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Parenting Spike: The seriously difficult child-Out-of-control

by Andrew D. Gibson, Ph. D.


Let’s say that you have an out-of-control ten year old kid named Spike. How he got there isn’t clear. But out of control is out of control: that’s more than clear. There is nothing you can do in the name or reward or punishment that makes a dent in his behavior. Some people think that out of control just means you forgot to take Spike’s cell phone away; they think he’ll snap out of it when you do. They are wrong. If you take away his cell phone, he’ll attack you. He uses implied (and not so implied) threats and has backed you into a corner. He also lies, cheats, steals and swears; and that is just before breakfast. So not only is Spike out of control, he also owns you and the household you live in. He is in charge. You can get just as angry as you like but he is still in charge. Think this scenario is unusual? It isn’t. It is very common. And you, the tax payer, end up paying for it because you foot the bill when Spike is sent to a residential school. The cost is about $75,000 per year per kid. And guess what? The placements almost always fail. Spike just learns to shut up so he can be discharged. When he returns home, he often starts up all over again.

If parents weren’t so desperate they wouldn’t think that the State could be a better parent than they are. But since they feel like complete failures as parents, they don’t think clearly. They need to learn how to distance themselves from their kid. The problem is they have been trying to put boundaries around their Spike. It doesn’t work. They need to put them around themselves. It is much more effective. If they will, they actually can have a family again. A good place for them to begin is to examine all the things they do for Spike which aren’t absolutely necessary. Then they should stop doing them. Parents are only obliged to provide the basics. When Spike decides to be decent, they can add the special things back in. Anything above basic he needs to earn by being respectful. This is not a deal; they say nothing to Spike. They simply begin quietly to take back the control that they lost in a futile effort to corral Spike. For more information go to #parenting

About The Author

Dr. Andrew Gibson was born in Detroit at the close of WWII. He grew up in the midst of farming country in central Michigan. Both parents were teachers. He keeps a picture of his childhood companion, Wags, to this day (you had to see the tail to appreciate the name). After discharge from the Navy after the Viet Name war, he graduated with a BA and MA from San Diego State University and earned his Ph. D from the University of Connecticut. He has taught at Portland State University, n Portland Oregon, at the University of Maine, Presque Isle and at SUNY New Paltz. He resides in Eastern Connecticut, with his wife of 41 years, where he conducts a private practice in parenting seriously difficult children. His book “Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike-A Seriously Difficult Child’ is the first of a series examining seriously difficult children at various age and emotional disturbance levels. He invites you to find him on the web at

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