Escalating Defiant Child Behavior | Empowering Parents (2024)

“It started out with my daughter yelling ‘NO’ whenever she didn’t get her way when she was a toddler. Then when she got into elementary school, she started throwing things and slamming doors any time she didn’t get what she wanted. I thought it was just a phase. Over time, it got to a point where I was walking on eggshells — you never knew when she was going to have a fit because she wasn’t happy. And it kept getting worse. Now that she’s in middle school, she’s throwing things at me, cursing at us and destroying stuff in our house. It’s like being in a landslide — and she’s defying me about almost everything.”

Before you had kids, you probably expected your child to misbehave at times. Acting out behavior is nothing new, after all––you probably didn’t follow all of your parent’s rules growing up, yourself. You saw friends – and even strangers – parenting kids who had tantrums in stores or restaurants and it all seemed pretty typical. Children test limits and parents respond with consequences. That’s the way life goes. It comes with the territory of having kids. What you probably didn’t expect, though, was that someday — despite your best parenting efforts — your child would not only refuse to respond to your discipline, but the behavior would actually worsen over time.

When Parenting Feels Like a Nightmare

When a child starts exhibiting behavior problems, parents will try anything they can think of to get a handle on the situation: consequences for negative behavior; rewards for positive behavior; behavior charts;talking about the behavior; talking about how to change the behavior; ignoring the behavior in the hope it will stop if you don’t give it attention; talking about positive ways your child can get your attention. If we can name it, you’ve probably tried it. When a child’s behavior continues to escalate in the face of every discipline technique you can think of, it’s terrifying. Kim Abraham has raised an Oppositional–Defiant child and knows the utter sadness, hurt and frustration that comes from parenting a child who fights against rules and limits. You start to question yourself, your ability to parent effectively, and what’s worse, oftentimes others (teachers, family members, neighbors) start to point the finger of blame at you, too! Fear that you’re failing as a parent can turn to guilt, shame and desperation.

If your child’s behavior has continued to escalate, quickly or over time, take heart. Here are a few tips that can help:

1. Rule Out Other Factors

If your child’s behavior continues to escalate despite all your best efforts, you may want to see a professional to rule out other factors. Some children have undetected medical issues such as allergies (food or otherwise) that can truly impact their behavior. Other children who are chronically defiant, constantly breaking rules or having trouble handling frustration may be experiencing ADHD, Asperger’s Disorder, anxiety or depression. If any of these situations are occurring, getting your child the proper help can help him manage his emotions – and behavior – more effectively.

There are many reasons a child’s behavior can escalate. It may be that he is becoming increasingly frustrated and simply doesn’t know how to express it. You might also find, after thinking it over, that your own reaction to your child is contributing to the intensity of his behavior. Are you easily irritated by your child, and if so, how do you respond? Dealing with a child’s negative behavior can leave a parent feeling whipped; you may not realize the role your own behavior is playing in the interactions. Even your tone of voice or the expression on your face can affect your child.

2. Walking Away Doesn’t Mean You’re Giving Up

It’s easy to get drawn into control battles with a child who argues about everything. There’s often a cycle that goes something like this: Your child wants something or experiences an intense negative emotion. You tell her “no” or set a limit. She tries to get you to change your mind. You stick to your guns. She gets more upset; her emotions and behavior escalate. Your emotions escalate. She tries to get her way. You try to get her to understand your point of view and why the answer is “No.” Things continue to escalate to yelling, swearing or even getting physical.

During a conflict, kids sometimes go into “fight or flight” mode: they get upset, there’s a rush of adrenaline and they don’t know how to release that energy. The longer the conflict continues, the more their adrenaline pumps them up. Ending the argument by walking away shows your child he doesn’t have to stay in fight–or–flight mode. You can offer him suggestions on how he can get rid of that energy in a more acceptable way than yelling or throwing things. This can help keep things from hitting the point where they continue to escalate.

Remember, your child doesn’t have to understand why you’re setting a limit. In the old days, parents never spent a lot of time explaining to a child why they were setting a limit. They might give it a sentence or two, but then that–was–that. Discussion over. Over the years, parents have fallen into the trap of talking to our kids too much. We talk about everything, and we want our kids to be okay with our decisions. The fact is, sometimes they’re not going to be happy about a limit or a consequence and that’s okay. That’s part of learning and growing up and that’s life. You can validate for your child that it’s hard to accept things she doesn’t agree with, and that she may be really upset, disappointed or angry. But don’t fall into the trap of believing you need to justify yourself – or your decisions – to your child and then stand there until she’s okay with it. If you do, you may be standing there a very long time—ripe for getting further drawn into the power struggle!

3. Accept Your Child

Everyone has their own unique temperament (or disposition) and kids are no different. Some kids tend to be cooperative while some seem to argue about everything. Some are easygoing while others have a low frustration tolerance and are quick to anger. There are kids who are quiet and shy, and those who want to be heard….every moment of every day! With Oppositional –Defiance, it can be hard to accept a child’s basic personality. You could spend years trying to change your child into someone else, but the bottom line is: this is your child, right now, in this moment. Accepting your child doesn’t mean you accept his behavior or agree with all of his choices. It does mean that you accept him at a basic level of being human– with his own feelings, flaws and struggles.

4. Continue to Set Limits and Follow Through With Consequences…Even Though It’s Hard

It’s not easy to stand firm in the face of a tornado of emotion your child unleashes on you. It can seem easier to give in and sometimes it is…in the short run. But in the long run, if you can hang in there and remain consistent, your child will come to know that arguing, throwing things and getting physical won’t change your mind or your house rules. Because it can be so draining — emotionally — to follow through with consequences, you may want to target the most serious behaviors you’re seeing with your child first and then work your way down the list. Don’t give a consequence if you know you’re likely to give in. Go with a shorter consequence or response you know you’ll be able to stick to, until you’re feeling stronger.

5. Think of Parenting as a Marathon…Not a Sprint

Parenting is for a lifetime. There’s no specific moment where you think, “Well, this is it. My job as a parent is done.” When you’re 50 and your child is an adult, he’ll still be your son. And you’ll still be parenting him (though hopefully in a different way). Your relationship may look different, but it’s still parent and child. Your goal is to help your child understand the world, how to live in it and what he can expect from others when he behaves in a certain way. Your home is the first place he will learn limits and rules that exist in our society. Parenting means being in it for the long–haul. Believe it or not, when you continue to consistently provide limits and consequences for your child, over the years he will learn what to expect from you — and from society.

It can be very frightening and frustrating when a child’s behavior continues to escalate. Sometimes we — as parents — go into fight–or–flight mode ourselves, reacting out of emotion rather than remaining calm and providing consistent consequences and limits. Your child has the ultimate control over his behavior and choices. As a parent, you can provide discipline, love and guidance. You can support your child by offering positive alternatives to dealing with frustration and you can model those same techniques in the way you respond to your child’s behavior. Remember to take care of your own emotional wellbeing during these times, as well — get support from friends, this website, other parents or even a professional if you find your strength is suffering in the face of your child’s behavior. Parenting takes determination, pacing oneself and keeping an eye on the long–term goal. Remember, you are not alone in this marathon!

Related Content:
Your Defiant Child’s Behavior: What You Can—and Can’t—Control as a Parent
Empowering Parents Podcast: Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher

Escalating Defiant Child Behavior | Empowering Parents (2024)


Should parents answer for children's misbehavior? ›

Hence, parents are the one who should be blamed for their children's behavior. Parents have moral and legal responsibilities towards their child. If they set a bad example to their children, they will definitely follow in their steps. In other words, they are the primary teachers and discipliners of their children.

How would you suggest a parent handle a defiant child? ›

How to Parent a Defiant Child
  1. Look for Underlying Issues. Defiance can stem from a number of circ*mstances. ...
  2. Take a Break before Assigning a Punishment. ...
  3. Be Consistent with Disciplinary Strategies. ...
  4. Celebrate Your Child's Accomplishments – Even the Small Ones. ...
  5. Prioritize Family Time.
Nov 13, 2020

How do you discipline a child who doesn't care about consequences? ›

Here are 10 tips for how to give consequences that work—even when kids say they don't care.
  1. Use Consequences That Have Meaning. ...
  2. Don't Try to Appeal to His Emotions with Speeches. ...
  3. Make Consequences Black and White. ...
  4. Talk to Your Child About Effective Problem-Solving. ...
  5. Don't Get Sucked into an Argument over Consequences.

How can I approach parents when I have concerns about their child's aggressive behavior? ›

Talking To Parents About Their Child's Misbehavior
  • Address specific concerns and examples of misbehavior. ...
  • Speak in a calm, friendly tone.
  • Avoid giving parents the impression that their child is hopeless. ...
  • Be willing to provide ongoing support to both the child and the parents.

Should parents be responsible for children's actions? ›

Parents are held responsible because they have a duty to educate and supervise their minor children. So, if their minor child (a child under 18) causes harm to another person, the law says that the parents have not met their duty.

Are parents answerable for their children's behavior? ›

If parents are given the freedom to correct their children in the way they think best, then they should be held responsible for their children's actions. They would also have to undergo punishment if the children are too young to bear the consequences of their actions.

How do you deal with a strong willed defiant child? ›

Try empathizing, giving choices, and understanding that respect goes both ways. Looking for win/win solutions rather than just laying down the law keeps strong-willed children from becoming explosive and teaches them essential skills of negotiation and compromise. Strong-willed kids aren't just being difficult.

What is the psychology behind a defiant child? ›

Specifically, children may behave defiantly in an attempt to control a situation where they feel anxious and helpless. Researchers have labeled this form of defiant or disruptive behavior as “reactive aggression” [7].

What kind of parenting use punishment instead of discipline? ›

Authoritarian Parenting

Instead, they make the rules and enforce the consequences with little regard for a child's opinion. Authoritarian parents may use punishments instead of discipline. So rather than teach a child how to make better choices, they're invested in making kids feel sorry for their mistakes.

Is sending a kid to their room effective? ›

Behaviour and Discipline. It's one of the oldest and most common discipline methods, but does sending children to their room actually work? Not really, say the experts, but even worse, it could also be teaching them to suppress emotions instead of learning how to deal with them.

What type of parenting can lead to aggressive behavior? ›

Authoritative parenting styles play a positive role in psychological behavior in children while authoritarian and permissive parenting styles result in aggressive and negative behaviors in children.

What are three effective strategies for dealing with children's aggressive behavior? ›

Mudd recommends these strategies for helping your child tame their aggression.
  • Stay calm. ...
  • Don't give in to tantrums or aggressive behavior. ...
  • Catch your child being good. ...
  • Help your child learn to express themself by naming emotions. ...
  • Know your child's patterns and identify triggers. ...
  • Find appropriate rewards.
Apr 22, 2022

How do you tell a parent their child needs to be evaluated? ›

Be honest but kind. Give parents accurate information in a nonjudgmental way, such as, “Based on the developmental checklist we completed, your child is not meeting his/her developmental milestones” or “Your child seems to be learning in a different way.” Be open to trying a parent's suggestions.

At what age does a child become morally responsible for his actions? ›

To the legal system, the answer is clear: children have the requisite moral sense--the ability to tell right from wrong--by age 7 to 15, depending on which state they live in, and so can be held responsible for their actions.

Should parents be liable for kids bad behavior? ›

California's Parental Liability for Willful Misconduct Law

Sometimes a minor may intentionally, or willfully, commit a crime. When this is the case, the minor's parents may be held responsible for their child's actions. Specifically, they are responsible for the civil damages that the court may award the victim.

How long should parents be responsible for their child's actions? ›

Parental civil liability is intended to compensate victims of torts and to encourage parental control and supervision. Parental civil liability generally begins when the minor is between eight and ten years old and ends at the age of majority, which is between 18 and 21, depending on state law.

Why parents should not be blamed for their children's behavior? ›

A child should learn at a young age that there are consequences for bad behavior; this will help the child grow into a productive member of society. Parents should not always be blamed for their children's behavior because they do their best to instill good morals in them.

Do children learn bad behavior from parents? ›

There is clear evidence that parents can and do influence children. There is equally clear evidence that children's genetic makeup affects their own behavioral characteristics, and also influences the way they are treated by their parents.

Do parents matter as an influence on behavior? ›

Parents can control their children's behavior, but they can't change who they are. It's important for parents to know that, beyond genetics, most of what happens to children involves random experiences over which parents have no control.

When a child is extremely defiant? ›

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a type of behavior disorder. It is mostly diagnosed in childhood. Children with ODD are uncooperative, defiant, and hostile toward peers, parents, teachers, and other authority figures. They are more troubling to others than they are to themselves.

What causes extreme defiance? ›

There's no known clear cause of oppositional defiant disorder. Causes may include a combination of genetic and environmental factors: Genetics. A child's natural personality or character — also called temperament — may contribute to developing ODD .

Does a defiant kid need therapy? ›

While it's normal for young children and teens to show defiant behavior from time to time, frequent and disruptive behavior may indicate oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Starting treatment early for ODD is important, and the first step to treatment is to talk with a healthcare provider or a mental health provider.

Is oppositional defiant disorder caused by bad parenting? ›

Family life and ODD

Some studies have found that certain environmental factors in the family increase the risk of disruptive behaviour disorders. These include: poor parenting skills (inadequate supervision, harsh or inconsistent discipline, rejection) marital conflict.

Is ODD a trauma response? ›

Factors such as a chaotic home life, inconsistent discipline by parents, and being exposed to abuse, neglect, or trauma at an early age can all lead to the onset of ODD symptoms.

What are the signs of defiant disorder? ›

Symptoms of ODD may include:
  • Having frequent temper tantrums.
  • Arguing a lot with adults.
  • Refusing to do what an adult asks.
  • Always questioning rules and refusing to follow rules.
  • Doing things to annoy or upset others, including adults.
  • Blaming others for the child's own misbehaviors or mistakes.
  • Being easily annoyed by others.

How do you parent a child with a bad attitude? ›

Here's how:
  1. Avoid responding to the child during or immediately after the behavior.
  2. Never ignore a dangerous or unsafe behavior.
  3. Ignore 'trigger' behaviors like- mimicking, eye rolling, angry statements or smirking (I know, easier said than done. ...
  4. Look for opportunities to insert appropriate praise.

How do I control my temper when my child misbehaves? ›

Below are several techniques to control your anger and stay calm when dealing with your child.
  1. Make a Commitment To Stay in Control. ...
  2. Expect Your Child To Push Your Buttons. ...
  3. Know What You Are and Are NOT Responsible For as a Parent. ...
  4. Don't Worry About the Future. ...
  5. Prepare for Your Anxiety. ...
  6. Use Positive Self-Talk.

Why is my child so rude and disrespectful? ›

Disrespectful behavior often comes down to kids having poor problem-solving skills and a lack of knowledge about how to be more respectful as they pull away. Often when kids separate from you they do it all wrong before they learn how to do it right.

What form of discipline is most effective? ›

Why positive discipline?
  • Plan 1-on-1 time. One-on-one time is important for building any good relationship and even more so with your children. ...
  • Praise the positives. ...
  • Set clear expectations. ...
  • Distract creatively. ...
  • Use calm consequences. ...
  • Pause. ...
  • Step back. ...
  • Praise yourself.

What type of parenting style is most effective in disciplining children? ›

Why experts agree authoritative parenting is the most effective style. Studies have found that authoritative parents are more likely to raise confident kids who achieve academic success, have better social skills and are more capable at problem-solving.

How do you discipline a child who doesn't care? ›

Here are 10 tips for how to give consequences that work—even when kids say they don't care.
  1. Use Consequences That Have Meaning. ...
  2. Don't Try to Appeal to His Emotions with Speeches. ...
  3. Make Consequences Black and White. ...
  4. Talk to Your Child About Effective Problem-Solving. ...
  5. Don't Get Sucked into an Argument over Consequences.

What to do if punishment doesn't work? ›

Try something different: If punishment doesn't work at discouraging bad behavior, there's no reason to keep doing it. Be clear about expectations: Give kids a chance to succeed by reminding them what is expected of them.

Why timeouts are not effective? ›

Common criticisms of time-out include that time-outs increase emotional dysregulation, fail to teach children distress tolerance skills, isolate them when they need support, and may re-traumatize children who have experienced abuse.

Why does my child not listen until I yell? ›

Kids need some way to figure out how to filter for the important things! Often, yelling becomes an easy way to distinguish between a real command and a choice. The other reason yelling is "effective" is because we don't follow up commands to ensure kids follow through.

What happens if your child doesn't listen to you? ›

If you feel like there is something hindering your child from becoming a good listener, such as an inability to focus or a hearing issue, talk to your doctor about your concerns. They can evaluate your child and offer solutions including working with a mental health professional if it's warranted.

How do you discipline a child without hitting and yelling? ›

Below are ten alternatives to spanking that you might find helpful.
  1. Give choices. A choice gives some control back to the child on the parents' terms. ...
  2. Take a timeout. ...
  3. Get someone else involved. ...
  4. Teach them what you expect. ...
  5. Recognize their positive behaviors. ...
  6. Timeout. ...
  7. Consequence. ...
  8. Pick your battles.

What is coercive parenting? ›

Coercive parenting is using harsh parental behavior such as hitting, yelling, scolding, threatening, rejecting, and psychological control to enforce compliance with the child. These parents also use frequent negative commands, name-calling, overt expressions of anger, and physical aggression.

What is hostile parenting? ›

Though all parenting styles differ, sometimes hostile parenting involves shouting at children regularly, routine physical punishment, isolating children when they misbehave, damaging their self-esteem, or harsh discipline.

What is considered hostile parenting? ›

Hostile Aggressive Parenting can take many forms, including denigrating the other parent in front of the child, limiting contact between the child and the other parent, interfering with communication, and making false allegations of abuse.

How should parents respond to a child's aggressive behavior? ›

Parenting tips to deal with a child's aggressive behaviour
  1. Be in control of yourself and stay calm: ...
  2. Avoid giving in to aggressive outburst or temper tantrums: ...
  3. Recognize and reward the good: ...
  4. Teach kids to identify, name and regulate emotions: ...
  5. Find the right re-inforcer: ...
  6. Be consistent:
Apr 27, 2022

What is the most effective response to aggression? ›

Non-verbal behaviours that can help to defuse aggression include: Being aware of your own body language and showing a non-threatening, open stance. Keeping good eye contact but ensuring this does not appear confrontational. Moving slowly and steadily.

How do you punish aggressive behavior? ›

Provide Immediate Consequences
  1. Time-out. When used appropriately, time-out teaches children how to calm down. ...
  2. Restitution. If your child hurts someone, restitution should be part of the consequence. ...
  3. Loss of privileges. ...
  4. Natural consequences. ...
  5. Reward systems.
Oct 1, 2020

What is the parent problem checklist? ›

The Parent Problem Checklist (PPC) is a 16-item measure designed to assess parental conflict over child-rearing issues over the past four weeks.

Do therapists have to tell parents what kids say? ›

The law allows the minor the corresponding right of confidentiality and the right to authorize disclosure of treatment information. As a result, the therapist must obtain a signed Authorization Form from the minor patient to release their confidential information, or any part of the treatment record, to parents.

How do you approach a parent about their child's behavior examples? ›

Talking To Parents About Their Child's Misbehavior
  • Address specific concerns and examples of misbehavior. ...
  • Speak in a calm, friendly tone.
  • Avoid giving parents the impression that their child is hopeless. ...
  • Be willing to provide ongoing support to both the child and the parents.

How should parents respond to misbehavior? ›

How do you react when your child is misbehaving?
  1. Determine why they are behaving this way. ...
  2. Teach your child what they can say and when they can say it. ...
  3. Establish clear family rules. ...
  4. Model the behavior you want from your child. ...
  5. Have a plan to deal with your child's behavior. ...
  6. Let your child know what they can do instead.
Apr 23, 2021

How do you handle it when your child misbehaves answer? ›

These include:
  1. Show and tell. Teach children right from wrong with calm words and actions. ...
  2. Set limits. Have clear and consistent rules your children can follow. ...
  3. Give consequences. ...
  4. Hear them out. ...
  5. Give them your attention. ...
  6. Catch them being good. ...
  7. Know when not to respond. ...
  8. Be prepared for trouble.
Nov 5, 2018

Should parents ignore bad behavior? ›

Dangerous and destructive behaviors should not be ignored. For example, if your child is hurting herself, hurting others, or destroying objects, she should not be ignored. These misbehaviors should be stopped immediately. Other discipline and consequences such as time-out should be used.

Should parents punish kids for misbehaving? ›

It is important that parents act as a model for how they want their children to behave. Using physical punishment or inflicting pain on a child to stop them from misbehaving only teaches them that it is OK to solve problems with violence.


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