Help for Violent, Defiant Teens
If defiant behavior hasn’t been resolved by the time the child reaches his teen years, parent training won’t help. You can’t put a teen who is bigger and stronger than you in time-out. Enter Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS), a program created by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and described in his book, The Explosive Child (HarperCollins).
The premise: Defiant children with ADD/ADHD aren’t being willful or manipulative. Their defiant behavior results from a shortage of emotional and behavioral skills. Proponents of CPS see defiant behavior as a learning disability. “Instead of having trouble with reading and math, these kids have trouble with problem-solving, flexible thinking, and frustration,” says J. Stuart Ablon, Ph.D., director of Think:Kids, at Massachusetts General Hospital.
How it works: The program gives kids skills they lack -- from social skills to executive-function skills -- instead of using a reward-and-punishment system. The first step is to identify and understand the child’s concern about a problem (completion of homework or chores), and reassure him that the problem will be resolved by the child and the adult together. The second step is to identify the adult’s concerns about the same problem. The third step invites the child to brainstorm solutions with the adult, to find a plan that is mutually satisfactory.
What you learn: How to ask your child questions in a way that helps him explain what sets off his defiant behavior; how to share your own concerns with him and help him share his.
CPS turned around 12-year-old Armen Afarian’s behavior problems at school. When he was in middle school, Armen was sent to detention for what the teachers saw as defiant behavior during recess. The rule was that, when the bell rang, students had to freeze and hold the basketball, and walk back to class. On some days, Armen would shoot another basket after the bell rang, causing him to wind up in detention.
Armen’s mom, Debra Ann, who had been through CPS therapy with her son, called a meeting with his teachers to discuss solutions to the problem. Armen said, “I do stop sometimes, because I’ve ended on an odd number of shots. If I don’t stop when the bell rings, it’s because I’m on an even number, and I can’t end anything on an even number."
“We won’t punish you, because that’s not going to change anything,” said one teacher. “How do you think we could solve this problem?” Armen answered, “Recess is 15 minutes; I could stop on an odd number if I know we’re getting close to the end of recess.”
No matter which approach you take to managing your child’s defiant behavior, the rewards go beyond avoiding meltdowns. By improving the way you interact with your child, you’ll improve your relationship and boost his self-esteem and self-confidence. Those benefits last a lifetime.
This article appears in the Spring 2011 issue of ADDitude.
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