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Approach to Noncompliance: A Meeting That Never Happens! (Dr. James Sutton)

BTAboutThemHere’s a strategy to use with an uncooperative youngster that lets her THINK her way back into compliance. Best of all, it comes out looking like HER idea.

Oppositional and defiant sons and daughters already think they are equal to the task of playing compliance games with their parents. And, more often than we’d like to admit, they’re right. Here’s an idea for setting up a situation whereby the youngster decides the best solution to the problem is to DO what needs to be done.

Jim415smIt applies across most any tasks, but let’s say Dad has already had a discussion with Sally about rolling the trash container out to the street on pickup day. It’s a quick and easy task she can do before she goes to school. She has even agreed to do it; no problem there.

The problem is the chore is NOT being done. The container is brimming over, as is Dad’s frustration in Sally’s neglected chore and a broken promise about doing it.

If Dad confronts Sally directly about the chore, he knows she could turn the whole thing into an uncomfortable argument. Here’s one thought on how he might approach it. Keep in mind the chore could be anything; the trash container is just an example.

trashcanDad makes it a point to speak with Sally the evening BEFORE the trash is to be put out on the curb:

Sally, I’ve noticed that the trash has not been moved out to the street for a couple of weeks now. It’s becoming a problem. You promised me you’d put it out every Wednesday morning before you went to school. So far, it looks like the plan isn’t working very well.

Let’s do this, Sally. Let’s see what happens with the trash in the morning. If it doesn’t get put out, we’ll meet tomorrow evening to work on a different plan. Sally, what would be a good time for you to meet with me tomorrow night? Six o’clock? Six thirty? Seven? You pick it, Sally. What time would work for you?

Although it’s very possible Sally will say she will take the trash around in the morning, Dad should continue to press for a time to meet the next evening. She only has to give him a time, and she can pick it.

Sally quickly realizes that, although the time is set for a meeting tomorrow night, it can be avoided completely. All she has to do is PUT OUT THE TRASH in the morning. (Of course, the fact that she has already set the time to meet with her father “helps” to move the trash around.)

One benefit of this intervention is that it approaches the issue as a problem to be solved rather than a confrontation. Additionally, it puts Sally in complete control of making certain the meeting DOESN’T happen … by complying!

(Teachers: This same approach could also work with a difficult and “forgetful” student, also.)

Psychologist Dr. James Sutton is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network. His book, Resolving Conflict with Your Children, contains a step-by-step process to use to address compliance issues in the home.


March 7, 2017 Posted by | Affirmation and Recognition, Difficult Child, Discipline, family, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Oppositional Defiant Disorder Management Digest (July, 2010)

ODD Management Digest

(July, 2010)


The July, 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 July, 2010, issue, subscribe anyway. Any current Digest will direct you to archived issues.)

Here’s what in the July, 2010, issue:



Discipline Problems at School, Part Two: This is the second part of a two-part series on discipline issues at school. In this issue, a “collaborative” approach to intervention is discussed.


Celebration of Learning Day: A teacher in Kansas shares how her husband encourages achievement in his classroom by getting everyone involved.


Ask! We can learn a lot about a youngster by simply asking. Three suggestions for asking are discussed.


The Kid Who Wants to STAY Angry, Part Two: This is a second part of an answer to a parent’s concern. This part offers ideas for intervention into the four most typical reasons why children and teens elect to remain angry rather than resolve it.


A Special Interview: The “freebie” for this issue is a strikingly candid and informative interview with the author of the bestselling book, The Defiant Child.


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


How Long? This is Dr. Sutton’s tribute to the late John Wooden, the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins. Included is a wonderful great-granddad story Coach Wooden sent to Dr. Sutton for inclusion in the book, Grand-Stories. Don’t miss this one!

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.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Healthy living, Parents, Self-esteem, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A World-class Slob


My 15-year-old son is a world-class slob. His room looks like a bomb went off in it. There are no clothes in his closet; they are ALL on the floor, as is just about everything else. I have discussed this with him many times, and have implemented consequences, but nothing has changed. This is slowly driving me crazy! Any ideas?

 I used to think this was a problem mostly with boys, but I recently had another email from parents of a girl who trashes her bedroom and her bathroom beyond recognition. I’m betting it’s a fairly common issue.

As you struggle with cluttered bedrooms and bathrooms, keep in mind that these are battles a youngster can win by default. They win by doing nothing, which is the easiest behavioral habit to maintain. That means it can be tough to change.

Management of this sort of problem would depend on several things:

  1. Does the youngster have to share that space with anyone else? (Is their behavior directly affecting the lifestyle of someone else?)
  2. Does this same problem carry over outside of the bedroom and bathroom to the degree that it seriously affects others? (Do they clutter everyone else’s living space, also?)
  3. Are there other significant compliance issues at home and school? (Are they having trouble in school, such as failing grades?)

 If the answer to all these questions is “Yes,” you have bigger issues than a messy bedroom; focus on them. If the answer is “No,” you might do what my wife, Bobbie, did with our son in a similar situation.

 She sat him down and related how his messy room actually was hurting their relationship. She explained that she didn’t relish being on his case about picking up his clothes and keeping his room clean enough so his friends didn’t have to get tetanus shots just to visit him.

 She made him this deal: If she didn’t have to SEE his room, she wouldn’t complain about it. She simply suggested he keep his door closed. And, for the most part, he did.

Bobbie also told him that she would wash anything in the clothes hamper, but that she would not touch any clothes left on the floor or any place other than the hamper. That message started to soak in when he began running out of school clothes by mid-week.

 Things slowly improved. A little later on we hired a housekeeper to come in and clean one day a week. Our son was told that, if he wanted his room cleaned, he had to make certain nothing was left on the floor. If so, he could leave the door open so she could clean his room. If the floor was not picked up, the door was to remain closed, and the housekeeper didn’t touch it. (Now, he liked having a clean room, so long as he didn’t have to clean it. He eventually figured out that picking up a few things was a reasonable price to pay.)

In his great book, The Explosive Child, Dr. Ross Greene suggests that if we make every compliance request a high priority, there’s a chance a youngster won’t do any of them. Showing them a bit of space between what is urgent and what is suggested can result in more compliance overall. (He calls this concept “Baskets,” and it makes a lot of sense.)

James Sutton, EdD  Psychologist

March 29, 2010 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

Dealing with Difficult Behavior in Children

WHY IS THIS? Here’s an excellent and insightful email response to the April newsletter:  
From your last newsletter, it sounds like, in cases like this, there’s no remedy to solve the problems of oppositional children. (It leads one to believe that) defiance is just basic human instinct, to give a negative charge to what the other person wants the outcome to be.
I believe that, in milder forms of defiant behavior, this can be exactly the case. This is especially true in good kids who pull their load at school, make decent grades, have friends and, in general, function pretty well. There are dispositional traits to defiance that might make a youngster a prime candidate for the debate team … even a winning debater. They are geared to take issue with just about everything, and once in awhile they’re even right.
Problems surface when a youngster’s behaviors create short and long-term serious damage, especially to self. (In fact, the DSM diagnosis of ODD notes this.) Failure in school, alienation of friends and relationships, self-medication with drugs, alcohol and sex (and other self-effacing behaviors) and progression into full-blown mental illness are unacceptable to anyone who cares about this child or adolescent. “Remedy” is a pretty strong word for mental health professionals, but here’s how I would encourage parents to approach the behaviors of a child that are more than just a “difficult phase:”
1. Don’t throw gasoline on the fire. Too often, the energy of our response to inappropriate behavior further “feeds” what we don’t want. It can tell the youngster just exactly how effective the rotten behavior was (especially when it’s written all over our face).
2. Discern, if you can, the child’s “self” message. Some kids beat themselves up with their behaviors because they see themselves as “bad” or unacceptable in some way. These youngsters usually have difficulty with peers, also. Even when they desperately want a friend, they’re apt to destroy the relationship. Young children keep peers at a distance (because they can’t handle them up close) with behaviors that don’t make much sense, but they work. Older kids are a bit more sophisticated in the behaviors, but the message is the same: “Don’t get too close, because you won’t like what you’ll find.” (My 72-page e-book, Improving a Child’s Self-Esteem, has a five-part evaluation for assessing components of self-concept, along with suggestions for addressing areas of concern. This guide is not a panacea, but it does offer real help, especially with younger children. For more information on it, CLICK HERE.)
Haim Ginot in his marvelous classic, Between Parent and Child, tells the story of a parent taking a three-year-old to a day-care facility for the first time. The boy looks around the room and shouts, “Who drew all these ugly pictures?” The parent, aghast at the lad’s behavior, started to correct him. The day-care director immediately intervened, saying to the boy, “Here you’re allowed to draw pictures however you want to.” She had correctly interpreted and addressed the boy’s “self” message: “What happens around here to a kid who doesn’t draw very well?”
3. Work on the “self” message as much as you work on behaviors: Cognitive Behavior Therapy, one popular intervention,operateson a simple premise: “Our core beliefs are displayed in our behavior.” As core beliefs change, so does behavior, although the textbooks fail to mention that it’s more difficult to put into practice what’s simple to put into a paragraph. (This is precisely why I’m not a big proponent of behavior modification and the use of rewards to change behavior. These measures have their merit, but they don’t address core beliefs much at all.)  
Although professional help might be in order, I don’t believe parents are powerless to create lasting and positive change. We will continue to address this issue in future (free) installments of the ODD Management Digest.

May 14, 2009 Posted by | adversity, Counselors, family, Parents | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Defiant Children: Why Some Interventions DON’T Work

This post is taken from my December issue of the ODD Management Digest (click here to subscribe). It poses an interesting question.

It’s happened to all of us, hasn’t it. We implement a new intervention we have learned … and it falls FLAT! It not only fails, it flops miserably. Why?

A 9th-grade teacher tried Karen Ledet’s idea from the November issue of the ODD Management Digest and emailed the following concern (essentially, Karen, a teacher in Vernon, Florida, posed a really simple, but powerful idea: to provide a desk separated from the others for any youngster who just wants more “space” when they do their classwork):

  I tried the “Privacy Desk” technique with one student, but he does not like it because he says I am isolating him. I would appreciate your advice.

Obviously this would not be a strategy to use with a student who considers it a punitive measure. I might isolate a student as a disciplinary measure, but that would be a different intervention entirely.

As I see it, and as Karen explained it, the benefit of the “Privacy Desk” is that it runs mostly on automatic pilot. Students who feel they need a bit more space from others can use the “isolated” desk. There are those times when some youngsters WANT to be alone in a crowded classroom.

This teacher’s concern is both valid and real; I’ve definitely “been there; done that.” The whole issue brings up the importance of the role of perception in determining exactly HOW a student will handle an intervention.

An example. I once provided counseling services in a small school district in southeast Texas. I was only there once a month, but I quickly got to know most of the students. They would come up to me in the hall and ask me if I would sit next to them at lunch. To them, it was a big thing.

But consider the youngster who cannot behave or keep his hands to himself. The teacher tell him he will sit with her at lunch, and will not be going outside with the others for lunch recess. That kid HATES it. The same behavior, sitting with the teacher or counselor at lunch, can be Heaven or Hell to a child depending on how it is “packaged.”

A youngster’s perception of an intervention is a key ingredient to its success. 


James Sutton, Psychologist

December 9, 2008 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment