copyright  © 2006 - 2008     Dr. Thomas Yarnell, Clinical Psychologist
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