It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

The Behavior Modification Trap (free e-book)

The Behavior Modification Trap

A complimentary e-booklet for parents and educators


Have you ever offered a youngster a super deal of some kind if they would do a task, only to have them refuse? If it’s a youngster who is oppositional, defiant and difficult by nature, they seem to delight more in refusing than accepting … regardless of the offer.


What’s going on here? It doesn’t make sense, does it? This free publication, The Behavior Modification Trap, addresses … AND ANSWERS … an interesting question: Why do tangible rewards and incentives NOT work with some youngsters?


To download this complimentary e-book, CLICK HERE.


Dr. James Sutton, Psychologist

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tip for Counselors: THE LIST

THE LIST: It is a challenge sometimes getting youngsters to identify issues they need to work on in counseling. It’s also possible for a counselor to have the exact opposite problem: youngsters who lean too heavily on the counselor and want to “customize” every session.


I’ve had counseling and therapy clients bring a list with them! It contained all the issues and items they wanted me to cover in the sessions with them. If this were a once-in-a-while sort of thing, with a youngster writing down a few things during the week she wanted to discuss with me during the next session, it would be fine.


As a habit, however, a list can send up a few red flags. We’ll look at three concerns. (You’ll notice I keep saying “she” because my most memorable list-making, list-bringing, client was an adolescent girl.)


1. The list might be full of petty gripes and complaints that she wants me to fix or repair for her. Again, one or two occasional issues are not a problem, but I do need to make it clear that the counselor or therapist is not a handyman or a cop. (The real focus here is her empowerment to manage the smaller issues herself.)

2. The list could be a diversion. It just might be a defocus to take the discussion away from things that are difficult or uncomfortable for her to address. As long as she can make a list, and as long as I address her list items in session, she’s controlling the session and not doing much in terms of improvement.

3. The list could signal compulsive or histrionic characteristics. With adolescents, especially girls, persistence in making and bringing lists to counseling or therapy could create concern about emerging features of a personality disorder. This is not as big a concern with younger clients. One young client brought her list to almost every session. She even gave me a decorated binder for storing all her notes and lists! This girl brought me the ultimate list to one session: numbered ways to kill herself. She wanted me to circle the one I thought best for her … a “recommendation”, so to speak. Obviously, we had plenty of work to do in that session.


Here’s how I handled the list thing with her and a few others. I didn’t tell her not to make or bring lists. Instead, I accepted the list, placed it on the corner of my desk, and shared that we could talk about the list during the last few minutes of the session. This approach worked well with her and, without me saying much about it, the lists got shorter and eventually disappeared.


As you might guess, this young lady was not my typical counseling case. I’m happy to say, however, that she is doing quite well today. Life for her has not been easy, but she has persevered and thrived. I’m proud to say she’s happily married, has earned a college degree, owns her own successful business, is active in her church, and has five great kids.


James Sutton, EdD, Psychologist

August 23, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oppositional Defiant Disorder Digest (August, 2010)

ODD Management Digest

(August, 2010)


The August, 2010, issue of the resource for parents, teachers and counselors, the ODD Management Digest, has been published to the web. For a complimentary (free) subscription, CLICK HERE. (If you miss the August, 2010, issue, subscribe anyway. Any current Digest will direct you to archived issues.)

Here’s what in the August, 2010, issue:



Take a Moment: Three things are discussed for bringing back a more hopeful perspective regarding a difficult and defiant child.


“Before I Get Mad” Poster: A teacher in West Virginia shares a fun and effective way to teach students how to control emotional outbursts.


The List:  What do you do if a youngster comes to counseling or therapy with a list of items they want to cover during every session? Interesting.


Finding a Counselor or Therapist (Part One): This is the first of two parts of an answer to a father’s questions about what makes a good counselor or therapist for his child, and where does one find them.


(E-Book) The Behavior Modification Trap: This 18-page e-book is actually the sixth chapter from Dr. Sutton’s latest work-in-progress, The Changing Behavior Book. In this e-book, Dr. Sutton addresses why tangible rewards and incentives often fail with some youngsters, and what can be done to defeat the “trap”.


Digest Archives: Dr. Sutton discusses how back issues of the Digest are still being archived, and shows readers how to access them.


How Long? This is Dr. Sutton’s tribute to the late Art Linkletter, who passed away this summer at age 97. Included is “My Best Introduction”, Linkletter’s contribution to the book for grandparents, Grand-Stories.

For a complimentary subscription to the ODD Management Digest, CLICK HERE. The Digest will appear monthly in your email as long as you want, and you can cancel it at any time.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, Links | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


ASK!  One of the reasons why I featured the interview with child and adolescent psychologist, Dr. Doug Riley, in the July issue of the ODD Management Digest is because of something he said in the interview. It struck a chord with me:

When I talk to parents about how their child is thinking, they often ask me, “Well, how do you know what he’s thinking?” The answer is simple; I ask the child, “What are you thinking? And I do my best to help them from there.


Asking is worth the effort, but it’s not always a simple matter. One of the obstacles a counselor or a therapist faces with a child or adolescent is the youngster’s perception that they are in trouble, and that the counselor or therapist is a consequence of their behavior. Often, that’s exactly the case, so it’s not unusual for kids to be guarded initially.

(Guardedness is a normal response, and any efforts to entice or force youngsters to speak are only going to kick their guardedness into the next gear.)

So, if you want to know something, ask. Good counselors and therapists make their mark and their living on asking the right questions and asking them well. Here are three suggestions for asking:

Ask with acceptance: They know if you can do this or not, and they pick up on it quickly. About a year or so ago, I worked with an elderly fellow in a nursing home. While trying out his new scooter that had just arrived from the VA, he accidently ran over a lady’s foot. His “punishment” was psychotherapy … ME! 

Naturally, he resented it … and me, also. I asked him if he would let me work with him. I suggested that, so long as I was seeing him, staff would leave him alone. I also deemphasized his “crime”, and instead worked with him on issues of his health and family that caused him to lose his home and independence. We developed an excellent relationship that has lasted long past that initial therapeutic alliance. (Yes, I know this example does not involve a child or adolescent but, at some point, young folks and old folks are very similar in their behaviors and issues.)

Ask with interest: With doctors they call it “bedside manner”, that ability to connect with a patient so well that the packed waiting room seems not to matter at all. It’s that capacity to focus so intensely on a youngster and her circumstances that it augments healing directly. It’s the magic wrapped up in a question like:


You know, Sarah, I’m not sure I understand, but I WANT to understand. Can you help me understand what you mean?


Ask with empathy: No youngster goes to see a counselor or therapist because their lives are going splendidly. There is pain somewhere and it’s seen in the sort of discomfort that is almost palpable.

Sometimes the direct approach is best:

Tommy, it seems to me you don’t really want to be here right now, that you’re uncomfortable about this visit. (I usually pause for some sort of acknowledgement.) If I could do something that would help you feel better about it, what would it be?


The youngster might or might not offer anything specific, but the question is disarming and amazingly soothing. It also helps to get to issues quickly. Tommy wants to know you care, and that you will actively demonstrate that caring.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, family, Healthy living, Humor, Parents, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment