New here and at my wits' end

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Ehlena, Oct 10, 2008.

  1. Ehlena

    Ehlena New Member

    Hi, I'm new here - stumbled upon the website by searching oppositional defiance disorder and messageboard. We have a psychiatric appointment set up for our difficult child in 11 days, and a counseling appointment set up in 12 days (can you tell I am counting down??).

    Just a little background - our difficult child is not biologically mine. He is my fiance's son and is ten years old. We have full physical and legal custody, and we raise him together as parents. Wedding to take place when we've saved enough money for a damn good party. Bio-mom is a relapsing addict, has very limited visitation, mostly phone contact, but even that is erratic. She's currently been MIA for a few months - relapsed again.

    We highly suspect that difficult child has ADHD as well as ODD. Both of us are exhausted. We periodically switch up the disciplinarian role because neither of us can take it for any length of time. We both love difficult child VERY much, but neither of us likes difficult child much right now.

    In the past, difficult child has:
    -refused to stay in his room when told
    -when the door was blocked, he jumped out the window and ran off - poor FI had to CHASE him to bring him back (multiple times)
    -when put in a room with no window, put a hole in the door with a pole taken from the closet
    -threatened us with calling CPS (to which we said "go ahead!")
    -etc., etc., etc.

    Most recently:
    -smart kid, but failing class
    -refuses to do in-class work
    -refuses to copy down notes
    -argues with the teacher
    -argues with us, constantly
    -periodically refuses to do everyday tasks such as brushing his teeth, packing his lunch, cleaning his room
    -makes paper airplanes in class and gets up and talks to other students while teacher is trying to teach
    -called his classmate a racial slur
    -willfully disobeys directions
    -blames others for his mistakes

    Are there any techniques that you all use to get through to your difficult child? Our difficult child absolutely refuses to believe that he is not right, and will argue until the sun goes down (even when you can PROVE that he is wrong!).

    For example, we tried to talk to him about calling his classmate a racial slur (she told him to stop talking, he told her that she was a Mexican immigrant and to go back home to Mexico). The boy is 1/4 Mexican himself! He argued that he was born here. We asked him if he thought that made him better than her. "No, but she was mean to me first." You shouldn't have been talking in the first place! And it goes on. Finally just had to tell him NOT to say things like that. He just doesn't think that he is wrong.

    We spent 2.5 hours in a parent-teacher conference yesterday. The teacher specifically told difficult child to stay back after class, and he ran off anyways. FI had to hunt him down.

    The poor teacher spent that time telling him the same things we keep trying to tell him, and attempting to get him to participate in a behavioral contract. TWO AND A HALF HOURS and she couldn't coax sufficient answers out of him to draw it up. He just refused to participate.

    I know that, at his heart, he is a good kid. He is so smart - is an excellent writer and a very good artist. It is just reaching a point where FI and I are putting in so much effort, and we aren't seeing ANY effort from him. We have worked very hard to have a nice house in a good neighborhood. difficult child has access to everything a kid could ever want (if he would JUST get off of grounding!), and yet he complains and complains about living with us because we set RULES. And having him lash out at us (he says some nasty things when he is angry) is very painful.

    If anyone has any brilliant suggestions, I am all ears. FI and I have troubleshooted and problem-solved our brains out. I'm hoping we can get some answers and some help from the psychiatric and counseling sessions, but I'm not hanging my hopes on them (ok, maybe a little...).

    Last edited: Oct 10, 2008
  2. katya02

    katya02 Solace

    Hi, I'm just heading out to pick up my daughter but wanted to say hello and welcome! You have found a soft place to land, as they say here, and you've found a community of parents (both moms and dads) who've been there, done that, can and will sympathize, and try to give you the benefit of our experiences. There are no perfect answers, but ... hugs and suggestions can help.

    I take it your difficult child hasn't seen any psychiatrists, psychologists etc. before, so this will be his first evaluation? It's good that you have both psychiatric and counseling set up. Once you have a diagnosis and a direction for therapy, counseling will follow that. You will likely want to get a neuropsychologist evaluation done as well as regular psychiatric, given your difficult child's family history. He probably has biological as well as behavioral issues. He may also have some degree of learning disorder or executive functioning/processing disorder. Your psychiatrist will hopefully arrange all necessary testing.

    Re suggestions, the first thing I would suggest is focusing on enforcing some basic house rules with less talk and a focus on action. You could sit difficult child down and tell him the basic rules but do not let him argue about them. No discussion; these are the rules. Try to get some rest before you do this, sit down together, calmly present them, and inform him that breaking them will not result in discussion but action. Then be prepared for him to break them, as he certainly will! He will test. Have a firm response planned, such as: should he jump out his window and run away, call the police and have THEM bring him back. If he breaks things in the house, he loses his things - all of which belong to you legally, and almost all of which are discretionary privileges. He needs basic clothing (not his favorite, necessarily), basic food, shelter, access to a bathroom and the means of cleaning himself, and he needs to go to school. Everything else is a privilege. You have LOTS of scope here to remove privileges for rule breakage; just make a list, decide, and follow through when he breaks that rule. No discussion at the time.

    This may sound a little drastic, but it really gets kids' attention fast and it stops the endless arguments that go in circles. We have a very very challenging difficult child who ONLY began to respond to structure once he lost everything but a mattress, blanket, pillow and lightbulb in his room, and the basics in clothes etc. He had to earn everything back ... long story, and it's still ongoing, but he didn't respond to anything else. Many kids will respond with respect much, much sooner. I know many folks here really like the book 'The Explosive Child' by Ross Greene. It's very well regarded.

    The suggestions I've made are just some ideas to help you get to those two appointments, and then you should get some guidance from the psychiatrist and therapist. Keep posting; this is a great place to vent as well as get suggestions. Good luck! Sending good wishes!
  3. Mac&Cheese

    Mac&Cheese New Member

    Ehlena, Well I have a little 6 year old difficult child that sounds just like yours!
    Reading down your list I could answer yep to almost all! Although he didn't sneak out the window, he was able to sneak out the bathroom that attaches to his room and the hall, sneak out the back basement door of the house, & over the privacy fence!! Just got a phone call 30 min ago from his teacher...Yep, I empathize with you! There are some really awesome people that will come along and give you advice,,,not me!
    I am reading the books they recommended and we are making a little progress. It sounds like you are headed in the right directions with psychiatric appts. Listen to the veterans here, they are the best help! I am posting just to give you moral support....I know how you feel! Hang in there. Linda
  4. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    Hello Ehlena, and welcome.

    You have found a soft place to land here, with lots of parents who understand and have been through similar experiences to yours.

    I'm glad to hear that you've got a psychiatrist appointment set up for your difficult child. It's good to get the evaluation process started, in order to understand if there is some sort of underlying disorder that is causing some of the oppositional and defiant behaviour. If you have the opportunity to, I would highly recommend a neuropsychologist evaluation. They can pinpoint certain neuro issues that other forms of testing cannot.

    Many of us on the board have started with a diagnosis of ODD (or ADHD/ODD). From there it's been a battle to identify the correct diagnosis, so that we can get the right therapy, interventions, accommodations and/or medications for our children.

    I think Katya's advice about dealing with your difficult child in the interim is spot-on. Think of it as do-to-get. Your difficult child needs to do things in order to get things. Give him clear information about rules and expectations, and consequences for his behaviour. Try to make the consequences as natural as possible. For example, if he trashes his bedroom, then he loses all of the stuff in his room except for the bare essentials (mattress on the floor, laundry basket in which to store a change of clothes). Food can be nutritious, but doesn't have to be to his liking. No privileges, no entertainment. Most importantly, try your very best not to engage when he's baiting you. Try to stay calm and detached.

    Check the archives for posts on Detachment 101. It's a skill that many of us have had to learn in order to avoid being swept into difficult child drama, and to maintain a (sometimes tenuous) hold on sanity.

    So glad you found us. Sorry you had to.
  5. totoro

    totoro Mom? What's a GFG?

    Welcome! How old is your child? Is your apt with a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist? I would opt for the later as well as a full Nuero-psychiatric evaluation. This can, if it is done properly, tell you what direction to go with your child. What areas your child has defects or deficits in and what may be going on or possible diagnosis's.
    I would put most rules except the most important ones/safety on hold until you know what is going on and can work on the whole families behaviour modifications. Because usually once you know what is going on, there really does need to be a change within the whole family unit.
    For us, we worked on safety and getting K to school for the first year, and if she didn't want to brush her teeth or shower... so be it. If she needed to eat now! So be it. It isn't worth the fight at times. When my daughter is unstable I never punish her with restrictions or things that are way beyond her grasp.
    You have to look at what he is capable of at each place in time.
    Hang in there and keep coming back and asking questions!
  6. totoro

    totoro Mom? What's a GFG?

    I just read that he is 10yo... so he may be performing at a much younger age or socially or mentally younger. The testing would show these things. My 7yo acts and reacts much younger at times especially when she is unstable, which is when her anxiety is sky high.
  7. moonwolf

    moonwolf moonwolf

    I just wanted to say hi to you, Ehlena. I do not have a difficult child of my own but I'm a caregiver to one...(see Woofens signature for more) I'm new on here but as far as I can tell...everyone on here seems nice and helpful
  8. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    Toto, you reminded me...

    A lot of us have had success with the book The Explosive Child by Ross Greene.
    It might also be worth having a look at Love and Logic (

    Totoro's advice about dealing only with the most critical items and picking your battles might help to defuse some of the tension while you wait for input from the psychiatrist as to what's going on with your difficult child.

  9. busywend

    busywend Well-Known Member Staff Member


    I hear ya! My difficult child would knock something off the table as she walked by and then say she did not do it. I would say, I just watched you do it. And she would still claim it was not her.
    Talk about wanting to pull your own hair out! ARGH!

    Has your son been on any medications?

    Do you know if his bio-mom has ever been diagnosed with anything? Many people self medicate for mental health issues with drugs and alcohol.
  10. Ehlena

    Ehlena New Member

    Thank you so much for your advice and for your welcome. It's so nice to know that I am not alone.

    We are taking him to a psychiatrist. We've done the clearing out the room thing. Time to do it again, I think.

    I know he is capable. This is the worst part for us. His teacher says his writing ability is above and beyond the fifth grade level. When he wants to, he picks things up really quickly. We can't seem to find out what makes him tick. Punish him, and he's so angry he doesn't care. Dangle a carrot, and he thinks you should have given it to him already, so he won't do anything to try and get it. When the teacher asked him about what sort of things would motivate him to work, he named things that we have already offered as reward.

    And he has a really hard time with instructions. Sometimes we have to have him read them out loud, and sometimes he has to do so a few times before he understands what they're asking. Conversely, his reading comprehension is fine. I don't understand it.

    I'll mention the full Neuro-psychiatric evaluation to FI - he'll be the one taking difficult child in to the doctor's in 11 days.

    I'm not sure the details, but I know he lived with his grandpa while FI was going to school, and he was put on a few different ADHD medications. None seemed to work, and one in particular made him aggressive towards others. Another reason for us to be wary of medications.

    I know his bio-mom was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder as part of the court evaluation for custody - anything else, I don't know. She did do meth while difficult child was in the womb. Possibly smoked and drank - we don't know.

    I'll grab that book this weekend, any other recommendations? I'm a speed reader, and gosh, anything that could possibly help I am open to. I'll pass it on to FI as well. I'll check out the website, too. Thank you!

    One of the things that bothered me at the parent-teacher meeting was that difficult child claimed he did not feel loved, and that he didn't know what it felt like to be loved. Ouch. Straight through the heart. I told him later that he shouldn't dare think that we don't love him, and he seemed a little remorseful, but ouch ouch ouch.
  11. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Hi Ehlena, Welcome.

    So sorry you're going through this. Boy, he's a handful.

    It really looks like he's gotten some heavy drug exposure in utero, and with-his early upbringing the way it was, I can see why he thinks he isn't loved. (I'm assuming you didn't come into the picture until he was school age?) I don't think he's thinking about you and your fiance when he says that. I don't think he knows deep down where the feeling stems from, but it may be his bio mom. Try not to take it personally. So many of our kids, bio or not, say that and truly feel it (especially when you're mad at them) and when they see our reactions they can learn to use it against us.
    My difficult child has threatened to move in with-his bmom several times and I just shrug and hand him the phone. Eventually, the threat passes (ours hasn't done it in several mo's) but you go through many nights crying behind a closed door where he can't see you. My only advice is to please develop rhino skin and do not let it affect you.

    I know you can't wait for the tests and results! We're re-testing again in 2 wks. and seeing a psychiatrist on Tues. ... I know my expectations are way too high.

    Take care.
  12. Pookybear66

    Pookybear66 New Member

    Ehlena-I am new here too by a couple of weeks. My son is 8 1/2 but does not seem to have as severe problems as you describe. You've already received some very helpful advice. I would ditto the comments about getting a full evaluation of him. I would also acquire the book the Explosive Child. It has helped me see things a bit differently over the past few weeks and things have been for the most part manageable. I would also set up the rules and boundaries. With this though, if possible, I would involve him. I think difficult child's sometimes respond better when they feel they have control over the situation. I don't know if this would work with your child but just a suggestion.
    Again, welcome and best wishes for the future diagnosis of your son. With answers will come wisdom and vice versa. Hopefully you will get that "aha" moment very soon.
  13. katya02

    katya02 Solace

    It doesn't sound as though your difficult child will likely have an ADHD diagnosis, and unfortunately, so many kids are put on ADHD medications without proper workup beforehand. ADHD medications are stimulants ... and in a kid who isn't ADHD they will definitely produce their expected effect, including aggression. I'm sorry that happened with your difficult child. In terms of other behaviors, does your difficult child lie a lot, even about little things that don't matter? Does he steal, either at home or from stores? Has he been aggressive at school, hurt any animals, or hurt any other kids that you know of? These are questions the psychiatrist will ask; also questions re mood swings, boredom, ability to enjoy things, etc.

    Please try not to take your difficult child's statement about not feeling loved personally. He may really feel like that at one moment, and at another moment be sure, and happy, about being loved. Or he may not be sure about the concept of love. Some of his early childhood history, with a biomom using substances and having a personality disorder, plus living with his grandfather, suggests the potential for him to have found it difficult to form a strong attachment to a caring adult.

    Either way, don't take it personally. You are giving him the best chance possible, and he has your love; he will realize it at some point if he doesn't already.
  14. Pookybear66

    Pookybear66 New Member

    Ehlena-Just another thought. If you haven't already read the post at the beginning of the board entitled "to our newer members", I encourage you to read it. There is a very good thing mentioned called the parent report (its clickable). It will help you figure some answers to questions they may ask you at the psychiatrist and get you detailing all of the past behaviors and situations (like birth mom stuff) that you need to be able to tell the psychiatrist. Sometimes the situation allows us to forget things that are important. So you might want to look this over and get it ready for your appointment. (Marge told me about it-Thanks Marge!)
  15. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    Welcome, Ehlena!
  16. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Ehlena, you and your fiance sound like you really have your hands full. You have already found some useful information about him - punishment only makes him resentful. Rewards make him feel entitled. This tells me that he isn't 'getting' the connection between his actions and the consequences.

    And he says he doesn't feel he is loved (the others are correct, don't take this personally). Congratulate him for being brave enough to be honest about his feelings but recognise that how HE feels is not necessarily what is really going on. Obviously you and your partner love him, but he says he isn't feeling it. That is not surprising, given his age and his problems. Part of it too, is I suspect him thinking, how could anyone love me when I am so difficult sometimes? I think at some level he worries that he is unlovable, based on how you and your fiance are responding to him.

    You and your fiance are following strict parenting, the sort of things we all grew up with knowing to be the right way to handle a difficult child - be strict, be firm, be consistent.

    The trouble is, for some kids this is wrong. Sounds crazy, but sometimes we have to do things almost the opposite, to get some good results. And frankly, with kids like this it's the results we want, tat speak the loudest.

    "Explosive Child" spells it out well. If you want a fast preview, there is some good discussion of this book in the Stickies in the Early Childhood forum, on how to adapt it to younger children. It's difficult to describe it quickly, but it IS simple in principle - it swaps the adult as controller (and seen by the child as obstacle) for adult as supporter and facilitator. It hands control to the child - a scary thought. But it does it in ways that parents can accept, in the same way you allow a child learning to walk, to take those steps feeling as if they are allowed to choose where they want to walk. They don't see that their parents are behind them with hands outstretched at the ready.

    Back to this boy - he feels he knows best. To handle this, you can either tell him otherwise (yeah, like THAT'S working!) or let him try it his way (with you at the ready just in case) to see what will happen. It is often the most effective way for them to learn, if they just will not learn any other way.

    On the ADHD front (or whatever it is) - your son can read well and has comprehension there, but isn't doing well when people give him a talking-to. This does sound very familiar, and CAN be connected to ADHD. Can be other things too. We had this especially badly with difficult child 1 and we dealt with it (still do, to a lesser extent) by putting it in writing. If there are chores to be done - we make a list. If there are instructions to follow - we write them down.

    An example with difficult child 1 - we would be having afternoon tea with friends at their home, where difficult child 1 had not been before. He asked to go to the bathroom and they said, "Sure. Go through that door and turn left, it's the fourth door on the right. The light switch is outside the door."
    difficult child 1 would be lucky to get to the first door before having to ask, "Which direction again? How far?" If you physically took him there he would be OK. But trying to remember an abstract sequence of even simple instructions, he would forget and lose track.
    We worked out what we figured was happening - his short-term memory (the one you use to remember a phone number you've just looked up, for example) didn't seem to be working. It is short-term memory which manipulates information in your head, that helps you remember steps in a procedure, that helps you with a lot of simple tasks. difficult child 1 would use his remarkably good long-term memory as a substitute. So if he looked up a phone number, he would often remember it for months. If he watched a documentary on TV on a favourite topic, he would remember the narration almost perfectly. We could ask, "What was that nature program on eagles saying about the distribution of Golden Eagles?" months later and he would be able to tell us.

    difficult child 1 was diagnosed as ADHD when he was 6, but some years later at about 14 or 15, was diagnosed as Asperger's plus ADHD. Stims HAVE helped him, also helped difficult child 3 immensely. But there's no guarantee.

    What helped us - adapting to what he needed, trying to find ways to make it easier for him by using aides such as written lists, mind-mapping (for essay plans) and recognising that despite his high intelligence, he wasn't able to demonstrate this because of subtle learning problems which are too easily masked by a bright kid. They don't deliberately hide their abilities; it is simply a way of adapting to their condition and trying to fit in like everyone else. Example - I am very short-sighted, always have been. But at school I managed to slide by because I found if I squinted my eyes tightly, I could see a little further (there is a scientific explanation for why this works). When I was getting my eyes tested by the school nurse, I passed the eye test by squinting. The school nurse didn't notice; after all, I had just read the required line. She hadn't been looking at me, she had been looking at the chart to check that I was reading it correctly. I wasn't trying to be sneaky; the nurse wanted me to do as well as I could, surely?
    But I DID go home and tell my mother, "I know the school nurse said I could read the eye chart, but I had to squint to do it and surely that's not right?" I was independently aware that I was having trouble with my eyes and I asked for help.

    If my suspicions are right about your son, he is going to seem very disrespectful, tactless, rude and arrogant. But this is perhaps not what he is really like, if my hunch is right. difficult child 3 comes across like this. His behaviour was made worse when people reacted negatively to this in him. You would think a kid would learn, if you seem disrespectful and people react with hostility, then you learn to not be so disrespectful? With some kids, it just doesn't work that way, it backfires. Because a person reacting with hostility is often seeming to be equally disrespectful! The age or status of the person doesn't matter, to the child - they don't necessarily discriminate. Everybody is equal. So sarcasm, scolding, even expressing disappointment - doesn't sink in. Or it confuses them. What they need first, even before they have "earned" it, as you might thing - is to be treated with the same respect you would like to receive from them. You CAN say to them, "Why did you say that to me? You sounded very disrespectful when you said that, I didn't disrespect you. What you should have said was, ...".
    This statement makes no judgement about the child's intentions. You have merely expressed how YOU felt in response to the child's actions/words and then modelled how it SHOULD have been done/said. You do it calmly, gently, politely. Quietly. Then move on. Ignore apparent rudeness, do not react or let it escalate a situation. Instead, try to get to the real crux of an inter-reaction.

    Sometimes apparent rudeness can come out of anxiety. difficult child 3 can get VERY anxious about all sorts of surprising things. For example, driving to his drama class. "Mum, why are you going this way? It's stupid; we're already late, we're going to be even later now, because you didn't listen. You've done it wrong!"
    Now please note - he didn't say I was stupid, only what I did. And he was wrong - I drove a longer way but a quicker one.
    Instead of scolding him (which will heighten his anxiety only it will come out as anger, indignation, resentment and then hostility) I reassure. "It's OK, I know what I'm doing. If I drive the other way I have to slow down to 50 k/h. This way I'm able to drive at 90 k/h for most of the way. The other way, I have four roundabouts, all busy. This way I have two, both quiet. Don't worry, we'll be on time."
    He quiets down a bit (instead of the alternative - getting louder and ruder - not good to arrive at class tense and angry).
    Once at class (in time) I say, "We're here. We're not late. Do you feel less anxious now?"
    I don't ask for an apology - I mightn't get it, because he will still be a little bit anxious until he gets in and his class starts. On the way home we can talk about it. Or next week when he again says, "Mum! You're going the wrong way again!" That is when I can say, "Remember last week? I said then, I do know what I'm doing. It's OK."

    It doesn't sound like anxiety. It sounds like rudeness and anger. But treating it as anxiety has change how difficult child 3 responds to us, which lessens his anxiety, which improves our interactions, which improves his trust of us, which improves how he speaks to us, which... you get the picture.

    I do have to stop other people from over-reacting to his apparent rudeness. mother in law used to correct him far too much (in my opinion) but finally understood what we'd been trying to tell her about how to handle him. Lately, however, she's begun to correct him for how he speaks to me. To his credit, he no longer reacts to her when she does this. He has also begun to apologise for perceived rudeness, usually after the wave of anxiety has past.

    Think about how WE react when we see our child do something suddenly dangerous, such as run out onto the road after a ball. We shout at our child, we scold, we say, "How could you do such a foolhardy thing?" To a child like my difficult child 3, and I suspect like yours, this doesn't sound like our fear for them, it sounds like us being angry with them for no good cause. They will therefore react in the same manner that they have perceived WE would react - they get righteously indignant. "What are you talking about? Why are you talking to me like this? I do not deserve such language from you!"

    Does this sound familiar?

    Explosive Child can help with this. It takes courage and it takes good communication between you and your fiance, but aside from that, it is actually easier to implement, than what you are doing now.

    Keep a diary on him, do check out the sticky (both the one here for new members, and the one on Early Childhood on Explosive Child) and I'll keep my fingers crossed for you, for that appointment coming up soon to give you some good answers.

    Welcome aboard!

  17. crazymama30

    crazymama30 Active Member

    Welcome. This is a good place to get advice, and I believe you have gotten much already. My difficult child is also a 10yr old boy, but he is stable (cross fingers & knock on wood, doing the anti board curse dance) right now. You can tell from my response that that can change in a hearbeat. With the correct treatment, including medications possibly, your difficult child can be the child he wants to be. Good luck, and try to find something positive that he does and praise him for it. My difficult child thrives on this.

    Good luck
  18. Ehlena

    Ehlena New Member

    I just wanted to thank you all for your advice. I ordered both Parenting the Explosive Child and Parenting with Love and Logic. They're arriving on Friday. I read all the articles on the Parenting with Love and Logic website, and I have been trying to institute these principles, but with limited success.

    difficult child was good on Monday, and then returned to his "normal" behavior on Tuesday.

    Six more days until the psychiatric evaluation, and seven more until counseling.

    I'm starting to see that the reason that difficult child behaves the way he does is because he has this idea that he knows better than everyone else (and even when he is proved wrong, he will not accept that he IS wrong). He won't even follow directions on a mac 'n cheese box. He burnt himself as a result, but I'll bet that if given the directions or recipe for another bit of food, he'll try to do it his own way again. It's just not the first time that not following directions has turned out poorly for him.

    Another example, if I tell him to get a rag and clean the railing, two seconds later, he'll walk by with a paper towel in hand. And if I try to tell him WHY he should be using a rag as opposed to a paper towel? Here comes the argument, and why he thinks he knows better. Oftentimes, his argument doesn't even make sense!