Violent, Defiant Children and Teens: Parent-Training Programs That Help Change Behavior

Trying to cope with ODD, ADHD, and/or defiant behavior? These parent-training programs can help change and manage explosive outbursts and stubborn behavior.

How Parent-Training Programs Work

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recognizes two treatments for defiant behavior -- parent training and Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS). Since kids don’t develop the skills needed for CPS until they are 10 or older, parent training is probably the best option for younger kids.

The premise: Defiant behavior results when children realize that they can get what they want by behaving badly. You say to your child, “Turn off the video game and do your homework,” and your child refuses and argues with you. If you stand your ground only half the time, you set the stage for defiant behavior. “It doesn’t have to pay off every time to make it worthwhile for him to fight; it’s only got to pay off some times,” says Barkley. Experts call this pattern of interaction “the coercive cycle.”

How it works: The goal of parent training is to break the cycle and help parents discipline their children more effectively. “Kids who are defiant cause stress in families,” says Rex Forehand, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Vermont, and coauthor of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child (McGraw-Hill). “To turn the behavior around -- and I know everyone has heard this before -- parents need to be consistent, set limits, create structure, and be positive.”

Parent training teaches you these skills in two parts. 1) You show your child what you want from her, give her incentives to behave that way, and reinforce positive behavior by giving approval, praise, recognition, points, tokens, and/or rewards. 2) You learn strategies to correct negative, defiant behaviors -- ignoring minor bad behavior and enforcing consistent consequences, like time-outs.

What you learn: How to give instructions in an authoritative way, use time-outs effectively, teach your child to think about the consequences of his actions, praise him, and create and use a rewards system.


This article appears in the Spring issue of ADDitude.
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