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

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How To Change Your Defiant Child’s Behavior

"Normal" behavior in kids depends on your youngster's age, personality, and physical and emotional development. A youngster's behavior may be a problem if it doesn't match the expectations of the parents or if it is disruptive.

Normal or "good" behavior is usually determined by whether it's socially, culturally and developmentally appropriate. Knowing what to expect from your youngster at each age will help you decide whether her/his behavior is normal.

Many kids tend to continue a behavior when it is rewarded (with parental attention) and stop a behavior when it is ignored. Consistency in your reaction to a behavior is important, because rewarding and punishing the same behavior at different times confuses your youngster. When you think your youngster's behavior might be a problem, you have 3 choices:
  • Attempt to stop the behavior, either by ignoring it or by punishing it.
  • Decide that the behavior is not a problem because it's appropriate to your youngster's age and stage of development.
  • Introduce a new behavior that you prefer and reinforce it by rewarding your youngster.

One way to stop unwanted behavior is to ignore it. This way works best over a period of time with younger children who exhibit defiance. When you want the behavior to stop immediately, you can use the time-out method.

Decide ahead of time the behaviors that will result in a time-out (e.g., tantrums, aggressive or dangerous behavior). Choose a time-out place that is uninteresting for your son or daughter and not frightening (e.g., a chair or corner). When you're away from home, consider using a car or a nearby seating area as a time-out place.

When the unacceptable behavior occurs, tell your youngster the behavior is unacceptable and give a warning that you will put her/him in time-out if the behavior doesn't stop. Remain calm and don't look angry. If your youngster goes on misbehaving, calmly take her/him to the time-out area.

Try to keep track of how long your youngster has been in time-out. Set a timer so she/he will know when time-out is over. Time-out should be brief (generally 1 minute for each year of age), and should begin immediately after reaching the time-out place or after your youngster calms down. You should stay within sight or earshot of your youngster, but don't talk to her/him. If your youngster leaves the time-out area, gently return her/him to the area and consider resetting the timer. When the time-out is over, let your youngster leave the time-out place. Don't discuss the bad behavior, but look for ways to reward and reinforce good behavior later on.

One way to encourage good behavior is to use a reward system. Defiant kids who learn that bad behavior is not tolerated and that good behavior is rewarded are learning skills that will last them a lifetime. A reward system can take up to 2 months to work. Being patient and keeping a diary of behavior can be helpful to moms and dads.

Choose one or two behaviors you would like to change (e.g., bedtime habits, tooth brushing, doing homework, etc.). Choose a reward your youngster would enjoy (e.g., an extra bedtime story, delaying bedtime by half an hour, a preferred snack, earning points toward a special toy or game, a small amount of money, etc.).

Explain the desired behavior and the reward to your youngster (e.g., "If you get into your pajamas and brush your teeth before this TV show is over, you can stay up a half hour later."). Request the behavior only one time. If your youngster does what you ask, give the reward. You can help your youngster if necessary, but don't get too involved. Since any attention from mom or dad – even negative attention – is so rewarding to defiant kids, they may prefer to have parental attention instead of a reward at first. Transition statements (e.g., "In 10 minutes, play time will be over") are helpful when you are teaching your youngster new behaviors.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

This system helps you avoid power struggles. However, your youngster is not punished if she/he chooses not to behave as you ask; rather, the child simply does not get the reward.

More tips for changing defiant behavior:

1. Accept your youngster's basic personality, whether it's shy, social, talkative or active. Basic personality can be changed somewhat, but not very much.

2. Allow your youngster to make her/his own choices whenever possible (e.g., "Do you want to do your homework before or after dinner?”).

3. As kids get older, they may enjoy becoming involved in household rule-making. Don't debate the rules at the time of misbehavior, but invite your youngster to participate in rule-making at another time.

4. Ask your youngster to do a task. Set a timer. If the task is done before the timer rings, your youngster gets a reward. To decide the amount of time to give your youngster, figure out your youngster's "best time" to do that task and add 5 minutes.

5. Avoid power struggles, no-win situations and extremes.

6. Describe your youngster's behavior as bad, but don't label your youngster as bad.

7. Develop little routines and rituals (especially at bedtimes and meal times).

8. Don't criticize your youngster in front of other people.

9. Make a short list of important rules WITH your child and go over them weekly.

10. Praise your youngster often when she/he deserves it.

11. Provide transition comments (e.g., "In 10 minutes, we'll be eating dinner.").

12. Put a mark on a chart each time you see our child performing a good behavior. For instance, if you see her/him playing quietly, solving a problem without fighting, picking up toys or reading a book, you would mark the chart. After a certain number of marks, give your youngster a reward. You can also make negative marks each time a bad behavior occurs. If you do this, only give your youngster a reward if there are more positive marks than negative marks.

13. Touch your child affectionately and often. Kids want and need attention from their moms and dads.

14. Try to avoid situations that can make your youngster cranky and irritable (e.g., becoming overly-stimulated, tired, bored, etc.).

15. When you think you've overreacted to your child’s “bad” behavior, it's better to use common sense to solve the problem, even if you have to be inconsistent with your reward or punishment method. Avoid doing this often though, because it will confuse your youngster.

16. Write a short list of good behaviors on a chart and mark the chart with a star each time you see the good behavior. After your youngster has earned a small number of stars (depending on your youngster's age), give her/him a reward.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents


Rose said...

What do you do if your child refuses to do a time out? My nine year old goes just refuses, and if I push the issue, goes completely out of control. I put him in his room and he got into a total fury and kicked a big hole in the wall.

Mark Hutten, M.A. said...

To Rose: In that case, you will want to use the strategies outlined in the eBook mentioned at the bottom of the article.

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