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Parenting the defiant child has challenges

The answers for parenting rebellious and defiant children are never black and white: “Is it a phase? Is it simply their temperament? Or is there something wrong with my child?” Regardless of the answer, as parents, we often feel overwhelmed by our children’s defiant behavior and the solution can feel impossible.Lexie Ainge Cottle

Defiance is the repeated failure of a child to follow rules, obey commands, comply with requests or generally do what parents and society at large expect children to do. When taking a look at your child’s defiant behaviors, it is important to pay attention to the patterns. Where and when does your child act out? How severe is the misbehavior you see? How does it compare to what other kids do and say?

Oppositional defiant children:

  • Change from content to angry in a second.

  • Fight the inevitable even when they know that eventually they’ll be forced to comply.

  • Insist on having their own way when playing with friends.

  • Argue as vociferously about performing the little tasks as the big ones.

  • Lie or cheat to escape responsibility for their actions.

  • Like to “get back at” people instead of forgetting about minor slights.

  • May seem hostile toward particular people for no obvious reason

  • Ignore commands.

  • Deliberately disobey their parents and sometimes other adults.

  • Break rules indiscriminately.

  • Badger or taunt people, apparently for fun.

  • Seem to have a chip on their shoulder and can’t control temper.

  • May indulge in self-destructive behavior such as holding their breath or banging their head.

  • Show little respect or regard for their parents, especially mom.

    If this list describes your child’s behavior for the past six months or more, then it may be time to take their behavior more seriously. Often defiant behaviors can come from a difficult situation in the child’s life. When a stressor in the child’s life causes the defiance, this can usually be considered a phase and is most often resolved within six months. But many children show signs of a difficult temperament from a very early age. The rebellious and difficult behaviors have merely escalated to the point where you as a parent feel overwhelmed, frustrated or even apathetic.

    The most important indicator of all is how the behavior is affecting your child and others: 1. Is your child significantly impaired by the defiant/noncompliant behavior? 2. Is your child’s defiant behavior causing emotional distress to the child and — even more likely — to you, as well as to siblings and peers?

    If you feel that your child has defiant behaviors warranting more severe interventions, remember that there is a lot you can do as a parent. The first step is to educate yourself on defiance. The more you learn about the nature of defiance in children, the less you’ll view it as “something wrong with your child” and the more you’ll see it as a difficult situation with highly workable solutions. Emphasize incentives over punishment, pay attention to the acceptable behavior your child displays. As I often say in counseling, catch your child doing something good, even if it seems insignificant. Build some form of pleasant time together into every day. But above all, remember the two C’s of parenting: consistency and creativity!

    Lexie Ainge Cottle, M.A., LPCI, is a Lake Oswego resident who grew up in Lake Oswego and now has a private practice in professional counseling as part of the Compassionate Counseling Center in Tigard. She can be reached at 503-400-1512 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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