What causes defiant behavior? The reason: Because defiant kids haven’t figured-out how to solve their problems yet. If parents don't find out what problem their child is trying to solve with her bad behavior and offer her a good solution, the defiance will continue – and get worse over time!
There are many different kinds of problems children encounter, and each looks a little different in terms of behavior. These are the three main types of problem-solving challenges parents can expect to experience:
1. Social problems: Some children have great difficulty getting along well with others, particularly peers their own age (e.g., they don’t know how to handle it if a classmate does something they don’t like). Bullies, in particular, often lack social problem-solving skills and mistreat their peers to compensate.
2. Functional problems: This is when your youngster has problems meeting responsibilities at home and school (e.g., lies about having his homework done or loses his homework, refuses to do chores, talks back to teachers, etc.).
3. Emotional problems: Most kids have moments of feeling angry, sad, frustrated, helpless, etc. When you are a youngster who hasn’t figured-out how to deal with these feelings, just having them can bring on defiant behavior.
Teaching problem-solving skills to the defiant child:
1. Start by having a conversation with your child about a recent problematic incident in which he exhibited defiant behavior (do this after things have calmed down and before you talk about consequences). Your ultimate goal is to help your child identify the problem, teach him how to solve it, and then hold him accountable. If your youngster refuses to participate in the conversation without being defiant - or refuses to participate at all – withhold a privilege until he cooperates.
2. Help your child get the facts and identify his feelings. When kids are angry, frustrated or upset, they need to learn how to identify the problem. When asking your youngster to tell you his problems, be calm and nonjudgmental. Kids see things from their own perspectives and may be completely unaware of how their actions affect others. Helping kids identify their own feelings and recognize the feelings of others is an important step.
3. Help your child to set a conflict-resolution goal and define what he wants to happen in the situation. When kids have clear goals, it’s easier to think of solutions.
4. Help your child generate alternatives. Help kids stay focused on their problems and ask what they can do to reach their goals. When kids offer alternatives, repeat their ideas and ask them what else could be done. Don’t criticize their ideas. Instead, prompt more solutions by asking questions. If they can’t think of alternatives, ask them to imagine how someone else might handle the situation.
5. After your child has generated his ideas and alternatives, help him evaluate the consequences (e.g., “What might happen if . . .? Would it be safe? Would it be fair? How would everyone feel?”). Parents should encourage kids to evaluate their ideas and see why they are acceptable or unacceptable.
6. Ask your child for a decision. After kids evaluate their ideas, parents should restate the problem, summarize their ideas and let kids decide which actions they would like to try. If kids choose an idea that you think will not work, make sure they know what their alternatives are and what they should try next.
7. Talk about what your youngster will do differently the next time this problem comes up. Allow him to try to come up with an idea on his own (make some suggestions if he’s struggling though). When you ask your youngster what he will do differently next time, he may give you a superficial answer (e.g., "I just won’t do it again" … "I’ll do better"). Superficial thinking indicates that your youngster truly believes he can just do something without really putting thought or effort into it. Get your youngster to be more specific (e.g., "Exactly how will you stop cursing at me? What will I see you doing instead?").
Other points to consider:
• Remember that children observe their parents very closely. If YOU yell, but you don’t want your youngster to raise HIS voice, this is a problem. It’s important for you to act the way you want your kids to act. Observation is a key learning method for children, especially younger ones, so be aware of this.
• Ask questions to identify the problem (e.g., "What were you thinking when…?" or "What were you trying to accomplish by…?").
• Talk about only one problem at a time. Don’t bring up something that happened last week or something else your youngster did earlier today that upset you. If your youngster brings up another incident, let him know you will talk about that later. Tackling too many issues at once only results in frustration for both parents and children.
• As you go through the process of having problem-solving discussions, you will notice that your child gradually uses those replacement behaviors more and more with less coaching from you. As children get better at solving various problems on their own, they will start to feel better about themselves. Having strong problem-solving skills improves self-esteem.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents with Defiant Children and Teens