Raising a Defiant Kid - Addressing Symptoms AND Underlying Causes

Raising a Defiant Kid - Addressing Symptoms AND Underlying Causes

Fourteen-year-old Curtis walks in from school, throws his coat on the floor, and immediately begins the fine art of verbal brain drain: “Mom! I’m starvin’. What’s for dinner?” Mother greets him with a smile and says, “Honey, we’re having leftovers from last night—meatloaf.  How was school?”

Faster than the speed of light, Curtis’ eyes roll back in his head, his jaw drops, and he whines, “Aw, Mom! I don’t waaaant thaaaaat. Let’s get pizza. I hate meatloaf!” With full battle- shields deployed, and her once sweet smile fading, Mom enters the fray, “No! We are not going out tonight. What do you think? Do you think money grows on trees?”

By the time they both sit down for dinner, Mom is exhausted, Curtis has experienced an entertaining show of parental frustration and anger, and another chunk of their relationship has been damaged.

What’s the good news here? For more than 40 years, Love and Logic has helped thousands of parents bring the fun back into raising kids. Why have these techniques had such lasting and widespread success? Largely because Love and Logic treats both symptoms (misbehavior) and underlying causes (children’s needs for love, healthy control, to be noticed and self-esteem).

Symptoms? Causes? What does all of this really mean? Let’s imagine that the mother above has two trusted friends who fashion themselves as rather accomplished amateur child therapists.

She consults with friend number one, who responds, “Make his arguing backfire for him. Until he stops this habit, try going on strike. Each time he asks you for something, say, ‘I’ll be happy to do these things for you when I feel treated with respect.’”  Not bad for an amateur!

On her way home, she stops by the store and runs into friend number two. Mom throws the question his way. What’s his answer? “You need to find out why he’s arguing so much in the first place. Does he feel connected to you in a loving way?  Is he crying out for attention, some control, or some loving limits? Is he feeling really poorly about himself?” Also not bad for an amateur!

There’s only one problem. Now Mom is really confused. What does she do? Does she just deliver a consequence? Or does she find and treat the causes of Curtis’ arguing escapades? Which friend is correct? Both are correct, but both only address half of the problem.

Using a good, logical consequence by itself will often stop the misbehavior. What’s the problem then? If the child’s underlying needs are not met, the misbehavior will eventually resurface—either in its original form or some other. Arguing may return as arguing—or as a quiet refusal to do what the parent asks.

Treating causes alone also falls short of the mark. While the child may start to feel much better because his or her emotional needs are being met, the misbehavior continues because it’s become a habit.

Powerful and lasting solutions address both symptoms and underlying needs.

What would happen if we combined the two amateur therapist friends above? Who would we have? Simply stated, we’d have a master of Love and Logic! Now, let’s imagine that Mom took the advice of this Love and Logic master.

Mom’s plan would likely have two parts.

Mom’s Plan Part One: Addressing the Symptom

She’d begin by whispering in a sad tone of voice, “This is so sad. I’ll be happy to listen when your voice sounds like mine. And, by the way, I do things for people who treat me with respect.”

Most kids learn quickly that arguing gets them nothing while being respectful gets them a lot.

Mom’s Plan Part Two: Addressing the Underlying Causes

Love and Logic parents simply meet universal human needs. These needs, the underlying causes of most behaviors, include:

    • The need for unconditional love, respect, and comforting limits.

      Love and Logic parents meet this need by wrapping consequences in a strong blanket of empathy, such as, “This is so sad. I know you must be really mad. And, I’ll be happy to take you out for pizza when I know we won’t have an argument.” The underlying message is, “I will always value and love you, even when I don’t like your behavior.”

      • The need for healthy control.

      When children are angry, defiant, or resentful, they are actually hurting. Giving them plenty of healthy choices is medicine for their wounds.

      The mother above would give Curtis lots of choices like, “Do you want to have juice or milk for dinner?” “Are you going to set your alarm for 6:00 or 6:15?” “Would you like to have your hair long or short?”

      • The need to be noticed and to feel good about oneself.

      During these tough times, kids need more than ever for us to see their strengths and point these out. Sadly, we often forget to do this when we are caught up in the problem.

      Our Love and Logic mom would greet her son each morning and evening with a high-five, a hug, and a smile. She also takes time out to notice the positives.

      If we were a fly on the wall, we’d see and hear her saying things like, “Curtis, I noticed your friends really look up to you.” “Curtis, I noticed you really take pride in your skateboarding.” “Curtis, I noticed you like to draw.”

      It’s amazing what we will do to please the people who notice our strengths! It not only helps build self-confidence but it can help improve relationships.

      A middle-school teacher gave a wonderful example of how powerful this two-part approach can be. She had tried every logical consequence in the book to keep one of her students from skipping class. Nothing seemed to work with this extremely challenging boy until she also began focusing on underlying needs.

      One afternoon, when she was sure that he had run away from the school, she got the surprise of her life. He walked into her class and, with a big smile, said, “Hey! I bet you thought I left. You can’t get rid of me that easy.” All that made the difference was some simple smiles, an occasional handshake, some small choices, and a focus on the good side rather than the bad!

      We hope this gives you some ideas you can implement with your defiant child. Find more solutions to raising defiant children in Home and School Strategies for Creating Respectful, Responsible Kids.

      Thanks for reading!

      Dr. Charles Fay

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