It begins with the mindset.

If in your mind your child or teen is trying to control you, your home, your family, your life, I truly believe you are losing the battle.

If in your mind your child or teen is trying to gain control of his or her life, is struggling to interpret their world, is feeling overwhelmed due to lack of acquired reasoning skills or deficits in communication, well, now you’re talking.

Looking at the behaviors with a different set of eyes sometimes leads to out of the box thinking and problem solving.  Try starting with the belief that behind every behavior is a cause, a reason and try to identify what that trigger is.  Do not assume that your child does not want to be cooperative try instead to assume they don’t have the tools to think on that level or to collaborate in problem solving.

Do you see your child as an under achiever?  Do you see your child as being lazy, immature, stubborn, unmotivated?  Do you see your child’s behaviors as a burden on your family?

Remember the eyes are the window to the soul and they mirror our feelings and emotions.  Chances are if its in your eyes it’s also in their view. Negativity breeds negativity so if what you are doing is not working try to turn it around.  See them with a different set of eyes.

No child wants to fail.  No child wants to struggle in school, at home, with friends and in life.  They just don’t , as Dr Ross Greene says “If they could they would”.  I think many times these negative behaviors are a defense mechanism to keep the world from seeing how much they are struggling.  The behaviors are a bravado to hide their pain.

Dealing with a raging, defiant, cursing, threatening, hostile, nasty, dark, violent, incorrigible child is horrible.  It is absolutely exhausting and one of the hardest things parents of children with mental illness or poor regulation will ever have to deal with.  It is so explosive in nature.

It can be so random and unexpected and yet predictable and unavoidable.  It takes every ounce of restraint not to lose it at times.  As absolutely draining and painful as it is to deal with these kids  imagine being that kid. Imagine being that out of control.  Imagine being afraid of your own actions.  Imagine

being disoriented and confused either during a rage or afterwards.  Imagine feeling like a failure everywhere you go.  Imagine having no friends.  Imagine hurting people you love and having no way of stopping it.  Imagine being in that much pain.
As horrible as it is for the parent, imagine how terrifying it is for the out of control child or teen. I know, you are reading this and saying ,well he/she doesn’t look terrified or afraid.  To that I say look a little deeper.  Start from scratch and reassess the situation.  What the hell – what you are doing now isn’t working or you wouldn’t be reading this so what do you have to lose?

Without going into a long drawn out explanation let’s just start with the understanding that there is a physical as well as emotional change that occurs during these rages or behaviors, flight or fight as most people call it.  The adrenalin is pumping that cortisol is rising and you have a chemically hormonally imbalanced mess on your hands.  Everything is distorted and amplified its like a Mack truck is coming right at them. Everything around them seems like danger and a threat. The key is to head off that chemical pituitary adrenal response before it hits because once its started – watch out!

Take a look at your expectations, are you setting the bar too high? Is the child impaired and struggling to the point that for a while, whether short term or a bit longer perhaps expectations should be dropped completely?

Often when kids are this out of control and in a chronic state of chaos they need to calm and regulate.  It’s not the time for demands but the time for fostering a calming state to regulate the physical and emotional kid.

Go back to the beginning, put on your detectives cap and start looking for causes of the childs frustration.  Mental illness is an umbrella for the reason many of these kids are so severely impaired but underlying are the triggers and causes that exacerbate the behaviors.  Many of these kids have overlapping issues or disorders so leave no stone unturned.  Look into any sensory issues – look into learning disabilities – look into organic basis such as endocrine or other health causes – look into hearing problems – vision problems – neurological problems – the list goes on and on.  Medications can cause slight to severe side effects check if a new med be involved? Is it Anxiety based? Anxiety and social phobia are horrible and very real in children.  Anxiety in children and teens is under recognized, unaddressed and often not validated but merely chalked up to teen “drama”. This just creates even more anxiety and embarrassment.  It is a daunting task to unravel but when you find that needle in the haystack it is well worth it.

Consider social deficits as not all kids acquire social skills naturally.  Is your child being bullied or singled out by another child or a teacher?  Is your child misunderstood and labeled a bad kid, the weird kid, the loner?  Is your kid always getting detention, punishments or having things taken away.  Maybe, just maybe, your child is being beaten down by the world they live in.Unintentionally but inadvertently their world is spinning out of control and their self image and self esteem is shot.

Pushing these kids down further into the abyss does not work.  Negatives do not work. Punishments and limit settings do not work.

Raise these kids back up.  Finding what they are good at and focusing on that, giving them a sense of pride and accomplishment, having their back and advocating for the positives in these kids is the way to start. To be clear, I’m not talking about enabling bad behavior here that is another blog all together.  Im talking about acknowledging the negatives, addressing the negatives but focusing on the positives.

Looking at it, no matter what age, like teaching skills to a baby.  You teach them one at a time, in this case usually in order of importance.  Break the behaviors or issues down specifically sometimes even broken down into several segments for the same issue.

You do not need to telegraph that you are working on these issues with a defiant child, do it in a subtle way and let them feel the empowerment of succeeding. Instead of pointing out when they get it “wrong” point out when they get it “right.” You cannot fix all issues at one time, take behaviors one at a time until mastered or significant improvement is made then move on to the next.

Be a role model – a human role model with human flaws.  When you make a mistake or hurt someone ….. apologize.  When you are stressed out and frustrated say so and let your kids see how you manage stress in an appropriate way.  When frustrations and disappointments happen in your life, if appropriate, let them see that life has its ups and downs and how to pick up and move on. Be an obstacle mover in your life and in theirs.

As I started this blog….. It begins with the mindset.  It also ends with the mindset.


gorillasfightingNext time your child or teen is raging and out of control, the next time they are cursing and having a melt down…. step back….. take a breath….. do not react.   Walk away if you have to but make your mindset compassion. Realize that this is the WORST possible time to communicate your expectations or to have any kind of meeting of the minds. This is the WORST possible time to lay down your parental authority. This is the time to model behavior by staying calm and speaking calmly.  It is not the time to argue your point whether you are right or wrong. It is not a time of rational thinking.  It is the time to let this struggling kid know you “get them”.  It is the time to say “I’m sorry you are having such a hard time”  ”I see you are really struggling – Im sorry you are hurting”  ”Maybe we can find a way to work together to solve this”  ”I love you”  I know….. It is hard, very hard.  When you have a spitting mad verbally or physically abusive kid in your face it is the last thing you want to say but you need to break the pattern and build trust.

If you over react they will come right back at you.

If you are calm and reasonable sooner or later – yeah I know sooner or later is usually not soon enough – they will begin to see that they can trust you to be calm, collaborative and ACCEPT them.

The less you talk the more you will have to listen and when listening with compassionate and new ears you just may hear where all this anger and pain is coming from.  By listening and asking them what they are feeling and not TELLING them or assuming what they are feeling, you are giving them the best gift a parent can give by teaching them the skill to communicate and work together to compromise and problem solve. You are teaching them how to communicate their feelings and frustrations in an appropriate and productive way.

I think ultimately, and equally important is to give our kids the tools to self calm and regulate.  This is a really frustrating world and when combined with a disorder or situational circumstance they need to learn to calm and reason.  In order to learn those skills they need to know how “THEY” calm.  Teaching them breathing and muscle relaxation when they are in a calm state is great but I really feel that everyone finds their own way to calm.  Get your child to a place in themselves to identify how they calm, be it with music, video games, running, climbing, pacing, reading help your child or teen find their calm.  Yes I said video games, I don’t really care what it is as long as it is safe and not harmful to anyone else.  They need to find their own way. It is not so much the action that is important but the way they will learn the feeling of calming and the benefit of self relief of the escape from the anxiety.   It is not only needed now when you are ready to jump out a window but it is what they will need to live a productive and happy life long after these adolescent years are gone.

Sometimes giving control and teaching control puts you in the drivers seat.

Wishing you strength and calm



4 Responses to Understanding and Surviving Your Defiant Child or Teen

  1. I just spent an evening with my son in meltdown mode. Staying therapeutic as the clock ticks away and minutes turn into hours is very trying. (Ok, so that was an understatement.) The emotion that the rage was masking was sadness and dissapointment – over whelming feelings for him to handle at that moment. The meltdown finally came to a conclusion and he was able to even make some eye contact and accept being snuggled.

    This post was exactly what I needed tonight to reinforce everything I know but which is sometimes hard to accomplish in the midst of the rage.

    Pertinent and well written.

    • This article was very good, because it points out the frailty of teens. As someone whom just raised one, I can definitely say it is difficult not to be negative at some of their antics, and to get sucked into the downward spiral. I guess for me, I just hung on and made sure my son knew I wasn’t going away, even to the point of saying, “I won’t abandon you.” This may seem melodramatic but I think it helped him. Everyone wants to be loved at their worst, as it is easy to love someone whom is no trouble.

  2. This was so on target and a true gift at the right time. As parents we definitely need support and this article was right on the money. Thanks!

  3. Precy Dain

    Thank you for this encouraging post. It helps to know that most of those who are parenting defiant teens can still hope to achieve a positive result without acting too hostile against their own children. It’s easy for our patience to run dry once we’re struggling with parenting our troubled teens but as it was suggested, effective communication with our teens is one way to provide the solutions to why they are acting and behaving negatively – listening with empathy, as they say.

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