Does Your Child Challenge Authority? 4 Things Parents Can Do

Does Your Child Challenge Authority? 4 Things Parents Can Do

You: “Please put your things  away.” Your child:  “I’m busy. I’ll do it  later.” You: “You need to  do your  homework.” Your child: “It’s stupid. I’m  not  doing it!” You: “You’re not allowed to go  to that party.  You’re grounded.” Your child: “NO! I’m not  grounded! I’m  going!”

Does it ever feel like your child or teenager has an answer for  everything—and usually takes the exact opposite position on what you’ve just  said? Many kids struggle with authority, and have trouble following limits or  rules, complying with requests and or generally are disrespectful to others in  society. Some wear their defiance on their sleeves and are angry in their  refusal (How dare you tell me what to do?!). Others are more subtle and simply  “dig their heels in.”

Related: Defiant, oppositional child acting out at home  and/or school?

“Why  do some kids fight so hard against authority, as if giving up control is equal  to drowning?”

 

What’s  Your Child’s Style of Defiance? On the other  hand, defiance may be hard to pinpoint. Your daughter appears to follow  your rules initially, but then goes behind your back  and does something  completely different. The fight doesn’t come when the  directive or rule is  given but instead it comes later, after she’s been caught  disobeying. Whatever  a child’s style of defiance may be, it can leave  parents, teachers and  other authority figures feeling frustrated, angry and  unsure how to  respond.

Why do some kids fight so hard against authority, as if giving up  control is  equal to drowning? Possibly because that’s exactly how it feels to  them. We  often look to the why in order to figure out how to change the   behavior. Personality can certainly play a role – some people hate rules and   authority their whole lives. Other factors can include depression, anxiety,   ADHD or other conditions that may contribute to a child struggling with   behavior.

In some cases, we may never be able to determine exactly why a child  is making certain choices or behaving a certain way. Adults often spend  a great  deal of time trying to identify potential triggers to a child’s   defiance. In fact, there may be multiple triggers: being told “no,” facing a   limit or rule, or feeling jealous or uncomfortable can certainly contribute to   defiant behavior. Professionals use the term Oppositional  Defiant Disorder  (O.D.D.) to describe a child whose defiant behavior has  escalated to the point  that it has become a pattern.

It can be helpful to identify triggers to educate and support your  child so  she might change her behavior. (For more on this, read How  to Find the Triggers That Set Your  Child Off.) But  the fact is, the world  and society aren’t going to go out of their way to avoid  “triggering” your  child during the course of her life. Regardless of the  reasons we struggle,  society has expectations. As parents, it’s our job to  prepare our kids for life  in the Real World. And the Real World often doesn’t  take kindly to individuals  who constantly challenge and defy authority.

So what can we do, as parents trying to raise a child into a  productive  member of society—a person who thinks for themself, yet isn’t always  fighting  authority or refusing to comply with rules?

1. Don’t  fall into the trap of excuses and blame. When an  issue comes up with your child, stay  focused on the topic – your child’s  behavior and the potential consequences.  For example, your child might say, “I  didn’t do my homework because the teacher  didn’t explain what we were supposed  to do.” He blames his refusal to do  homework on his teacher, and says the  teacher doesn’t treat him fairly in class.  Our advice to his parent: Try not to  get caught up in the idea that Johnny’s  teacher “isn’t fair.” There’s lots of  injustice in the world and Johnny will  encounter it frequently – as we all do.  Stay focused on the behavior (Johnny’s  refusal to do his work) and the  potential consequences (failing his class). You  can say, “It sounds like you’re  blaming your teacher for the fact that you  didn’t do your homework…but it’s  your responsibility.”

Related: Why Kids Blame and Make Excuses

2. Don’t  fall into emotional traps. It’s easy to get caught  up in the emotion of your child’s  defiance. They’re upset, you’re upset and  sometimes teachers or other adults  are upset. Again, it takes the focus off the  topic at hand. Don’t personalize  what your child is saying or doing—just stay  as objective as you can and focus  on the matter at hand.

3. Teach  your child to think. Kids who defy authority are  often reacting to adults and  rules, rather than making conscious,  deliberate choices. They don’t take  time to think their actions through to  what the potential consequences might be  for their behavior. Weighing decisions  and consequences, creating a list of pros  and cons and then making a well  thought-out choice is one of the most valuable  skills your child can learn.  It’s never too early to start teaching your child  how to evaluate situations.  So the next time she makes a comment like, “I’m not  going to study for the  test,” instead of getting caught up in emotion (which is  natural for parents),  ask her questions instead: “What might happen if you  choose not to study?” If  she responds with, “Nothing,” try to  stay calm and continue  with questions rather launching into a lecture or fight.  You might ask, “Could  you get a lower score, or even fail the test—or the class?”  The point of the  questions is not to interrogate, but to teach your child to  think rather than  react.

4. Remember  that consequences are a part of life. Whether  they are natural consequences – something that occur  naturally as a direct  result of your child’s actions – or consequences that you  provide, it’s how  your child will learn about life. Allow them to occur even  when your instincts  shout out to save your child from being uncomfortable.

Related: How to give your child fail-proof  consequences.

Back to  School Note: School offers  daily opportunities for conflict when a child defies  authority. You might think  of school as a preparation for the future workplace  environment your child will  potentially encounter. There are principals,  teachers (bosses) and peers  (co-workers). There are rules, expectations and  rewards. You may be dreading  the start of school, anticipating phone calls home  about your child’s  behavior.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind for the upcoming year:

Remember:  school is your child’s job, not yours. Whenever  possible, allow your child to remain responsible for his  or her behavior and  performance. As a parent, you can encourage and support  your child. If he asks  for help because he’s struggling, you may provide  assistance or arrange  tutoring. But it’s your child’s job to remain motivated.  We’ve known  well-intentioned parents who completed a child’s homework so she  would receive  credit or lied and said a child spent time reading when he  didn’t. Remember,  your child is learning habits for a lifetime. In fifteen  years, his co-worker  won’t write his reports for him!

Keep the  focus on your child when communicating with the  school. When a child defies  authority, teachers and principals may try  to hold you accountable for her  behavior. Why? Because your child doesn’t care  (or is acting like she doesn’t).  School staff will look to someone who  does care, in order to change the  behavior. Often, that turns out to  be the parent. If you find that happening,  redirect the focus back to holding  your child accountable as much as possible.  Yes, there are some states where  parents are held accountable now for a child’s  truancy. In those cases, you’ll  want to protect yourself as much as possible.  But in general, when it comes to  not following the rules or completing  classwork, remind school staff that you  want your child to learn these life  lessons now. You are all on the same page –  working toward teaching your child  to be a productive member of society. What  will his consequence be for certain  behaviors? Detention? Suspension? Staying  in from recess? Even though it may be  hard to see your child uncomfortable,  that’s the only way he will make the  choice to change his behavior.

Related: Frazzled, exhausted and frustrated? How to  parent your child calmly and more effectively.

Make sure  you are doing your part. Yes, your child is  responsible for her behavior and choices. But  make sure you’re also meeting  your responsibilities as a parent. This means  ensuring your child has the tools  necessary to do her “job” as a student:  materials, support and encouragement.  If your child is younger or struggles to  remember things, you may need to  prompt her by asking if she’s completed  homework. There’s a difference between  prompting in order to support her  education and rescuing from having to do the  work by doing it for her.

One final  note: On the surface, it might sound like a great idea to teach  our kids how to  comply with authority all the time, without questioning it. But  in doing so, we  would be losing many of our “rebels,” the individuals who  challenge society’s  status quo and teach us about ourselves and our own values.  We want our  children to learn to be “critical thinkers.” The key is to  encourage that  independent thinking while also teaching our kids to be  respectful and think  through the consequences before they act.

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