Oppositional and Defiant Behavior in Children and Teens

Oppositional and Defiant Behavior in Children and Teens


Every parent knows the teenager stage can be rough – teenagers are known for being defiant and wanting to do their own thing. This can be normal behavior, but there are times these behaviors continually cross the line into something dangerous and out-of control. Although it may seem difficult to differentiate between the two, there are some helpful hints you can follow!

Children and teenagers can become difficult to manage sometimes. A child may misbehave as a result of trying to assert his independence. A teenager may become rebellious or angry as they are dealing with the pressures of growing up and trying to become an adult. These times can be frustrating for the entire family and aggravating for the parents. However, as a rule, these episodes do not normally last that long and the child usually follows acceptable social and familial norms. There are cases where the child is continually misbehaving over a longer period of time – perhaps in the span of months, showing excessive outbursts of anger, being outright defiant towards the rules or deliberately trying to provoke the parents into an argument. In these cases, the behavior has crossed from normal growing-up behavior to one that should be a concern to the parents.

When Oppositional and Defiant Behavior in Children and Teens Harms Someone

Children need rules and limits. Children, especially teenagers, need to know that there are acceptable standards of behavior that must comply with. However, all children will test the rules. If you give your teen a curfew of midnight, you can expect they will come home one night at 12:10 just to see what you will do. This is normal testing behavior for a teen. In fact, it is normal that they come home late more than once just to see if you will be consistent.

Sometimes the most favorite word for a child is “no”. It can become extremely frustrating when all you, as a parent, want is to have your young child brush his teeth. You know it’s best for him, but it can turn into a struggle as the child is asserting their independence. But keeping firm, patient, and knowing that this too shall pass, usually deals with that behavior in the long term. This is also normal behavior.

Although every child can show oppositional or defiant behavior at times, the behavior can become harmful when it becomes the child’s consistent behavior over a period of time. When the oppositional and defiant behavior becomes the norm in your child’s life to the point that it’s extremely disruptive or damaging to the child is when you should start to feel alarmed and ask for help.

Let’s look at an example: A 13 year old girl refuses to go to school on Thursdays. Although she is normally compliant about going to school and usually acts similar to others her own age, this is worrisome to a parent. Is your little girl becoming defiant? In this case, the answer is probably not. The parent should find out what’s happening at the school on Thursdays and look for the reason why your child is skipping school.

On the other hand, your 13 year old refuses to go to school and has skipped 75 days out of the last 100. Your child has been labeled as a habitual truant and the courts are going to be involved. You’ve been driving your child to school every day, but she simply gets out at the school, walks around back and skips for the day, even though you’ve told her she must actually enter the school. This is considered oppositional and defiant behavior that requires treatment. The behavior is openly defiant and consistent over a period of time.

Effects of Oppositional and Defiant Behavior in Children and Teens on Other Relationships

No one lives in a vacuum. We all interact with others. We have acquaintances. We have friends. We have co-workers. As we go about our daily life, we impact each other. Sometimes that impact is great and sometimes that impact is minuscule, but in other case, there is an impact.

When a teen or a child acts out, the affect on others can be quite negative. The child’s peers do not have the maturity to understand and appropriately react to the defiant child. Instead, they react with emotions appropriate to their age. An openly defiant toddler can disrupt the entire sandbox and cause plenty of tears and wailing. A teenager continually skipping school can enlist others to skip with her or become involved in physical altercations. The bad behavior can spread and cause hurt and pain among those who have any type of relationship with the defiant child.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapy can be so beneficial in situations with oppositional or defiant children. The source of the issue can be addressed. The parents can learn new techniques for dealing positively with that child. The child can also learn coping techniques when they start feeling anxious or out of control. There is so much hope for a family struggling with oppositional and defiant behavior because of the help that is available through therapy.

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