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Young People … Our Greatest Resource

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

Fixing Desperate Behavior (Part 2 of 2)

This is the follow-up video to the first one, What is Desperate Behavior. In this video, psychologist Dr. James Sutton offers insights and strategies for managing chronic and extreme behavior in young people.

James Sutton, Psychologist

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ODD versus “Just Stubborn”

Stubbornness is a personality attribute while Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a diagnosis of a psychological condition. Although there’s a case for saying that both exist on a continuum of defiance, they can be dramatically different.
Stubborn youngsters know when to give it up. They might be a challenge to authority, but they seem to know when it’s finally time to comply. Stubborn students have the ability to excel in all aspects of school. Sometimes stubbornness can be a “righteous” attribute, as might be the case of a student who refuses to try drugs with her friends, and does not fold under the pressure to do so.  
ODD, by definition, can wreck a youngster’s present and future.  It’s sometimes seen as a switch they can’t turn off. Early diagnosis and intervention should be a priority.
James Sutton, EdD 

March 7, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family | , , , , | Leave a comment

What is Desperate Behavior? (Part 1 of 2)

Here is a new video recently posted. This material comes from my newest book project, Beyond Behavior. –JDS

James Sutton, EdD

February 11, 2010 Posted by | Difficult Child, Educators, family, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Difficult Behavior Doesn’t Change

WHY DIFFICULT BEHAVIOR DOESN’T CHANGE:  Obviously, parents are quite concerned about difficult behavior in their children, especially with every intervention they can think of doesn’t seem to work for them. It’s easy to give up, isn’t it?

How many times have you heard a well-intending person say, “Well, he’s just doing that for ATTENTION.” So? Everyone needs and wants attention. They want to be affirmed and feel like they matter in some way. A deeper question would be, “Why do some youngsters engage in extremes of behavior in order to secure the attention other children obtain easily with appropriate behavior.” Let’s consider four reasons: Ignorance, Fear, Thinking and Payoff.

IGNORANCE: How could any of us possibly know what we don’t know?  I’ve met very few youngsters whom I believed actually schemed and planned to have their lives fall apart with everyone at school and home upset with them. No emotionally healthy person invites pain and misery. They don’t have a clue as to how to change, even if they wanted to. (This is the premise of cognitive behavioral therapy.)

FEAR: Change involves the unknown, and the unknown can be scary. Even poor behavior brings with it a comfort zone, and getting out of that comfort zone, as bad as it is, can be terrifying. Add to this the fact that authentic change involves recognizing and expressing one’s vulnerabilities. That can send fear off the chart. Who really wants to talk about that stuff? Kids don’t; to them expressing something makes it more real and more scary.

The big problem with fear-induced behavior is that, most often, only the behavior is addressed. (And that makes sense because it’s the behavior that’s creating the trouble.) But fear hangs around, sets up residence and orders new curtains. Nothing changes.

THINKING: Our own thoughts can beat us up plenty every day. Kids who find themselves “stuck” in inappropriate behaviors often feel they are fulfilling a role they rightly deserve, that somehow change is not an option for them. (If you’ve studied the roles youngster’s can play in dysfunctional and compulsive family systems, you’ve discovered that a child can be reinforced for negative thinking. This is tough to change.)

PAYOFFS: Poor behavior can fulfill a definite purpose. If it does, it will continue over and over again. Youngsters who are uncomfortable around others, for instance, might engage in behavior that keeps peers at a distance. Although isolation hurts, the distance the behavior creates provides some relief. This is an example of how bad behavior feels good. It’s not right, but why wouldn’t it keep happening?

In future posts, we’ll look at what parents and caregivers can do to address these change-inhibiting issues.

(Note: If this topic interests you and you’d like to be notified when Dr. Sutton’s book encompassing this topic becomes available, email him at the address provided on the right, putting CHANGING BEHAVIOR in the subject line.)

James Sutton, Psychologist

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

Teleseminar on ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)

NOTE: This teleseminar has already been conducted and is now ready for download. CLICK HERE to download the program in an mp3 file suitable for use in an iPod, mp3 player or computer.


TELESEMINAR: “WINNING THE BEHAVIOR GAME”: We have recently set up a telephone bridge for conducting live teleseminars, and are excited about the possibilities of using this dependable and effective medium of training. We will be coordinating the telephone with a printed handout delivered by email.

The date of the teleseminar is Thursday, August 27th, 2009. It will be held at 8:00pm Central Time (Dallas and Chicago time). The teleseminar will be 60-70 minutes in length.

Dr. Sutton will be the presenter on this first teleseminar. His topic, Winning the Behavior Game, is a timely one in the management of difficult behavior in young people. Here’s what the program will cover:

1. The concept of how inappropriate behavior is often reinforced inadvertantly.
2. What a youngster attempts to achieve with inappropriate behavior, and how to manage it directly.
3. The concept of patterns of behavior and why they are so difficult to manage.
4. The three powerful elements of a pattern.
5. Strategies and interventions for breaking down patterns and redirecting behavior.
6. The value of NOT “Stirring the Pot” in intervention.

The teleseminar will allow time for questions and interaction.

We will archive the training and the handout on the web, where it will be available for download.

Registration is limited. To express your interest in participating in this first program at no cost, simply email Dr. Sutton at the email address in the section to the right of this post, and put “Teleseminar” in the subject line. We will contact you with the phone number and access code for the call and, of course, the file for the training handout.

Do remember that, when registration is full, the teleseminar will be closed.


James Sutton, Psychologist

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Healthy living, Parents | , , , , | Leave a comment

ODD, Gifted … and Difficult

WHY IS THIS? Here’s an interesting question that came by email:

My 13-year-old daughter is both ODD and gifted. She was failing math in school. We made a deal that, if she would bring up the math grades, I would buy her a certain jacket she is crazy about. Bottom line: she failed. I don’t understand it. She WANTED that jacket.


This is a common problem. I call it a “dynamic” issue because a lot is going on below the surface. We’re assuming that the jacket is a sufficient goal for the girl, and that she really wants it. If both of those conditions are met, why does she keep failing when she clearly can do better? Consider two reasons:

1. Tangibles don’t necessarily outweigh intangibles. The jacket is a tangible. You can see it, touch it, and wear it. But the visible frustration on the faces and the escalating blood pressure of the parents is a powerful payoff also. The message from the girl could be: “I’ll lose the jacket, but I’ll win this battle.” Another payoff is she doesn’t have to do any math. I’ve seen youngsters offered money (a lot of it) and even a four-wheeler if they’d bring grades up to passing, yet they deliberately failed. This “Gotcha Game” has high stakes.

2. Defiant behavior has an addictive quality. I honestly believe many youngsters are drawn into defiant behavior because of the “rush” they get from the outcomes, especially when those outcomes reinforce the behaviors. Just about every child and adolescent will tell you they don’t like having their parents upset with them, but that doesn’t mean the defiant behaviors are going to stop.

Okay, so how do we use incentives and make them work for us?

1. Make certain you don’t flinch. The youngster is expecting the adult to get upset when they are again defiant, or when their behavior causes them to lose an incentive the parents really wanted them to have. No parent wants to see a plan fail, but it’s important that their frustration doesn’t register with the youngster. Bottom line: Be as upset as you need to be, but not in front of, or in earshot, of the child.

2. Don’t talk too much. Most young people believe adults talk non-stop. After a point, they tune it out.

3. Let the youngster write up the “deal.” If you set up an incentive as a reward for specific accomplishment (such as better grades), have the child put all the particulars down in her own handwriting. Everyone signs it and gets a copy.

4. Have incremental action items for the youngster. Using the example shared in the mother’s comments, let’s say there’s three weeks until the end of the reporting period for grades. The girl will present her parents with a “coupon” for the jacket at the successful conclusion of three weeks. At the end of the first week of the incentive she receives one third of the coupon from her parents, but she has to show documented effort at bringing up the grades, and she has to ask for it. The same goes for the second and third piece of the jacket coupon. When she can tape together the three pieces and give the coupon to her parents, the jacket is hers. If she doesn’t ask for any of the pieces, NOTHING is said about it. She’ll learn quickly enough.

James Sutton, Psychologist

This post comes from the April, 2009 edition of the free online publication, the ODD Management Digest.  To subscribe for free, CLICK HERE.

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Difficult Child, family, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Listen to What’s NOT Being Said

“LISTEN TO WHAT’S NOT BEING SAID” Much defiant and difficult behavior in children and adolescents comes from their reactions to circumstances and situations in their lives. The burden cast on parents to play the guessing games happens when youngsters, for whatever reason, don’t talk about it. They often suffer through, with their behavior being the expression of that suffering.
Although there can be many reasons why youngsters don’t talk about what troubles them, three reasons cover most of the bases:
1. They don’t know HOW to talk about it.
2. They are afraid that expressing themselves and how they feel will only get them into yet MORE trouble.
3. They feel that talking about their troubles only makes them bigger.
By way of an example, let me share about a time when I was convinced I had only a few days to live. I was nine years old.
It’s not difficult for a few third-grade boys to get into trouble. One day we played war at the pencil sharpener, sword fighting with freshly sharpened pencils. I was stabbed in my right hand. The lead broke off, leaving a good-sized chunk of the point in my palm.
“Too bad,” one of my friends lamented. “That’s lead in your hand. You’re going to get lead poisoning … and DIE.” The other boys concurred with his diagnosis. I was terrified. (To be totally accurate, I had been wounded by graphite, not lead. But just try to figure that out while your friends are dividing up your stuff.)
I wasn’t certain they were right, but I was certain that I didn’t want to tell my teacher or the school nurse about it. I wasn’t up to hearing an adult confirm what the boys had told me.
I just suffered in silence until it was time to go home.
Eventually, I knew I had to tell my parents. I remember watching my father one evening before supper, wondering just how I would tell him his only son was dying. The poor man was trying to read the paper when I blubbered out the whole story.
Dad didn’t tell me my fear was silly or foolish. He validated it, and then promised he had something that would fix the whole thing. He went to the bathroom medicine cabinet and came back with a small bottle of what he called Monkey Blood. He wisely told me this cure would hurt, but that the pain would be a sure sign the medicine was working. He then dumped half the bottle into the palm of my hand.
I was never so grateful to feel pain (a lot of it). I was going to LIVE! I still carry a small graphite tattoo deep in the palm of my right hand, a reminder to be a bit more understanding of the fear and concern of another human being.
This story is about fear; other stories are about anger. Depending on the circumstances (and it seems families today have plenty of them), a youngster can “stew” in an issue months before behaviors surface. Encouraging a son or daughter to talk about it is critical to managing the behavior effectively. Here are a few suggestions for accomplishing just that:
1. Always try to exercise patience. We live in a society that wants instant cures and instant answers, but haste will cripple communication.
2. Let the youngster know that talking with you about their problems doesn’t make them larger and unmanageable; it brings additional resources for dealing with them.
3. Realize that some youngsters have trouble handling direct questions when they are scared or upset.  “Why did you do THAT?” will bring few, if any, answers you can use. Instead, focus on finding the issue by offering a small “menu.” Here’s an example of a simple two-part menu:
When you screamed at your mother earlier, were you really angry at her, or were you still upset that Grandma is in Intensive Care?
Parents are pretty intuitive, they can generally get very close to the issues and open the door to discussion.
James Sutton, Psychologist
(Pages 69-72 of my book, What Parents Need to Know about ODD, outline a process I call “Good Faith” Confrontation. Over the years it has worked well when parents follow the steps. It’s an approach that gets dialog going quickly and focuses on both the issues and the relationships.)
   (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.)

March 14, 2009 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment