At times, parenting can be as stressful as it is rewarding, particularly when raising a defiant child. In some cases, the child is merely testing the boundaries of the world she lives in and can learn to adjust her behavior accordingly. In others, the child may have a behavior disorder that might best be managed with professional intervention. Often a parent's first reaction to defiance is discipline. However, sometimes the child may respond better to positive reinforcement and learning effective coping strategies.
Communication is Key
Sometimes a child's defiance is a cover for feelings of fear, anger, or some form of discontent. Finding a calm moment to acknowledge the child's feelings and discuss the root causes can help him to understand and correct negative behavior.
Pick Your Battles
Every household needs rules to function well, but if parents are too intrusive and overly stringent, they can foster a defiant attitude in children struggling to find their place in the world. Sometimes a parent can encourage the defiant behavior they are trying to prevent by overloading a child with too many rules or by insisting on strict adherence to their own values and beliefs. One way to alleviate this situation is for parents to avoid turning every disagreement into a battle. Asking the child to choose from a list of acceptable options as opposed to following a strict set of rules gives the child some feeling of control over his environment.
It is natural for a parent to become angry when dealing with a defiant child. However, when you lose your temper, you risk losing control of the situation. If you can maintain your composure and remain firm, it signals that you are in charge of both yourself and the situation. It also aids in letting the child know that you are rejecting the behavior, not the child. It might then be possible to propose a solution to the conflict that represents an acceptable compromise.
Choose Appropriate Consequences
Children tend to live in the moment and do not always consider the outcome of their behavior. Explaining the possible consequences of defiant actions provides a connection between the objectionable behavior and the unpleasant consequence. For example, a child who hits his playmates can be advised that if he continues, he will have to play alone. If the behavior continues, parents should follow up promptly, avoiding the appearance of punishment, but rather as a consequence of the child's defiance.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Most of us have some familiarity with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) but may not be as familiar with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). According to the American Psychiatric Association, children with ODD exhibit "persistent symptoms of negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behaviors toward authority figures." Children with this disorder will not follow rules, have frequent arguments with authority figures, and go out of their way to be antagonistic. Because of this difficult behavior, these children have difficulty in both school and social settings. Consult a trained therapist if you suspect ODD is a factor in a child's defiant behavior. Treatment includes a partnership of parents, teachers and mental health professionals providing special techniques in positive reinforcement and teaching the child how to cope with stress.