What can be done about a child who has long been disobedient?
From time to time most children disregard the wishes of their parents. It’s all part of growing up and testing adult guidelines and expectations. It is a way for children to learn and discover about themselves, express their individuality and gain a sense of autonomy. As they spread their independent wings and have minor conflicts with their parents, they discover the rules of their parent and the limits of their own control.
Sometimes, however, these conflicts are more than just occasional disturbances and become a pattern to how the parent and child interact. There can be many reasons for disobedience. Many a times it is due to unreasonable expectations of the parents. Or it may be related to the child’s temperament, or school problems, family tensions, or conflicts between his or her parents.
What can parents do
When you have a chronically disobedient child, investigate possible sources of his inner turmoil and rebellion. If this has been a consistent pattern that has continued into middle childhood, evaluate your family situation closely:
- How much respect do your family members show for each other?
- Do they respect each other’s privacy, views, and personal values?
- How does the family resolve their conflicts?
- Are disagreements resolved through rational discussion, or do people regularly argue or resort to violence?
- What is your general style of bonding with your child, and what forms does discipline usually take?
- How much is beating and yelling?
- Do you and your child have very different personalities and ways of living together in the world that cause friction between you?
- Is your child having trouble succeeding in school or developing friendships?
- Is the family going through some particularly stressful times?
If your child has recently begun to display disrespect and disobedience, let him know that you have noticed a difference in his behavior and that you think he is sad or struggling. With her help, try to determine the specific reason for her frustration or upset. This is the first step towards helping him change his behavior.
your feedback matters
If you react to your child’s talk by exploding or losing his temper, he will respond with defiance and disrespect. Conversely, when you remain calm, cooperative, and consistent, he will become more obedient. If you are respectful to him and others in the family, he will learn to respect. If he becomes disobedient and out of control, enforce a timeout until he calms down and regains self-control.
When your child is obedient and respectful, praise him for that behavior. Reward the behavior you are looking for, including cooperation and resolution of disagreements. These positive efforts will always be far more successful than punishment.
When to get extra help
For some disobedient children, you may need to get professional mental health treatment. Here are some situations where outside consultation may be necessary:
- If there is a persistent, long-term pattern of disrespect for authority, both at school and at home.
- If the pattern of disobedience continues despite your best efforts to encourage your child to communicate their negative feelings
- If a child’s disobedience and/or disrespect is accompanied by aggression and destruction
- If a child shows signs of generalized unhappiness – perhaps talking about feeling blue, unpleasant, friendless, or even suicidal
- If your family has developed a pattern of responding to disagreements with physical or emotional abuse
- If you or your spouse or child use alcohol or other drugs to feel better or to cope with stress
- Family therapy may be indicated if there are signs of difficulty in relationships and lack of cooperation within your family. By dealing with and addressing these problems at an early age, you can reduce and prevent serious conflicts that may emerge as your children reach their teens. The key is treatment for early detection.
Source Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (©2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)