Parenting children

How to Solve Stubborn and Disruptive Behavior – Part 1

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Helping Your ODD Child

Raising kids is a lot like riding on a monster roller coaster. Half the time you’re going up the hill, anticipating the drop on the other side.

The other half of the time you spend screaming your head off and wishing you could get the heck off – and whoever said this was fun anyway?

Sometimes trying to figure out what went wrong feels like Mission Impossible.

Sometimes it’s something that’s popped its ugly head out in the space of a day or so, kind of like the time I woke up and found a massive colony of army ants had invaded the girls’ bedroom. Other times it’s something that sort of crept up on you slowly, like mold in the bathroom shower. One day you wake up and decide that behavior has got to go.

Either way, parents are often at a loss when it comes to figuring out how to get their child’s behavior back on a (relatively) even keel.

In order to help you out, I’ve compiled a series of posts that will help you determine why your child is acting out, what to do about it, and more importantly, how to make sure that behavior doesn’t come back.

STEP 1: Observe your child when they’re acting out.

One of the most helpful things you can do is to take a good look at your child when they’re acting out. Of course that sounds like it’s easier said than done, but with a little bit of forethought, you can do it.

If your child is acting out at home, then consider having your husband, a friend, or a relative observe your child during the period when the behavior occurs. It doesn’t have to take long, and often they notice things that you are already immune to.

Your other option is to simply put up a video camera close to where the action takes place, and leave it running. Or, grab a cell phone and record your child unobtrusively. Make sure, though, that you try and catch what was going before the behavior as well – knowing what triggered the acting out is crucial to figuring out why your child blew their fuse.

If your child is acting out at daycare or in school, and there is no nannycam installed, then you can share the observation suggestions below with the teacher, and get a rundown after she’s observed your child a few times.

I once went to a school to help the teacher figure out why a first grader kept hitting (ferociously) the other kids. The teacher reported that all of a sudden the husky six-year old would haul off and swing a roundhouse punch at some unsuspecting (usually much smaller) classmate. The child said his classmate had hit him, but both the teacher and the child denied any sort of provocation had taken place. The school had had enough, and wanted to expel him.

I spent about a half hour observing, and noticed right away that immediately before he hit another child, the other child had unknowingly brushed up against him. Bingo – the answer was clear: here was a child who was overly sensitive to even the most delicate of touches.

I recommended he be tested for sensory integration disorder, suggesting some sensory exercises they could do until he was seen by an OT. Problem solved.

Ask yourself these questions about what you observed.

When you review what went on, either by talking to the person who watched your child, or while you look at the video, ask yourself these questions:

  • Look at their body language. Are their arms and hands close to their body? Do they seem to be curled up into themselves? What facial expression do they have? Scared? Bored? Anxious? Glazed?
  • Watch how they move. Are they walking around aimlessly? Are they in the thick of things, or are they dancing around the edges? Are they walking slowly, or fast? Do they approach the situation, and back off, or do they barrel right in?
  • Observe how they interact with others, both kids and adults. Do they seem to be unaware of what effect their actions have on others? Or do they constantly check to see of someone is watching them? Do they seem to act without thinking, or do they stop and think, and then act? Do they ask for help, try and get others to join in with them, or act in reaction to something another person has done? Are they alone most of the time, or do they stay with a group?
  • Note how adults respond to the inappropriate behavior. Do they ignore it until it’s completely out of hand? Do they respond consistently, or do their responses differ every time? Do they use words, actions, or gestures (or all three) to get their point across? What’s their emotional state: are they angry, disappointed, overwhelmed, or completely uninvolved?

Take some time to answer these questions, and if you want, ask your partner or a relative who knows your child well to give their input. Most parents don’t realize that this stage is the most important stage of all in solving children’s behavior problems. Get it right, and the problem is more than halfway solved. So it’s worth it to spend some time on this step.

Frustrated with something your child is doing? Why not try the suggestions above, and leave a comment below about how it went. I’ll be happy to help you overcome any problems you might have.



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  • Rachel Dec 2,2012 at 11:18 pm

    Don’t I know what that’s like! That is really frustrating. I have one child that used to do that when she was that age, and at times it was so obvious I felt like she planned it beforehand.

    Basically, it’s your daughter a) wanting your attention and not wanting to share you and b) taking advantage of the fact that you’ll naturally be less reluctant (and more distracted) when others are around.

    The best thing to do is to call her on it: As soon as she starts acting up, stop talking or whatever you’re doing. It helps to make a really expressive face when talking to kids – I picked that up from a talented nursery school teacher- so widen your eyes, exaggerate your expression, and make sure you sound shocked when you say,” Are you not listening to Mommy?!!! I think you forgot that you need to be a good listener like Mommy told you.” Remind her that if she does that again, she’s going to go straight in time out.

    Then if you can, give her something concrete she can see to know when it will be her turn (you could set an alarm for 2 minutes on your cellphone), and tell her that when the phone goes off, it’s her turn. Then when the phone goes off, say, “Your turn!” Give her a big kiss, and send her off to play nearby with a specific toy.

    If she does act up (and she probably will), just say, “Excuse me,” and discipline your daughter exactly as you would if you were alone. Don’t worry about what other people think. As my dad always said, “If they’re not paying my bills I don’t care what they think.” :).

    Hope this helps! Good luck Heather, and hang in there – 2s are wild by 3s are sweeties!

  • heather mcclain Dec 2,2012 at 5:51 pm

    Hi I’m heather i am writing because my two year old little girl very defient stubborn and does not like to listen half the time i feel like a crazy person an i try very hard not to yell or spank her but she’s just so overwhelming an I’ve tried all t other types of actions in what to do with her I’m going threw the time out stage now individually she’s very good but if im around my dad,boyfriend or grandma or any other people she acts like she lost her mind. Please help sincerely heather…

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  • Rachel Feb 13,2012 at 6:58 pm

    Thanks Thomas!

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