What to do when discipline doesn't work


New Member
Our difficult child left behind an elementary school full of teachers and professionals that thought she worked on water. She received straight As and was a well-loved member of the community.

She just transitioned to middle school in September and her educational experience has flipped 180*. Just in the last two weeks, we've received three separate calls from teachers and the dean of students about unrelated incidents and her grades are Fs across the board.

Today, she was caught coming onto campus late, having snuck to Taco Bell for a slushee. When confronted by the Dean of Students, she threw a massive screaming fit. She's currently sitting in In-School Suspension. Just last week, her gym teacher caught her sneaking out of class and she had a screaming meltdown when confronted.

Her father and I are at a loss for how we can curb this behavior. She gets to school 20 minutes before the bell, and we have no way to police her behavior between arriving and the start of class. She's technically not allowed to leave campus but no one has stopped her.

We have restricted her from screen time, isolated her to our apartment for weeks on end, removed all of her possessions when it became clear she'd destroy them. All of our attempts at positive parenting work short term only. While we can remain consistent and stern for the duration, once S has decided she's done falling in line life becomes unlivable. Daily screaming fits, abuse hurled and/or whispered at siblings so that we must divert attention from her to whoever she's torn down. Upping the ante by behaving blatantly worse in an attempt to scare us into backing down.

We've tried to be mindful of her relationship with her father. We've followed every instruction for creating a more positive relationship between them. She's not denied affection. He reacts calmly and lovingly even when punishing her. He tells her stories about his childhood and her early childhood. He engages her in her interests and does what he can to find activities to do with her.

I'm not sure what the hell we do from here. We have a potential life-changing opportunity in the works. We need S to not burn her academic life down for just this next month while we get specifics organized. But I don't know how we do that without ignoring all of her bad behavior, which effectively shuts us down as authority figures.

Specifics about our life for disciplinary suggestions:
*we live in a two bedroom apartment. She shares a room with her step-sister.
*besides school and home, she attends boys and girls club. She's not in any orgs or teams to incentivize.
*her only electronic device is the school -loaned chromebook
*We have *zero* money for orgs or opportunities currently, and no good means of consistent transport even if we did.


I have one child who needs clear discipline from time to time as in "this is the rule, you will follow it or this will be your consequence ".It works for her. And then I have a son who this has never worked for, the only result were roving meltdowns and oppositional behaviors. The only thing that works for him is to figure out where he is coming from and figure out with him what he needs to do better.
Really, at the end of the day I am a big believer in doing what works for each kid and there is no one-style-fits-all-kids parenting style. If discipline has been tried and is not working, try a different approach. For my son the only approach that has worked is by Ross Greene, he has a website with info and materials (all free) called livesinthebalance.org. It is an approach used by many schools as well (particularly for kids who do not respond to consequences/punishments) In some ways it is less of a different approach and more of a shift on how you look at your kid's behavior and in turn how you respond to it. It has made a huge difference for us, so I just want to throw it our there.


Well-Known Member
Read The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. Some kids never respond to discipline so you have to think outside the box. And even.Greenes ideas may not work but it's different and worth a try. Ross Greene basically helps you get more peace if you have a child who does not try to please anyone and can not be disciplined because they refuse to be told what to do. There are kids who flat out can not be disciplined.

Many of the latter group do better in residential treatment where they tolerate no violence and have more help than at home.

It is impossible to have family life if one child controls things. Sometimes they can't live at home. It is very sad...i know a family that had to remove their twelve year old son to residential treatment as he was a threat to his younger sister and very violent. He is still there with visits on holidays.

Good luck!
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New Member
Many of the latter group do better in residential treatment where they tolerate no violence and have more help than at home.

It is impossible to have family life if one child controls things. Sometimes they can't live at home.

This is our biggest worry. S bows to no one. We used to be able to call in her mother as a positive, calming influence on her behavior. Once S realized that she couldn't play her mother and us against one another, she stopped seeking affection from her mother.

We can't not discipline her because the lack of understanding from the other children would cause absolute anarchy. The children require consistency of rules and consequences. For the other three, even with the oldest's issues, that works. But for S, nothing does. And when the other kids see that, it causes discord and anxiety among them.

We still haven't heard back from Family Reconciliation. We've left messages with a few other agencies. But the truth is, we've already pretty much decided the road based on the trajectory. She escalated from occasional screaming fits and constantly destroying her own property but being generally easy for other adult authority figures to being unmanageable for ANY adult figure, unwilling to follow any rules, going where she wants when she wants consequences be damned, stealing items and money indiscriminantly (cash, ipods, phones, shoplifting), and constant daily abuse of her siblings and us within a TWO MONTH SPAN.

We're exhausted. The other kids are getting worn down too. I don't see a future where S lives with us full-time, if at all, and it breaks my heart. She's got so much potential. But we can't keep throwing 110% of ourselves at her hoping for her to reach 10% of that potential, especially when our other three children need our attention too and would flourish given even a fraction of what we end up devoting to S.


Active Member
With some kids, any type of negative punishment simply does not work. However POSITIVE rewards for doing good things works like magic!

I did this with a kid with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and it suddenly got him to start doing good things. Including doing good work in school.

Kind of strange, but I would SURE rather go around finding good things a kid does rather than punishing them. Note with other "normal" kids, punishment/consequences works best.

The rewards can be anything the kid likes. Special food/drinks. TV. Achievement certificate. Toy. Etc.


Well-Known Member
The school district has the obligation to manage her behavior in school or if they cannot teach her effectively because of some diagnosed learning disability, emotional problem, etc. to place her in the least restrictive environment, where she can learn. This includes either a non-public school placement, or up to a residential treatment center at the cost of the school district.

I think I mentioned to you on another thread that I think I would:
1. get her into good therapy, and consider yourself learning about somatic therapies for trauma in children.
2. try to wear her out with lots of opportunities for exercise, recreation--equestrian therapy for children and adults with disabilities, emotional or behavioral problems can be free.
3. encourage her with expressive arts, drawing, painting. Or even learning to crochet or knit.
4. consider one to one therapy, whether dance, talk, or art therapy with people who have work with children. There are sliding scale fees, often, that can be $15.00 a session or less.

To be effective at advocating for her through school you would have to have her privately evaluated (could be free or cheap, at university or children's regional hospitals, as I mentioned on another thread.

If your energies right now for the welfare of the family need to be focused on other things, as well as her, I would face that head on. Because it would not be good for her, if inside of you, or the other family members, you blamed or scapegoated her for missed opportunities. She would always know. And so would you. For a temporary stay, can she go to a family member, so that you can focus on restoring calm with the other kids, and focus on the important family opportunity?

It is not real life to drop everything to focus on the demands and needs of an out of control pre-adolescent. The truth is better acknowledged.

Something is happening with her that is fueling these behavioral changes (whether early abuse, kicking in, current stressors, drugs, bullying at school, mental illness, the effects of an unknown undiagnosed illness or disability or even, a desire to dominate and control the family, or a desire to create chaos. It could be anything.

There are decision to be faced, about your priorities and your responsibilities. Nothing can take away this truth. There is no way out that I can think of that reality can be wished away.