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Behaviors At Home

The Defier

Action: Why is my child behaving this way, what unmet needs does he or she have, and what specific things can I do to help him or her behave better?

Primary Causes of Misbehavior

This child wants to be disliked. Failure has made him or her give up trying to get attention in an acceptable way.

Primary Needs Being Revealed

This person's interactions with people are very negative.

Escape from Pain
This child is feeling a lot of pain and his or her behavior demonstrates this pain.

Secondary Needs Being Revealed

This person is using assertion as a means of survival. This assertion must be directed toward a more positive involvement.

Personal responsibility is a form of achievement for this child.

A form of power must be offered to this child.

Everything must be done to demonstrate the worth of this child. This does not mean you accept his or her behavior, but you do accept the person.

The child needs many ways to be in control of his or her life other than defiance.

Actions to Take
  • Regardless of the situation, never get into a "yes you will" contest with this child. Silence is a better response.

  • Whatever you do, don't lose your dignity, and never, never raise your voice or argue with the child.

  • Use the "Third-Person" technique. Remember, you are the outlet, not the cause, for this child's defiance—unless you are shouting, arguing, or attempting to handle him or her with sarcasm. Therefore, don't take the defiance personally. Rather, say, "John, what's the matter? That doesn't sound like you," or "What's making you so upset?" By using this approach, even if it doesn't reflect your feelings, you place yourself in the position of a third person who can help rather than affront, and you can maintain both your dignity and your position of authority. In addition, you emphatically convey to other children that the defier is the problem, not you. If you don't use this approach, especially in front of other children, you may feel forced into saying or doing something that will only aggravate the situation.

  • If a child says, "I won't do it," or "You can't make me," don't let the child make you believe his or her defiance is directed toward you. Again, become a third-party participant by saying in a questioning or even bewildered way, "What's the matter?" or "That's not like you." This reaction may not agree with your feelings, but it will produce the best results. Follow this response with "What happened to make you so upset?" or "Is there anything I can do to help you?" If the child replies, "Yes, get off my back," don't lose your composure. Rather, continue using the third-person stance and the problem has a chance for a solution rather than a guarantee of an unfortunate scene.

  • The "Delayed Parent Reaction" also works well. For example, if a child says, "I won't do it," do not say anything for a moment. Rather, look at him or her in surprise and say, "I don't think I heard you." This response gives the child a chance to retract the statement—to change unacceptable behavior into an apology without a reprimand. If your situation with the defier has already deteriorated to the point that you could not use this approach in front of other children, then do it privately. This problem can never be handled past this point publicly. Sometimes, you can only try to quiet the child by saying, "Let's not talk about it here. Let's visit later when you can tell me everything that's on your mind."

  • Speak to this child one-on-one in a quiet, private, neutral place.

  • Be caring, but honest. Tell your child exactly what it is that is causing problems as far as you are concerned. Be sure you listen to him or her as well. In the process, insist upon one rule—that you both be respectful.

  • Avoid power struggles with this child. They will get you nowhere.

  • Try to convince the child that he or she must produce in order to survive in a meaningful way.

  • Give this child some responsibilities.

  • Look for various group activities so the child can have experiences with peers.

  • Always listen to this child. Let him or her talk. Don't interrupt until he or she finishes.

  • Ask if time alone would help, but don't force it on the child prior to talking about it. Such "surprises" will only make him or her more defiant.

  • Make the child a part of any plan to change behavior. If you don't, you'll become the enemy.

  • Above all, reach an agreement with the child on how you will treat each other.

  • Be very specific in telling the child what behavior is unacceptable.

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Please Note
We are labeling behaviors, not children! For the sake of convenience, we will describe behaviors with terms such as The Whiner or The Interrupter.

Never use such labels when talking to—or about—children! Doing so could cause many new problems and seriously damage the teacher-student or parent-child relationship.