Defiant child

Defiant Child

Parenting your teen, while encouraging growth – Defiant child.

From the early age 7, Helen knew her son, Jack, was “unique”. Different from her other older son, Frank, by a couple of years, Jack slowly chose not to respond to the parenting style that Helen was schooled in from her parents. Helen is a single mother trying her best to raise two boys in suburbia.

And while the father of the two boys is typically active in their lives – every other weekend, Helen is pretty much on her own as the primary parental force in the lives her two sons.

Jack began to show signs of being unique around his seventh birthday. Using the mindset of “being unique” to describe her son Jack rather than defiant, deviant, selfish, and/or bad has encouraged Helen into using parenting methods that encourage personal growth and responsibility in Jack, while discarding parenting methods that do not work in Jack’s favor.

Her son Frank, who is 14 years old, responds easily to behavior modification when he acts out. For example, when Frank decided to ignore his self-imposed curfew to return home by 10PM on a weekend evening, Helen grounded him for the next weekend. While Frank did grumble and pout with this outcome, he complied with Helen’s limiting setting. Rarely is Frank now late in getting home on weekend outings.

Same old thing with a defiant child

Most parents use behavior modification to set limits and encourage personal growth with their children. Today’s parents predominantly were exposed to behavior modification as a child growing up. Decades ago, corporal punishment, the extreme side of behavior modification was in full throttle. And it worked, for most children.

Behavior modification does not work for all children. As a matter of fact, near 10-percent (and growing) of our youth are not responsive to behavior modification as a technique in limit setting. Thus the explosive diagnosis and prescription of ADHD and medications for children falling somewhere in this new spectrum of being a defiant child.

Almost exclusively, the institution of public education assumes that all children respond to behavior modification and authority figures. A letter grade of “F” is unpleasant and socially shaming for a reason – it is effective for a large majority of children. Remember?

And that is all well and good, for children who rarely misbehave and act out. Now what about your “unique” child who is now labelled as a defiant child?

The constant drumbeat of behavior modification and the failure associated with its in-effectiveness for many teenagers is damaging. As a parent, Helen needed to try something, anything at this point, that keep Jack safe from catastrophic consequence associated with his poor decision-making and resistance to parental authority, while preserving his self-esteem.

She knew that she did not want to use strict and punitive parent-centered techniques – intimidation, shame, embarrassment, corporal punishment, isolation and withdraw. While favored by many U.S. families, this parenting style ends up encouraging dependence, and even rebellion – criminal behavior.

A unique defiant child

And while Jack, at 12-years old, and growing, is now taller than Helen, she approaches her “unique” son as if he were still a young child who she can hold and protect in her arms.

And when Jack shows stress by acting out, or when he fails at a task in school or home, instead of stating to him “What made you do that!”, or, “How could you let this happen to you?”, or, “You have never been organized enough.”, she talks differently to her “unique” teen.

“What can I do that will make it easier for you tell the truth? Can you remember when it was that you shared with me something that was important to you? What made it easy then? What was I doing differently?

“How can I help you sustain a level of organization that positively affects your grades in school?”

“Your teacher called me this afternoon Jack. She mentioned the event in school this morning. What do you think she needs to see from you so as I do not get additional telephone calls from her? Imagine what your teacher would say.”

“Jack, you are grounded this weekend for being late in getting home last weekend. What do you think you can do to get un-grounded for next weekend? Can you recall doing something positive in the past that encouraged me to reinstate your weekend privileges? No? You cannot recall? How about when you helped me clean the house by vacuuming the carpets?”

“Vocabulary quizzes are challenging. Yet, you passed one last week, right? What did you do to make that happen?

“Yes, I see that Frank is bothering you. Instead of hitting him, what did you do differently the last time he embarrassed you? What worked then?

“Your father has hurt your feeling this weekend. If you could change the situation with weekend visitations, what would that look like?”

This type of parenting change takes time. Changing how we communicate to our children is an unlearning process that might take years to master. By not focusing on the past, or the “why” of an event, and instead focus on the solution, separates poor decision-making and personal temperaments from becoming a self-identity. “I am bad.”, “I am bad at math.” “I am ADHD.” to something outside themselves needing a solution. Never allow your child to become the problem.

What is the solution to that problem?

Photo credit: Lord Jim via


No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment