How To Raise Children To Become Defiant

"The way youíre talking makes me not want to do it."

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D,


"Caitlyn. I want you to stop and do what I told you."

"I will do it Daddy" she said crying. "The way youíre talking makes me not want to do it. Youíre just making it harder."

In that moment I realized that my daughter was more aware than I was. I was not aware of my tone of voice. I was frustrated and I was not aware of the fact that she was reacting to my feelings and not to what I was saying. Then it hit. Children are feeling oriented long before they begin to think for themselves. I knew exactly what I was doing. I needed to stop what I was doing.

Most parents do a great job. But a lot of parents can make the same mistakes repeatedly and that can undo their best efforts as parents. And for reasons like that, raising children to become cooperative and generous is far more difficult than raising a child to become defiant. In fact, knowing how we could unknowingly create a defiant attitude in a child is one way to insure that children remain cooperative and generous as they grow up.

Young children are focused primarily on their needs and what they want. Between the age of 6 and 9, many children begin to consider the needs and feelings of others. Positive parenting and setting a good example are very important during these ages.

Parents who are cooperative, generous and volunteer their time to help others will discover that children will naturally want to do the same. Cooperative and generous behavior is more common in children who have their own needs met and is very common when children spend a great deal of time with peers who are cooperative, generous and volunteer.

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Children donít need perfect parents.
They need parents who are good enough.
Good enough is the best you can do without
making the same mistakes over and over again.

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There are 6 mistakes that can virtually insure that your child will abandon their cooperative and generous spirit and resort to oppositional and defiant behavior. Chances are that your child will continue to have a cooperative, generous and contributing nature if parents and friends can avoid making the following mistakes over and over again.

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Six Mistakes

  • Power Struggles

  • Manipulation With Guilt

  • Arguments With Children

  • Negotiating When Children Are Upset

  • Oppositional and Defiant Role Models

  • Alcohol and Other Drug Use

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Power Struggles. "If you donít do what I say right now young lady, you can spend the rest of the day in your room." Power struggles take place when children are resistant and uncooperative, when parents have lost control and when parents resort to threats or coercion to get compliance. Keep in mind that compliance under a threat does not create cooperation. It usually creates resentment. Coercion happens when parents give children choices that involve punishment if they donít think, feel or do what they are told. Repeated power struggles over minor issues should be avoided.

Manipulation With Guilt. "You said you cared about your mother, but then you go and do something stupid like that. Will you just behave yourself and stop hurting us?" Creating a sense of guilt or shame to change a childís behavior is manipulative. Making children feel badly in order to get them to do what you want can backfire. Children learn to stop caring about others and their feelings when they are manipulated emotionally. A child becomes resentful when they discover that they are being made to feel bad. Distrust and anger will follow repeated manipulation. This can pave the way for an oppositional and defiant attitude.

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If you find yourself saying, "My child is a better manipulator
than I am", then you might want to look around and discover
who they are learning that from.

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Arguments With Children. When children donít get what they want, they may resort to creating an argument. Come to think of it, a lot of adults will resort to arguing when they donít get what they want. A parent will ask a child, "Why did you do that?" A child might ask "Why do I have to do that?" In an argument we arenít usually looking for new information in order to appreciate another point of view. We are looking for flaws in the other personís reasoning. Whenever you argue with a child, there is a winner and a loser. Resentment is a common result when children lose an argument. Children with a lot of resentment become oppositional and defiant even in situations when they know they will lose. It is best to avoid arguments entirely or as much as possible. Discussions donít have a winner or a loser. When children do what their parents ask or expect, that doesnít mean they lost an argument.

Negotiating With An Upset Child. Very little learning takes place when children are emotionally distressed or upset. Negotiation while children are genuinely upset teaches children that resistance, emotional displays, or opposition and defiance can result in a "payoff". . Negotiation or compromise is not helpful when children act upset to get their way. It is far more effective to wait until a child is calm and then discuss the problem.

Oppositional and Defiant Role Models. Children naturally imitate the behavior of people they are emotionally bonded with. Oppositional and defiant behavior is reinforced and strengthened whenever it solves a problem or avoids a distressing experience. Argumentative, angry or threatening behavior on the part of parents that results in a winner and a loser can be a disastrous example for children. Children become more oppositional and defiant if they believe their parents and role models can get away with such behavior and they canít.

Alcohol or Other Drug Use. Make no mistake about it, alcohol and other drug use can have an incredibly powerful impact on your thoughts and mood. Alcohol and other drugs can dramatically change your behavior and you will not notice or appreciate the long term emotional impact on your child. Irritability, frustration, anger, resentment and guilt are the chemical and social consequences of alcohol and other drug use.

So is it reasonable to assume that effective parenting is merely the absence of mistakes like these? Of course not. But children are amazing in how quickly they learn from what others do. If you find your child acting oppositional and defiant, you might ask yourself, "Where are they learning to do that?" If you find yourself saying, "My child is a better manipulator than I am", then you might want to look around to see who is teaching them to act that way.

Parenting and raising children to be respectful, cooperative and generous is not easy. Fortunately, children donít need perfect parents. Children need parents who are "good enough". Good enough is the best you can do without making the same mistakes over and over.

copyright 2000 to 2005, Michael G. Conner