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Childhood Defiance

Are you pulling your hair out over a child or teen who refuses to comply with the smallest request? Does your child seem to go against your wishes when complying would be easier?
There are many reasons that children display defiance toward their parents and caregivers. When defiant behavior is limited to one setting, such as at home, the behavior is unlikely to be due to a mental disorder. Defiance in one setting is both a child behavior problem and a relationship problem between the child and the caregivers.

children making funny faces

Therapy for children with this type of defiance begins with thoroughly assessing the problem. Once the therapist fully understands the defiant behaviors, a treatment plan can be created to help the child gain self-control and emotional regulation skills to improve their behavior. The therapist will also work with the caregivers (i.e., the target(s) of the defiance) to help improve the relationship and, thus, the behaviors. 


You may have heard of a condition called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). ODD is a disorder of childhood in which a child displays an angry/irritable mood, argumentative and defiant behavior, and vindictiveness for at least six months. Children with ODD display these behaviors in multiple settings (e.g., at home and at school) and is disruptive to the child's life and/or the lives of those around them. ODD is not diagnosed when the behaviors are limited to one setting or when the full diagnostic criteria are not met. 


Whether your child has ODD or simply displays defiant or argumentative behaviors, here are some tips for your younger children:


1. As difficult as it is at times, keep your cool. Reacting in anger toward a defiant child often strengthens the behavior. Take a deep breath and respond as calmly as you can, as it is important to model the behaviors you want your child to display. Resist engaging in argument with your child.


2. Praise your child during times they are not being defiant. When you're at your wits' end, it can be difficult to remember to point out what your child is doing right. Your child put his shoes and backpack away without an argument? Point it out! "Hey, thanks for putting your stuff away." 


3. Consequences for defiant behavior should be age-appropriate. A time-out is a great tool, but it should be used as an opportunity to interrupt the behavior and help the child regain self-control, not as punishment. Time-outs should be in minutes, not hours. Removing privileges, such as cell phones and video games, should be immediate and time-limited. 


4. Be consistent. Once you have established a consequence for a certain behavior, use it every single time. If argumentativeness or refusal to comply results in no more video games for the night, you must follow through. Not following through every time with a consequence is the surest way to take away its corrective power. 


5. Be firm. Allowing your child to argue their way to getting what they want ensures that they will argue with you the next time. 

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