Many of the parents who work with us see us as a “last resort.” By the time they’ve reached out to us, most of them have already tried really, really hard to solve their child’s problem behavior. And why weren’t they successful? Simply because strong-willed, oppositional or defiant kids don’t respond to today’s parenting strategies the way other kids do. On the other hand, strong-willed kids respond very well to the Wits’ End Approach! Here are a few of the main “tenets” of the Wits’ End Approach to Parenting Strong-Willed, Oppositional or Defiant Kids:
1. The person best suited to intervene in and solve your child’s problem behavior is you, the parent!
While many parents turn to psychotherapy or psychiatric medications to solve strong-willed kids’ challenging behavior, we believe that it’s much more effective to address problems like not listening, defiance, and anger and aggression in the moment, when and where these problems are occurring. The good news is that the best responses to these behaviors are highly effective, which means you get answers quickly; you get answers that work long-term; and you don’t need a background in psychology or medicine to learn these strategies!
2. Children’s temperament along with the “education” they receive as a result of their experiences at home and at school play a huge role in their behavior.
Children’s temperament along with the “education” they receive as a result of their experiences at home and at school play the main role in their behavior. And 99.99% of the time grownups can solve and even transform kids’ problem behavior using strategies that teach the child to behave differently.
3. To respond effectively to strong-willed kids’ problem behavior, parents need two main, complementary strategies:
To respond effectively to strong-willed kids’ problem behavior, parents need to raise or enhance their status as parent leaders to whom the kids will listen; and they also need to meet their child’s need for self-determination, autonomy and control. There’s a right way and wrong way to do these two things, but both strategies are equally important. When parents are functioning effectively as strong parent leaders, their kids respect their leadership, and parents are able to set and maintain boundaries around problem behavior. And when parents meet their child’s need for autonomy and control, and they work with their kids to get the kids’ input on how problems should be solved and what the rules should be, kids become MUCH more willing to cooperate. Meeting kids’ need for control and getting their buy-in is what frees parents from the role of “enforcer.”
4. “Big feelings” are a temperament trait and we can teach kids to manage them.
The degree to which an individual tends to respond or react emotionally is determined in large part by temperament; and this being the case, “big feelings,” low frustration tolerance, and a tendency toward tantrums and meltdowns – even major, hour-long meltdowns – do not in themselves indicate neurological/psychological dysfunction. The most effective responses to kids’ big feelings are to 1) accept and normalize them; 2) teach kids to express their feelings without hurting anyone or anything; and 3) refrain from using popular therapeutic approaches that that essentially require the child to be calm enough to engage their “rational brain.”
5. It doesn’t have to take so long!
Although it takes a minute for parents to learn the skills needed to solve strong-willed kids’ problem behavior, and it takes strong-willed kids some time to adjust to and learn from the solutions parents implement, the great news is that change can happen very quickly, especially when you compare the length of the change process to the length of time the behavior has been a problem! Many of the families in our private coaching practice work with us for eight weeks, and most of the time we’re able to “put the fires out,” resolving the presenting problems, prior to eight weeks. (Rebecah now runs many of our programs for eight weeks after she learned the hard way that most families with strong-willed kids need this period of time to establish and solidify the new skills and new habits. She found that when parents stopped working with her as soon as they saw progress they quickly reverted back to old patterns, which meant they were no longer consistent in their use of the new tools. And also, we don’t just want to put the fires out – parents also need to learn collaborative problem-solving!)
In our experience (we do have a psychologist on our team :)), and based on what our clients tell us, some main differences between therapy and Wits’ End Parenting are…
1. A difference in focus and strategies. Many if not most therapists focus on feelings and the client’s management of feelings. We focus much more on the communication patterns between the parents on the kids — and we also focus much more on setting things up so that difficult feelings decrease, so there is less need to manage them. We also take a good hard look at practical, physical realities, for example, schedules or family routines. Our approach tends to be very concrete and practical, which makes the material much easier to implement.
2. A difference in the helping professional’s view of the client and the problem. Psychology and psychotherapy have deep roots in a view of the client as “troubled,” emotionally off-balance, or otherwise deficient. Although some therapists resist pathology-oriented interpretations, a pathology orientation is an integral aspect of most therapists’ training.
3. A difference in focus on the parents vs. the kids. When a child’s behavior is the problem, although many therapists do work with the parents, they tend to work as much or more with the child. In contrast, our focus is less on teaching the child and more on teaching you how to teach your child. We think this if much more efficient. It’s way more effective for you to manage a negative behavior when and where it happens than it is for you to rely on a third-party to attempt to resolve the problem by talking about it a day or a week later in therapy.
PCIT (Parent-Child Interaction Therapy) is intended to teach parents how to interact with their child in ways that both support the child and solve problem behavior. And this “education” is actually the goal of all parenting experts, because almost any solution to problematic or concerning behavior relies heavily on the right kinds of interactions with the kids. But PCIT is attractive because it’s so hands-on. No broad theories! Parents are shown EXACTLY what to do!
On the other hand – what, exactly, are parents being shown? In other words, hands-on, real-time content delivery feels great, but it’s the content itself that’s most important, right? And parents of strong-willed, oppositional and defiant kids tell us that PCIT hasn’t done so well at showing them the kinds of interactions that work with strong-willed kids. Here’s what our clients say about PCIT:
My issue with PCIT is that it was geared toward a certain type of kid, and they couldn’t adjust their recommendations to fit my kid. They wanted me to use Time Out, but he wouldn’t stay in Time Out. They wanted me to give rewards, but he didn’t care about those; he just wants to do what he wants to do. They kept telling me that Time Out and Rewards are evidence-based, but my evidence was that my kid still wouldn’t listen! And they never could give me any other strategy. –Wits’ End coaching client
PCIT advised us to put our daughter in Time Out, but she wouldn’t stay there – so they said to strap her into a booster seat so she couldn’t leave. She was supposed to stay there until she calmed down, but being strapped in made her hysterical, and it didn’t stop the hitting. –Wits’ End coaching client
I asked the psychologist who did the ADHD testing if I should go to PCIT. She said, “No, go to Wits’ End Parenting”! –Wits’ End coaching client
Like the therapists that practice PCIT, at Wits’ End we also focus very heavily on your interactions with your child – and because the Wits’ End Approach was designed specifically to fit with and address the needs of the strong-willed child, the interactions and communication we’ll teach you will work with strong-willed kids! We’re very practical in our approach, which means we’ll show you just what to do, what to say, and how to say it – and depending on the coaching program you choose, we can observe and give feedback on problem behaviors as they happen in your child’s real-world environment.
The families we work with include kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens. This is partly based in our experience and partly due to the fact that the broader strategies that underlie our work are not age-dependent — they’re relevant to kids of any age. And we know how to apply these strategies regardless of age!
Yes, we do work with schools, and schools often ask us to provide both teacher training and parenting workshops for their parent community. When parents ask us to help with the child’s behavior at school we start by reaching out to the school to see if they are open to working with us. Not all schools or teachers are open to receiving input from professionals outside the school setting. But when they are, we can help!
Yes, our practices are trauma-informed. Although our focus is on parent coaching and not psychotherapy, we also have clinical experience with kids and adults who have experienced significant trauma. Our own clinical training related to trauma allows us to work with survivors using a practical, here-and-now, solutions-focused approach, which an excellent addition to traditional talk therapy.
We can honestly say that, when parents are committed to the process, we’ve never worked with a family whose child hasn’t responded favorably to our approach. And a big reason for this is that we apply proven principles in specific ways that fit with YOUR family’s situation and YOUR child’s unique temperament.
On the other hand, there is a learning curve! Most if not all of our clients experience at least a few instances where their child doesn’t respond as expected. This is absolutely normal – in fact, it’s inevitable. You and your child are in a process of new learning. But don’t worry — if you practice what we’ve shown you and your child doesn’t respond, we’ll show you how to tweak what you’re doing so that your child does respond. When kids don’t respond, it’s almost always a matter of adjusting the technique, or adjusting the way the parents are implementing it; it’s almost never a problem with the strategy per se. This is one reason we offer between-session support — so when things don’t go as planned, you can troubleshoot in the moment, and you don’t have to wait until your next session to fix it.
If your child does not want to participate in your coaching program, that’s OK. On the other hand, if your child is refusing to participate there’s a good chance they’re refusing to do other things, too! And did you know that these kind of compliance- and cooperation issues are actually best handled in conversations with just the parents? This is why we structure our programs so that our first coaching sessions take place without the kids.
In fact, you can solve all of the problems that bring you to us whether or not your child comes to your sessions — simply because that’s what we do — we teach YOU to solve these problems.
Our approach doesn’t depend on our convincing your child to do things differently. When a child participates, yes, we do help change their perspective, and that’s great. But the main focus of our work is on teaching you to work with your child in ways that get you the changes you’re wanting.
This is a significant difference between our approach and psychotherapy. When a child’s behavior is the problem, although many therapists do work with the parents, they tend to work as much or more with the child. In contrast, our focus is less on teaching the child and more on teaching you how to teach your child. We think this if much more efficient. It’s way more effective for you to manage a negative behavior when and where it happens than it is for you to rely on a third-party to attempt to resolve the problem by talking about it a day or a week later in the office.
Still worried that your program won’t be effective if your kid won’t participate? Check out the Yelp review from Pamela P!
Yes, in addition to weekday hours, we see clients from 7:45-4:15 (Pacific time) on Sundays, and we also make Saturdays available to clients in our Gold program.
If you enroll in a coaching program but choose to discontinue the program within the first half of the program,* we will refund your program fees minus the value of the sessions already attended;** minus an additional $150 administrative fee; and minus any third-party credit-card processing fees we may have paid when we took your payment.
We include this “halfway” piece to encourage you to engage with the program on a regular basis, and/or if you’re at all ambivalent about engagement, to develop clarity around this sooner rather than later, as this clarity is very helpful to you and us. For these reasons, we do not provide refunds to clients who discontinue their program after the halfway period. However, clients who discontinue after this period are welcome to continue their program at a later date, provided they re-enroll within three months of the discontinuation date.
*The “halfway” period = the number of weeks from the program start, not the number of sessions attended. This is consistent with the fact that, in order to optimize your results, our programs are designed to run in consecutive weeks.
** Individual coaching sessions are valued at a rate of $250/hour.