Parenting Strategies for Oppositional and Defiant Children

Being the parent of a child with Oppositional and Defiant behavior is very difficult, but developing a successful parenting strategy is not impossible (Keep in mind that your child does not have to be diagnosed with Oppositional and Defiant Disorder (ODD), in order to exhibit Oppositional and Defiant Behavior.) These basic steps are an outline of parenting strategies which can be combined with other strategies:

First, keep in mind the only behavior you have control over is your own. Therefore if you have no control over your own behavior, you will not be able to affectively guide your child’s behavior. Contributors to loss of behavior control with parents/caregivers is related to burnout, lack of self-care, lack of affective parenting strategies, as well as lack of a parent’s support system. Once you have satisfied all of these factors we can move onto affective parenting strategies.

Now that we covered the importance for parents to take care of themselves as well as their children. These tips may be somewhat helpful.

  1. Pick and choose your battles; be aware that when you need your child to follow a direction it should be something significant and relevant to their well-being. The reason for this is because if you are to enter a possible conflict, the topic would best be something worth arguing about.

    A common situation I encounter providing family therapy is helping parents prioritizing the wants and needs for their child’s behavioral expectations. We first start with safety; the biggest conflict a parent should not back down from is safety, followed by decisions which can have lasting impacts on the child’s future – specifically on decisions which may be irreversible. For many families prioritizing these wants and needs may be impacted by culture and family beliefs, but it is important for parents to know where they stand prior to solidifying their parenting strategy.

  1. Focus on positive behavior; every child regardless of how difficult their behavior can be to manage has their moments of positive behavior. A great way to guide oppositional behavior is to avoid it. A way that many parents prevent Oppositional and Defiant behavior is to actually focus on positive behavior which is helpful with increasing compliant behavior. In family therapy, I have the parents I work with track the amount of times they negatively and positively interact with their child and more often than not; the negatively is much stronger. When the parents discover the moments they can focus more positively their children’s compliance increases. This strategy may be difficult to implement effectively and many parents benefit from Parent Coaching.

  1. Be consistent, be consistent, be consistent; do not make promises you cannot keep, “stick to your guns” when setting ground rules, and keep from expressing extensive emotional stress while parenting.

Many parents I work with in family therapy speak about how they make a promise intending on keeping it, but stuff happens where it is impossible for them to keep the promise. Unfortunately things happen, and many parents find that if a promise was to be made – they best benefit from putting it in writing with multiple contingencies. This may sound excessive, but let’s look at it like this.

A mother says to her son that if he does all of his homework over the week, she will take him and his friend to the movie. Well, what happens if the mother gets a migraine headache on Friday night? What is she to do then? She cannot make it through a movie. At this point, her son may become agitated, and possibly verbally abusive, oppositional and defiant for all of mother’s requests over the weekend. The mother apologizes as she is in agony and her son calls her a liar.

 An agreement – which would have an increased likelihood of success – looks like this. Mother explains to her son, if he completes his homework over the course of the week, she would be willing to make a behavior contract with him. The contract should have every reasonable contingency such as: Time and day of the reward, and two to three alternative times he would get the award if mother was unable to deliver on the initial target day. Also, the mother should make it clear in writing what the expectations for her son’s homework completing behavior looks like. This strategy drastically increases the likelihood of consistency for the parent and reduces the likelihood of a conflict for the child.

In addition, have strong boundaries and stick to your guns when you say no. In the same respect, keep in mind what you may say no to because, if you go back on your word, children may interpret it as inconsistency. For example, if a child asks her father if she can have a few friends over for a sleep over and he says “no.” After, his daughter begs and repeatedly asks for her father to change his mind; he decided to say “I guess you can have a few friends over tonight.”

Now, in reality there is nothing wrong with allowing your daughter a sleepover, but keep in mind if she believes the begging was the reason for the sleepover it will increase the likelihood she will repeat the begging and asking behavior. The begging behavior when ignored will result in oppositional and defiant responses when the daughter does not get her request. A way to avoid the issue from the beginning is for the father to be clear about him being unsure about his decision.

A common conversation I have had in family therapy with parents developing their parenting strategy is: Be clear with your child about how you may not have made a decision yet, and give them a timeframe when you will discuss the issue. For example, a father saying “Sweetie, I’m not sure yet but later after diner we’ll talk about it.” The reason why this is important is because you can reduce the likelihood of entering an unnecessary conflict and prevent unnecessary oppositional and defiant behaviors. Keep in mind your child will not be happy about the new boundary and having to wait for an answer but they will learn to adapt with time.

Lastly, watch your emotional responses because you may find yourself in the middle of your own tantrum. Many parents struggle with maintaining their calm when interacting with their child during a conflict. Remember, it takes two to have a argument/fight and only one to have a tantrum.

That being said, if your child is having a tantrum you want to leave it as a tantrum. If you have a tantrum yourself it becomes a conflict/argument/fight. You only have control over your behavior and not your child’s. Keep your cool, if you address your child with a straight face even if you feel angry you are more likely to direct their oppositional and defiant behaviors more effectively. Using a calm demeanor will allow the parent to handle a child’s limit testing without entering a conflict.

In reality most parents already know these tips work but struggle with consistently using them. The reason many parents struggle with successfully using them is because they may not be meeting their needs and feel burned out.

There is hope out there. Troy runs “No Cost Groups“ to assist parents with avoiding parent burnout. Contact the Success Source today and we can help you organize your plan and reach your goals!

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