It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

The Explosive Child: Call-in Teleseminar

Special Guest: Dr. Doug Riley, author of best-seller, The Defiant Child, and the new book, What Your Explosive Child is Trying to Tell You.


It was my distinct pleasure to interview Dr. Riley in this information-packed program on explosive behaviors in children and adolescents. He shares things that make sense in understanding and addressing different kinds of explosive behavior in young people.

For more information and to listen to or download the program, CLICK HERE.

James Sutton, Psychologist

September 24, 2009 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Parents, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Working with the Child Who Minimizes

“IT DOESN’T BOTHER ME THAT MUCH.” Minimization is “leaky” denial. In many ways, minimization is more difficult to deal with than denial because a youngster can minimize for 50 years. There could be a couple of reasons why a student or client would minimize the impact of an emotional event. It could be a way to avoid looking at or discussing painful stuff.

If a counselor puts off discussing the issue because the youngster minimizes it, the issue could eat the child alive. There is another possibility.

Youngsters who feel they must remain tough and bulletproof (difficult and defiant youngsters often fall into this category) feel they can’t afford any emotional baggage that pulls them down. Denial and minimization are their handiest defense against what they perceive as yet more pain and vulnerability. They feel that even quality suffering and getting through the issues are luxuries they can’t afford. It has always amazed me at just how surprised these youngsters are when they get an authentic glimpse of the power of what bothers them.

An example. I was doing group therapy at a residential treatment center one day. In the circle with me were about a dozen emotionally disturbed adolescent females. One girl was asked if it bothered her that her mother refused to keep her shortly after adopting her. (The girl tried to burn the house down, not exactly a way to show gratitude to a new parent.) “Not really,” she replied. “It doesn’t bother me much at all.”

“Sandy,” I said (not her real name), “does it bother you this much?” (I patted the empty seat next to me.) “Or does it bother you THIS MUCH?” (I screamed it out and hit the chair with both hands, full force.)

After we all recovered our wits, and after I assured the secretarial staff in the other room that they didn’t have to call in the National Guard, we discussed minimization. That remains one of my best therapy sessions ever.

(This intervention on minimization came from Dr. Sutton’s book, 60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child. This publication is also available in ebook (pdf) format at a very nominal cost. Go to his website,, for more information.)


James Sutton, Psychologist

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Noncritical Noticing

NONCRITICAL NOTICING: It’s a safe bet that many, if not most, oppositional and defiant youngsters expect just about everything coming out of an adult’s mouth to be critical of them. They expect it, and they’re prepared for it. (Well, with the kind of responses their behaviors generally bring, it could be true much of the time.) But if you’ve ever attempted to pay them a compliment directly, they might find a way to trash it, right?

So how do we “notice” our children without it being turned into a conflict? Try a strategy I call Noncritical Noticing

In Noncritical Noticing a parent describes a slice of time with their child in it. It’s a clear example of how we must do our best work with our children when there is no conflict. Noncritical Noticing contains a lot of specifics, but no interpretation, judgement, or criticism. As such, it requires no response. This intervention is intended to slip silently under a child’s “radar,” catching them off guard, but in a positive way. It suggests to the youngster that we are taking a moment to notice THEM, and nothing else. It can be a powerful way to shape behavior, soften defenses, and build on a relationship. (Isn’t this an improvement over a youngster acting out in order to be noticed?)

(One of the tricky parts to this intervention is that a parent MUST use it when there is no conflict. This means there must be a conscious effort to use it when things are going relatively smoothly. In other words, opportunities must be created.)

Here are a couple of examples from my book, What Parents Need to Know About ODD (Friendly Oaks Publications, 2007). This first one would be appropriate for a young child:

I see you’re putting a lot of bright colors into your drawing. Yes; there’s yellow, green and orange … and a very bright red right there. Really bright colors!

Notice that there is no evaluation at all regarding what the colors mean to the adult other than they are bright. The child already knew what he wanted to do with the colors; he just appreciated being noticed for it.

Here’s an example of Noncritical Noticing with an adolescent:

Tammy, I see you are carefully folding your clothes so you can get them all into that one suitcase you’re taking to Grandma’s. Look, you even found a way to use that small space down there on the end.

It’s really a snapshot, isn’t it? In this comment the parent is recognizing Tammy’s skill and focus in packing the suitcase without overinterpreting it. To Tammy the message could be: You have the ability to figure things out for yourself, to have a plan and make it work. After all, Tammy’s interpretation is the one that matters, right? Actually, it would probably work best for the parent to leave the room after the comment, giving it some time and silence to soak in.

Warning: The first time you try Noncritical Noticing you’ll struggle with wanting to intrepret or evaluate. It gets better with practice. 

Teachers: Noncritical Noticing is also a great strategy to use in the classroom, like in this example.

Tommy, before class started,  I saw you sharpening not one, not two, but THREE pencils! 

 The youngster in this situation receives the benefit of being recognized by the adult (and they DO like that), but with no judgement as to what the three pencils signify. There’s no fuel for disagreement, unless the student actually sharpened FOUR.

(You’ll find more great ideas for parents in Dr. Sutton’s book, What Parents Need to Know About ODD (Friendly Oaks Publications, 2007). Click on the title for more information and to order. This great resource also is available in ebook (pdf) format at a reduced cost. For specifics on the ebook and for the option of immediate download, CLICK HERE.)

September 16, 2009 Posted by | Difficult Child, family, Parents | Leave a comment

Put it to Bed!

PUT IT TO BED! A 13-year-old boy was brought to my office by his parents; they were having big-time struggles with him. During the evaluation I asked him if he had a message he wanted his parents to hear loud and clear above all else. He replied (almost tearfully), “Tell them I don’t mean to cause trouble.” I believe he meant it, but it wasn’t going to stop his defiance. His statement did, however, underscore a powerful message I have been hearing one way or another from young people for over 30 years: They might struggle with their folks, but they DON’T want to lose them. This intervention focuses on recapturing the relationship in the midst of conflict.

As your son or daughter is just going to sleep, sit quietly at the foot of their bed for 2 minutes. Two minutes, that’s all (but it will seem like an eternity at first). Say nothing, then leave after the two minutes. If you continue this, it’s a safe bet that your child will eventually say something like, “Uh … Mom (Dad), WHY are you sitting on my bed?” There’s your opening. Try responding with something like this:

Well, you know, it’s gets a little crazy around this house during the day sometimes (especially in the mornings). If we’re not fussing at each other, we’re not speaking much at all. I guess I just wanted to be with you for a minute or two when things were quiet and calm. Is that okay?

Chances are it will be more than okay. The interchange that can occur naturally during the most peaceful and stable part of the child’s entire day, the moments before they drop off to sleep, can be special and relationship-focused.  

I’ve shared this intervention with thousands of parents over the years. Of those who have tried it and reported back to me, not a single parent ever indicated that the intervention exploded in their face. There were varying degrees of effectiveness, but all of them were glad they tried it. Most of them kept it up.

Let me be clear. I don’t recommend this intervention for all parents (I wouldn’t recommend it if the child was afraid of the parent, for instance), but it continues to be one of the most simple yet powerful actions I know that can put a relationship back on track. It won’t solve every issue, but it’s not a bad place to start.

NOTE: To subscribe to Dr. Sutton’s free monthly publication, the ODD Management Digest, click on the link to the right of this posting.


James Sutton, Psychologist

September 7, 2009 Posted by | Difficult Child, family, Parents | , , , , , , | Leave a comment