It’s the same old conflict: Parent versus child. Throughout the ages, parents have always been at odds with their offspring at some point in the growing up process. You might even be getting a taste of some of that right now. Toddlers and adolescents are usually the biggest perpetrators of “boundary testing.” If you can survive those years, most children grow beyond those attitudes and adopt a more mature nature and ideas.
Unfortunately, for many parents, this “phase” is anything but a phase. They grapple with real-life destructive behavior because they deal with a defiant child. If you are experiencing this right now, then keep reading. There is help for you and your child.
Defiance can go beyond the age-appropriate outbursts and behavior of the toddler years, adolescence, and even teenage angst. In these situations, other conditions may be present that exacerbate overly strong-willed attitudes in your child. It could even stem from a chemical imbalance of some sort in the brain or a learning disability. The point is that there are solutions. Your child is not a “demon seed” but someone you love who is in need of assistance.
In this report, you will become acquainted with how your child views their life and their thought process. Discover the “thinking errors” that all of us struggle with, but kids don’t seem to be able to turn off. Finally learn some much-needed steps for resolving conflict for dealing with defiance head on. You love your child; that’s a given. Now, it’s time to understand your child.
HOW A DEFIANT CHILD THINKS
The common myth is that children are little versions of us. In reality, they are young people who think in ways that are different from us. For one, they lack the extensive experience and knowledge that adults have developed over a lifetime. Second, they are “blank slates” – their brains lack the necessary connections. With each new experience, they learn things like sitting, standing, walking, talking, reasoning, sharing, and understanding and so on. So, if your child tells you that they don’t want to go outside or don’t feel like cleaning their room, it is coming from that self-centered place where they live, until they learn there is another way to act.
A defiant child, on the other hand, sees things in their own way. What you view as reasonable requests are just reasons to get an argument started for them, if they don’t get their way. Here are some snippets from a “Day in the Life of a Defiant Child”:
“I don’t want to get out of bed. School is dumb. I’ll just lay here.”
“I don’t have enough time to get ready before the bus comes. This sucks. Why do I have to go to school?”
“Why should I do my homework? I’ll never use any of this stuff. My teacher hates me anyway.”
“Can you take me to school? Otherwise I’ll be late since I missed the bus.”
“Stay off my back. I’m doing the best I can. Nothing I do is ever good enough for you guys.”
“There’s nothing wrong with watching this show. All my friends’ parents let them watch it. You just don’t want me to be cool.”
Does any of this sound familiar to you? You may have heard it so much that you just tune it out, roll your eyes, and keep moving. Or, your blood boils every time you hear it and the shouting commences. These statements are inflammatory and meant to “get your goat” so to speak. Kids hope that by making you incensed, you will give in to their demands and they can go on living as they always have been. The problem with that is these attitudes are not healthy and not productive. They can only lead to more trouble, as your child gets older.
A child who sees the world like this on a daily basis is not only defiant but most likely suffering from some sort of disorder on top of that. What could be driving your child to exhibit such behavior?
- Peer pressure and/or rejection (bullying, teasing, drugs, sex, alcohol or other)
- Past traumatic experiences (physical or sexual abuse, for example, with or without the parent’s knowledge)
- Conflict with parents (parental expectations, separation, divorce, or remarriage)
- Body image issues (developing too fast or not as fast as their peers do)
- Sibling issues (dangerous sibling rivalry, bullying, etc.)
- Defiance is the thing that is “in” right now so it’s okay to do
This is by no means a comprehensive list. It does encompass many different kinds of situations to become aware of with your child. Children can place unrealistic expectations upon themselves and feel too embarrassed to tell you when something is going on with them. As a result, they try to handle it themselves and the defiant behavior is a result.
Parents are not mind readers and thus don’t make the connection all the time. This can further infuriate your child into thinking that you don’t care enough to be able to tell when they are having problems.
Another part of defiant behavior could be due to chemical imbalances in the brain or disabilities. Your child could suffer from:
- Anxiety disorders (ADD, ADHD, ODD, panic attacks or another)
- Depression (bipolar depression or clinical depression)
- Learning disabilities (dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, or another)
Any of these issues can compound a problem with handling emotional situations. Whatever the reason, addressing the underlying issues is necessary to get to the heart of the matter. Did you know that as much as five percent of teenagers have clinical depression? That seems small but is a great concern when you are speaking of young people. Their reasons for depression could be hereditary but are displayed as more irritable than sad.
What is ODD?
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a medical condition that must be diagnosed by a professional clinician. As we said, all children go through a phase of defiance throughout their formative years. ODD is something different. It is not a phase but an ongoing set of behaviors that don’t resolve or get better, but progressively worse, especially if not treated through training and behavior modification for both parents and children.
A child may be suffering from ODD if they exhibit one or more of these chronic symptoms almost daily for at least six months. Children with ODD are:
- Prone to using bad language
- Lose their temper easily and often
- Argue with adults including their parents (they believe that they are equal to adults)
- Refuse to comply with requests from their parents, teachers, and other adults as well
- Annoy others on purpose
- Talk back to adults
- Blame others for their problems and accept no responsibility for their actions
- Are annoyed easily by other people including friend and family members
- Show vindictive behavior over perceived slights
- Angry all the time
- Resentful of other people
These children believe that it is their right to do as they please. If something displeases them, they rage against it until they get their way. For them, defiant behavior is a norm instead of an exception to the rule. The danger here is that these patterns will carry over into adulthood where their behavior could turn violent and lead to problems at work and with the law.
THINKING ERRORS IN DEFIANT CHILDREN AND TEENS
We all can exhibit “thinking errors” at times in our lives. This is nothing new. Consider the alcoholic who says that they can drink and function at the same time. Or, how about the person who wants to lose weight but doesn’t see the harm in eating half a box of ice cream after dinner because they will “work it off” tomorrow. It’s called “justification.” These thought patterns are used every day by someone (mostly adults) to feel better about making poor choices in our lives.
As adults, we understand what we are doing but deceive ourselves so it will be alright. Children don’t have this knowledge. They act this way to gain the upper hand, or power, over others in their lives. When they see it works, their behavior will continue along that vein whether the outcome is good or bad. For defiant children, the outcomes tend to be negative and that’s where their power lies. When we as parents give in to their demands, we are reinforcing negative behavior and showing that their tactics work.
Here are five thinking errors that a defiant child may exhibit.
“Victim Stance”: As a victim, everything is done “to” you so the responsibility for fixing a situation doesn’t fall on you but the person who is the aggressor. Defiant children may play the “victim” role to get out of taking responsibility for situations where they are clearly at fault. There are times when our children or we may actually be a victim, but it is not healthy to live in that position in everyday life. Blaming others seems to absolve them from trying a new task, making mistakes, or moving ahead in life when they are afraid or embarrassed. Instead of trying, they cry foul and become angry.
“Uniqueness”: This is where the children feel that they are above everyone else. Pitfalls that would ensnare a lesser person don’t apply to them. The alcoholic, mentioned above, is an example of this. He can drive unimpaired by a few drinks because he has a false sense of superiority and security. Clearly, alcohol compromises the system and his logic is faulty. For kids, it could be the reason why they don’t study for a test. Hanging out with the wrong crowd won’t influence them because they are “different.”
“Concrete Transactions”: Defiant children use adults and others as a means to an end. You are only useful as long as you perform the job that they need you for. They may trade on their friendship with someone to get them to go along with something bad or illegal. Being nice to parents is only so they will do something for them even after they have put their foot down.
“Turnaround”: This one is almost self-explanatory. No matter what you say, your defiant child will turn the remark around on you. If you are not prepared for it, you’ll be caught off guard. You are annoyed because they are not cleaning their room. Your child retaliates by saying that you don’t love them or that you are too hard on them. They accuse you of all sorts of atrocities in order to change the subject and get out of punishment.
“One-way Training”: This is an insidious tactic. Instead of you getting your child to follow the rules, he is training you to follow his. When confronted with a task he doesn’t want to do or a skill that he doesn’t want to learn, he will turn things around to focus on your behavior. He may go through your belongings in your room and then bark when you come into his room. He may lie and say he has other things to do or too much on his plate and he will get to it later. Manipulation is not above him.
STEPS TO DEAL WITH A DEFIANT CHILD
Don’t be deceived. You must deal with the child you have. Comparing your child’s behavior with that of your friends will not resolve the situation. You love your child and because you do, these types of destructive behavior patterns must be broken. As a parent, you know it’s for their good now and in the future. They are counting on you.
Learn to understand your child – In the case of defiant children, this is almost as important as loving them. In fact, it is an expression of your love for them. Discover how they think and why they think the way that they do. If you need to, employ the services of a psychologist or psychiatrist to assist your family with sorting through the mess and getting to the root of the issues so everyone can live a more productive life.
Avoid yelling – This is counterproductive. When your blood begins to boil, step away from the situation. Instead of giving your child what they want (which is you off kilter), leave the area and return to the discussion when you can keep your emotions in check.
Listen to your child – In between that shouting and double talk are clues to why they are reacting and acting in such a manner. Actively listening is also the way to compartmentalize your emotions as you seek out the information you need to help you child.
Positive reinforcement – Your child is looking for power and doesn’t care if the ends are negative or positive. Ensure that they will be positive through reinforcement. Offer encouragement, praise, validation and even rewards for positive behaviors that they exhibit. Reduce their power in the negative realm by refusing to give in to their demands or producing the desired negative results.
Redirect his energies – Think about the last time you were mad. Your heart is racing, your muscles are tense, and you seem to have a lot of excess energy. The same goes for your child. Use productive ways to burn off that energy that doesn’t involve negative behaviors. Teach them to use exercise (playing basketball, running, biking, jumping jacks, etc.) as a stress reliever to calm down. Physical movement satisfies the urge to throw or hit something while letting you come back down to earth.
Set boundaries and stick to them – Following through with consequences, no matter what sad story your child tells, will let them know how things work in real life.
Being defiant is normally a phase for most kids, but is much more than that for some. If your child is exhibiting defiant behavior (whether it escalates or not), nip it in the bud right now. Understand your child’s way of thinking and then combat each behavior by hitting it head on. Follow through with firm consequences for negative behavior. Stress reinforcement of positive behaviors as a way to move away from those destructive patterns. Give your child the tools that they need to fuel their growth into adulthood and a successful life.