One of the hardest things to do is admit that you need help
Comments from a Brave Psychologist
who did some excellent work with her 14 year old son
[This boy at the start of the intervention had a frightening and dangerous disregard for consequences; had just been expelled from one school and within two weeks in his new school had been suspended; was going out late at night and staying out all night; was smoking marijuana; associating with very suspect friends; would steal from his parents and lie; was rude, aggressive and dismissive to everything that his parents said.
His parents supervised a household in which their son's behaviour gave him constant attention and where his position in the family was polarised with him as the "bad boy" and his brother as the "good boy". These parents had to be dragged away from the strong beliefs, widely held by parents, which served to maintain their son's bad behaviour.
Ms. Giles (not real name) is a very effective and respected psychologist.
You asked if we could put our experiences on paper. I am sorry it has
taken a little while but here we are. If you were to use them we would
be grateful if you could ensure that any identifying features were
When we first met Warwick he made it very clear that, in his books, any
problems we were having with Paul (not real name) were entirely down to us and our poor
training of him. Whilst this may seem like an unpalatable message it
fitted exactly with our own views. Everyone around us said it was not
our fault, but however well meaning, this did not fit with our sense of
guilt nor give us a way of changing anything. By saying it was down to
us, Warwick was also saying that we could change it.
Having worked with Warwick's system for nearly a year now I am not convinced it was
all our fault. I do think that another child may have done fine with
our parenting and that Paul in another family might have done better or
even worse. I suppose what I am saying is that I think the
personalities of all of us has played a part. I also think that Paul does
not easily put behaviours and consequences together and that in order to
make this link he requires far greater and more consistent training than
the average child. I do think that at the time it was a lifeline (and
exactly what we needed) to have someone say 'It is down to you guys and
therefore you can change things.' Thus allowing us to do something
positive and to take some of the negative feeling away from Paul.
So what did we change? Well the money system was introduced. We had
tried systems before but been talked out of keeping them by Paul. We
had always given money as a reward rather than: you have it, but it can
be taken away. The children hated it, but with Warwick's support we
kept going and still have it. Other things we learnt from you were:
Give him what he wants but on your terms
- Do not change the rules when he is breaking them
- Give the sanctions but then be upbeat and positive
- Never give in to him because he is angry
- Do not give sympathy for self inflicted pain
- Never disagree as parents
- Keep the talk regarding negatives to an absolute minimum
- Chat about unimportant things, ask his opinion
- If both children are involved then sanction both equally.
Most importantly we learnt that Paul is probably brighter than both of
us and could run rings around us in the negotiation stakes. I was
shocked when Warwick said that if he was going to work with us we would
have to stop listening to our child. I had always thought that was what
a 'good parent' did. Now I understand exactly what he meant. We did
listen and adapt our behaviour in the light of what Paul said, and that
did him no favours. Also all the talking was inadvertently giving a lot
of attention to the negative behaviours. This was very subtle but none
the less there.
The other big mistake that Warwick helped us with was our tendency to believe him when a little thought and a few questions would have shown he was not telling the truth. Again I thought
unconditional love was important and taking his side was a facet of
this. The trouble is, it trained Paul to be an excellent liar, knowing
that he could lie to us, we would take his side and being bright
articulate people, we could generally get him off the hook.
Unfortunately there comes a point where we can no longer do this.
Our final large mistake (of course there were lots of lesser ones) was
to introduce a system whereby we would give sanctions to Paul but he
could then earn things back if he behaved well. When Warwick heard this
on first meeting us he was astounded. He pointed out we had trained
Paul to see that whatever he did he could manipulate the consequences.
The daily telephone conversations were crucial in helping to keep us on
track and get the hang of what we needed to do differently and the
subtleties of how to apply that.
So where are we now? Well of course there are still good days and bad,
but even the bad do not begin to approach how awful it was when we first
met Warwick. Paul gets up and goes to school and is more or less on
time. Quite often he has breakfast and mostly the arguments are gone.
He comes home on time and mostly keeps his phone on so that we can
contact him. He does about 20 mins of homework 4 days out of 7 and has
taken up guitar lessons. He has had a girlfriend for the last 9 months
and she is an excellent influence on him. He recently went away for a
long WE with her and her parents and all seemed to go well. With her
away on holiday we have had a couple of instances of cannabis which
makes us wonder how much of the changes we see in him are down to her,
but we also know that all our hard work has had an impact.
We have worked incredibly hard in the last year. We always took our
roles as parents very seriously and did a lot with the children, but
this has stretched our resources to the limit in terms of emotional and
physical strength. We could not have done it without Warwick's help.
We had sought help from all the professionals we could, none of them
even came close to making a difference. I often think that, although
Paul will never meet him, he has a lot to thank Warwick for, and so do
Many thanks Warwick. I hope we may not need to contact you again, but I
suspect at some future point we might.
Andrea Giles and Jeffer Markham
Behaviour Change Consultancy 24 Rochdale, Harold Road, London, SE19 3TF