Your view of your child has the power to change everything. As a therapist, a major priority of mine is to clarify the parent’s perspective when dealing with a defiant or disruptive child.
Behavior modification starts long before the behavior.
At its root is what the child and parent believe about that child. Often times, there needs to be a SHIFT. This perspective shift can alter what may be “true” in the moment with the child’s behavior, to the deeper TRUTH of who the child truly is within.
How do you see them?
Let’s dissect that a bit. Generally speaking, children exhibiting consistent disruptive behavior also have an emotional disconnect from their parents. However, it will not make much sense blaming the parents for this disconnect. It is taxing to stay emotionally bonded to a child who is wreaking havoc on a household.
The easier tendency is to disconnect emotionally and disengage. But, your view of your child, even in their darkest temper-tantrum-throwing hour, must be consistent with the vision of who you’ve hoped they would be all along.
When you lose hold of who your child is, deep down, they lose hold as well. They start to become the very thing you fear they will become. When you believe that at their core, they are rebellious and unloving, you will see those actions follow quickly.
Try to see their heart
Children need structure, expectations, and consequences. Generally, though, defiance doesn’t stem only from lack of consequences, but instead, occurs when structure and discipline are prioritized over quality time with the child.
This results in a lack of attachment, and therefore more emotional disconnect and defiance.
The behavior that you see your child exhibiting is not their heart. The defiance they show you is not actually how they want to treat you. Your child is never too old or too angry to reconnect with you. This is an absolute truth in life.
Children and parents are meant to connect with each other.
It’s a need built into our very nature. Your child wants you. Your child needs you. Your child desires to know how deeply you care for them, even on their most hateful and defiant days. This is the perspective of them that you as the parent must hold onto for dear life.
When you start to believe fear, you’ve lost the battle for your baby.
How fear wins?
Fear tells you that your child doesn’t care, and they no longer want or need your love and affection.
It screams that the only way to see a change is more rules, more punishment, and disconnecting emotionally to save your own heart from hurt and rejection. Fear is lying to you. Regardless of what may feel true in this moment (while your child throws the world’s nastiest tantrum and shoots death glares at you from across the room), you must hold fast to the absolute unchanging truth that your child needs you and loves you.
They always have. They always will. You must be the one to continue to reconnect, despite the hurt they cause.
How to reconnect?
In order to reconnect with your child, choose activities that show interest in them –
1. Spend time one-on-one time with them on a daily basis
Even if it’s only fifteen minutes a night, devote yourself to that time. In those fifteen minutes, everything else stops. They get your undivided attention.
This shows them how valuable they are to you, and when they feel valued, they act accordingly.
2. Actively play with them
- Play a board game
- Take a walk
- Sing together
- Build a blanket fort in the living room.
If it’s difficult to be physically active, get physical during mundane, everyday activities. For example, sit next to them while you watch TV instead of sitting on a different sofa.
3. Verbally remind them who they are in your sight
They need to hear it, but this also helps remind you that it’s true! Tell them they are loved and unique. Remind them they are important to you. Compliment them. Praise them anytime they do something positive.
Children desperately need attention. If the only time you’re speaking to them is to correct their poor behavior, they’re emotionally starving. Flood their ears with positive attributes and positive self-identity.
4. Show physical affection
This is easier with younger children, but often just as needed with teens. Remind them of their worth with touch like hugs, kisses, tickling, pats on the back, holding hands, sitting next to them, or back rubs at bedtime.
These activities won’t instantly fix their behavior, but they’re the building blocks that enable other behavior modification techniques to be even remotely useful. Your view of them will model how they view themselves.
Hold onto the view that they are good, they are valuable, and they will always need you. Hold onto hope.