HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

Spring Fever and Associated Defiant Behavior

Moms and dads are often shocked that defiant behaviors can rise during and after spring break week. Even though the break has its value, there is also a sense of grief at its ending. So, don't be surprised if your child has a hard time getting his or her academic motors started again.

Defiant behavior often comes in waves. If spring has brought on a bad case of "bad" behavior in your youngster, here are some possible explanations – and what to do about them:

1. Your youngster may not have the body awareness or language skills necessary to explain to you about the tingle in his nose or the pressure in his sinuses, but the light-headedness and "spacey" feeling that often accompanies allergies may leave your child feeling distracted and disoriented. If itchy eyes, sniffles or headaches accompany the onset of defiant behavior in your home, check with your doctor about the possibility of an allergy diagnosis.

2. As your child’s spring fever continues to build, celebrate accomplishments more often and make privileges easier to earn. Provide more rewards more often. Emphasize earning rewards by staying afloat academically. However, don't make the reward staying up late or anything that would work against your youngster in school.

3. Help your child transition from spring break back to schoolwork. One way to guide her to accept the necessity of schoolwork in springtime is to help in finding a sense of closure at the end of spring break. This can include gearing-up for the coming school tasks, setting up reward systems, and promising to make summer plans after your youngster is back in the routine of school and homework.

4. The wild swings in weather that often come with the onset of spring can represent a disruption of routine for a child who is sensitive to change. Changes in climate can bring changes of air-pressure that can leave him feeling out of sorts for no good reason, too. Long days of rain and the lack of outdoor play it brings can make your child restless, and staring out a classroom window at a beautiful sunny day can make it difficult to focus on schoolwork. Thus, try to keep routines as consistent as possible, and have a supply of fun rainy-day activities on hand.

5. Changing from one set of clothes to another can be a challenge to a child with tactile sensitivity (e.g., getting used to different fabrics and styles, having more skin exposed, dealing with stiff new tags, mourning the loss of favorite yet outgrown outfits, etc.). Make sure to keep her sensory-related clothing preferences in mind when buying new things for the new season, and do whatever customizing is needed (e.g., cutting out tags, washing jeans several times to make them softer, etc.).

6. When there are only a couple months of school left to go before summer vacation, your child may be making major developmental leaps. He may be speaking more, processing more, moving more, sensing more, etc. When your child jumps to a new developmental level, everything has to come apart and get put back together again in a stronger and more advanced form. The “falling-apart” episode can be difficult for everyone, but wait: things will be much better when the growth spurt is over. In the meantime, be aware that “growth spurts” can be a profoundly disorganizing process for a child. Kids with sensory integration and motor planning problems may find the difference in length of limbs and distance to the floor confusing and frustrating, and may have to completely revise their already blurry body awareness. An attitude of "giving up," anger, clumsiness, regression of motor skills, and tears for no reason can all be signs that your youngster is coping with a growth spurt poorly. Explaining the dilemma can help, and extra support and lowered expectations will be called for.

7. Fear of change is foremost in a child’s mind as she wonders if she will be able to survive the milestone of the next grade, anxiety about summer, and fearing how it may be next year in school. So be patient with your child during these difficult transitional periods. “Bad” behavior may simply be her coping mechanism for the moment.

8. Separation anxiety is another reason for defiance as your child anticipates the loss of daily classmates, familiar routines, and teachers with whom he has reached an understanding. A common reaction to this is frustration and anger, because then it isn't necessary to grieve the loss of the familiar, and the pain associated with grief (i.e., sadness) can be avoided.

9. Your child is not the only one reacting to “springtime stressors.” YOU are too. If you are agonizing over the way your spring clothes fit, feeling the changes in weather, getting caught up in vacation plans, going crazy with closet changes, suffering from allergies, and worrying about what to do with your youngster over the impending summer vacation – all of these things may raise your stress-level and lower your levels of patience, understanding, and time to spend with your child. Your youngster is likely to react to that very poorly. Stop and take a look at whether your stress is becoming contagious. Then shift gears and start to smell the roses. Help your youngster smell them also.

10. School vacations can lead to stress due to changes in routine and large blocks of unstructured time. Traveling during these vacations brings with it a whole additional level of routine-disruption and stress. Try to keep things as normal and planned as possible during spring break, and give your youngster plenty of preparation for new and interesting activities or places. Deliver maximum support, but have minimum expectations during these potentially difficult times.

When parents understand that most of the defiance associated with spring fever is physiological rather than behavioral, it will be easier to be prepared. Start by using some of the suggestions above.

12 Common Parenting Mistakes and Fixes for Defiant Preschoolers

Even the most insightful mother or father makes mistakes when it comes to raising children – especially preschoolers who are at the age where they begin to assert their independence for the first time (similar to when they become teenagers). You can't erase your worst parenting moments, but with some introspection, you can keep from repeating them. Even “parenting experts” who are also parents themselves admit that they have moments when they wish they could have hit rewind on their parental performances.

It may seem like your defiant preschooler has the innate ability to push you to the outer edge of sanity. Fear not – you're not alone. Preschoolers want to own their newly discovered autonomy, but they also want the close attention and love of their parents. 

Here are 12 common mistakes that moms and dads of preschoolers make – and some clever fixes to help resolve problems:

Mistake #1—
Be inconsistent: Few things can confuse your defiant preschooler more than an inconsistent parenting style. If you are sometimes very strict, but give in other times, or simply don't seem to care what your preschooler is doing, he will have a very hard time knowing what is expected of him and how to act.

Correction—
Be reliable: If you punish bad behavior “X”, then always punish bad behavior “X”. If you reward good behavior “A”, then always reward good behavior “A”.


Mistake #2—

Encourage whining and complaining: Does your youngster's whining drive you nuts? For example, does it drive you crazy when, right before bedtime, your youngster starts crying, "I want a glass of milk," or "I want a watch the animal channel"? Moms and dads often give in to this whining just so the child will shut-up, but this only reinforces the attention-getting behavior. Your youngster will figure out which buttons to push – and then push them over and over again. The preschool years is the time when your youngster comes out of her shell. So be careful, because she will figure out what works when it comes to getting her way.

Correction—
Ignore whining as much as possible: For behavior that isn't aggressive (e.g., whining and sulking), you're better off if you don't respond at all. If you're consistent with this, your youngster will think, "Heck, my whining tactic doesn't work".


Mistake #3—
Focus on the negative: It's easy to zero-in on your youngster's negative actions (e.g., yelling and screaming) and ignore the positive ones. Moms and dads tend to focus on what they DON’T want their preschoolers to do rather than on what they DO want (e.g., “don't hit” … “don't throw” … “don’t spit” … “don’t kick”).

Correction—
Catch your child doing things right: Notice when your youngster is doing something positive, and reward that behavior. The reward for positive behavior can be your praise, or it can be giving your youngster a big hug or kiss. Those types of rewards really go a long way with preschoolers – even defiant ones (e.g., "I noticed you sat quietly during dinner. That’s you being respectful”).


Mistake #4—
Forget about one-on-one quality time: Your youngster may play well independently, but that doesn't mean he doesn't crave your attention. There's something a child misses out on if the parent doesn’t get on the floor and play with him. Not only do moms and dads not get down and play, they are too easily distracted by their cell phones, emails, and Lord only knows what. Preschoolers aren't living in a vacuum. They know whether parents are really paying attention or not.

Correction—
Get on your child’s level: Set a timer, be enthusiastic, and stay involved for your designated play period with your youngster. Thirty minutes of concentrated play time where you give your undivided attention is better than all day when you're only paying partial attention.


Mistake #5—
Ignore warning signs: Moms and dads often try to reason with their kid when she is in the throes of a temper tantrum, repeating, "You need to calm down, you need to calm down." But that's like trying to reason with a bull while you’re riding on its back. You've got power right in front of you when you can still distract or anticipate, but once the tantrum is in full swing, you've lost it. Your youngster is not hearing you.

Correction—
Know your child’s red flags: Figure out and anticipate what her natural warning signs are (e.g., hunger, fatigue, boredom). So, for example, don't take your youngster shopping unless she's napped and feed (or you've stashed a healthy snack in your purse).


Mistake #6—
Keep doing what doesn’t work: Not recognizing or changing your parenting techniques that aren't working is as big a problem as not trying to fix problems in the first place. Does what you do or say usually backfire when you attempt to address a particular issue? For example, you may think that sending your child to “time-out” is an effective form of discipline, but if you have to use it each day to correct the same problem, then it should be obvious that it isn't working.

Correction—
Stop the insanity: If it isn’t working – quit doing it. Try something different that is appropriate for your child’s age. Constantly refine your parenting tactics.


Mistake #7—
Overreact when you catch your child lying: Lying really angers most moms and dads. But they need to view this preschool-behavior as “experimenting” rather than as a “moral issue.” When preschoolers start to lie, it's a big cognitive advance …it’s both exciting and somewhat frightening …it has an emotional charge. But then the parent typically freaks-out and has visions of her youngster winding up in prison, so she gets very worried – and angry – about it.

Correction—
Avoid catastrophizing: Whenever you catch your child in a lie, simply point out that you know it is a lie. Call it what it is (a lie), and then state the truth (e.g., “Robert, you said you took a shower, but that’s a lie, because I can see that the shower is still dry. The truth is you have NOT taken a shower yet”).


Mistake #8—
Take your youngster’s “bad” behavior personally: It’s easy to take misbehavior personally when your youngster says something hurtful to you. But while it’s important to accept that you will get upset from time to time and your feelings will be hurt – you must never show it. If you do, you have just revealed a button that can be pushed time and time again.

Correction—
Calm down before issuing consequences: You may get upset when your youngster misbehaves or says insulting things. That’s natural. You’re only human. But recognize when you are TOO upset. Remind yourself that when you feel this way, you’ve got to give yourself some time before you interact with your youngster about it. Calm down before you come up with your discipline technique.


Mistake #9—
Overlook the importance of routines: Consistency is key for defiant preschoolers. When you're being inconsistent with your routine, preschoolers get confused and may act-out even more. If sometimes you let them do something – and sometimes you don't, they don't understand. For example, your youngster probably wants to know why last time you let him play on the playground for 15 minutes when school got out, but this time you want him to get in the car right away.

Correction—

Know that defiant preschoolers are starved for structure: Be as consistent as possible across the board – whether it's with or mealtime routines, play time, sleep habits, or discipline. If your routine is consistent most of the time (minor exceptions are acceptable) and your youngster is doing well, then so are you.


Mistake #10—
Be all bark and no bite: A surefire way to make sure your preschooler never listens to you is to threaten a consequence, but fail to follow through with it.

Correction—
Be a “follow-through” parent: No parent enjoys being the “bad guy,” but if your youngster behaves inappropriately, there has to be a consequence, or she will never learn that a particular behavior is inappropriate. Repeatedly saying, “If you don't stop that right now, you’re going to your room” won’t stop the misbehavior. All your youngster hears is, “I can keep doing this a few more times.” Instead, give one warning (e.g., “If you continue to ___, the consequence will be___”). Then if your youngster continues with the misbehavior, issue the consequence immediately.


Mistake #11—
Break your own rules: When Mr. Wilson’s 3-year-old daughter got into things that she wasn’t supposed to (e.g., picking up a lit candle from the dining room table and walking across the room with it), this father would slap her hand and say "no, little lady" in a stern voice. "It worked great," Mr. Wilson said, "until her preschool teacher caught her slapping the hands of any classmate who took her toy!" Mr. Wilson quickly realized that he couldn't say it was wrong for his daughter to smack her classmate’s hands when he was doing the same thing to her.

Correction—
Remember that you are always being watched: Preschoolers are little copy-cats, mimicking your “bad” behavior and modeling your poor choices. If you don’t want you child yelling when she’s mad at you, for example, then don’t yell when you’re mad at her.


Mistake #12—
Wait too long to issue a consequence: One parent recalls being stuck in traffic with her 3-year-old son, Cory, when he started getting fidgety and tried to wiggle out of his car seat. Frustrated with the slow trip home and having to repeat over and over, “Stay in your seat,” this parent told her son that if he didn't put his buckle back on correctly, he wouldn't get to have a bedtime story that night (a strategy that worked great with her son’s procrastinating about getting into his pajamas and brushing his teeth before bed). However, this time, bedtime was 9 hours away, so the threat was basically meaningless. Cory didn't stop playing with his seat buckle, and it seemed pointless to remind him about it hours later when he was getting ready for bed.

Correction—
Help your child with his short-term memory: Preschoolers don't remember what they did wrong an hour after the fact. Thus, parents need to show them the consequences of their actions as close to the misbehavior as possible. For example, if your youngster hits a friend with a toy car, never mind about cancelling tomorrow's playdate. Simply take the car away.


Your preschooler is going to test you at every age and stage. It’s his job to push boundaries and see where the line is drawn. As your child gets older, it can often feel like you are running through a parenting obstacle course. Just when you’ve figured-out “preschool behavior” and its many challenges, your youngster moves on to the next phase. In any event, while parenting mistakes happen, it’s always a good idea to “refine” what you’re doing over the years so you can adjust your reaction to your youngster’s behavior. Refinement helps you become a more effective parent over the long haul.

How to Make Defiant Behavior in Children Worse

Defiant children are usually raised in homes where limits are too lenient or inconsistent. One or both parents may not be available to give the youngster any attention. The mom or dad may also demonstrate defiant behavior. 

Do you lean more toward the lenient side? Are your rules often inconsistent? Do you have little time to spend with your child? Do you get angry with your child (e.g., yell, nag). If so, then you are on the right track for making defiant behavior worse. Below are some more ideas...

10 tips for making defiant behavior worse:
  1. Add more and more consequences.
  2. Don’t follow through with consequences and try to be inconsistent.
  3. Engage in confrontation in front your child’s peers or siblings.
  4. Fight every parent-child battle that comes along, regardless of how big or small the problem is.
  5. Get annoyed at every little thing your child does wrong.
  6. Let power-struggles go on for a long time.
  7. Lose your temper (e.g., yell or use sarcasm to escalate the problem).
  8. Threaten your child.
  9. Try to bribe your child to improve his behavior (e.g., let him have his way just so he will shut up).
  10. Try to embarrass your child or put him down.

If you prefer to decrease rather than increase defiant behavior, then you will want to follow these 10 tips instead:
  1. Analyze the power-struggles you have been hooked into (e.g., what hooked you?).
  2. Be sure to listen to your child and consider what he is saying.
  3. Discuss things briefly and in private to remove the audience.
  4. Give clear directions to your child.
  5. Have clear boundaries and predetermined consequences for problem behavior.
  6. Monitor your tone. With an unruly child, you may become triggered to be negative too. This is a mistake. So keep your tone neutral when your child is oppositional, and be positive when he is neutral or positive.
  7. Remove yourself from the interaction if you can’t stay calm.
  8. Turn your oppositional child into a “helper” (e.g., creating the grocery list, how to organize things in the garage, what vegetables to plant in the garden, etc.). Defiant kids have a strong need for control, so helping them to find pro-social ways to channel that need can be a great technique to help them gain a sense of control and self-worth. Of course, make sure that your child is appropriately prepared, trained, and supervised in the task at hand. 
  9. Use a calm neutral voice – no matter what!!!
  10. Use rewards carefully. Defiant behavior is often driven by the child’s resistance to being under your control or authority. Therefore, reward systems may not always work, especially if the youngster senses your desire to tame or manipulate him.

Self-Control Strategies for Severely Aggressive Children

Severe aggression can a problem for kids with both normal development, and those with psychosocial disturbances. There is no single theory about the causes of severe aggressive behavior in children. Some theorists believe it is innate or instinctive, others suggest the breakdown in commonly shared values, changes in traditional family patterns of child-rearing, and social isolation lead to severe aggression.

Aggressive behavior may be intentional or unintentional. Many hyperactive, clumsy kids are accidentally aggressive, but their intentions are compassionate. Kids in all age groups learn that aggressive behavior is a powerful way to communicate their wishes or deal with their likes and dislikes. In any event, here are some ideas on how parents can teach their aggressive children to exercise more self-control:

1. As the parent, don’t react aggressively to your child’s aggression. It’s easy to become outraged at an abusive, violent youngster – especially an older one who probably should know better. But be careful how you express your feelings, because your youngster is always watching and learning from you. Yelling at or grabbing an already angry, destructive youngster only makes a bad problem worse. If you expect your boy or girl to act responsibly and calmly, be sure to do so yourself. Kids do not form intent the same way grown-ups do, and often have little desire to hurt or upset the parent. They merely need to express themselves and have not yet learned to do so in a socially acceptable manner.

2. Keep track of what triggers aggressive behavior in your youngster. Most kids act out in chaotic environments and unstructured situations. Ask your child what causes her to get frustrated and lose control. Consider how you can provide additional support or stability.

3. Know your youngster’s temperament. Everyone is born with a unique temperament or personality. For example, some grown-ups tend to be more reserved or timid, while others are always outgoing and spontaneous. Similarly, some kids tend to be more outwardly assertive and aggressive, and others less so. Knowing your youngster's personality allows you the advantage of foresight. For example, if he does not do well with unexpected occurrences, try to keep his day “routine.” Use the insight.

4. Teach your child to “belly breathe” to calm down. A few structured minutes alone may be all he needs. Show him how to take slow, deep breaths from his stomach to feel better and gain control. When both of you are in control, talk about what happened, addressing any misbehaviors in a firm, but loving way.

5. Model self-control yourself. Kids study adult actions and reactions, and one day, they will become a lot like their parents! Reacting calmly and avoiding your own explosive outbursts (e.g., while driving in busy traffic) is the best way to teach your child how to cope with her own "end of the world" conflicts.

6. Reward non-aggressive behaviors. When you notice your youngster behaving in an appropriate and non-aggressive manner, notice and commend his behavior. Tell him how proud you are. Also say something such as, “You must be proud of yourself.” Kids need to know their moms and dads are proud of them. They also need to develop an internal sense of pride in themselves.

7. Reflect on your youngster's progress in a fun way. You could have a weekly pizza party with your child to talk about the stressful situations he encountered during the week, discussing the level of control he demonstrated – and why. This works especially well with older kids who are able to process things on a more adult level. Consider rewarding your child with a parent-child outing when you see a lessening of aggressive behavior. A “back porch talk” or “nature walk” could be a great way to open up a conversation with your child.

8. Practice assertiveness. If you've never spent time teaching your child to be assertive, you'll need to give her the exact words she might use when she’s upset and about to “act out” (e.g., “Mom, I’m feeling really frustrated with you right now!”). If she's older and you've been working with her, you can simply say, “What’s your assertive statement” whenever she’s upset. Due to your previous instruction and practice with her, she'll eventually be able to do it on her own. It may take a few tries until she gets the tone to match the words, but when you help her to redirect her drive rather than try to suppress it, you’ll be making some real progress.

9. Offer choices to defuse situations. For example, if your child is angry about having to go to bed, give her the option of either reading a book or listening to music for 15 minutes before “lights out.” By involving her in making decisions related to bedtime, you are holding your ground, but also allowing her to do something she prefers.

10. Role-play alternatives to aggression. Aggressive kids may benefit from opportunities to role play or consider alternatives to aggressive reactions. When your child behaves aggressively, help him to talk the problem through. Encourage him to consider alternative solutions and to engage in these the next time this occurs. Sometimes it helps to ask kids, especially younger ones, to draw alternative solutions to the conflicts they face.

11. Draft a behavioral contract. Let your youngster know exactly what behavior is expected and what behavior is not. Work with her to set goals for improved behavior. Write a contract based on these goals. Develop a chart to track your youngster’s behavior on a daily basis. Include consequences for misbehavior as well as rewards for good behavior.

12. Avoid reinforcing aggressive behavior. Moms and dads may inadvertently reinforce aggressive behavior through attention. Nagging or punishing kids for acting aggressively can reinforce aggressive behavior. Some kids feel that any attention is better than no attention. Consequently, negative attention can reinforce aggressive behavior. Simply give a warning that there will be a consequence for the aggressive behavior. If the child continues the aggression, simply follow through with the consequence. No lectures, no threats, just follow through.

13. Set clear, easy-to-follow play rules with your child. Talk to him about how to handle disagreements with other kids, and how to express his feelings using words and not hands. And as mentioned before, praise him for even the smallest displays of self-control, (e.g., waiting patiently for a turn to use a toy).

14. Teach the “bullying” concept. When your youngster steps over the line by using abusive behavior or words that are offensive to you, call him on it. You can tell him, “Stop. That's called bullying.” Most children know what a bully is. It creates for them a mental image of a bigger child pushing around a smaller one. The term helps them recognize what they are doing to others. After you say, “Stop. That's bullying” …also add, “I think you have something important to say, but when you bully me, I stop listening. You can say it in a way that helps me listen to you.” Then immediately think to yourself and try to get answers to the following questions: Did he think I wasn't listening to him? Does he need some power? Does he need a choice? Is he frustrated? What's the emotion that's fueling this behavior? Once you've identified what’s going on underneath the aggression, you can help your child think of a way to express that emotion or desire in a way that is more respectful.

15. Lastly, be patient with your child as he experiments with his new self-control strategies. It will take some time to replace old behavior with new, more respectful behavior.

My Out-of-Control Child: Help for Parents with Oppositional Defiant Children

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