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Coping With Defiant Children

Defiant children are very hard for parents to deal with. Do you feel you have out of control children? Do you have angry kids, or abusive children? When families are struggling with children that do not seem to respond to any kind of discipline what do you do?

Abusive Children Upset Mom Sometimes it is just one angry child that seems to run the family, and some kids are certainly far more volatile, or in comparison, more defiant children than the average. Of course comparisons really don't help. The bottom line is having working relationships in families despite different personalities or behaviour.

When kids are out of control, I'm sorry to say, but usually parents are not in control either. Defiant children are running the show, and they are doing it by manipulation and tantrums, and the more power they have in the family, the more disturbed they get.

Parenting is not a walk in the park! With fiesty stroppy kids, it is even harder. Even with the best will in the world, many parents are at their wits end to know how to manage out of control children. Having defiant children is exhausting. You may well have gone down the road of problems at school, psychological assessments, and many of these out of control kids get diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ADHD. It is sadly becoming more and more common to medicate these angry kids in the attempt to bring some sanity into the household, or classroom.

Unfortunately diagnosis or medication is not a long term solution, it doesn't fix the problem, at best it might mute it a bit and give you a bit of a breather.

Family Dynamics and Defiant Children

As a parent coach I look at the bigger picture of the family dynamics, not just the defiant children who are displaying the behavior that is unacceptable. And in my experience, the best long term solution to bringing about change and peace in the family is when parents are willing to try something different. This is going to sound tough, but as the parent, you have the responsibility to learn how to create a home that is a positive place to live in, not a war zone. Generally the emphasis has been on fixing the child, or finding ways to make them comply with acceptable behavior. Guess what? It simply doesn't work, particularly with these kind of kids - a stroppy, strong personality child is not going to be compliant. Ever.

So then how can you bring peace into your home? You as the parent needs to make the changes. Preferably both parents, but huge changes can take place when just one parent makes a commitment to learn to react and respond differently. Lets be clear here, I am not saying you are to blame for having defiant children, I know you have probably tried everything you know how, you have absolutely done your best. But nothing much will change until you realise, YOU are the one who can turn it all around if you are willing to learn and grow, and put the work in.

I know you would like me to give you a magic solution (pill?) that will turn your little ratbag into an angel - but I don't know of any I'm sorry. But I do know, your life can be quite different if you are ready to take some steps to make some big changes. And when you bring a different energy into your home, learn some different skills, learn to understand your own reactions, you will start to notice some surprising changes in your children. Hey, you might even remember that you do actually love the little ratbag!

Tips For Coping With Defiant Children

  • Firstly, look after yourself. Get some time out regularly - you MUST have activities that replenish you. You can't take back control of your family and life if you are running on empty
  • Get some professional help for YOU - not necessarily just for the defiant children
  • Be willing to learn. You CAN have a life again, but you might need to learn new ways of parenting, and make some big changes in how you react.
  • Taking responsibility (NOT blame) means you get empowered to create the kind of family life you want.
  • Remember Defiant Children are not happy children. Try to imagine the world from your child's perspective. It must be a pretty negative unhappy place to live in.

When parents are frazzled and worn out with defiant children or an out of control child - you don't end up parenting effectively. Getting good support and finding ways to take care of yourself go a long way to coping in a difficult situation. When you are feeling good about yourself, you will cope so much better with kids that seem to be bouncing off the walls.

When you feel more relaxed you have something to give. When you are exhausted, angry, resentful and stressed, you have nothing much to give your kids. So parents then over compensate or give into demands and threats. Defiant children have usually worked out if they keep the level of harassment up long enough, you will cave in. And it does seem like the easiest solution sometimes.

So find ways to get positive support for yourself, get breaks, get some exercise, get some treats. Have time with people who offer positive support - but not those who sit around and complain about their kids. You want new positive input that helps you to look on a brighter side.

Change The Family Dynamic

Defiant Children The next most important thing to do, is start changing how you experience your child. When we have defiant children, we tend to always think of them in negative ways. We start anticipating what they are going to do next. We are sure they are going to be abusive or defiant before we even say anything to them.

Your child is reacting to everything around him, in fact, they are over-reacting. When a child gets used to being treated as the angry, defiant child, or the problem child at school, it becomes a habit to over-react, or to be threatening or abusive. They rarely smile, unless there has been some kind of victory, they distrust those around them, and are constantly on the defensive. "I'll get you before you get me".

You can go a long way to turning the situation around if you start actively looking for ways they have behaved well. It might be hard sometimes amidst the shouting and defiance, but if you really look hard for ways to appreciate them, in time it will make a difference. The chances are at first defiant children will not be able to take in a compliment. They will have learned to be suspicious, or keep the barriers up, so they will throw it right back at you. Your job is NOT to react back. Simply wait until you find something else you notice they did well (or sometimes even just the fact that they did at all is an achievement!).

Better yet, keep a diary of positive behavior or things you like about your child. Having a record to look at when the going gets tough is a good way of switching focus. We get in the habit of always looking for the worst in these kids, and more often than not they prove us right. Unfortunately you are then contributing to creating more of a monster! So starting to look for ways defiant children do somethings right and you will slowly start to switch the dynamic.

The more you can do this, the quicker you will start to see change. You may find at first defiant children will STOP doing the thing you praised them for. Because they have built such a prickly wall around themselves, they will not want to accept anything nice in under their defences. And they are also used to looking for ammunition to get you first.

Don't buy into the game, simply make a note of the good thing, and continue looking for others, no matter how small it is.

Getting Help

It is pretty hard to make huge changes in family dynamics without good support. When we have out of control, angry kids we tend to blame them for creating havoc in the family. But you have to remember, YOU are the adult in this situation, and if you are finding it hard to know what do do to handle this child, how can we expect the child to learn better ways of behaving?

If you change your parenting style, and become more conscious of what role you play in the family drama, you can make a HUGE difference in the life of your child. Children who are angry or abusive children, may get a charge out of having so much power, but these kids are not happy kids. They have a very bleak outlook on life, and don't have a very good vision of themselves in the future.

Parents with difficult children need help and support. If you know of good programs in your area I would really encourage you to get help - not just for your child, but for yourself.

Parent Coach Recommends:

There is a very good book that includes a program by Dr Andrew Gibson that I have evaluated thoroughly. His book, Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike: A Seriously Difficult Child is a superb training program for parents who want to learn how to deal with out of control children.

Dr Gibson describes Spike - one of those angry defiant children, who is driving his parents crazy. He gives a great overview of the family situation, and then the rest of the book is a very comprehensive 28 step Parents training program, called P.A.C.T (Parenting Angry Children and Teens).

Yes, it does require commitment from you to stick to the program and follow through. But once you start noticing changes in your family you will find it easier to implement.

Where To From Here?

Here are some other articles on this site you may find helpful when coping with defiant children.

This Mom Is At Her Wits End With Defiant Children
She wrote into Ask Annie, with a question. Read her questions and my answer, and please add any comments you think will be supportive.

Out of control 10 year old.
Another call for help from one of our readers with her daughter who is throwing temper tantrums and whose family is exhausted. Read my tips and ideas for her to turn her family around.

Ask Annie Parenting Questions
You are welcome to write in and get some more specific ideas or help for your particular situation. Your question and my answer will also help other parents, and become a page here on this site.

Angry Parents
If you find having an angry child means you end up being an angry parent - you might want to visit our Angry Parents Page for some tips.

Ideas for discipline and parenting - you may feel your child is way beyond discipline, but you may get some ideas that will be helpful.

Misbehaving Children
This article explores why children misbehave.

Types of Parenting Styles
Our Parenting Styles page links to various in depth articles about your way of parenting. Where do you fit in?

It is wise to direct your anger towards problems, not people; to focus your energies on answers, not excuses.

William Arthur Ward


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