What To Do When Your Defiant Child Has To Have The "Last Word"

“What do you suggest for a child with oppositional defiant disorder who always has an intense need to have the last word?”

Because defiant behavior is all about control, many kids who exhibit it seem to have a strong need to have the last word. Remember that they don’t want the argument to end, because when it does, their sense of control ends also.

Unfortunately, dealing with a child who has this need to win often generates in parents the same intense need to come out on top.

Your strategy here would simply be to give your child the control he or she wants. Make the conscious decision to “surrender to win.” Go ahead and allow your child to have the last word.

Once his or her goal has been accomplished, the behavior usually stops. “Parting-shot” comments can be ignored and consequences given later (similar to the strategy outlined here).

==> Effective Disciplinary Techniques for Defiant Teens and Preteens

Oppositional Behavior: When Your Child Violates Rules Right in Front of You

Let's look at a couple examples:
  • The parent is walking through the living room and, as she passes, the child puts her/his feet up on the coffee table (when told previously not to do so).
  • The parent tells all the kids to calm down and use their “inside voice,” but the defiant child immediately shouts out loud.

Planned ignoring is a conscious decision to not attend to the behavior at the time it occurs. It does not mean ignoring the behavior forever, which would be condoning it. 

Usually, when a child violates a rule immediately after it has been given, it is an attempt to engage the parent in an argument and seize control of the situation. Behaviors that are insubordinate, but do not endanger the physical or psychological safety of others, can be temporarily ignored.

When your child sees that you are not going to “give up” control by taking the time to engage in an argument, the behavior often stops. If, however, when the behavior is ignored the child escalates it, you need to interpret the meaning of the behavior.

It’s important to let ALL your kids know about the strategy of “planned ignoring.” You might say:

“There are going to be times when someone violates a rule and it looks like I’m not paying attention or I’m letting them get away with it. I want you to know that I am choosing to ignore them for the time being because what’s most important is that I continue to teach and you continue to learn. I want you to know that the misbehavior will be addressed at a later time and the child will receive consequences for her/his behavioral choices. The rules haven’t changed.”

==> Effective Disciplinary Techniques for Defiant Teens and Preteens

Parent’s Strategy for Dealing with Oppositional Defiant Behavior: Ask Rather Than Tell

Let’s look at this common parent-child exchange:

The parents says, “You need to finish your homework before you go out to play.” The child responds, “If you let me go now, I’ll do my homework later. I want to play with Jason now.”

If you persist, your child may continue to try to “make a deal” (e.g., “I’ll do half my homework now, only play outside for a little bit, and then come back and finish my homework”).

Your strategy is to ask rather than tell...

Oftentimes this type of interchange can be proactively avoided by “asking” the child what he should be doing, rather than by telling him what he is supposed to do (e.g., “What needs to be done before you go outside to play?”).

For the most part, children with defiant behavior really don’t want to be doing something different, they just want to have control and not feel as if they are being told what to do. Kids who are trying to make deals are really saying, “I want to feel like I have control over what I’m doing and when I’m doing it.”

If the parent interprets that sentiment out loud and points out that they do have control, oppositional kids often will comply. For example, you could say:

“You want to feel like you have control about the ‘what’ and ‘when’ of your choices. You do have control. No one can make you do anything you don’t want to do. You don’t do homework – you don’t go outside. You do your homework – you go outside. It’s your choice.”

==> Effective Disciplinary Techniques for Defiant Teens and Preteens

Parents’ Strategy for Oppositional Children: Teaching the Difference Between the Letter of the Law and the Spirit of the Law

Examples of oppositional behavior in the child:
  • When told “Turn your cell phone off while you’re at the dinner table,” the defiant child may turn it off, and then turn it back on.
  • When given the direction “Lower your voice,” the child may speak in a lower tone, but use the same volume.
  • When given the direction “Pull your chair up to the table,” the child may bring the chair up, but then sit on the floor.

Parent’s Strategy: Teach the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law:

Generally, when faced with the “loophole finding” child, parents will try to become more precise in their language or to add additional rules. Rather than trying to plug the loopholes, give your defiant child a lesson that teaches the difference between the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law.”

Unless your youngster has a language impairment, he knows what you mean and is merely testing the limits. In your lesson, you can give examples of statements a parent might make, and then ask your child to identify the intent.

  • No yelling. Does that mean: (a) be silent or (b) start whispering?
  • Stop running. Does that mean: (a) walk or (b) start skipping or hopping?
  • Turn around. Does that mean: (a) face me or (b) turn in a circle?

Not only does this lesson get the point across, it generally is a lot of fun for parents and the kids. Once you are certain that your child understands the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, one additional rule can be added: “Follow the spirit of the law.”

Now, when your child tests the limits, you can ask, “Are you following the spirit of the law?” This effectively derails the child who innocently looks at you and smiles, saying, “But I did what you SAID!”

==> Effective Disciplinary Techniques for Defiant Teens and Preteens

A Tough Tactic for Parents with "Run Away" Teenagers

Dear Mark,

I have recently "joined the program" and have seen an overall improvement. I have 3 daughters aged 18 (now left school & unemployed after going to live with her father several months ago because he does not have any boundaries), 17 (major issues see below) and 10. The children's father consumes alcohol in excess, which contributed to his lack of supervision.

Separated/divorced 4 yrs ago and my 17yo went to live with her father over 12 months ago where she was basically unsupervised until crisis this April including alcohol & Marijuana use, shoplifting, running away etc. I now have court orders to stop her running back there when I placed boundaries on her.

She is under care of mental health team (initially depressed now behaviour issues) and she has been attending appts. She keeps saying that she would rather live in a foster home than live with me (in a comfortable home).

I remove privileges of computer, bedroom door, phone, iPod, groundings etc, but she seems only to be good enough to get them back until the next time! Her logic is she might as well enjoy herself because going to be disciplined when returned.

Major issue at present is her running away for up to 3 days (I do report her to the police). I have now reached a point where I have had enough. Over 12 months ago she was a scholarship student at a private school, but has deteriorated in public school (multiple suspensions for disrespect, disobedience). Unfortunately school has not handled situation well as refusing to do "in house suspensions" so my daughter sent home. I asked multiple times for meetings with all concerned, but seems easier for them to just wait for her to be suspended again. The only option next year is Boystown residential program monday-friday - but the child has to co-operate!

I don't know what else to do...she has refused to come home again and I don't know where she is.

Please help me...

Thanks, S.


Hi S.,

Re: I don't know what else to do...she has refused to come home again and I don't know where she is.

This will be a difficult task perhaps, but you will need to stop taking responsibility for her "runaway behavior." You can't hog tie her to a bed post ...nor can your keep her locked up in the house.

The quick answer is this: (a) "act as if" you are not bothered by her running away; (b) let her run; (c) do not attempt to find her and do not attempt to communicate with her (however, if she calls you, then do field that phone call); (d) when she returns, simply re-issue the consequence; (e) when she runs again, start the cycle all over.


Clearly she knows that "running" pushes your "worry" buttons ...she gets a pay-off in the form of knowing she has control of (a) your emotional state and (b) her freedom to do what she wants. So the more you 'fuss' -- the more power she feels. Paradoxically, the more you are relaxed about her 'running' -- the less power she feels.

She runs because it keeps her in charge. 'Running' keeps her in charge because it gets a reaction out of you. As soon as you stop reacting -- game over! There's no pay-off anymore. She loses the power to push your worry buttons. As long as she can keep you in a state of anxiety and fussing -- she wins!

Her running is her responsibility now... and it has natural consequences associated with it as well.

So now you decide. Are you going to continue to feed this behavior with your reactions? Or are you going to pull the plug and let her worry about herself?

You pick. 

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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

When Your Teenager is Abusing “Over-the-Counter” Drugs


I have a question about my 17 year old. With all the issues we have been having with her over this past 1.5 years, I definitely have a hard time trusting her anymore. Things seemed like they were starting to come around and I was letting go a bit of the feelings of mistrust. Then, yesterday I cleaned my daughter's room as she was at work and we are trying to sell our house and had a showing. We only get 2-3 hours notice so there are many times I have to clean her room so it's ready for showing. She knows this and also knows that if she doesn't do it herself, it has to get done so I will be in there cleaning.

Everything was fine until she got home and went into her room and come out hollering at me and asking me what I did with her Sleep Eze pills. I know she has been purchasing them once in awhile as she has been having problems sleeping. I never touched them nor saw them. She started acting almost panicky and started looking through my things thinking I had hid them – she starting slamming doors and swearing when she couldn't find them. That all made me very suspicious so I looked them up online and found out they are often used to give teens a "buzz". That really upset me as I had naively thought that they were only using them once in awhile for her sleeping issues. Now I totally believe otherwise.

I never buy these for her, but she is quite able to buy them herself. There are no restrictions on them, plus she works and has her own money which I don't ask her what she is spending it on. I am so concerned now and I don't know how to approach this. She gets so angry if she thinks I am accusing her of using "drugs". She has in the past, so I am always on the lookout for that. I totally never thought she would be doing it again. I don't want to come across as not trusting her again just when things were starting to go better but on the other hand, I need to know if there's a reason to be worrying about this. Are these products actually addictive, and are they used to give kids a buzz? She either uses Sleep Eze or Nytol. I know it's best if I have proof, but I guess I do have proof that she is using them at all because I have seen her buy them. How should I approach this?


Adolescents do indeed abuse some over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, such as cough and cold remedies, to get high. Many of these products are widely available and can be purchased at supermarkets, drugstores, and convenience stores. Many OTC drugs that are intended to treat headaches, sinus pressure, or cold/flu symptoms contain the active ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM) and are the ones that adolescents are using to get high. When taken in high doses, DXM can produce a "high" feeling and can be extremely dangerous in excessive amounts.

OTC drugs are legal and mostly safe when used as directed, which may lead children to believe that these drugs are always safe to take. The truth is: medication abuse can lead to addiction, overdose, and death. It's up to you to keep track of your youngster's use of OTC drugs and to stay alert for signs of abuse.

Nearly half of OTC drugs, more than 125 products, contain an ingredient called dextromethorphan (or DXM). It is in cough suppressants that can be found in stores in caplet or liquid form. It also can be ordered on the Internet. When taken in very large doses, DXM can produce a high. It also can pose a real danger to the user, including:
  • Brain damage
  • Death
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Hot flashes
  • Impaired judgment and mental functioning
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  •  Seizure

Watch for signs that your youngster may be abusing DXM or other OTC drugs:
  • OTC drugs seem to vanish from your medicine cabinet.
  • You find OTC drugs stashed in your youngster's room or backpack.
  • Your youngster takes large amounts of cold or cough remedies or takes a medication even when not ill.
  • Falling grades, mood swings, and changes in normal habits or appearance also can signal a possible drug abuse problem.

One in 11 adolescents abused OTC medications, such as cough medicine. The problem is more common than you might think. Adolescents take large doses to get high, sometimes mixing these drugs with prescription drugs, street drugs, or alcohol. Some adolescents crush pills and snort them for an intensified effect.

A recent study found that six percent of 12th graders reported past year abuse of cough or cold medicines to get high. That amounts to about one in every 16 high school seniors. Signs and symptoms of abuse may include:
  • Long-term effects— Addiction, restlessness, insomnia, high-blood pressure, coma, or even death.
  • Short-term effects— Impaired judgment, nausea, loss of coordination, headache, vomiting, loss of consciousness, numbness of fingers and toes, abdominal pain, irregular heartbeat, aches, seizures, panic attacks, psychosis, euphoria, cold flashes, dizziness, and diarrhea.

In many parts of the country, adolescents can easily buy OTC cough and cold remedies at any supermarket, drugstore, or convenience store where these products are sold. They can also get them from home, or order them over the Internet. And even if they do not order OTC drugs online, they can surf the Web to find information and videos on what drugs to try and mix together.

Where should you look to make sure prescription drugs are not readily available?
  • With Relatives: Grandparents may be another source of prescription drugs for adolescents. In fact, 10 percent of adolescents say they took drugs from friends or relatives without asking.
  • With Friends: Talk with the moms and dads in other households your adolescent has access to about safeguarding medications.
  • At Home: An adolescent may scout his own home first if he's looking to get high from prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

Your adolescent can overdose on OTC drugs. The point at which adolescents may overdose on OTC drugs varies depending on the amount of the drugs they took, over what time period, and if other drugs were mixed. Some OTC drugs are weak and cause minor distress, while others are very strong and can cause more serious problems or even death. If you suspect your adolescent has overdosed on OTC drugs, take them to the emergency room or call an ambulance immediately for proper care and treatment by a medical doctor.

Mixing alcohol with certain medications can cause nausea and vomiting, headaches, drowsiness, fainting, and loss of coordination. It can put users at risk for internal bleeding, heart problems, and difficulties in breathing. Alcohol also can decrease the effectiveness of many needed medications or make them totally ineffective.

Some of these medications can be purchased over the counter - at a drugstore or grocery store - without a prescription, including herbal remedies and others you may never have suspected of reacting negatively with alcohol.

Before you or your adolescent take any prescription or OTC medication, carefully read the label, and/or consult with your family physician or local pharmacist. And never mix medications with alcohol. Moms and dads should set clear rules and consistently enforce those rules against any underage drinking.

What Parents Can Do About OTC Drug Abuse—

Because OTC drugs are easy to get and legal to purchase, teens may not realize how harmful they can be. Moms and dads need to know the facts about OTC drugs and warn their kids. Let them know that OTC products are not "safer" to misuse simply because they are legal, have a legitimate purpose, and are easy to buy.

Talking with adolescents and staying in touch with their lives are the first steps to keeping them free from abusing consumer products and medications. Following are a few basic preventative steps that you can take to help your youngster understand the importance of using OTC medications responsibly and help discourage abuse of dextromethorphan and other drugs:

1. Avoid overstocking OTC drugs in your home.

2. Be mindful of the season. Your youngster can benefit from medicinal relief of cough, cold, and flu symptoms by taking OTC cough and cold preparations according to the instructions on the manufacturer's label. But be aware if your youngster is using cough and cold medications outside of cold and flu season or if he or she continues to self-medicate after symptoms have subsided.

3. Check your home. Take a quick inventory of all consumer products kept in your home. Be aware of the products in your medicine cabinet, and ask questions if you notice that any products are used frequently or disappear.

4. Consider having your youngster assessed by a drug and alcohol therapist if you think he/she may be addicted to OTC medication.

5. Don't allow your youngster to keep OTC drugs in his bedroom, backpack, or school locker.

6. Monitor your youngster's Internet use. Unfortunately, there are Internet sources that sell dextromethorphan in a bulk powder form or encourage adolescents to share their experiences with abusing dextromethorphan. These websites are not regulated so it becomes increasingly imperative that you be aware of where your youngster is getting information on the Internet, what sites he/she is spending time on, or with whom he/she may be communicating.

7. Role model responsible use of OTC and prescription medications.

8. Talk to your youngster. Speak with your kids often about the importance of carefully following directions on the labels of all OTC medications. Help them understand the dangers of abusing OTC cough and cold medications.

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

How do I get my over-achieving daughter to slow down?

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