I read an article which outlined a very good response to dealing with defiance, although in my line of work, there is another aspect to what is often called ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) – and it may be the fact that there is so much discomfort and frustration already going on with learning difficulties, bullying at school and the anxiety that is caused as a result.

These children know deep down that they are not stupid, but cannot show it; their school grades are below their abilities and well meaning teachers and parents often try to pressure them to do things they find too hard, setting them up to reinforce their feelings as failures.

So playing up by being defiant gives them a sense of power back – and it seems even worth the price of getting into trouble.

But how to best help them? Playing the disciplinarian certainly won’t work, but neither will it do to become the ‘doormat’ for bad behaviour.

I have had a lovely client that said exactly that to me (or rather screamed): ‘You are not the boss of me!’ – and I had to fully agree with him. I was not the parent and the reason this child was so upset, was that he had felt ‘set-up’ to come and see me. There was a bribe involved (a puppy, he got before he came) that was continuously used as a pawn in the attempt to keep him somewhere he didn’t want to be. He had not been motivated to do a program, his challenges at school hadn’t reached a point where he was looking for a way out and taking responsibility to change his way of learning to study in a way that suits him.

In that case, I really should have sent the child home and wait for a time when he was ready to be in control himself. The reason we continued was the parent’s assurance that they don’t want to encourage rude behaviour by giving in to their child’s demands. Considering all the challenges and little daily bribes by his grandmother, the program was a success – at least in the short term.

I have found from another experience that a better way would have been to ask a child – no matter what age – if there is anything they would like to change or make easier. And if there is, would they like help. If so, would they accept the help from me? They need to be crucial in the decision making – and then need to be held accountable to that decision. Motivation and responsibility are crucial elements in change – and the change we are seeking is a life-altering experience. No alternative bribes are necessary.

You can read the article here which inspired my writing.