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You Can't Make Me

Posted by Val Fox on November 17, 2011 at 8:35 PM

 Some of the children in my life have struggled with oppositional behavior.  While all kids test limits as they develop, some fight them more than others.  For the sake of this blog I'll refer to youth aged 11 and older that I've worked with in a treatment setting. Oppositional behavior can range from refusal to comply with a request to willful and dangerous acts of revenge.

Oppositional behavior often sounded like this:

I didn't do it.  She did. I don't care.    Whatever      It's her fault.

You don't love me.  I hate this place. You don't care about me.

You can't make me.  That's not what I said. Kiss my *****

You don't know what you're talking about. Sooorrreeeee!

                                      No, its...No, I'm...No, you...

Oppositional behavior sometimes looked like this:

Slamming doors Blaming others Excessive Arguing

Ignoring rules/expectations Sulking Rolling the eyes

Making hurtful remarks to get reaction

Sabotaging an event Picking on others Illogical arguments

These are just a few of the things I've seen and heard, and while each child  responds to different tools, I've created a list of some of the interventions I might use while working with oppositional youth.  One tool may help, perhaps a mix of two or more.  As always, requesting the assistance of a clinician recommended, especially if you notice that opposition is extreme, does not make logical sense, and is affecting learning or the family adversely.

Learn to recognize The Hook and be prepared - meaning, know your own buttons and learn some of what triggers your young person.  Example:  A child wandered around the house appearing aggitated.  I recognized this from previous behavior as a sign he was winding up.  I suddenly pushed away from the kitchen table over to the computer and announced, Let's watch pugs!  I searched for funny pug dogs on the internet.  The children gathered around and laughed while watching talking dogs and laughing baby videos.  While the activity appeared natural and unplanned, it was a calculated move to distract my little angel onto a different path.  By bed time he was happy and content instead of trashing his room.

Take a moment to ask yourself, What is the behavior telling me?  Is there a payoff such as attention-getting, diversion from feelings or a need for power.  Here are a few more ideas for you to consider.  At the end of the blog I'll provide a couple of good resources for you.


-I do not argue with kids - period.  If I'm going to get hooked into an argument I say nothing, just nod.

-Keep the child occupied in short blocks of time away from home, if possible. (a class or group)

-Do not bargain or make threats.  It has not worked well for me.  Sounds like: If you do this, I'll do that or If you don't do this, I'll do that.

-The more oppositional a child becomes the more important it is to maintain control, keep calm and stay focused.  Oppositional kids at the extreme end feed off reaction and chaos.

-Time yourself out, if necessary.

-Don't get into discussions when either you or your young person are irrational.  Tell the child you will talk with them later or at a specific time.

-Attend a support group with other parents to get ideas and for a place to talk with others.

-Find creative ways to review social skills often. I've had some good feedback from doing role plays with the kids.

-Nurture the relationship.  Plan fun activities, share affection.

-Provide a healthy, balanced diet.  Reduce or eliminate food coloring and sugar.

-Use aromatherapy and music to create a calming atmosphere.

-Certain colors can be helpful.  I would choose either blue or green to decorate a child's room.

-Use natural and logical consequences.  Examples are:  No coat on a winter day = cold.  If the youth intentionally misses supper, they do not get a new meal, but they can have a cheese sandwich and fruit.

-Remove a privilege such as computer or TV time.  This would fit for a young person that disobeyed rules about computer/TV use.

-Pick your battles.  Focus on the most important things such as safety issues, not whose turn it is to empty garbage.

-Seek assistance from clinicians (physician, therapist, counsellor) and don't quit until you find the right person who hears you.

-Have consequences for certain behaviors already planned.  You can even prepare a manual so when the need arises,  just refer to the manual. (Negotiations should not occur during oppositional behavor, only when calm and in a good space.)

-Provide quick rewards for good behavior.


-Take regular respite even when you don't think you need it.

-Try to separate the child from the behavior with statements such as:  You are a terrific kid.  This isn't really you.

-Eliminate any audience.  Sometimes oppositional behavior increases when others are watching.

-Provide two choices so the young person feels they have some power. Example:  You can go outside and take a walk OR you can listen to some music in your room.

-Give the young person an important task to carry out that he/she may respond to (nature of the task depends on the maturity of the child.)  Examples might be:  Make an important delivery, participate in a shopping purchase with an adult, plan an upcoming menu or event.

All these suggestions are tools I've used to work with oppositional behavior in young people.  I know there are strategies and would welcome additional suggestions from readers.  There are also many good books and videos available in your local library, counselling office and on line.  Below are a couple of good resources that have been helpful to me. Let us know what you think.

*The material in the Children As Teachers blog is based on my front-line experience as a theraputic caregiver, foster parent and material I have learned from others or in training.  I'm only an expert on my own story, having worked with more than 140 young people and their families since 1996, many with moderate to severe behavior and mental health challenges.    Thanks to the mentors, caregivers, clinicians, authors, team leaders and most importantly, the kids.  They continue to be my best teachers.   

When a Stranger Calls You Mom by Katharine Leslie, PhD

How To Deal With Your Acting Up Teenager by Bayard and Bayard.  A survival guide for desperate parents.  Publisher: Evans and Company, New York, NY  1983

tags: parenting, kids, frustration, refusal, expectations, house rules, consequences, discipline



Categories: Children As Teachers

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This is the personal website of writer Val Fox from Alberta, Canada: soon-to-be published author; freelance writer/editor; ghost writer; animal and child advocate; amateur photographer and avid camper.  Welcome!


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