The following are keys to a healthy mindset for managing defiant children. As a father of three children and a psychologist of over twenty years, I have found these ways of thinking to be valuable in helping defiant children. Remember, above all, that your own self-discipline is the best discipline for helping your defiant child.
• Defiant children and teens think of themselves as equal to adults. This leads them to unrealistic expectations and inevitable conflict with parents and teachers.
• When a defiant child's feelings are not validated, this triggers frustration, anger, and resentment. While this occurs to some degree in all children, defiant children have less tolerance for feeling misunderstood by their parents.
• Learning to listen and truly understand a defiant child or teen is key to reducing his or her defiance.
• For parents, understanding defiant children (and arguably all children) is just as important, if not more important, than loving them.
• Yelling is counter productive and can easily become a downward spiral. Yelling itself is a loss of emotional control, regardless of the underlying intended message. Yelling teaches defiant children to release their emotions in similar outbursts.
• When parents learn the art of being calm, firm and non-controlling, they are then very likely to minimize power struggles. Being calm, firm, and non-controlling is crucial for parents when dealing with a defiant child.
• The reason that being calm, firm, and non-controlling is so effective is that it helps parents keep their emotions in check. Being calm and firm keeps parents true to the integrity of their messages without drowning them in negative emotions. Being non-controlling helps to bypass the problematic emotional reactivity of defiant children and teens (and parents). When a parent keeps his or her emotions from escalating, the defiant child sees that his negative behavior has not given him the desired negative result. This leaves parents and children engaged in a constructive vs. destructive communication process.
• Positive reinforcement is not only good to motivate defiant children and encourage good behavior, but it also helps them see their own positive behaviors. Positive reinforcements include: validations, encouragement, praise, and random rewards. These convey the feeling of realistic and healthy empowerment.
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Source: 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child by Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. Perseus Books, 2006