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Tips for managing oppositional behaviour

Experiencing defiant or oppositional behaviours from your child can be quite an overwhelming experience for a parent. You might feel that your are “being pushed to your absolute wits”, losing control when you find them knocking down another child’s block tower or throwing papers all over the floor for no reason at all and dealing with endless tantrums.

However, not all children who show defiant or oppositional behaviour would be classified as

having a Oppositional Defiant Disorder which is clinical in nature. Since children pass through many developmental stages as they mature, it is important to understand the differences between expected childhood attempts to defy authority and symptoms of full-blown oppositional defiant disorder.

Oppositional defiant children share the following characteristics:

● They possess a strong need for control

● They typically deny responsibility for their misbehaviour and have little insight into

how they impact others.

● They are socially exploitive and very quick to notice how others respond. They then

uses these responses to his advantage in family or social environments, or both.

So, although some oppositional behaviour is at times very common and part of expected

childhood development, if your child shows these signs, it might be useful to have an assessment by a qualified mental health practitioner.

Some simple tips for managing oppositional behaviour:

Understand the root of the problem

It can be important to understand what may trigger your child or young person.

For example, do they tend to be more defiant when they are tired, or when they don’t understand what to do or think that they cannot do it? Understanding what can lead to the behaviour can help you manage such situations better in the future. For instance, if you ask your child who is not yet able to tidy their bedroom to do so, they may refuse. However, pacing this in an age appropriate way might help (e.g. asking them to help you put their toys in a box).

Be clear and consistent, but compromise when appropriate

Defiant behaviour can be more common in households where there is too much flexibility or,

where there are too many rules or control. It’s important to be fair and consistent. Stay firm on important issues and have all members of the household upholding the same values and rules.

For example- You can say ‘that’s not how I remember it, but nonetheless….’ ‘None the less’ and ‘regardless’ are both phrases that can come in very useful when you have a child who can be quite oppositional!

Consider how you communicate your wishes to you child. For example, when you ask your

oppositional child to perform some task or other (e.g. ‘we’re crossing a busy road now; can you hold my hand, please?’), your child essentially considers that they have a choice whether to comply or not.

Be Consistent with Consequences

Kids with oppositional defiant disorder need consistent negative consequences for misbehavior. If you allow your child to get away with breaking the rules sometimes, he won’t learn. If he thinks there’s a one in a hundred chance that you’ll break down and give in when he argues, he’ll decide it’s worth a shot. And he'll become more argumentative over time.

Your child needs to know that they are important to you.

One of the best ways you can send your child this message is by spending positive time together doing things your child enjoys. This will help to strengthen your relationship with your child.

Focus on the positive behaviour

Use praise to encourage positive behaviour, and try to avoid using negative consequences.

Look at using a structured reward system like a reward chart.

Give short, brief, direct instructions, telling your child exactly what you want by offering your

child specific choices – for example, ‘Would you like to do your homework now, or after the

next TV show?’ Follow up on uncooperative behaviour straight away. For example, give your

instruction. If your child doesn’t do what you ask, ask again and say, ‘This is the last time I am going to tell you’. Be ready with a consequence like withdrawal of a privilege if your child doesn’t cooperate.

Create a Behavior Plan

Create a behavior plan to address your child’s specific behavior problems such as aggression, talking back, refusing to do homework, or throwing temper tantrums.

Identify the consequence your child will receive when she breaks the rules. Explain the

consequences to her ahead of time.

Additionally, discuss any positive consequences she'll gain when he exhibits good behavior. Reward systems, can be very effective tools for kids.

Get Support

If your child isn’t receiving professional help on an ongoing basis, you may want to consider it. Parent training is often a big part of treatment and a professional counselor can assist you with behavior modification techniques at home.

Support groups can also be helpful. Raising a child with defiant behaviour can be exhausting and talking to other parents who understand is important. Understanding it can be key to helping a child learn new skills to manage his behavior.

Treat your child like you want to be treated

It’s important to set a good example to your child for how to express an opinion, disagree or

resolve conflict. By showing how to do this in a respectful manner, and you modelling to your child is an important skill.

For instance, there are times when we snap when tired or stressed. Recognising that your child is also vulnerable to influence by their situation and mood can help us gain a helpful perspective on our expectations of their behaviour.

Taking time to do things for yourself

It is also equally important to take care of oneself. This simply means taking time out for

yourself in a day. It can involve engaging in activities that you enjoy personally like going for

walk or listening to music or doing a painting.


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