"Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be." - Shel Silverstein

Saturday, August 22, 2009


How do you deal with a kid who does not care about consequences for their bad behavior?

Just to be clear right from the start, Marissa does understand the concepts of good and bad behavior and good and bad consequences for such behavior. She just doesn't care. It would be a totally different situation if she did not understand but she does.

She has been exhibiting "terrible two" behavior and attitude for about the last year. She throws toys and tantrums, hits us, disobeys us while looking us directly in the eyes and just generally tries to assert her independence. The most frustrating thing is when she throws stuff and hits. Drives me CRAZY!! We have discovered that, a lot of the time, she throws and hits because she is excited and does not know how to channel her emotion any other way.

For example, just this morning, Jeremy got her out of bed and she came running into our room yelling "Mama Mama!!!" like she was excited to see me. I got her up in my lap and asked her for a hug and a kiss. She hugged me and when she pulled back, she put both her hands up like she was going to slap me. I gave her a disapproving look and she did not slap me. But then, with a big grin on her face, she reared her hand back and shoved her finger into my eye! OUCH!! All because she was excited. After the pain wore off enough, I picked her up and told her that I understood she was excited to see me but that it was not OK to hurt me. I asked her to say sorry and she did. Then about three minutes later, she cold cocked me upside the head with her puppy that has big bean bag feet. I still don't know why. UGH!! I understand this behavior is a little different than her just blatantly disobeying but it is still frustrating.

So, back on topic about when she directly disobeys. This kid does not care about consequences. At. All. We have tried everything. Time out, taking toys away, not allowing her to watch her videos or listen to her music, spanking. Yes, I believe in spanking. Of course, only when it is not done in anger and only as a last resort when nothing else will get her attention. But even that does not get her attention! She will cry for a moment and then be fine and go right back to her bad behavior. She even laughs when she is in time out.

Negative consequences are given to adjust negative behavior. This kid will literally watch you as you take all of her toys away, turn off the music or video and not give a rip. She will sit in a completely empty room with no toys or anything fun and be perfectly happy to play with her fingers and toes and talk to herself. I guess I should be happy that she is resourceful and does not require things to entertain her, but it sure is frustrating when NOTHING makes an impact on her to make her change her bad behavior.

We do give her positive consequences when she behaves. For example, if she puts her upstairs toys away in the morning before we go downstairs for the day, she gets to watch Elmo or Signing Time, which is equivalent to heaven for her. If she cooperates during her feeding or her cares, she gets to go outside and play. She receives positive reinforcement all the time from us for the good things she does.

But she seems to thrive on the bad behavior. Admittedly, Jeremy and I do sometimes react in a way we shouldn't, out of frustration. We will lose our tempers with her, more often than we should. We know she likes to see if she can get a rise out of us. We understand that we are just fueling her bad behavior when we do this and it is something that we both work on every day. But what are we supposed to do when we are doing all the right things and she still does not care about the negative consequences? How will her bad behavior change if she does not care?

I have a theory that she is indifferent to negative consequences because she feels she has some control over the situation that way. I think Marissa has been negatively impacted enough by her rough start in life by people constantly manipulating her and poking and prodding her. She had no control in those situations and there are certain times she still has no control when we need to do things to her and for her. If that makes any sense? We do try to involve her in things like her cares and feedings by having her get things for us and such. But I still think she feels a lack of control in these situations, so her not reacting to punishment is her way of "being in control". I don't know if this makes any sense. ???

I mostly typed this out of my own frustration this morning (this blogging thing sure is a good outlet!! :). But I would like to know if any of you out there have any tips, advice or best practices you could share. Do any of you have a kid that could care less about negative consequences? How do you handle things?

*Edit* As I was about to hit publish, she came up to me and threw her Dr. Seuss book at me! UGH!!!


Nana and PaPa said...

Boy! For someone like me who raised 5 kids, you would think I might have some idea or suggestion...but right now...I'm clueless! My only thought is....could her seeming to not care about the consequences for bad behavior be a corpus collosum issue? This may be a far reaching thought, but it's the only one I have right now. Since this seems to be an ongoing and somewhat elevated situation, you may need to speak to OT, or her pediatrician for some guidance. You ARE doing the right things that are proven to work..just not sure why it isn't working for her. Continue to try what we know is good and works for other kids...don't give up on that!
Nana & PaPa

Kendra said...

So frustrating! I have no idea about the developmental issues that could be involved, but by way of encouragement, maybe things will get better as she gets out of her twos and is able to communicate more and more. Communication is a big deal. Jack is my most stubborn one and started his twos at about 1 1/2--it is/was very situational as to what worked. If he was being stubborn or mean, spanking only made him more so. The only thing that worked for him was to put him in the pack-n-play for timeout in the dining room corner, separated from everyone else until he was ready to act in the appropriate social way....he did care about being separated though, so that worked, but it was a CONSTANT battle. If she doesn't care, my only advice is to hang in there and keep being consistent, and hopefully she will get it. Jack is 3--almost 4--now and is much more sensitive to discipline, doesn't tantrum too often anymore, and even if his heart isn't always in it, controls his behavior much better--at least enough to stay out of trouble most of the time....kids!!!! It is so tough to be a parent though, and not know what to do. May God give you wisdom!

The VW's said...

Your thoughts about the subject make perfect sense to me. She can control things this way and obviously there is a lot that she hasn't been able to control in her life.

Plus, she seems like an emotional child. She gets SO EXCITED.....I can see it from way over here, and this makes for a high spirited child.

Our 6 year old has always been like this. He is SO LOVING one minute and SO IMPOSSIBLE the next! He runs at everyone with full force to give them a hug (Great Grandma too...NOT GOOD!) and he sometimes just runs up to my husband and pounds on him! I think that he's so excited and doesn't know how to fuel all that emotion. He's also very smart and independent. I can tell that Miss Marissa is smart and independent too! This makes for a deadly combination! It's great if they can learn to fuel this combo into something beneficial, but I think that it takes time and maturing.

Our son is so defiant and thinks that he is THE BOSS and always has. He could care less what the punishment is. No matter how I try to explain it to him, it does no good. He thinks he's perfectly capable of making all decisions and always has, even when he was 18 months old. He used to have a fit when we put him in his carseat. He would yell, "No! My drive!" He seriously thought that he could drive and that we should allow him to!

I feel your frustrations! TRUST ME! I also know that he has gotten better over the years. So, there is hope! Hang in there and keep doing what you are doing! Marissa will turn out great! You guys are excellent parents! She'll give you gray hair, but it will be worth it! HUGS!!!

Janice said...

Marissa is a unique baby. She has developed tolerance skills that children her age just don't develop unless they are special needs children. I think you are dealing with a higher level of determination than what is developed in most kids. Although she does a lot of age appropriate things, she's also uncanny in her understanding and ability to react. She behaves like a survivor. You can't do anything to her that matches what she has already been through or that she can't survive. She's learning how to express herself and I think she is expressing what she has learned -pain.

Maybe she needs to experience a different reaction from you and Jeremy when she hits. What if you pretended to cry and act like you were in pain because she hit you. She might see more of the consequences of her behavior rather than getting the normal discipline. Maybe go for the emotional sensors vs "connect bad actions with discipline".

Just a grandma's thoughts. I've done this with my kids before and the looks on their faces when they saw me cry was hilarious. They usually felt really guilty and didn't know how to make me stop crying. I LOL now thinking about it. And then again, she might just hit you again so she can make you feel what she's felt all along. Girl...who knows. But give it a try if you haven't already.

I love you
Grandma Utah

Hope said...

I agree and I wish I had more to add. I don't have any miracle advice on this. I can offer hugs and support, though. This too shall pass, then the next phase will rear it's head. Fun times.....

Queen Mommy said...

If it makes you feel any better, Lily and Leah are the exact same way! Admittedly, Leah is much better now, as is Lily, to a certain degree. When I say better, I mean that I can actually *punish* them, and they *care* (most of the time, or at least part of the time), which makes it easier.

Here are the things that worked the best for us:

During a tantrum/fit: mimicking whatever they do. Usually stopped the tantrum in 2.4 seconds because they were so busy laughing at me!


When hitting/throwing is involved: explaining that this is my body. That is your body. It hurts when you hit me. Please don't hurt my body. If they deliberately did it again, then I would have to employ some other more traditional form of punishment (usually a time out or taking a break).

Trying to help them verbalize whatever was bothering them: Are you feeling frustrated because you want to read a story now? Are you sad because you can't play with mommy's pottery vase? Sometimes when I'm frustrated/sad, I will ______. Marissa might be a little young for that, but I've found that a lot of these types of tantrums occur because my daughters feel a need to be HEARD and/or UNDERSTOOD.

I still did time outs sometimes and the occasional spanking, but it seemed like those methods were largely ineffective with Lily and Leah. So, I totally get your frustration.

I've always said that parenting is just a series of trial and error. And, what works one day, may not work the next. We just have to keep trying, and hoping, and praying that God will get us (and them) though it mostly unscathed! :-)

ANewKindOfPerfect said...

I wanted to answer your question from my blog! Miralax only comes in a powder. It's super fine, and really dissolves completely. We only mix it in 100 cc's of liquid and it's totally dissolved.

I hope that helps!

Michelle said...

Oh sister, I wish I had advice for you. I'm thinking what grandma said might be a good avenue. I do think being consistent is about the best thing you can do. I agree with all that you said...it's just so hard when you have a kid like we do that has been through so much. Prayign for you, friend.

Hua said...

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