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A Strong Willed Kid & An Emotionally Abusive Mom

Well, this month marked the second month of my relationship advice column that I was asked to write for the Tampa newspaper, Insight Tampa. The following are the two questions that came in that I tackled this month. I've decided to share my answers here on the blog, at least once in a while, for those of my readers who do not live in the Tampa Bay area, and therefore don't have the ability to receive this paper. You all said I did great with the difficult topics that came up last month -- friends-with-benefits, and a 14-year old pressuring her mom to let her go to parties. Let's see how I fared this month addressing issues about strong willed kids and an emotional abuse situation. Here we go...

Dear Deanna:
Our five year old son is very strong willed and I would characterize him as rebellious a lot of the time. My husband and I are really frustrated and many times this affects our relationship as well.  I’m at a loss as to where to turn. We can’t even go to restaurants without a lot of the people staring at us because of our son’s behavior. What advice can you give a tired wife and mother who just wants peace?
 -Stressed to the Max

 Dear Stressed: 

Two words for you: REALITY DISCIPLINE.  I totally believe in, and used this method of discipline for my own children. The phrase “reality discipline” was coined by child psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman. This method works a lot better than screaming, begging, counting to three, or the many other things parents try that seem to only end in frustration. In his excellent book, Have a New Kid by Friday,  Dr. Leman says that the goal of parenting is not to create happy kids; rather, it's to create responsible kids.

Let me explain how this worked in a situation with one of our children. When our now 21 year old son was just a little boy we would have issues going out to eat in public. Like many children, he would act up at restaurants. This was not only embarrassing to us, but also created a tense atmosphere for other diners. People would stare at us and it was so embarrassing! Something needed to change.  At the time I read one of Dr. Leman’s books and learned about reality discipline. Our son really likes Chinese food. The next time we went out to the Chinese restaurant, sure enough he began misbehaving, wouldn’t sit in his seat, and began doing inappropriate things at the table. I gave him a warning that things were going to be very unpleasant for him if he didn’t immediately cooperate. He chose not to cooperate so I signaled the server and calmly asked for our food to be placed in takeout containers. We then got up from the table, took our food and went home. My husband and I still enjoyed our Chinese food. However, our son did not get that privilege. Did I withhold food from him or make him “starve”? Certainly not, however we fed him a basic meal at home (as I recall it might have been a sandwich and a glass of milk) that was not one of his favorites. He never got the privilege of eating his Chinese food that day. Was he upset? Oh you bet!  Did it change things the next time we went to the Chinese restaurant? Absolutely.    

 Your children will be very unhappy temporarily when reality hits and they do not receive whatever it is that they are longing for at the moment.  They may scream, yell, kick or any other number of things. Your job is to keep calm and follow through. Consistency is the key. If you take away their favorite snack or the Wii, or the phone or the TV show or the computer, FOLLOW THROUGH.  Let them rant, you stay calm. It’s a battle of the wills and as long as you stay calm and follow through no matter what -- YOU WIN.  

Dear Deanna: 
I’m an adult, dealing with emotional abuse from my mother, and unsure about how to respond. I can’t change who my mother is, and I don’t want to. I just want respect!  It’s getting to the point where I can’t be with her for longer than about half an hour before breaking into tears or a heated argument.
 - Elaine

Dear Elaine:

Now that you’re an adult, your role is not to obey your mother but it is still incumbent upon you to respect her. With that said, you must also retain self-respect in order to be healthy. While you have to respect your mother for the position she holds in your life, you don’t have to be a doormat or allow yourself to be emotionally abused.     

Sometimes we’re in position where we have to respect from afar for a while until someone else understands and respects our personal boundaries. They key is to talk to your mother in the same way that you want to be talked to. If she doesn’t speak back respectfully, calmly and respectfully draw the line and let her know you need to back away until she can speak to you with respect. Then stick to that.  It may mean hanging up the phone and calling back later when she can talk without yelling or making derogatory comments. When she treats you with respect, welcome her with open arms. When she goes into emotional abuse mode, calmly back away.  No need to scream, yell or cry. Simply do not come close again until she speaks/acts in a respectful manner again.

I realize this is an emotional rollercoaster ride for you, all this coming close, backing away, then coming close again. Quite honestly, it would benefit you to have the help of a counselor to help you process that rollercoaster ride. (There’s no shame in counseling! In fact, I think everybody in the world would benefit from a bit of counseling.)

I also realize it’s hard to not internalize this as your fault somehow being that your own mother is mistreating and emotionally abusing you. Please, do not blame yourself. Hurting people hurt people and for some reason your mother is hurting and taking it out on you. It is her unhealed self that is reacting. But that doesn’t mean you are to receive the brunt of it. Set your boundaries and remain firm.

For further insight, I would highly recommend the book Boundaries by John Townsend and Henry Cloud. It speaks to just what you’re going through, in greater detail.  My best to you as you navigate these difficult waters.

E--Mail your questions for future columns to Due to space and time every question will not appear in the monthly column, however Deanna welcomes you to interact with her where she blogs daily at 

Deanna is an author, speaker and certified coach who loves living in the Tampa Bay area with her husband of 25 years and their three children.


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