Child Biological Factors Involved in Conduct Problems

“What biological factors (if any) are involved with a child who acts-out frequently?”

Considerable research has been carried out into the role of child temperament (i.e., the tendency to respond in predictable ways to events) as a predictor of conduct problems.

Aspects of the personality (e.g., activity levels displayed by a youngster, emotional responsiveness, quality of mood and social adaptability) are part of his or her temperament.

Studies have found that although there is a relationship between early patterns of temperament, and adjustment during adulthood, the longer the time span the weaker this relationship becomes.

A more important determinant of whether or not temperamental qualities persist has been shown to be the manner in which moms and dads respond to their kids. "Difficult" infants have been shown to be especially likely to display behavior problems later in life if their parents are impatient, inconsistent, and demanding.

==> Effective Disciplinary Techniques for Defiant Teens and Preteens 

On the other hand "difficult" infants, whose parents give them time to adjust to new experiences, learn to master new situations effectively. In a favorable family context, a "difficult" infant is not at risk of displaying disruptive behavior disorder at 4 years old.

Cognitions may also influence the development of conduct problems. Kids with behavioral issues have been found to misinterpret or distort social cues during interactions with peers (e.g., a neutral situation may be construed as having hostile intent). Also, kids who are aggressive have been shown to seek fewer cues or facts when interpreting the intent of others.

Kids with conduct problems experience deficits in social problem-solving skills. As a result, they generate fewer alternate solutions to social problems, seek less information, see problems as having a hostile basis, and anticipate fewer consequences than kids who do not have behavioral problems.

==> Parenting methods for dealing with conduct problems in teenagers can be found here...

==> Effective Disciplinary Techniques for Defiant Teens and Preteens

Does divorce "cause" defiant behavior in kids and teens?

“My 14 y.o. son’s behavior has taken a major turn for the worse. My husband and I have recently separated and are making plans to divorce. Could there be a connection between my son’s erratic behavior and the fact that his dad has left?”

The inter-parental conflicts surrounding divorce have been associated with defiant behavior in teenagers affected by the break-up. However, although some single parents and their kids become chronically depressed and report increased stress levels after separation, others do relatively well.

For some single parents, the events surrounding separation and divorce set off a period of increased depression and irritability which leads to loss of support and friendship, setting in place the risk of more irritability, ineffective discipline, and poor problem-solving outcomes. The ineffective problem solving can result in more depression, while the increase in irritable behavior may simultaneously lead the teen to become rebellious and antisocial.

Studies into the effects of parental separation and divorce on child-behavior have revealed that the intensity of conflict and discord between the parents - rather than divorce itself - is THE significant factor. Kids and teens of divorced parents whose homes are free from conflict have been found to be less likely to have problems than kids whose parents remained together, but engaged in a great deal of conflict, or those who continued to have conflict after divorce.

In addition to the effect of marital conflict on the teenager, conflict can also influence parenting behaviors. Marital conflict has been associated with inconsistent parenting, higher levels of punishment with a concurrent reduction in reasoning and rewards, as well as with moms and dads taking a negative perception of their teen’s adjustment.

As a side note, research has suggested that parents of kids with behavior problems frequently lack several important parenting skills. Parents have been reported to be more critical in their use of discipline, more inconsistent, erratic, and permissive, less likely to monitor their kids, as well as more likely to punish pro-social behaviors and to reinforce negative behaviors.

A coercive process is set in motion during which the child or teenager escapes or avoids being criticized by his or her parents through producing an increased number of negative behaviors. These behaviors lead to increasingly aversive parental reactions which serve to reinforce the negative behaviors.

Differences in affect have also been noted in defiant kids. In general, their affect is less positive, they appear to be depressed, and are less reinforcing to their parents. These attributes can set the scene for the cycle of aversive interactions between parents and kids.

==> Effective Disciplinary Techniques for Defiant Teens and Preteens

How to Tell the Difference Between Normal Rebellion Versus a Psychological Problem

"My seventeen year old daughter is so very angry. She is involved with drugs and has gotten in some legal trouble as well. She is verbally abusive to me and to my husband who is her stepfather. The problem is that other times she is a joy to be around. She is funny, and very bright and creative. I wonder if she may have a psychological problem or may be an opposition defiant child. Not sure what to think right now."

How can a parent tell the difference between normal rebellion and the signal that an adolescent is troubled? Ask yourself these two questions:

1. Is this behavior change drastic for my adolescent? Normal rebellious behavior develops over time, beginning with an adolescent wanting to be with friends more and disagreeing with moms and dads more frequently. Problem rebellion is sudden and drastically out of character. For example, a normally rebellious "A" student may get a few "Bs" and cut a class or two, but if he suddenly starts failing or refuses to go to school, this can be a sign that your adolescent is experiencing an emotional crisis.

2. How frequent and intense is the rebellion? Normal rebellion is sporadic. There are moments of sweetness, calm and cooperation between outbursts. If on the other hand, rebellion is constant and intense, this can be a sign of underlying emotional problems.

Dealing with Normal Rebellion—

The main task of adolescents in our culture is to become psychologically emancipated from their moms and dads. The teenager must cast aside the dependent relationship of childhood. Before she can develop an adult relationship with her moms and dads, the adolescent must first distance herself from the way she related to them in the past. This process is characterized by a certain amount of intermittent normal rebellion, defiance, discontent, turmoil, restlessness, and ambivalence. Emotions usually run high. Mood swings are common. Under the best of circumstances, this adolescent rebellion continues for approximately 2 years; not uncommonly it lasts for 4 to 6 years.

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

How do I deal with my teenager's rebellion?

The following guidelines may help you and your teenager through this difficult period:

1. Treat your teenager as an adult friend— By the time your youngster is 12 years old, start working on developing the kind of relationship you would like to have with your youngster when she is an adult. Treat your youngster the way you would like her to treat you when she is an adult. Your goal is mutual respect, support, and the ability to have fun together.

Strive for relaxed, casual conversations during bicycling, hiking, shopping, playing catch, driving, cooking, mealtime, working, and other times together. Use praise and trust to help build her self-esteem. Recognize and validate your youngster's feelings by listening sympathetically and making nonjudgmental comments. Remember that listening doesn't mean you have to solve your adolescent's problems. The friendship model is the best basis for family functioning.

2. Avoid criticism about "no-win" topics— Most negative parent-adolescent relationships develop because the moms and dads criticize their teenager too much. Much of the adolescent's objectionable behavior merely reflects conformity with the current tastes of her peer group. Peer-group immersion is one of the essential stages of adolescent development. Dressing, talking, and acting differently than adults helps your youngster feel independent from you. Try not to attack your teen's clothing, hairstyle, makeup, music, dance steps, friends, recreational interests, and room decorations, use of free time, use of money, speech, posture, religion, or philosophy.

This doesn't mean withholding your personal views about these subjects. But allowing your adolescent to rebel in these harmless areas often prevents testing in major areas, such as experimentation with drugs, truancy, or stealing. Intervene and try to make a change only if your teen's behavior is harmful, illegal, or infringes on your rights (see the sections on house rules). Another common error is to criticize your adolescent's mood or attitude. A negative or lazy attitude can only be changed through good example and praise. The more you dwell on nontraditional (even strange) behaviors, the longer they will last.

3. Let society's rules and consequences teach responsibility outside the home— Your teen must learn from trial and error. As she experiments, she will learn to take responsibility for her decisions and actions. Speak up only if the adolescent is going to do something dangerous or illegal. Otherwise, you must rely on the adolescent's own self-discipline, pressure from her peers to behave responsibly, and the lessons learned from the consequences of her actions. A school's requirement for punctual school attendance will influence when your adolescent goes to bed at night. School grades will hold your teen accountable for homework and other aspects of school performance. If your adolescent has bad work habits, she will lose her job.

If your teen makes a poor choice of friends, she may find her confidences broken or that she gets into trouble. If she doesn't practice hard for a sport, she will be pressured by the team and coach to do better. If she misspends her allowance or earnings, she will run out of money before the end of the month. If by chance your teen asks you for advice about these problem areas, try to describe the pros and cons in a brief, impartial way. Ask some questions to help her think about the main risks. Then conclude your remarks with a comment such as, "Do what you think is best." Teens need plenty of opportunity to learn from their own mistakes before they leave home and have to solve problems without an ever-present support system.

4. Clarify the house rules and consequences— You have the right and the responsibility to make rules regarding your house and other possessions. A teen's preferences can be tolerated within her own room, but they need not be imposed on the rest of the house. You can forbid loud music that interferes with other people's activities or incoming telephone calls after 10 p.m.

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

While you should make your adolescent's friends feel welcome in your home, clarify the ground rules about parties or where snacks can be eaten. Your adolescent can be placed in charge of cleaning her room, washing his clothes, and ironing his clothes. You can insist upon clean clothes and enough showers to prevent or overcome body odor. You must decide whether you will loan her your car, bicycle, camera, radio, TV, clothes, and so forth. Reasonable consequences for breaking house rules include loss of telephone, TV, stereo, and car privileges. (Time-out is rarely useful in this age group, and physical punishment can escalate to a serious breakdown in your relationship.)

If your teen breaks something, she should repair it or pay for its repair or replacement. If she makes a mess, she should clean it up. If your adolescent is doing poorly in school, you can restrict TV time. You can also put a limit on telephone privileges and weeknights out. If your adolescent stays out too late or doesn't call you when she's delayed, you can ground her for a day or a weekend. In general, grounding for more than a few days is looked upon as unfair and is hard to enforce.

5. Use family conferences for negotiating house rules— Some families find it helpful to have a brief meeting after dinner once a week. At this time your teen can ask for changes in the house rules or bring up family issues that are causing problems. You can also bring up issues (such as your adolescent's demand to drive her to too many places and your need for her help in arranging carpools). The family unit often functions better if the decision-making is democratic. The objective of negotiation should be that both parties win. The atmosphere can be one of: "Nobody is at fault, but we have a problem. How can we solve it?"

6. Give space to a teen who is in a bad mood— Generally when your teen is in a bad mood, she won't want to talk about it with you. If teens want to discuss a problem with anybody, it is usually with a close friend. In general, it is advisable at such times to give your adolescent lots of space and privacy. This is a poor time to talk to your teen about anything, pleasant or otherwise.

7. Use "I" messages for rudeness— Some talking back is normal. We want our teens to express their anger through talking and to challenge our opinions in a logical way. We need to listen. Expect your teen to present her case passionately, even unreasonably. Let the small stuff go — it's only words. But don't accept disrespectful remarks such as calling you a "jerk." Unlike a negative attitude, these mean remarks should not be ignored. You can respond with a comment like, "It really hurts me when you put me down or don't answer my question."

Make your statement without anger if possible. If your adolescent continues to make angry, unpleasant remarks, leave the room. Don't get into a shouting match with your teen because this is not a type of behavior that is acceptable in outside relationships. What you are trying to teach is that everyone has the right to disagree and even to express anger, but that screaming and rude conversation are not allowed in your house. You can prevent some rude behavior by being a role model of politeness, constructive disagreement, and the willingness to apologize.

When should you seek outside assistance?

Get help if:
  • you feel your teen's rebellion is excessive
  • you find yourself escalating the criticism and punishment
  • you have other questions or concerns
  • you think your teen is depressed, suicidal, drinking or using drugs, or going to run away
  • your family life is seriously disrupted by your teen
  • your relationship with your teen does not improve within 3 months after you begin using these approaches
  • your teen has no close friends
  • your teen is skipping school frequently
  • your teen is taking undue risks (for example, reckless driving)
  • your teen's outbursts of temper are destructive or violent
  • your teen's school performance is declining markedly

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

How to Prepare Teachers for Your Child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

"My son has Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD. Should I give his teacher (and tutor) some strategies to deal with him in the classroom (starts on Mon.)? If so, what can I tell her?"

Yes, definitely give the teacher some ideas to deal with your son effectively. The school can be a great ally in keeping your youngster with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) safe and successful in the classroom, but you will need to make sure that the teachers have all the knowledge they need to help.

Use the suggestions below to create an information sheet to bring teachers “up to speed.”

23 Things Your ODD Child’s Teachers Should Know -- Information Sheet:
  1. Allow sharp demarcation to occur between academic periods, but hold transition times between periods to a minimum.
  2. Allow my child to redo assignments to improve his score or final grade.
  3. Ask me, his mother, what works at home.
  4. Avoid “infantile” materials to teach basic skills. Materials should be positive and relevant to my child’s life.
  5. Avoid making comments or bringing up situations that may be a source of argument for my child.
  6. Call me with questions or concerns as often as needed.
  7. Choose your battles carefully with my child. Selecting a couple of areas to focus on will work better than fighting over each and every behavioral issue.
  8. Clear, simply stated rules work better for my child than abstract rules and expectations.
  9. Give 2 choices when decisions are needed. State them briefly and clearly.
  10. If there will be any sort of change in my child's classroom or routine, please notify me as far in advance as possible so that we can all work together in preparing her for it.
  11. Make sure academic work is at the appropriate level. When work is too hard, my child becomes frustrated. When it is too easy, he becomes bored. Both reactions lead to problems in the classroom.
  12. Use of individualized instruction, cues, prompting, the breaking down of academic tasks, debriefing, coaching, and providing positive incentives.
  13. Minimize downtime and plan transitions carefully. My ODD child does best when kept busy.
  14. My child has significant challenges, but he also has many strengths and gifts. Please use these to help him have experiences of success.
  15. Pace instruction. When my child has completed a designated amount of a non-preferred activity, reinforce his cooperation by allowing him to do something he prefers or find more enjoyable or less difficult.
  16. Please keep the lines of communication open between our home and the school. My child needs all the adults in her life working together.
  17. Post the daily schedule my child knows what to expect.
  18. Praise my child when he responds positively.
  19. Provide consistency, structure, and clear consequences for my child‘s behavior.
  20. Remember that children with ODD tend to create power struggles. Try to avoid these verbal exchanges. State your position clearly and concisely.
  21. Select material that encourages student interaction. My ODD child needs to learn to talk to his peers and to adults in an appropriate manner. However, all cooperative learning activities must be carefully structured.
  22. Structure activities so my child is not always left out or is the last one picked.
  23. Systematically teach social skills, including anger management, conflict resolution strategies, and how to be assertive in an appropriate manner. Discuss strategies that my child can use to calm himself when he is feeling his anger escalating. Do this when he is calm.

Information sheet tips:
  • In your note, focus on the ways that using strategies appropriate to your youngster's special needs will make things easier for the teacher, rather than insisting on rights and obligations.
  • Keep your tone friendly, helpful and no-nonsense. You are writing as an expert on your child and his diagnosis, not as a pushy, demanding parent.
  • Make a copy of all correspondence for your records. Using a datebook or a contact log, jot down when and what you sent to teachers, and what follow-up you made.
  • Remember, the start of school is a hectic time for the teacher. Even with the best intentions, he/she may not want to spend his/her free time reading tons of material. If you can put together an information sheet (like the one above) that looks manageable, you will stand a much better chance that the teacher will actually follow the instructions listed.

==> My Out-of-Control Child: Help for Parents with ODD Children