Category: Blog

Less Stressful Mornings

“Let’s go! Let’s go! We are running late!  I don’t know where your shoes are… probably where ever you left them. You can’t leave the house with your hair looking like that.  Let’s go! I’m walking out the door…. Let’s Go!”

If your mornings sound something like this, you are not alone. Difficult mornings can make parents short tempered, frustrated, and resentful. Every other article is going to tell you to get your kids to bed early, which is obvious, and if we stopped there we wouldn’t be doing you any favors. The following tips will help you figure out what to do (and not to do) to make your mornings less stressful.

If you are an Alternative Teaching client, remember what you have learned and that your behaviorist is able to help before, during, and after these moments. Stay rational; it is contagious. If you catch yourself raising your voice, it is very possible that you will unintentionally escalate an already anxiety producing event for your child. If you find yourself starting to yell, take a few minutes to give yourself a break and stay rational.

If you can manage it, showers and baths should be taken at night along with anything else that can reasonably be done ahead of time like picking out clothes, packing the backpack, and packing lunches.

Depending on age and situation, look over all homework for completeness before bed.

Remind yourself that while you don’t get to control their behavior, thanks to Alternative Teaching, you now have the tools to give effective consequences if their behavior bothers you. Make sure you issue those consequences when they are calm.

Those are the things you should do…now we are going to give you permission to not do things:

Don’t worry if they showered (unless you are dealing with bed-wetting). We shower for social reasons and not hygiene reasons. They are not less hygienic if they don’t shower…they will just stink. Remember: kids don’t typically develop an odor until they are older but each child is different. Some kids never stink and some you can’t scrape the stink off of them.

Don’t sweat over homework. Nobody gets rejected from Harvard because they missed one day of homework. Issue consequences later or let the school handle it. Remember…you already finished school so don’t take it so personally.

Stay focused on getting the kids to school. Wrinkled clothes, messy hair, mix matched socks or handing them breakfast bars on the way out the door are all fine. Just get them into school for your sake and theirs.

Don’t have their room clean or chore done in the morning? They didn’t put away their breakfast dishes? Who cares? Unless you are selling your house and having buyers come that morning…it really isn’t that important.

Now here’s the catch. If you find that their hair’s messy, they stink, haven’t completed their homework, left a mess in the kitchen and they are dressed like they are going to school on “opposite day” everyday…then you may have a problem. If we are working with you…I promise we will get to these issues sooner than you think. If you are not a client, give us a call. We can help you resolve these types of problems quickly. School should be a happy place, but for some students it is an institution of anxiety, stress, and panic. If you are having morning problems everyday then this is more than someone that is just disorganized and not a “morning person”. We can teach you how to resolve these issues and a whole lot more.

Should I Force My Child to Apologize?

In our program, apologies are actions, and not words.  We do not recommend demanding or even asking for an apology.  To require someone to apologize, loses the whole point of the apology. A true apology is about feeling badly about what one had done and expressing that remorse.  As parents, when a child’s apology doesn’t come out the way we like, we often start insisting that it sounds sincere.  When one starts trying to demand sincerity, they have really gotten away from the point of the apology.

Verbal apologies only bring up bad feelings.  When you go to someone to ask for forgiveness, you are really subjecting yourself to the other person and hoping that they: A. accept your apology and B. can move on from this experience.  But first, we must rehash our mistake or misbehavior by talking about it and by saying that we are sorry for what we have done. This can be very difficult for adults let alone children with mental health symptoms.  If the other person does not accept the child’s apology it really leaves the child in a vulnerable and uncomfortable position, as they face that they cannot move on from this difficult experience.

Let’s look at how we as adults apologize.  As adults, when we make a mistake, we may bring something as an offering: a gift basket, a card, a letter.  We may try to go above and beyond in some way in an attempt to make up for our mistake or misbehavior.  When we do something to offer our apology and we atone for our mistakes, the apology is much easier.

If verbal apologies are difficult for us as adults without that atonement, why would we ask a child do something that we wouldn’t do ourselves? Instead our program teaches children how to atone for their behaviors and allow their actions to speak for themselves instead of offering up empty words.  The child has a sense that their actions have allowed them to move on.  Meanwhile, the person receiving the apology has the positive experience of receiving from the person who they felt wronged by.  This allows both to feel better about the resolution to the experience. Let their actions speak for themselves and when they are ready, perhaps we might get a sincere, “I’m sorry”.


10 Signs Your Child’s Therapist Isn’t Working Out

  1. The only thing you get out of therapy is the fight to get your child there.
  2. The therapist can’t verbalize what he/she is working on and the skills your child is developing.
  3. Your child is past session 3 and the only thing they are working on is “building rapport” or playing games.
  4. The therapist takes the child’s side over the parents (i.e. never focusing on the child’s misbehavior).
  5. You’ve never gotten an update from the therapist about your child’s progress.
  6. Neither you nor your child can verbalize your child’s treatment goals.
  7. The therapist’s only response to behavioral issues is to suggest having more frequent sessions with your child.
  8. The therapist provides no after hours support.
  9. You start to fault therapy (and not the therapist) for achieving no results.
  10. The therapist can’t/won’t answer these 3 questions (see link).

How to Find a Therapist for My Child

Not all therapists are created equal. Sadly, there are a lot of unqualified therapists when it comes to disorders with disruptive behaviors. Here are three questions your child’s therapist should be able to answer.

What specifically will you be working on with my child? What type of therapy is the therapist going to do?  Is it cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)?  Is it psychoanalytic therapy?  Is it “tell-me-how-your-day-was therapy” (which is certainly not therapy)? What is the therapist going to do and what is he/she going to talk about with your child? The answer to this question should be direct.  If the therapist responds with a lot of jargon (psychobabble) that isn’t clear, this might be a red flag. Like any other professional, a strong therapist will not shy away from this question.

How long will it take? The answer to this question doesn’t have to be an exact date, but the therapist should be able to tell you, based on their work with previous clients, how long it will take to meet treatment expectations. For example, a CBT therapist might say something like 12-20 sessions and a child attachment therapist might say 18-24 months.  For this question, it isn’t about the actual length, but does the therapist have a range and an idea of what this process is going to look like.  So here is how this conversation might go:

Parent: “Have you ever worked with kids like this?”

Therapist: “Yes, all the time.”

Parent: “Have you ever been successful with them?”

Therapist: “Yes, of course.”

Parent: “Well, how long did that take?”

Based on their experience with previous clients, they should be able to give you a range.  If they say it’s going to take six months and it actually takes eight months, they are doing well. If they say it will take six months and eighteen months from now you are still working on the same issues… well, that is a problem. Never, ever sign up for open ended therapy (We will talk more about this in a future blog post.).

How will we know it is working? Do we really have to go through the entire six months before we know that it is working? What signs and symptoms can we expect to see when things are getting better?  For example, if the child has anxiety about social situations is he/she going to be able to ask for his/her own play dates? Is he/she going to be able to sign up for group or club? Will he/she be able to attend social activities independently?  As your child moves through therapy ask yourself, “Are we actually seeing signs that thing are getting better?” Don’t wait until the end of the time frame to realize that things aren’t improving.


  • The therapist being “nice” or your child “liking” the therapist is not a good enough reason to stay with a therapist if he/she isn’t providing results.
  • Your child is not going to know if therapy is working or not.  Your assessment of the therapy should be based on a reduction of problematic symptoms, an improvement in behavior, a reduction in thinking errors, or an increase in skill mastery (all of which you, as the parent, can assess).
  • Your child does not just need someone to talk to. Hopefully, that is what they have friends for, but if not, then that would make for a great therapy goal.   Therapy is more than just talking with your child.
  • You are paying for a specific service and should expect to receive results. Would you stay with your mechanic if he/she kept telling you what was wrong with your car, but he/she was never able to fix it?  Of course not.  You would expect results and you can and should expect the same from your child’s therapist.  Like a mechanic, at some point you should expect that your child will be “back up and running” on their own.

There is an old proverb: “No matter how far you’ve traveled down the wrong road, turn back.” If this therapist isn’t helping you, he/she isn’t going to help you a year from now or ten years from now.  Don’t waste your most valuable resource… time.  These problems typically get bigger as your child grows.  Get a new therapist.

Is therapy helpful for an out of control child?

My child is suffering from anxiety.  My child refuses to do homework and/or to go to school.  My child doesn’t play well with other children. My child won’t listen.  My child is verbally and/or physically aggressive at home.

Would it be helpful to send them to therapy?  Maybe, but most therapies weren’t designed to work with people that are resistant.  If a child refuses therapy and the family eventually ‘strong-arms’ them to talk with someone often they will get less than desired results.

  • You may have escalating angry conversations every time therapy sessions approach.
  • Forcing therapy may fuel the anger and it’s unlikely the newly acquired information will be used.
  • You will teach your family and friends that therapy doesn’t work and that isn’t true. It just doesn’t work for this particular problem.
  • The child/teenager will continue to get older and bigger which will only exacerbate the problem.
  • You will waste your most precious resource…time.

So if traditional therapy isn’t the answer then what is?

Empower the parents.

Consider time.  One hour per week is considered a standard therapy time.  Three to five hours a week is considered intensive, while five to 20 hours is ‘out-patient’ therapy . . . however, parents spend sixty to seventy hours per week with their child.  It is more effective in regards to time, energy and costs to teach parents strategies to help their child progress in treatment.

Domestic violence is generally perceived to be between parents, or parent and child.  When you are dealing with a disruptive child, this term must expand to include the violence inflicted on other members of the household by the disruptive child.  Parents are highly motivated to fix the problem since they live in the domestically violent and dysfunctional environment, but they do not have to become trained therapists to provide a therapeutic environment.

The answer is to have a model of care that will teach parents simple, effective techniques to help manage the household and the child’s behavioral issues.  The model also needs to be flexible enough to apply the techniques to the ever-changing situations that the child will create. Your immediate goals should be:

  1. De-escalate volatile situations effectively and learn new ways to interact when the child becomes verbally or physically aggressive.
  2. Teach the child how to ‘fix’ their behavior and give them a way to atone for their dysfunctional actions.  Removing ‘privileges’ fixes nothing and gives the child another reason to be angry and aggressive.
  3. Repair the relationship. The relationship must improve otherwise the home environment will never improve.  The tragic end comes when the parent begins to resent or ‘hate’ the child, but this feeling is common in abusive relationships and can be turned around.

Can all parents do this?  Maybe not, but it is everyone’s best interest to try something new, especially if nothing else seems to be working.  Remember the first rule in behavior management:  Do what works!  If what you’re doing doesn’t seem to work, then stop and try something new.  If the child still needs to talk to someone after the behavior is managed, send them to therapy.  Then the therapist can work on the real issues instead of trying to manage the child’s behaviors.  Both your child and therapist will thank you.

My Child is Abusive Towards Me

How would you define domestic violence?  Would you say it is when a partner or wife is battered or when a child is abused?  The Public Service Announcements (PSAs) have taught us to be ever vigilant to the signs and horrors of wives/partners and children being abused.   What if there was another form of domestic violence that happens all across our country but that nobody talks about it?  A type of domestic violence that is so insidious that not only are people left without answers we don’t even have a name for it.

Let’s briefly talk about the domestic violence we all are taught.

Battered wives/partners:

The example I have always used to describe this situation is when the battered wife is asked by her abusive partner to make sure his dinner is served at 6 o’clock.   If that dinner arrives at 5:59 then the husband flies into a rage because she is rushing him.  And if the dinner arrives at the table at 6:01 he once again flies into a rage because she is late and lazy.  Finally, if that dinner arrives exactly at 6’oclock then the husband flies into a rage because why does he have to be married to a person who tries to be too perfect.  It’s a no-win situation.

Abused children:

Picture a small child sitting at the top of the stairs with their head in their hands listening to presumably parents yelling.  The all too familiar crash of dishes being broken and perhaps a slap can be heard in the background.  The caption at the end of the PSA is the familiar phrase “Words can hit as hard as a fist”.  Of course, many other PSAs teach us that in abusive families children do worse in school, more likely to turn towards drugs and get into trouble that can include illegal activities that may involve gang involvement.

Furthermore, the PSAs tell us that there are both physical and emotional telltale signs of abuse. These can certainly be physical.

  • Broken bones.
  • Unexplained and/or frequent bruising, cuts or burn marks.
  • Multiple trips to the Emergency Room for the “clumsy person” who keeps walking into the door or falling down the stairs.

More concealed but certainly as debilitating are the psychological effects.

  • Constant anxiety, especially when the abuser is around.
  • The feelings like you are walking on eggshells.
  • Trying to watch when the abuser wakes up or comes home to see if you can tell if this is going to be a good or bad day.
  • Depression.
  • Substance use/abuse.
  • Feeling like you are held hostage in your own home.

The above images easily come to mind because we have all been trained to watch out for the signs and symptoms of domestic violence.  The victims should be helped because they cannot get out or fix the situations themselves.  They have tried over the course of days, weeks, months and even years.  At first trying to fix it, then adjust to it, and finally resigned to live just to get through the day.

Domestic violence is a horrible and terrible injustice for the people forced to live in it.

What other form of domestic violence is so insidious that it doesn’t even have a name?  The domestic violence I am speaking of gets no PSAs on TV or the radio.  We not only don’t talk about it, we certainly don’t teach people about it and what is worse we oftentimes blame the victim both to their face and as a society.  The domestic violence I am speaking of is when a child is abusive to their family.

I know what you’re thinking.  These teenage gangbangers that abuse their siblings and parents should be locked up.  Perhaps even investigate, accuse or lock up the parents as well because they must have been bad role models.  What if I told you that the perpetrator of these acts that bring such torment to the families was six years old?  Is that even possible?  Could a child wreak that much havoc on a family?

Whether they are 3 or 16 years old, kids that have disorders all have one thing in common.  They don’t work like most kids do.  Most kids recognize and respond to authority – learn through motivators, discipline and consequences.  The ideas of being more strict, firm or united are all great concepts but they rely on the child responding to this approach.  The fact is that the more you push the more they will push back.  When you back off they walk all over you like a doormat.  The parents struggle with a no-win situation and condemned by family, society and even professionals for having poor child-rearing skills.

The fact is that a growing number of psychiatric hospitals are adding units and beds dedicated to young children.  In the Chicago area alone, a hospital is adding a new in-patient wing to an already existing program designed to work with kids under the age of 12.  One in-patient client was as young as three years old.

Let’s take a simple but painful snapshot into the lives of these families and try to figure out what you would do:

Imagine a child that says they want to watch TV and not go to bed.  Think of your response.  Perhaps you review the positives and negatives of their decisions.  Suggest that they will lose the privileges of TV if they don’t comply.  Maybe you pick them up and carry them to their room all the while scolding them.  Perhaps you resort to violence yourself.  Now imagine that the child not only doesn’t listen to you but they tantrum.  Throw things, hit, bite, swear, break objects, slam doors, run out the house, etc.  Let’s say that the consequences and talking and bargaining and threatening and all the other tricks in the parent’s bag isn’t working.  At what lengths do you force them to comply?   Perhaps we let them watch TV and let them learn their lesson by waking them up and sending them to school tired.  Now we have the fight in the morning with all the physical acting out behaviors we just mentioned, and in spite of all that, we get them on the bus.  Now they haven’t stopped their aggressive behavior so they get suspended from school, the bus and perhaps the police are contacted.  The police are handcuffed (forgive the pun) because the child cannot be arrested if they are under ten even if the police were willing to do it.  No…the police blame the parents for their inability to manage the child’s behavior and leave the child in the home.

Parents are taught many behavior management and child-rearing skills that often are contradictory by other professionals and when these techniques don’t work the parents (and not the techniques) are blamed.   “You should’ve stuck to the plan and not let them watch TV.  I don’t care that your life has been a living nightmare during the two days of the behavioral techniques and that the only thing it brought was more aggressive episodes.”  In treatment the professionals are supposed to make things better.

Now imagine the cycle of that behavior occurring monthly… weekly… daily and most likely multiple times each day, every day for years.  Nothing is working.  Not therapy.  Not medicines.  Not the hospital.   The parents are left with the problems of the child, the shame and humiliation of the stigma and blame, and all the signs and symptoms of domestic violence with no escape.

Alternative Teaching offers a 10 session program that can provide relief to parents and families experiencing child behavioral problems from defiance to violence.  Using our non-confrontational model for behaviorally disruptive children and adolescents, parents are given the tools and support needed to learn to manage their child’s behaviors.


Disrespect vs. Lack of Respect

Q:  Imagine a 6 year old child asks their parent, “can I watch TV” and the parent says, “no.” If the child gets upset and starts swearing at the parents and spitting in their face, does that child have any respect for the parent?
A: We would argue that they do, because the child recognized the parent’s authority to say “no” and so they’re getting upset because they feel out of control.  Now imagine 2 adults. If one of them tells the other, “you can’t watch TV” no one gets upset, because there is no understanding of authority in the relationship. So it’s not that the child doesn’t have respect for that authority figure, it’s the way they show their respect that is an issue. That’s what we help parents work on.