At one time or another, most kids defy the wishes of their moms and dads. This is a part of growing up and testing adult guidelines and expectations. It is one way for kids to learn about and discover their own selves, express their individuality, and achieve a sense of autonomy. As they stretch their independent wings and engage in minor conflicts with their moms and dads, they discover the boundaries of their parents’ rules and of their own self-control. Sometimes, however, these conflicts are more than occasional disturbances and become a pattern for how moms and dads and kids interact.
Disobedience can have a variety of causes. At times, it is due to unreasonable parental expectations, or it might be related to the youngster's temperament, school problems, family stress, or conflicts between the child’s mother and father.
What can parents do?
When you have a chronically disobedient youngster, examine the possible sources of his/her inner turmoil and rebelliousness. If this has been a persistent pattern that has continued into middle childhood, closely evaluate your own family situation:
- Are disagreements resolved through rational discussion, or do family members regularly argue or resort to violence?
- Do they respect one another's privacy, ideas, and personal values?
- Do you and your youngster have very different personalities and ways of getting along in the world that cause friction between you?
- How does the family work out its conflicts?
- How much respect do your family members show for one another?
- How much spanking and yelling is there?
- Is the family undergoing some especially stressful times?
- Is your youngster having trouble succeeding at school or developing friendships?
- What is your usual style of relating to your youngster, and what forms does discipline usually take?
If your youngster has only recently started to demonstrate disrespect and disobedience, tell her that you have noticed a difference in her behavior and that you sense she is unhappy or struggling. With her help, try to determine the specific cause of her frustration or upset. This is the first step toward helping her change unwanted behavior.
If you react to your youngster's “back-talk” by exploding or losing your temper, she will respond with disobedience and disrespect. By contrast, she will become more obedient when you remain calm, cooperative, and consistent. She will learn to be respectful if you are respectful toward her and others in the family. If she becomes disobedient and out of control, impose a timeout until she calms down and regains self-control.
When your youngster is obedient and respectful, compliment her for that behavior. Reward the behavior you are seeking, including cooperation and resolution of disagreements. These positive efforts will always be much more successful than punishment.
When should I seek additional help?
For some disobedient kids, you may need to obtain professional mental health treatment. Here are some situations where outside counseling may be necessary:
- If a youngster shows signs of generalized unhappiness -- perhaps talking of feeling blue, unliked, friendless, or even suicidal
- If a youngster's disobedience and/or disrespect is accompanied by aggressiveness and destructiveness
- If the patterns of disobedience continue in spite of your best efforts to encourage your youngster to communicate his negative feelings
- If there is a persistent, long-standing pattern of disrespect of authority both at school and at home
- If you or your spouse or youngster use alcohol or other drugs to feel better or cope with stress
- If your family has developed a pattern of responding to disagreements with physical or emotional abuse
If relationships within your family show signs of difficulty and lack of cooperation, then family therapy may be indicated. By dealing with and resolving these problems at a young age, you can minimize and even prevent more serious struggles that may emerge as your kids reach adolescence. The key is early identification and treatment.
My Out-of-Control Child: Parenting Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder