For those who raise resistant, defiant children or teens, this is the single most important piece of advice: take care of yourself, your primary relationships, and the rest of your family. Your child cannot take everyone down. You have a life and so do the rest of the family members. Protect your other children from PTSD – Post Traumatic SIBLING Disorder. Schedule regular times for you and the others to relieve tension, and do something that takes you out of the home and brings you joy. The time or expense is worth every bit as much as psychotherapy.
Before we get to the practical “how to” advice, make note of these facts about defiant and resistant children:
- Physical age is not emotional age. They act younger than they are.
- The child lives in the here and now; they don’t think about the past or future. They don’t see how their original actions result in a series of consequences.
- The child does not notice their effect on others.
- Their brain is easily overloaded, which explains their problems, but you can use this overloading problem to your advantage (see below)
- They are inherently irrational and cannot follow your reasoning, so don’t try.
- Believe it or not, you want your child to be resistant to the negative things they’ll face in life. It is a strength to cultivate because it takes a strong will to face challenges. YOU need to be resistant.
Managing resistant children is a balancing act. If you go too far asserting authority you can draw more resistance, especially if you become emotional, so STAY COOL. You’ll have to stand rooted and calm many times before they reduce their behavior, so embrace patience. Patience is good medicine for stress. Don’t get stuck believing you’ve lost patience… because you haven’t!
Practice ahead of time
Before you set a boundary on your recalcitrant child, practice what you will say in advance. Play the dialogue out in your head—imagine their reaction to your request or rule, and plan a neutral-toned response. Remind yourself that you are the authority, and you are more resolved and persistent than they are. Your message doesn’t have to be rational, e.g. “Because I’m the mommy (or daddy) and I say so.”
THESE ARE PRACTICAL IDEAS, BUT NOT IRONCLAD RULES. USE YOUR BEST JUDGEMENT.
Be a benevolent dictator
Since your home is not a democracy and your child does not run the household, they are not entitled to have all their needs fulfilled or opinions considered. When they make a demand, thank them for letting you know their opinion, and explain how you will weigh their needs with those of everyone else. Your child will find your decision completely unfair, but remind yourself that “fair” is not “equal.” (It’s not desirable to treat everyone and every situation equally.) Say it’s the best you can do for now. As their accusations fly, dial back your interest, get busy with something else, and become distracted.
Allow some aggression
When it’s appropriate and safe, ask your child to do more of what they’re already doing so that they turn it around and defy you by stopping the behavior. Example: your child refuses to take a direction and throws a book on the floor in anger.
Parent: “There’s only one book on the floor. Here is another one, now throw this on the floor.” (Child throws book down.)
“Here’s another one. Throw this down too.” (Child throws book down.)
“And here’s another book, throw this one down, too.” (Child becomes frustrated and angry, but stops throwing books down in defiance.)
Be a marshmallow
Show no resistance, instead, listen and respond to how they feel, not what they say. Show them you are open to genuine talk later when the stress dies down.
Teen: “I hate you, you f- -king b- -ch!”
Parent: “Sounds like you’re really angry.”
Teen: “Shut up you stupid wh- -e! You c – -t!”
Parent: “Can you tell why me you’re angry so I can do something about it?”
Teen: “Leave me alone f- -k face! Stop patronizing me!”
Parent: “OK, I hear you don’t want me to patronize you, so I won’t. I feel this is stressful for both of us, so I’d like to take a break and maybe talk about it later.”
Call their bluff
Child: “I’m going to run away!”
Parent: “OK, I’ll give you 50 cents to call me and tell me where you are, and I’ll bring you your stuff.” (then walk away)
Parent: “Oh my God, I can’t believe what you’ve done to your hair, that’s horrible! What are people going to think? That’s worse than tattoos. You have to stop this nonsense!”
(One mother used this technique to get her daughter to stop her plans to make a homemade tattoo on her face. After all, hair grows out, but facial tattoos can be forever.)
Overload their brain circuits
Give your child or teen multiple instructions quickly, and include things they do and don’t want to do. It becomes too much work for them to sort out what to defy.
Parent: “Keep up the yelling and close the door on your way out. And be sure to get louder out there so all the neighbors can hear. Dinner is at 5:30.”
(What happens? The door is slammed maybe, but the kid is home at 5:30 for dinner.)
As mentioned in a previous post* this works best with children 2 through 12. They try to get a reaction by annoying you or threatening to do something you don’t want them to do. Stay in the vicinity but don’t respond, look away, and act like you don’t care or can’t hear them. Go into another room or outside, for example, and the annoying child will follow you to continue to get your attention with annoying behavior. If they flip the lights on and off, or ring the doorbell repeatedly, or turn up the volume too loud, maybe you can switch a circuit breaker off and walk away… or if driving, you can pull over, stop the car, and get out and wait. * Defying ODD: What it is and ways to manage
Be unpredictable. Give a reward sometimes but not all the time, so the child keeps trying the good behavior to get the reward. Instead of a consequence, use bribes to stop a behavior. Allow them to do something they like to do, only with appropriate boundaries. In my personal opinion, I think it’s also OK to manipulate a situation and allow the child to think they’ve “won.” Choose your battles. Let some things go if you’re too stressed.
Have realistic expectations
It’s easy to get stuck in rut—it happens to everyone—but you can climb out. Remember, it’s not the child’s fault and it’s not your fault. Your child may not go through life the same as others, they may always have problems, but your job is to help them bounce back and learn from their mistakes. If you can do that, you’ve wildly succeeded. The best you can is the best you can do.
One must be a saint for sticking it out for their troubled child or teen, whether a bio parent, foster parent, grandparent, adoptive parent, or other family member. If the child’s condition is serious, they may never make it in the world because of their disability, but you’ll know you’ll have honored them, lived your values, and loved unconditionally.
- They have the ability to do better.
- With treatment, children improve (e.g. therapy, exercise, medication…).
- Things usually work out.
- Help is out there.