Parenting Difficult Children

Online chat transcript about how to parent a difficult child.

Howard Glasser, M.A. is our guest and talks about coping with a child who has a behavioral disorder like Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) or Conduct Disorder (CD). Mr. Glasser is the executive director of the Tucson Center for the Difficult Child and is the author of Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach.

David is the moderator.

The people in blue are audience members.

David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to Our topic tonight is "Parenting the Difficult Child." Our guest is Howard Glasser, M.A., Executive Director of both the Tucson Center for the Difficult Child and the Children's Success Foundation and is the author of Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach.

Mr. Glasser maintains that most ordinary methods of parenting and teaching inadvertently backfire when applied to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) and other challenging children (like those with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder (CD), despite the best of intentions. Mr. Glasser says his approach, which he claims achieves great results almost always without the need for medications or long-term treatment, works the best.

Good evening, Mr. Glasser and welcome to We appreciate you being our guest tonight. So we're all on the same track, could you please define for us the phrase: "difficult child?"

Howard Glasser: I like the word, intense. A child can be intense for many reasons, such as emotional, temperament, neurological or biochemical reasons. It almost doesn't matter, they are simply overwhelmed with the intensity that they have.


David: In your book, you mention that one of the common themes of these "difficult children" is that they become stuck in patterns of negativity that they can't seem to get out of. First, what do you mean by that? And, secondly, why do they get stuck in these patterns?

Howard Glasser: The teacher and the parent really decide if the child is out of the reach of their strategies when they see the child getting worse. Some children simply form the impression based on their experiences and observations that they get more out of people, bigger reactions, more animation and emotion and excitement, when things are going wrong. Our responses to positive things are relatively low-key in terms of the "energy" we radiate. The child feels relatively invisible for the good things they do and starts to feel more successful when they involve us in relation to their negativity. They get stuck when they continue to feel, confirmed by our responses, that the above is true. They are not out to get us, they are out to get the "energy" and are drawn by the stronger force of the bigger payoff.

David: The problem is, for many parents, they try everything under the sun to change the child's behavior, but the troubling behavior continues. Then the parents become frustrated, angry, and tired. What's a parent to do under these circumstances, where nothing seems to work?

Howard Glasser: Yes, the more the frustration, the bigger the lecture, the louder the yeller. Thus, the bigger the "reward" to the negativity, which is the last thing the parent wants to do. It happens very unintentionally. The trick is to create a much stronger "experience " of success and response to success.

David: So what you are saying is very similar to that old parenting adage: "whether it's a positive or negative response, as long as the child gets a response, it's better than no response at all."

Howard Glasser: That's true. It's like a check that has a one followed by six zeros. The child hasn't checked to see that there's a negative sign in front of it.

I can give you an example. In the world of conventional parenting, that does work with easier children. When we ask a child to do a task and they do, we say "thank you" or "good job". We're "radiating" a very modest amount of energy. When they don't follow the instruction, we tend to evolve our response to more high key reactions.

David: So maybe you can give us some instructions on how to be "more positive" with our children?

Howard Glasser:Normal parenting is the culprit. We subtly give evidence that the child gets "more" through adversity. First let me say that "catching children being good" is less than optimal for the challenging child. At the end of the day, the parent or teacher of a challenging child only has a few successes to report. It's too disempowering.

The secret is in having strategies that literally "create" a powerful level of success. And here are a few ways to "cheat" in this beneficial manner. I like to confront children with their successfulness. One great method is to appreciate their success when the rules are NOT being broken. Therefore, at any given moment, there is almost always success in this manner. The problem is that we typically bring up the word "rule" when it's been broken and most adults wind up richly "rewarding" the child with a lot of energy under those circumstances. They are definitely not in a receptive mode to hear the message and we've accidentally deepened their impression that they get more mileage out of negativity.

I find that complements like "I love the self-control you are using now by not arguing and not using bad words" not only gives us much more opportunity to nurture successes, but it gives the child a chance to experience themselves as successful in relation to the rules and to feel valued.

David: We have a lot of audience questions. Let's get to a few of those:

KFIELD: Hi. I came into this chat tonight because my husband and I really need help with our 13 year old son. He seems to thrive off the negative and that is a lot of what he is getting lately. My son has been involved with the juvenile court system three times since August and he doesn't seem to be learning from it. His probation officer feels he has no respect for authority and actually thrives off this negative feedback he is receiving. How do you focus on the positive without ignoring the negative. I feel like that is giving in?

Howard Glasser: I agree with you that ignoring the negative is NOT the answer. The answer is in first playing hardball with successes, while not giving energy to the negativity WHILE STILL having a simple way of saying "you broke a rule" and absolutely delivering a consequence. It's actually not that hard to do. I've worked with over 1,000 court cases in this age group in the last five years.

David: I bet for the parents, Mr. Glasser, you have to do a lot of "biting your tongue" during the negative stuff, at least initially.

Howard Glasser: The power of a consequence is only optimal when there's a lot of energy to successes and none to negativity.

snorider: Mr. Glasser, I understand the "larger reward for success," but then what does one do about the disagreeable behavior? How does one react to that?

Howard Glasser: Once a parent understands that it's so easy to fall in the trap of feeding the negativity and they take a stand to refuse to do that, it's really not that hard. Some parents get to be masters at it very quickly.

For example, let me tell you why these kids are often so great at Nintendo. While the child's playing the game, the world makes total sense. The incentives are clear and the limits are clear. All the evidence of success, the bells and whistles and the scoring, happens when things are both going right and not going wrong. If they break a rule, they simply get a consequence without the big deal or the energy. That structure creates a scenario where they want to excel and they don't want to break rules. We can transpose that to life.

auntamber2: You mentioned that a child can be intense for many reasons, including neurological, emotional and biochemical. I would like to understand HOW using more positive reinforcements can correct biology--if we are dealing with a severe mental illness (my 9 year old son is bipolar).

Howard Glasser: I work with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and Bipolar children all the time. The reversal comes from strengthening the undeveloped pathways or creating new pathways of health. You need to believe in the miraculous. I do, because I've seen so many transformations where a child moves entirely to using their intensity in positive ways.

David: To reiterate, you are saying, when it comes to correcting a child's behavior, be clear, but low-key about it. Save your high energy levels for praising positive things about your child.

Howard Glasser: That's a good summary. The only thing I'd add is that a huge typical approach to negativity is to give a lecture or a stern reprimand. The parent will always feel that they are being clear. However, from my point of view: a two minute lecture to a difficult child, no matter how good the lecture, is two minutes of negative "reward" and a five minute lecture is five minutes of "reward".

David: Here's another audience question:

lostime: What happens if you are throwing a "happy praise parade" for every success, and still dealing with a kid-o who melts down unpredictably, and becomes aggressive and violent?

Howard Glasser: That could happen. Most parents will interpret this as the praise is not working. On the contrary, it is working but the child has not quite shifted to believing that they can keep you involved through success. They don't trust it yet and they simply resort to the old guaranteed way of getting the bigger responses.

Also, typical praise like "good job" or "thank you," etc., is definitely not powerful enough for a challenging child. They need greater proof that they've really been seen and that they don't have to go to the trouble of acting-out to have you involved and to not be invisible.

David: Can you give us an example of the type of praise, then, that would get through to a challenging child?

Howard Glasser: Great question! Besides giving recognition when rules aren't being broken, another powerful way to promote feelings of success is to be very appreciative of the values you hold; like respect, responsibility, good attitude, good self-control, etc., when even a glimmer of those things are happening. The problem is that even though we are all desperately trying to teach those qualities, we mostly bring those words up when the child has been disrespectful or irresponsible and we wind up rewarding the very thing we least want to reward with our energized responses.

I like cheating in this regard. If I walk up to students, and even when nothing special appears to be happening, I will confront them with their good choices. For instance: "Billy, I really like that you are choosing to be respectful right now. You are focused on the work and you're not getting distracted."

Another example is: "Alex, I appreciate that you are being responsible right now. You came in the class and got started on your journal without being told. It's also showing me a good attitude." I don't want to fall into the trap of waiting for a bad attitude or irresponsibility to happen for him to feel visable. I don't give the child a chance to fail. Even a consequence can become a success when used strategically. I always congratulate a child when they've finished their consequence and gotten back into control. They still might need to do what they were asked to do, but they've been successful in getting their consequence over.

David: Mr. Glasser's website is here: We have two excellent sites that deal with parenting difficult children. One is Parenting the Challenging Child. The other is the Child Development Institute.

troubleholt: My daughter completely failed the 4th grade. She's now been placed in 5th grade this year. She's doing good even after failing last year. Should I concern myself with what happened last year or should I go from the here and now?

Howard Glasser: I would definitely go on from here. Many teachers are simply in the same boat of trying to use normal techniques with kids who will never respond and your daughter's response this year is an indication that the teacher is skillful and can engage her successfulness.

dogre: My 16 year old son goes to a therapeutic boarding school . He has a diagnosis of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and possible Conduct Disorder. No meds now. Could we make this work for him and how long might it possibly take? How could we accomplish it with him not living at home?

Howard Glasser: I worked with several parents of 16 year olds in the same situation this last summer. They began by promoting the accelerated level of energizing success on their visits and via the phone. They also began their stand on refusing to energize negativity while the child was still away.

AJ111: How do you suggest handling the ODD behavior when the child is out of control, i.e., screaming, name calling, slamming doors, back talking? I'm not sure of the best way to handle this and make it clear this is not acceptable.

Howard Glasser: You must always begin before the incidents, knowing full well that future incidents will happen. The more intense the child, the more intense the intervention. With Oppositional Defiant Disorder, what is called for is a strong or forceful use of giving verbal recognition to the child when the rules are not being broken. That's how you need to teach the rules, through successes. Then, to promote successes, you'll need to have some kind of credit system that's an extension of your mission. When those are in place, then you are in a position to simply deliver an unceremonious consequence.

Most people are under the false impression that the harsher the consequence or the more powerfully we reprimand or scold, the greater the impact. That couldn't be further from the truth. The power of a consequence comes from the delivery in an unceremonious way. The irony is that if you get the level of success high enough and remove the response to negativity, you can have an amazingly simple consequence work. The child has to test to discover that there's no longer a big response to negativity, only a result. All the big response now is for various successes.

Zigweegwee: My 11-year-old son consistently reacts negatively to any positive comments. How can I get him to desire the positive?

Howard Glasser: This is not uncommon. He doesn't yet trust that he can keep you involved through his success and needs you to convince him that he doesn't any longer need to go to the trouble of being negative to keep you involved. To be more convincing, you need to make the positives more substantial by using more specifics and more details. You'll need to do more of them, and to give more juice to the ones you do through voice quality and putting more heart and authenticity in your comments of appreciation.

KFIELD: I don't mean to sound desperate, but if I don't find something that works for my son between now and January 8th when he is off probation, he will go to juvenile detention for doing anything wrong and he doesn't seem to understand that he is the only one who has control over this. He truly believes that no matter how hard he tries, he will still end up in trouble.

Howard Glasser: You can create a tremendous turnaround quickly with strategies that are powerful enough. I can tell you are very motivated and that will be your best resource. I really recommend reading my book, Transforming the Difficult Child. It will take you through the steps. It's currently the best-selling book on ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).

Many people have just read the book and, by following the recommendations alone, have reported great transformations. The good news is when an intense child shifts his intensity to success, he becomes way above average. The intensity is an asset. That's why I try not to medicate. It makes the intensity go away and that's a great loss. The outcomes without meds is so much better. Everyone gets to enjoy the new intensity and best of all the parent winds up feeling like the hero. Who deserves that honor more?

Elise123: Does your approach work for kids with high functioning autism or other neurological disorders?

Howard Glasser: I've used the approach with a few dozen children with autism and FAS with very good results.

David: Thank you, Mr. Glasser, for being our guest tonight and for sharing this information with us. And to those in the audience, thank you for coming and participating. I hope you found it helpful. 

Also, if you found our site beneficial, I hope you'll pass our URL around to your friends, mail list buddies, and others.

Howard Glasser: Thank you, everyone.

David: Good night.

Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2007, July 23). Parenting Difficult Children, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Last Updated: August 19, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info