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Strategies for Managing Your Child's Resistant Behavior

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By John W. Maag, Ph.D.

Direct a Child to Engage in the Behavior in a Different Location

This approach often can be used along with changing the amount of the behavior.  An example of this combination approach would be setting up a whining chair.  Whining is one of those behaviors that drives parents crazy.  The more we point out to a child she is whining and ask her to stop, the more she whines.  How many times have you told a child not to whine, only to have the child retort in an even more whiney voice, "I'm not whiiiiiiiiiiining!" 

As in the previous approach, you enthusiastically and sincerely tell the child that there is a new place for whining called the whining chair, where she can get even better at whining.  You express your confidence that her whining can improve, but that you're not sure how long it will take.  As a result, whining is no longer fun, and the child is more likely to give it up-exactly what we want. 

Schedule the Time for the Problem Behavior to Occur

A common problem for parents is siblings who argue, tease, or otherwise irritate each other.  This problem can be remedied by setting aside a certain time for siblings to argue.  You might say to your children, "You two are arguing a lot lately.  I have an idea that will stop your arguing or, at the least, help you get better at it.  Everyday after school, you two can sit across from each other at the kitchen table.  I'll set a timer for 30 minutes and you can both argue as much as you like." 

This approach can be modified when siblings fight in the car.  Pull the car over to the curb and tell your children that you can't drive when they are arguing because it's not safe.  Tell them you will wait outside the car while they finish fighting.  Most children will stop within a couple seconds and want you to get back in the car. 

But getting back in the car now won't work - their fighting will just quickly reoccur.  Therefore, let the children know that you don't think they've really had enough time to finish fighting.  Shortly, they will tell you they are finished.  This time you tell them "Okay, but before I get back in the car, I want you both to come up with a plan to avoid fighting again."  You then wait another minute or two.  The third time should be the charm!

There are other ways to modify this approach.  For example, you can say to a child, "I'm going to give you a direction to do something you won't want to do.  So, I want you to whine and throw a tantrum now to get it over with before I give you the direction."  This approach works for children who constantly ask "why?" when told they can't do something.  There is no logical reason you can give for saying "no" that the child will accept.  Her goal is to wear you down and make you give in.  Even if you don't give in, she at least gets some gain from seeing you upset. 

So, when a child says "why?" you can answer by saying "Do you really want to know why, even though it won't change my mind and the answer I'm going to give you is really stupid?"  The last part of this question is designed to beat the child to the punch.  We know that whatever answer we give, the child is going to say, "That's stupid."  Telling her it's a stupid answer before she tells you lets you agree with her when she subsequently says it. 

Here's an example: "The reason you can't go out tonight is because I'm not wearing my green pants."  "What?" the child will say, "That's the stupidest answer I've ever heard."  Then you respond:  "You're right, that's a really stupid answer, but if you give me a second, I can come up with an even stupider answer."  By this time, the child will have lost interest and walked away.

Comments from readers

"So there is power in sarcasm and deception - interesting... I think that I will stick with being honest with my kids (and making them pick up the book, etc.) But let me know how this approach works for you, I can certainly see that it is not confrontational. By the way, is that what we are trying to avoid now-a-days?"
"Using ' The child's point of view ' how great are the chances that your kid will be a real brat at the end? It seams that this is a convenient way to avoid a real communication with your kid which implies explaining to her what is right and what is not and when It is not, explaining why. 'You can bite your nails but you'll ruin your teeth' sounds less like nonsense than ' I want you to be in style too'. According to this article, a kid will drop her controversial attitude by exhaustion and not by understanding. She will keep going 'till She'll get her satisfation and not knowing any boundaries. Sorry It doesn't seem to work. "
"Good and informative post. Thanks for sharing it. Small children are incapable of understanding certain things. Don't yell at them, and don't ever compare with other children. They should be properly understood with love and care else things can get worse. To know more on this topic, refer"
"This was an excellent article. I am having a lot of problems with my sons frustrating and argumentative behavior. I am going to have my husband read this article and see if between the 2 of us we maybe can come up with a plan. Thank you, Erin"