So many parents that consult with me are struggling with children with really intense defiant behaviors. What amazes me is how every parent’s description of these defiant behaviors is almost identical to the other parents. Their questions are also always the same: ‘Why is my child having so defiant and angry? And what is the best way to deal with this’?
Why this is happening
Here’s something that many parents may not realize – kids who display defiant, angry, oppositional behavior are, most often, feeling stressed and anxious inside. The problem is that very often these kids don’t seem to be anxious. They just seem to be mad about something (and often unpredictably so). They seem to be testing the limits. They seem to be negative. they seem to be frustrated. Often they just seem to be naughty…very naughty! And very difficult!
The reality is that defiant kids really don’t want to behave that way. They don’t wake up in the morning and decide …Today I am going to be difficult and defiant and say “no’ to everything and disagree with everybody. If they had a choice they would most definitely not want to behave that way.
It is stress and feelings of insecurity that drives these kids to be defiant and controlling.
What happens is that the inner stress stimulates certain hormones and chemistry that stimulates high levels of inflammation in the child’s body and brain. This results in ‘fight (or flight)’ behavior. The stress and inflammation also affects the child’s ability to use the prefrontal cortex, known as the executive of the brain. This is where we control impulses, learn from experience, plan and make good decisions.
How do I deal with this?
If you know that someone is feeling anxious or afraid or out of control or unsafe how would you respond to them? My guess is that your answer to this question would be something like … ‘I would comfort them…perhaps hug them … hold them…ask them what they are feeling…find out what they are needing … You might say … ‘I would be compassionate. I would do my very best to find out what is making the person anxious and see if I help them deal with that’. This is exactly what parents need to do with defiant children.
Parenting a defiant child is a huge challenge. It can make parents feel overwhelmed, confused, frustrated and even guilty. What parents need to be aware of is that parenting a defiant child requires specific and different skills to parenting children without this issue. Essentially what parents need are calming skills to avoid inflaming the child any further.
Doing this will help the child:
- Move out of the ‘Fight’ syndrome
- Think more clearly
- Use their words to describe what they feel and need
- Use their prefrontal cortex to explore ways to behave differently in the future
Here’s what will NOT help these children:
- Thinking of them as, for example, difficult, stubborn, obstinate, manipulative, selfish, controlling or attention-seeking.
- Giving the child a psychiatric label like (ODD) Oppositional Defiance Disorder (Geez, I hate that diagnosis!)
Stigmatizing defiant kids with these labels will only make things worse – for the parents as well as the child.
Tips for those parents dealing with defiant behavior:
- Begin by looking at your defiant, angry, oppositional child with different eyes. See the behavior as being driven from within by stress and anxiety. Respond with a different heart and a different understanding.
- Put away all the traditional ways of disciplining kids – it will not work with them. Redirecting, reasoning, logic, explaining, reward and punishment, threatening, cajoling – none of this will work. In fact it will most likely cause more inflammation in their brain.
- Don’t treat the symptoms. Treat the underlying root cause by exploring what could be making the child anxious. The spitting, punching, biting, kicking, screaming are just symptoms of something going on. It is the child’s way of telling you that something is not feeling good inside of them. The parent’s challenge is to use the right tools (and your intuition) to discover what is happening for your child. This will be different for every child. It could be something as simple as being hungry or a vitamin deficiency or something like sensory overload. There are so many possibilities. Parents need to learn how to become a ‘detective’ and find the answers.
- Become your child’s ‘teammate’. Hold your child. Ask your child. Listen carefully to what the child says. Find what calms your child.
- Strengthen your child’s prefrontal cortex. Teach your child to use his/her words. If they like drawing let them draw what they are feeling. Use stories. Children relate well to stories. I recommend using stories as a way of teaching them coping tools.
Bottom line: Learn parenting tools specific for defiant kids. If you haven’t already done so get my 2 FREE coaching videos. You will find them very useful. Sign up to receive these videos here: www.parentstakecharge.com before the free offer expires.
I would love to hear from you if you have a defiant child and have found a way of switching your child from defiant to delightful.