The Defiant Child-Redefined

OMG, nothing brings out our bad parenting mood like The Defiant Child.  For a diagnosis, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 goes with the formal title of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (used for the far end of the defiant spectrum).  But, simply put,  the defiant child  has a knee jerk negative reactions to your every request:


Daily Defiance

“Get in the car. We are going to be late for school!”  “IN A MINUTE, MOM! (with eye roll)”

“You need to pick up your toys in the den.”  “Not NOW!!”

“Go get your dirty clothes, I am doing laundry.”  “No”

“Get in here right now!”  (crickets chirping)

“You forgot to brush your teeth, go brush them.”  “YOU ARE ALWAYS BUGGING MEEEE!”


We are busy enough.  We don’t have time for the no’s, the in a minute’s, the silent refusals, or simply ignoring us.  It brings out our parental ogre. We feel it reflects badly on us as parents. And we take defiance very personally.

But maybe we shouldn’t.        

Ross Greene (author of The Explosive Child) has said, “Children will do well if they can.”  That is not just for the explosive child.  It likely often holds for the defiant child as well.  Maybe we need to look under the surface of defiance and consider the reasons this behavior is occurring.  Once we understand the reasons, then we can get to strategies that may work.

Some Reasons Your Child Resists

Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD)-This child cannot control his attention. It controls him.  He cannot put down the video game to get in the car.  He just can’t because he does not know how to shift his attention to something important to someone else.

Medication side effects-for the child with asthma or allergies who is prescribed multiple medications (or even one), check the side effects.  Agitation, irritability, anxiety and trouble sleeping are common.  So your irritable, over-tired child is defiant.  Poor kid.

Auditory processing problems-The child with auditory processing problems may not hear you in group situations where lots of people are talking.  Or they may not understand you if you have shouted out from another room.

Sensory processing disorder-This one is exhausted after a long school day and then had a scout meeting and dinner is still being prepped.  She is beyond being helpful at this point.  On the weekend, she may just want to vegetate in her quiet room (finally).

Stress-Children with learning disabilities are under stress trying to cope with the day.  Some kids are being bullied.  Some kids with autism spectrum disorder are constantly trying to figure out the ever-shifting social expectations.  Stress does not make any of us cope better.  Once home, many feel safe refusing parents because, well, their parents will love them anyway.

And these are just a few of the issues that can contribute to defiance.

Strategy, Strategy, Strategy

Strategies to reduce defiance will vary by the challenge the child faces and the task being requested.

The child with ADHD needs a regular routine (that is agreed upon before hand)  for tasks, as well as a parent who understands this child does not control his attention well enough to transition easily.

The child who is anxious or irritable or did not sleep well due to her asthma meds may need fewer demands while alternative medications, dosing, or timing of doses are being explored.

The child with auditory processing problems will need directions given face to face in a calm voice to ensure good processing.  One more extra step in a busy day, but hey, it beats yelling in frustration and creating low self-esteem.

The child with sensory processing disorder may need chores or tasks done in the morning when they are fresh or after some sensory exercises.  A calm, not overly busy, after school schedule may also help.

The child under stress due to spending the day at school battling through with a learning disability may need a break from demands and a more carefully arranged set of demands.

So try to meet your child where he or she is.  See if that helps.

And, of course,  there is some defiance that is in a league of its own.  Kids with a history of trauma (think adopted after abandonment as an example) are capable of bringing a level of defiance that will simply need professional support.  They want desperately to be loved, but may not think they are worthy of it or may want to find the limits of the love being given.

And teenagers.  The defiant teen can be legendary.  It is an age of striving for independence.  Many teens think they cannot be grown up without refusing the parenting they are given.   If you add ADHD, learning disability, stress, depression or anxiety on top of the normal defiance, a parent may again benefit from some professional help to navigate those years.

So, lets re-define defiance.  It is not bad parenting or a bad kid.  It is a child trying to cope, but doing so in the wrong way.  What can we change to make it easier for them (and us) and how can we help this child eventually meet the usual expectations?

There can be a lot of reasons simmering under the surface.   Child Decoded is here to help you find them and support your child is being his best.