If you have a child who is defiant you usually know it. Your child’s defiance may be that thing which keeps you up at night wondering, “Why doesn’t my child listen?” or “Why is everything such a struggle with him (or her)?” Other people may tell you about your child’s defiant behavior including family, school teachers, other parents, and even strangers in the supermarket. It can be emotionally and physically draining to deal with your child’s defiant behavior. You may feel like that is all you do all day is struggle with behaviors. What behaviors are we talking about? Every child is different so you are going to see a great variety of defiant behaviors with individual children. Yet there are some common elements to defiance that we can pinpoint.
Defiant behavior can be seen on a spectrum of severity. If the behaviors are extreme and consistent over time some children will be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder .
The symptoms of this disorder include:
• Problem with adults and other authority figures
• Often has hard time either making friends or sustaining friendships
• Anger problems, loses temper easily
• Consistently blames others for their own mistakes
• Annoyed easily
• Can be vindictive
• Frequently in trouble at school
Your child’s defiant behavior does not need to be extreme for you to do something about it, however. It is good to nip behaviors in the bud before they get to the stage where they are much harder to manage.
Here are some things you can do:
1. Get help and support. If you are the parent of a child who is frequently defiant or disobedient, it can seem that it is you against the world. It doesn’t have to feel this way. Ask for help from the child’s school, other family members, or even mental health professionals. One way to find a therapist or counselor for your child is to ask your child’s pediatrician for a referral. Also the CHADD Professional Directory is a good place to start to find medical and/or mental health professionals to help your child. The National Resource Center on ADHD (a CHADD program) also lists resources for finding professionals to assist you in dealing with your ADHD child’s behaviors. Why try to do this alone when there is help?
2. Take a look at your child’s life stressors . Most behaviors do not occur in a vacuum. Are there any life circumstances or stressors which may be contributing to your child’s behaviors? Is there conflict in the family? Any marital problems between you and your spouse? Has there been a separation or divorce? Have you moved recently or changed your child’s school? Has there been illness or a death in the family? Is your child being bullied at school? There are so many life events which can create stress for your child, and for some kids they will react by acting out and being defiant as this is a way to gain some control. If there are extenuating circumstances such as these it may be a good idea to have your child receive some mental health counseling.
3. Create a communication log. If you want to know how your child is behaving in different settings you are going to have to ask. Set up a schedule of email correspondence between you and your child’s teacher to communicate what is happening in school and at home. Be reasonable in your expectations of how often the teacher may realistically be able to communicate with you. But I have found that if you don’t ask, you usually won’t get feedback about your child until there is a big problem.
4. Give your child choices and control. I have found that children who are defiant quite often are wishing they had more control in their life and overcompensate through defiance or by attempting to control others. It is possible to meet your need to get your child to do what you want and provide them with more choices. The way you do this is by offering controlled choices. For example if you want your child to take a bath you can offer the choice of when but you provide times acceptable to you as in “Do you want to take a bath before or after I read you a story?” Or “Do you want to finish your homework before or after dinner?”
5. Communicate without yelling. If your child is angry and defiant and reacts by yelling it is easy to match their behavior by yelling back. This is a lose-lose scenario as your child will simply learn to scream louder than you can. Or they will simply learn to tune you out. In my article, “Behavior Management 101: Why Yelling Doesn’t Work ” I describe how to replace yelling with more effective communication. One of the essentials of good communication is to listen to your child. Defiance may be a way of communicating that something is wrong in their world.
6. Pick and choose your battles wisely. When you have a child who is consistently defiant, your home can seem like a war zone. Remember that it is not about “winning” arguments but more about teaching your child to learn appropriate ways to navigate the world. Make a list of your child’s behaviors which are the most extreme and cause the most harm and target those behaviors first. Let the little tiffs and scuffles go because you don’t have time or energy to tackle everything.
7. Teach your child how to control their anger. If you have a child who is openly defiant, chances are that you have a child who also has anger management issues. In my article, “Ten Ways to Help Your ADHD Child Control Their Anger ” I give you ways to help your child manage their anger more effectively.
8. Try to avoid power struggles when you can. Our Eileen Bailey tells us how to do just that with her article entitled, “Overcoming Power Struggles .”
9. Talk less and act more. When children are defiant or misbehave some parents begin to talk and reason and negotiate. Generally, if you want your child to do what you request, the less chatter the better. Give one warning and an “If/then” scenario as in “If you do this (state the behavior), then this (state the consequence) is what will happen next.” If your child repeats the behavior then no explanation is necessary. Enact the consequence immediately.
10. Take care of you! When you have a child who has ADHD and who is defiant much of the time, it can take a toll on your mental health. Don’t let yourself get so stressed out that you develop anxiety and/or depression. Here is an article to help you to prevent burn out in parenting your child, “How to Stay Sane When Your Child’s Behavior Seems out of Control.”
Now we wish to hear from you. Do you have a child who is defiant? How do you cope with his or her behaviors? What strategies have worked the best? Share your story with us. We always love to hear from our readers as you are the true experts.