Oppositional Behavior Question

Today, I want to answer a question I received from “a friend” about a child who is giving her some troubles behaviorally.  There have been books written about this topic but I hope the following will give you some concrete footing when attacking the problem.

The basic background is a mom and dad with three kids.  The oldest child is the type who hardly gives mom any trouble.  The middle can be a handful and the youngest is a baby.  I chose this topic because it’s a pretty common theme.  Although siblings may have similar genetic traits, they usually don’t have the same personality traits. (Funny how that happens)  This post is meant to address oppositional behavior and give some tips to this mom and anyone else who sees it in their home.

With the 400+ kids I’ve worked with, some of them were real stinkers (if you know what I mean).  Their m.o. would be to backtalk, fight, or be non-compliant when given a direction.  Interestingly enough, the age of the child didn’t matter.  They shared some common traits and the strategies I’m going to write about have worked with the most difficult children I have come across.

My first premise is there is a root cause to all behavior good or bad.  There’s a reason we feel the way we feel.  A good day may have been caused by a compliment we received from our spouse.  A bad day may have occurred because a co-worker was a jerk.  No matter what you are feeling right now, there is a reason.

Therefore, if a child is misbehaving, a parent would be wise to dig deep for that reason.  I’ll warn you though it isn’t always easy.  Take your time and be very patient in order to find the root cause of the problem.  This specifically means observing, talking to the child, and asking your significant other for any input.  If you don’t, any discipline action will simply not be as effective.  I will go as far as to say in some cases, it’s a waste of time.

Second, a simple concept addressed in my book deals with “buttons.”  This is a slight variation of point 1.  In essence, we all have them.  For example, if my wife pushes the right button with me, she can make me laugh.  If she pushes the wrong one, the response (shall I say) wouldn’t be the same.  I’ve heard it said we should be in control of our emotions which is true.  The thing is though we are all human and have built in positive and negative emotions that will surface in some way sooner or later.  It’s part of makes us human.

If you agree with my premise, couldn’t it be reasoned that children would have a more difficult time controlling emotions than adults?  If so, what button was pushed to set off the emotion?   Again, this has to be known for any consequence to work as effectively with a child demonstrating poor behavior.

Now that I’ve covered these two crucial points, I can tell you that I’m all for consequences when it comes to poor behavior.  Once I know what’s going on behaviorally with the child, it’s very possible a consequence is still in order.  The key with any consequence is it has to work. Don’t take this point for granted.  I realize this key sounds obvious but let me throw this question to you.  Do you know of a parent who consequences behavior by spanking; yet their child still misbehaves in the exact same manner?  Really, me too.  Let’s move on.

Proper consequences for oppositional behavior centers on really knowing your child and what buttons to push.  For some children, it’s time out or even the mere threat of it.  For others, it’s taking a toy/priveledge. Each child even under the same roof is different so choose your consequences carefully.  If your consequence doesn’t work, reassess what you did and where you went wrong.  The next time the oppositional behavior occurs (and it will) you will be better prepared to deal with it in a different manner.

Don’t forget that some children respond to consequences such as positive reinforcement.  Remember to not associate the word consequence with something negative.  For example, I’ve told kids in the “heat of the moment” that they could do better.  Would you believe I’ve instantly resolved incredible struggles while dealing with difficult children based on those words alone?  It’s not that easy with every kid but I could name each one it has worked with.  That’s because I knew the kids I’ve worked with that well.

Controlling oppositional behavior isn’t easy but it is necessary.  Although it’s possible they are “going through a phase” I wouldn’t count on it.  I’d advise to dig deep, attack the root problem, and work towards a resolution.  It’s been my experience that once you do this, you should have a happier home because you’ll be dealing with fewer and less severe struggles.   Hope this helps.

Now for some housekeeping notes:

1.  Thanks to all who have passed my blog around.  I don’t track who you are but let it be known how appreciated it is.

2.  If you look at the top of my page, you’ll find a new addition.  I have copy/pasted the entire preface to Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures.  I thought this would be a good way for people who didn’t know me to get a peek inside.  I would think it would be difficult to buy any book from a stranger if you couldn’t get a peek.  I think the preface will help.

3.  If you have a parenting question you would like answered, please send it to tantrumstroublesandtreasures@yahoo.com. Just like today, identifying information isn’t released.

4.  I like the Tuesday/Friday blogs so I’ll see you Tuesday with another edition.  Have a terrific weekend!!!

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  1. Thanks for stopping by the Afternoon Social, I Tweeted your great post!

  2. Found you through Bloggy Moms. Great info. Following

  3. Mary says:

    Great post, I am one that has to work on this… The key with any consequence is it has to work. I will be coming back to read your posts :)

  4. Amy T says:

    Great article. My husband and I read a book about emotion coaching (Raising an emotionally intelligent child). It gave a lot of the same feedback about the reasons for oppositional behavior and how to deal with it. I have to say that being patient and getting to the root of the defiance takes patience and creativity, but it's worth it.

  5. Clairity says:

    I totally agree, each child is different and should be treated as such though sometimes we tend to look at them collectively as 'our kids' and think they should be all the same.
    Thanks for the follow, following you back on Twitter.

  6. Theresa says:

    I think a lot of us tend to think that our kids are acting out because they are simply being 'bad'. I love what you said about the reasons for acting out, kids are the same as grown ups.

    We underestimate them far too often.

  7. Thanks for following me. I'm your newest follower! Loved this article.

  8. Melissa says:

    I love this post. A great post to read to start my Sunday morning with my kids!
    Thanks for stopping by MeloMomma!

  9. christy says:

    Make sure you follow back

  10. Nicole B says:

    Hi and thank you for stopping by at Mom Always Finds Out – I came to follow back on NB.

  11. mymy says:

    wonderful suggestions!

    thank you so much for following (via NB); followed you back

  12. Kimberly says:

    good advice! Kids have reasons and triggers for their outburst- and sometimes it takes a lot of deep looking to find them.

    my youngest 'looked textbook ODD or maybe BiPolar' when he was 5-7. Screaming, hitting, biting, being mean the kitten, his Sunday school pictures of Jesus the Good shepherd came home colored with blood and knives, defiant, kicking and saying he hated 'whomever'- the outburst usually followed by him collapsing in a puddle of tears.

    turns out he has a sensory disorder and food sensitivities. It was a long road of diet change and occupational/behavioral therapy- but it sure beats medicating him and labeling him as something he wasn't. He still has a pretty instant mood change type personality, but he is learning to control it and himself.

    • Sorry I'm getting back to you a bit late but the story of your child is really interesting. I've seen cases where medication was a good thing but from my experiences, it is overly given by overzealous doctors looking for a quick fix.

  13. Deedra Retka says:

    What a great resource!

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