Ask the Experts

Q: “My Child Asks ‘Why’ Constantly and I Can’t Handle the Defiance!”

“Why” questions are not necessarily a sign of defiance in children with ADHD, who need to be emotionally vested in an activity to activate. When they understand the reason for or importance of a task, they are more likely to undertake it. Here’s how to communicate effectively.

Mom and defiant child arguing

Q: “Every time I ask my daughter to do anything, she always asks why. Why do I have to do that? Why can’t you do it? Why does it have to happen now? I find it so frustrating, and I feel that she is being really defiant. I get angry and then it escalates and what I need her to do doesn’t happen.” – FrustratedMom

Hi FrustratedMom:

I answered countless “why” questions while my children were growing up… and I still do. At first, I too was frustrated but, as time went on, I began to understand why “why” was so important for them. Here’s my advice.

1. Respect the “Why.” I don’t see this as defiance. I see it as seeking connection and context to what they are being asked to do. Children, especially those with ADHD, are generally curious and inquisitive. And need to be emotionally vested to activate. We all get asked to do things we don’t want to do. And when we know the reason or the importance of doing something – big or small – we are more likely to be motivated to do even the undesirable tasks. I know I am.

[Click to Read: My Child Doesn’t Listen! And More Frustrating ADHD Discipline Problems]

2. Preempt the “Why.” I tried to answer the why questions before they got asked! So for example, “Can you please take out the garbage now because it’s being picked up in 20 minutes,” got better results than, “Please take out the garbage now.” And if my request was vague — “Can you come downstairs so we can chat” — I worked to make it more concrete: “Let’s check in about your plans for tomorrow before I go out tonight. Can you come downstairs now to talk? It will take 5 minutes.” I found that giving context and a time limit not only helped to reduce the why questioning but promoted buy-in as well.

3. It’s not what they ask but how they handle the No. Since my children were little (they are now grown and flown), this was the running mantra my husband and I had: Our children could ask anything they wanted. And were encouraged to do so. However, as you can imagine, they didn’t always like or appreciate our responses. They didn’t necessarily get their way. And how they reacted was what we focused on and responded to. So, for example, they could ask why they couldn’t go to a friend’s house unsupervised or stay up way past their bedtime on a school night, but if their reaction to our answer was truly inappropriate, we enforced natural consequences.

Even in my student coaching practice I encourage my students to pepper me with why questions. I want them to challenge me, figure out if the strategies we are exploring will work for them, and have a vested interest in their success.

Good Luck!

Defiant Child with ADHD: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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