Children who display defiant, argumentative, and disrespectful behaviors can be doing so for many reasons, and often stems from a lack of being able to communicate effectively with parents. Parental approaches need to be multifaceted when dealing with these negative behaviors.

As children move through different emotional, social, and physical changes, the stress that these situations place on children can result in arguing, disobeying, blaming, and poor choices. In response to these actions and attitudes, parents might exert control and pronounce punishments. This does address the issue, but usually will not result in positive changes. These desired positive changes will often develop over time as children learn coping and communication skills from the positive reactions of the parents.
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While the negative behaviors exhibited by children are often extremely frustrating for the parents, it is important to take a step back from the situation and assess what might be triggering the behaviors and possible approaches to improving them. In order to approach the situation with as much calm and positive attitude as possible, parents can do several things to open the lines of communication with the children.

The first key to addressing these behavior issues is time. Parents need to be willing to spend time letting their children know that they are available as listeners. There need to be many opportunities for positive communications between parents and children, without judgments or criticisms by parents. Parents should give children various openings for conversations, with casual questions or comments included. If children feel they are being interrogated, they might shut down completely and turn again to negative behaviors. Regularly asking for opinions on even simple choices gives children a sense of involvement and value.

A second key element is building trust. It may be very tempting to react to conversations with children and denounce their feelings, choices, or ideas when they do not align with the beliefs and expectations of the parents. It is imperative, however, that the child is allowed to share these thoughts and feel safe doing so. Over time parents can show their children that they value their thoughts by not only asking for them, but reacting in positive ways. This does not mean that parents need to agree with children. It does mean that when a parent asks a question, he or she should be prepared for an answer that might not be expected or even liked. Parents can thank children for their responses and simply for sharing their ideas. During a later conversation, parents can then share their opinions on the topic in a non-threatening way. Punishing children for opening up and sharing views, especially when different, only ensures that they will be less likely to share them in the future.

Ideally these practices and habits will be formed when the children are young, when opinions such as favorite colors and foods are the typical issues. If open communication is new to a family, time and trust will be needed to form new habits.

Children who are displaying negative behaviors such as back-talking and arguing are sometimes seeking a way to inflict the same sort of pain and or confusion that they are feeling in their own lives. They also might be using negative actions and words to control the situations by forcing others into reactions which are often also negative.

As in so many arenas in life, parents need to persevere with as much positive reinforcement as possible. Beginning a cycle of open communication and trust is the best deterrent for defiant behaviors. Understanding that children undergo stresses as they mature, but are not yet equipped with the skills to always display positive, or at least neutral reactions, is an important parenting skill.

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Your friend and fellow parent,


Charles Murray
Parenting Coach, Author & Speaker

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