Posts Tagged ‘Oppositional Defiance’

PostHeaderIcon Self-control or Self-regulation: What’s the difference?

Self-control or Self-regulation: What’s the Difference?

My fellow parent coach, Becky Fischer, just shared a powerful resource with me about Self-regulation, and I thought it would be a great topic for parents. Stuart Shanker has a new program called “Self-reg,” if you want more info.

Two types of self-regulation and self-control come into play – parents’ and children’s.  We could all, even as adults, be struggling with self-regulation and mistaking it for self-control.

Self-regulation issues come from the body’s sensitivities.  If our bodies are wired to overreact to input (compared to typical responses), then we are in the realm of self-regulation.  This comes from brain wiring, where some of us, and some of our children, are simply more responsive to input to one or more of the five senses than are other people.  The sensitivity can be to light, sound, touch, taste, or smell. It can also be to other people, which is a sixth sensitivity I’ve identified in children. We and our kids are not making a choice to react in big ways to the things that trigger us. The reactions are built in to our wiring, just as “knee-jerk” reactions are unavoidable in the doctor’s office when she uses a little hammer to check for reflexes.

Another source of these knee-jerk reactions is trauma. If we experienced trauma as children, or even in adulthood, the reactions remain, unless we’ve sought help to relieve them.  The brain’s amygdala and hormonal responses (flight, fight, flee) are constantly alert to threats to our survival, left over from actual previous threats, and they don’t give up easily, even when we’re not in danger. This is why we over-react to some events that others would not. It’s never our “fault” and therapists who specialize in trauma can definitely offer techniques that help to relieve its effects. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is quite effective for this, as are some somatic (body) techniques.  Just search EMDR and your zip code online to find practitioners in your area.

If our children have experienced trauma, often trauma that we or they don’t remember (it can even happen in utero) they will over-react to us in ways that we can easily interpret as disrespect.  This is where parent coaching and occupational therapy can be highly effective.  Parent coaching can help you identify the over-reactions as out of the child’s control.  Occupational therapy and EMDR for kids can help the child self-regulate.

Co-regulation is another wonderful tool for helping parents and kids. With small children, holding the child in a loving way and deep breathing together works like magic, if the child is able to do it. Preparing in advance will be the ticket here – rehearse co-regulation when there’s no issue, just so it’s familiar and safe-feeling to the child. Co-regulation has the effect of calming you both down. With older children, advanced rehearsal and deep breathing together can also bring about the calming effect. Take a breath in, hold for a count of four, let it out naturally. Do this slowly, as rushing can cause light-headedness.

We know that self-control is a learned response that occurs with maturity and guidance from parents. It comes over time, and requires help from adults. When we as adults are regulated, our job is much easier, which is why it’s a great idea to seek help if we have triggers that could interfere with our effective parenting.

The good news is that the effects of trauma and sensitivities can be relieved by learning ways to decrease them through occupational and mental health therapy. This can have an incredibly positive effect our daily interactions with our loved ones!

For more information on parent coaching, click here.




PostHeaderIcon Saying No to One Thing Means Saying Yes to Another

Saying No to One Thing Means Saying Yes to Another

As we Minnesotans watch an April snowstorm blanket the landscape with eight new inches of “pretty stuff”, it’s hard to accept “no” from Mother Nature when we yearn for Spring RIGHT NOW.  We desperately want warm sun on our faces, robins and daffodils, not boots, gloves, and snow shovels!

Isn’t it interesting to note how as adults, we have experiences that thwart our desires, just the way our kids do?  Last night, my son texted me an interesting thought to ponder.  “When we say no to something, we’re saying yes to something else.”  Then he typed, in his adorably thought-provoking way, “Opposition.”

When our children are oppositional, they are saying “no” to one thing, such as “brush your teeth”, “get off the computer”, “time for bed”, or “finish your homework.” What’s the thing they are saying “yes” to at that moment?  Of course, you might answer, more freedom to play video games, more freedom to stay up late, more freedom to watch a movie instead of finish homework.  But there’s more to it than that.

When children oppose their parents, they’re also saying “yes” to their own sense of who they are.  As young as 12 months, they’re wired to start opposing their parents’ requests because they are exercising their newfound will.  Is this a disrespectful aspect to all children?  Some may argue yes.  But it’s really more helpful and less conflict producing to see it as a natural developmental phase.  As adults, this is our job and we even benefit from celebrating that our kids with big wills are on the right path. We do better to support their will, rather than try to fight it.

So, you might say to me, “How do we get the bath taken in time for bed, when all they want to do is play?”  The answer lies in recognizing the emerging will as a vital part of the child’s growth as a person.  Acknowledging how much they want to continue to watch their favorite show, play their favorite video game, or finish up their art project, will go a long way toward gaining cooperation.  Say, “You’re really into this game, I can see! I notice that you’re gaining a lot of new skills by playing it. Finish this one game and I’ll meet you in your room, ready for bed in 10 minutes.”

This approach acknowledges the child’s will to play the game and also encourages, rather than forces, the letting go.  (We all know how well it turns out when we try to force a child to do something.)

Here are the 5 steps:
1. Establish a routine bedtime with your children’s input during a family meeting.
2. Tell your child exactly how you will let him or her know it’s bedtime.  Have him sit in front of the computer and rehearse this aspect.  Place your hand on his back if he can tolerate it, and say in a respectful tone, “See what time it is? I’ll meet you in your room in 10 minutes.”  That’s all.  He knows when bedtime is.
3.  Just wait respectfully for him to comply.  If it takes longer than you thought, rehearse again tomorrow, but don’t lecture now.
4. Give heartfelt appreciation for coming when he does.  Even if it’s a few minutes late, you want to let him know he’s been successful in coming to the room.  Reward what you want, and you will see more of it.
5. Have a peaceful, appreciative end to the day.

If you need coaching help with these steps, or any other parenting challenge, click here.

PostHeaderIcon Using the Present Moment to Parent Your Intense Child

Using the Present Moment to Parent Your

Intense Child

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.

Recently my client wondered how exactly to use the present moment as a tool for bringing out the best behavior in children.   Here are some ideas and an example:

Don’t drag the past into the present moment.  Do your best to see the child as “brand new” right now, because she is brand new in every moment.  So instead of fearing her next move, and telegraphing your fear with your tone of voice and body language, assume her goodness.  It’s amazing what a huge effect this has on the child.


It’s 5:30 p.m.  Thirteen-year-old Ava approaches her mom, Sara, who is preparing dinner in the kitchen. For the past three days, Ava has been cranky, mouthy, belligerent and nasty.  Sara steels herself, with subtle body stiffening, for Ava’s upcoming comment about something that’s upsetting her. Sara doesn’t turn to Ava, but just stays facing the cake batter on the counter with a firm resolve not to engage her daughter.

Picking up on her mom’s subtle cues, Ava immediately feels rejection. She then lays into her mother with, “Where’s my blue fleece?  I can’t find it anywhere!  What did you do with it?”  Sara has just had her fear realized, and responds with a defensive, “Ava, I’ve told you a thousand times that I am not in charge of your clothes. If you can’t find your fleece, look again.  That room is such a mess, I’m not surprised it’s hard to find things.”

Ava has had her fear realized, too, and responds defensively with, “You are always blaming me for things that are not my fault!  I just think you did the laundry and lost my fleece in some other drawer, and now you’re afraid to admit it!  I wish I didn’t live in this house!”

“Listen to me young lady! You are not allowed to speak to me like that.  You have been creating havoc in this house for three days, and I am sick and tired of it!  Until you can learn to appreciate living here, you’re grounded!”

“Oh great.  This is the worst place in the world, and now you are making me stay here?  I’m leaving, and you can’t make me stay.”  Ava storms through the back door, leaving Sara at once furious and relieved.  “Good! Stay away all night if you want!”

The cycle of angry communication, fueled on thoughts of the past, has just widened the rift between mom and daughter.

Let’s replay this situation with Present Moment Parenting.  Sara has learned to avoid dragging the past three days of strife into this moment, realizing that the present can be what she wants it to be with a tiny change in perspective.  She remembers, “The present moment is all we have,” which generates a very different response when Ava approaches.

Sara is standing in the kitchen, preparing the carrots for dinner.  She is remembering that Ava has had a rough few days, and she wonders what could be bothering her.  She decides to find out, and make use of the present moment when it occurs.

Ava comes into the room, sensing that her mom is relaxed, but being stressed herself, she says the same accusatory thing: “Where’s my blue fleece?  I can’t find it anywhere! What did you do with it?”

Staying in the present moment, refraining from dragging her fear of the past few days into this conversation, Sara responds with: “I love that blue fleece on you.  It’s the perfect color.  The last time I saw it, it was in the family room on the hook by the door.”  Ava now has an “in” to speak to her mom calmly in this moment.  Her defenses have not been triggered, and she can respond with kindness, even though she’s been stressed.

“Thanks, Mom.  I’ll look there.”

Sara sets up an “appointment” to find out what’s bothering Ava, weaving it into an activity:

“OK, and when you find it, would you come back and see me?  I need your cooking talent tonight.  Do you think this cake would be better as a full size cake or cupcakes?”

“Sure.  I’ll be back in a second.”  She returns, blue fleece slung over her shoulders.

“OK , we’re having the little cousins over, so which kind of cake do you think would work best?”

“I like cupcakes.”

“I’m happy to have you decide, because all day I’ve been making 1,000 decisions, and my decider is worn out.  Thanks a ton.”

“I need help deciding something, too.  Does your decider still work, or should I wait?”

“Let’s give it a shot, and I’ll let you know.”

“OK, I have been thinking about this boy in my class.  He seems to like me, and I like him, but I’ve noticed the other kids making fun of him.  I’m not sure how to handle this, because I don’t want to lose those other friends, but I really think this guy is cute and I want to get to know him better.”

“Good thing I don’t have to decide on this one.  I think you are going to be the one who does the deciding, but I can help you think about it.”  Sara embarks on an interview with Ava about what’s attractive about this cute boy.  She’s staying in the present moment, taking Ava just as she is now, and creating a beautiful, safe landing-place for their conversation.  My guess is that Ava’s recent crankiness is caused by worry about what to do with the boy situation, but she just didn’t know how to bring it up.

Sara has done a masterful job of staying in the present moment, and can now help Ava to resolve the issue.  She’s done more than that, though; she’s also built a stronger bridge to her daughter for the next time she notices that she’s in need of some good “mom time.”

The present moment is enomously effective in healing the relationship with a troubled teen, or any child for that matter.  To learn more about applying the present moment through parent coaching, click here.

PostHeaderIcon To Change the Behavior, Change the Child’s Motivation

To Change the Behavior, Change the Child’s


Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

Children of all ages are motivated by their internal urges (hunger, fatigue, mood, preference) which are influenced by outside forces (time constraints, siblings, friends, parents, grandparents, and teachers.)  We forget that the internal urges and outside forces are frequently out of sync. To gain the best cooperation possible, our own instincts tell us that we should deliver the expectation, and the child should comply, and if compliance doesn’t occur, we should use anger to make it occur.  As we fail to consider the child’s inner urges, and only consider our own perspective, we keep running the same script over and over with no improvements.  A simple request turns into a major tantrum or disrespectful scene, and behavioral storm clouds start to gather. Harsh language, slamming doors, threats, and physical attacks follow what parents thought was a reasonable request.  What happened here? 

To know the answer to this question, we need to study the child for signs of what’s motivating him or her, in other words, what are his current internal urges?   Often some internal negative message, such as “I’m not a good kid, so why should I act like one?” or “I only want my way, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks,” make a child behave the way he does.  When a child feels this down, compliance is just not in the offing. 

Considering the motivation for behavior is a much better way to actually get the results we want.  Now some people think this might be coddling the child.  I would argue that with all human beings, listening to internal motivation results in better performance, so why not use this in parenting difficult children? The real “magic” here is to lift the child up so that he feels seen. 

Children with ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Attachment Disorder, Giftedness, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and a variety of just plain hard behavior need to be regarded as having their own internal agenda, based on the messages from children’s bodies.  If we fail to see them as having these internal urges, we will be in non-stop combat mode. 

So the next time you have a request, consider the child’s internal urges before you deliver it, and include an acknowledgement of the child’s inner state in your words.  It can look like this: “I realize you hate to be rushed, so I am going to allow extra time for us to get out the door in the morning.  You can take your time getting up and dressed, so you can feel more relaxed. We can leave at 7:30 without having to hurry.”  The child’s ability to comply is directly related to the amount of sensitivity to his internal urges.  The outside force of the need to be on time for school, camp, or practice now seems less foreboding, and he is free to cooperate. You feel better, too, knowing you have a technique to use that’s compassionate and gets positive results. 

To create success with your child at home, click here to learn about parent coaching.

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

PostHeaderIcon What Your Child Can’t Tell You

What Your Child Can’t Tell You

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal, Parent Coach and Parenting Speaker
You have probably heard the phrase, “All behavior is communication.” The more I think about this, the more I see that it is a crucial thought for raising children. I want everyone to emblazon this idea where they will see it every day. Children misbehave because they lack the communication skills and insight to tell us what’s really happening. It’s our job to look beyond the behavior to the root feelings.
When a child whines, it is not because she likes the sound of whining. It’s because she lacks the maturity and experience to say, “Mom, Dad, I am frustrated right now because you are asking me to hurry for school, but I am a kid and I’m just slower.” Instead, she’ll exhibit all kinds of unwanted behaviors: whining, delaying, arguing, and even getting physically aggressive.
When a grade-schooler refuses to do his homework, it’s not likely that he is simply lazy. His behavior is communicating that he is discouraged in some way. Our first impulse as parents is to make him seethat he needs to get the work done so he can be successful. We remind, cajole, threaten, and eventually explode. Our first impulse would be much more helpful if instead, it was to determine what to do about the discouragement.
When a teenager doesn’t listen to our advice, it’s not because he is just being a jerk. His behavior is communicating that he is in a new phase of development. He needs to make his own decisions, and we are inadvertently calling him incompetent whenever we advise him. He takes it as an insult every time we make a suggestion. He can’t say, “Mom, Dad, I appreciate that you care about me, and that you are more wise than I am. But I need to make these decisions myself because I am becoming a young adult, and that’s what young adults do. Please bear with me as I struggle and even fail sometimes.” So he leaves the house in a huff, giving the door an extra hard slam for emphasis. We would be much better off if our first impulse was to support him in his decision-making, rather than tell him what to do.

It’s essentially a short-cut. If you want cooperative behavior from your kids, take the short-cut by training your mind to see what’s beneath the communication. Practice seeing your child’s innocence first, and working to understand what lies beneath the foul language, the time spent with the door locked, and the “interesting” style of dress. You will find a vulnerable, changing child who simply doesn’t have insight yet. That’s our job as adults … to gain the insight and act accordingly.

Rather than exhibit anger over disrespectful behavior, acknowledge there’s an emotion that the child cannot express directly lying just under the surface. Kids get hurt a lot easier than most adults realize, so they are compelled to protect their tender hearts by lashing out. If we don’t give them cause to protect themselves (by seeing what’s really going on) they won’t have to be so defensive.

So the next time you see a child “acting out”, ask yourself what’s being communicated. It will be an emotion that the child is too young or too immature to express directly, such as hurt, frustration, disappointment, hopelessness, or something else you can help to identify. Then address the child in those terms, rather than with your own irritation. Say, “You seem upset. Want to tell me what’s up?” or “How about you take some time in your own room until you feel better and we can talk?” or “I remember being your age and feeling that same way. Sit down, and let’s try to make this better together.” You are getting to the root emotion, rather than placing judgment on the child’s behavior. Congratulations! You are on the short-cut to better communication and better behavior with your child.

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

PostHeaderIcon Avoid Triggering Oppositional Defiance

Avoid Triggering Oppositional Defiance

Sharina Christianson is at her wit’s end with her 9-year-old son Michael’s escalating tantrums and oppositional defiance.

Oppositional DefianceEvery time she attempts to gain his cooperation, she knows she is in for a fight. Sharina is desperate for ways to create peace in her family life.From life with my own oppositional child, and working with parents, teachers, and kids in schools, I’ve come up with these hints that can bring real relief:

1) Realize that Michael has oppositional defiance triggers inside that are nearly beyond his control. Saying “you have to” and even just “you” serve as the triggers. Avoid the use of “you” whenever possible.

2) Michael is COMPELLED to oppose you. He does not know how to individuate (become fully himself) gently. He must tell you that you are wrong in order to know himself as separate from you. Your job is to teach him that he is himself, and no one else can ever be him. Appreciate his unique characteristics, and use his talents in daily living. “You are so good at math. Will you help me check the restaurant bill?”

3) Keep in mind that every time you speak to Michael, his brain is watching for something to oppose. Avoid baiting his brain as a strategy to prevent oppositional defiance.

Use language that forwards the action beyond the immediate event to alleviate oppositional defiance

4) Mention a pleasant activity just ahead, or give Michael a grown-up task. The former keeps the focus on positives, and the latter supports his individuation by demonstrating that you trust his abilities. “Brush your teeth right now, or there will be no story tonight,” is replaced by “After you brush your teeth, I’m ready to read your story.” “Get into the car right now, or we won’t be shopping for the toy you wanted” is replaced by, “When we get into the car, I’ll need your help with directions to that new store.”

5) Engage Michael’s problem-solving abilities rather than telling him what to do.  Ask questions to prevent oppositional defiance. “You just took the last dessert. Now you have to put that back,” is replaced by “Please check around and notice who didn’t have dessert yet. What needs to happen next?” “It’s not your turn to talk right now,” is replaced by “What’s our rule about letting other people finish speaking?” This encourages Michael to use his own reasoning, which leads him to less dependence on you and more trust in his own abilities.

6) Avoid using the child’s name at the beginning of a request. “Michael, you need to get get your pajamas on right now,” just immediately sets his brain up for oppositional defiance. Instead, say “It’s 8:00. What do you think happens now?” If he plays a “word game” with you, go ahead and entertain him with it for awhile if he is the type of child who can be “jollied” into cooperation. It’s fine to use humor with your child, even when it’s important that he go to bed. Levity helps people cooperate. Arbitrary treatment causes them to rebel. If he is not the type who can maintain control when you ask him “What should happen now?” then just say, “Time for bed, Everyone! Who gets to turn the TV off tonight? Whose turn is it to turn off the lights? Who is on dog duty this week?” This forwards the action and allows the child to cooperate without the challenge of a command.

7) Pat yourself on the back when you are successful in following the steps above. Give yourself small healthy rewards as you improve. (Take a bubble bath; let your schedule have some down time in it; say “no” to a possible commitment, and feel good about it.)

To keep up her progress with Michael, Sharina counts on her weekly phone coaching calls. She shares her challenges and I help her stay on track, offering support for the successes she sometimes misses. Sharina notices that she is helping Michael to improve, and that their home is noticeably more peaceful. She now receives credit for the small victories as she sees Michael’s oppositional defiance disappear and the successes emerge!

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