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When Everything is a Battle: Dealing with Oppositional and Defiant Behaviors

By Rachel Martin, AMFT

Supervised by Marté J. Matthews, MA, LMFT

Has just getting your child out of the house in the morning turned into a battle of epic proportions? Are you spending every waking hour arguing with your teen to get even the simplest task done? Do you find yourself thinking/saying, “Why can’t we just have one interaction where it doesn’t result in yelling, stomping, throwing, and door slamming?” It often feels impossible to break free of this endlessly exhausting cycle of arguments. We constantly feel like we have no control over our child. And we don’t.

That’s the big shocking secret that nobody ever talks about: you can’t actually control how your child feels, thinks and acts. Only your child has this power, and they don’t have any idea how to control it.

There, I said it. You don’t have control over your child’s emotions, thoughts or behaviors. I’ll admit that you can have influence, but you won’t have control. Some of you are probably ready to stop reading this article right now. “I thought you were going to tell me how to fix my kid!” Bear with me. This part about control and who has it is really important. In fact, if you, the parent don’t get this concept first, then life will most likely continue as it is, stuck in a cycle of arguing.

In order to understand this concept, let’s look at who controls your emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Many of you are thinking, well if my kid is around, they make me mad. Then they make it so that I have to yell at them. If they would just do what I said, I wouldn’t have to get so angry! In each of these statements, you are giving your child the power to make decisions about how you feel, think and react.

Here’s the next big secret: You can stop giving them that power. The emotions of anger, frustration, sadness and hurt will still come up in response to your child’s actions and words. But you have the power to choose how to respond. You are the adult, with a fully developed brain and years of experience in life. When you think about it like this, why would you ever give an angry 12 year-old the reins to your thoughts and responses to your emotions? Your emotions belong to you. Own your thoughts. You choose how you respond, not someone else.

Easy enough, right? I know, much easier said than done. But at least you’re thinking about trying something other than arguing.

To find out how to put this newly rediscovered power into practice, join Rachel Martin at the Campbell Public Library this October for all 3 parts of When Everything is a Battle, a free parenting class open to parents who want to find ways to make family life a little easier.


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