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The role of ineffective parenting to development of aggressive defiant and oppositional children

Angry tantrums; hitting, kicking, or biting; hot-headed outbursts that destroy property; cool-headed bullying; verbal attacks; attempts to control others through threats or violence. What sets children off?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder In Children: How To Spot It?

In some cases, kids lash out because they're frustrated by a problem that's too big for them. They haven't yet learned how to control their impulses, or work out conflicts in socially acceptable ways. In other cases, kids may be wrestling with special difficulties -- like stressful life events, emotional regulation problems, attention deficits, autistic symptoms, or hyperactivity.

Yet in all cases -- even where children have been diagnosed with serious conduct disorders -- adults can have a powerful influence. Aggression doesn't happen because we're programmed to respond to the world with hostility. We all have the capacity to behave aggressively. Whether or not we do it depends on how we perceive the world. Aggressive tendencies are shaped by environmental conditions -- the pressures, threats, opportunities, and consequences that children experience.

By tweaking these conditions, we can improve behavior and change the course of development. That doesn't mean it's your fault if your child is acting out.

The Angry, Defiant (ODD) Child

Genetic factors put some kids at higher risk for trouble. So do prenatal factors and early life stress. A baby might be born with certain genes "switched off" because of stressors his parents encountered when they were growing up. Aggression in children is also influenced by environmental forces outside the home. Peers, teachers, neighborhoods, media messages, ideologies, and cultural factors all play a role.

And these environmental effects will vary depending on your child's genes, prenatal factors, and early life exposure to stress. Studies indicate that some kids don't experience a normal spike of the stress hormone cortisol in response to stressful situations. Others might experience a surge, but take an unusually long time to recover. Both types of children are at higher risk for developing aggressive behavior problems Scrool et al 2017.

But whatever factors put a child at risk, there is nothing inevitable about the outcome. When caregivers get the help they need, they can have an important impact. The interventions work, in part, because parents learn specific tactics for handling aggression.

But they also work because parents learn to change their outlook. Struggling with a child's behavior problems is stressful and demoralizing. It saps your resilience, your sense of optimism, competence, and goodwill. It can redefine the parent-child relationship in a destructive way, and prompt you to think about your child in ways that undermine your ability to cope. Counterproductive thoughts fuel the conflict and make behavior problems worse.

Replace these toxic mental habits with positive, constructive, problem-solving thoughts, and you can stop bad behavior before it erupts Dittman et al 2016; Furlong et al 2013; Shellby and Shaw 2014. So whether children are merely going through the "terrible twos," or struggling with more difficult problems, we should take heart: With the right tools, we can turn things around.

Here are evidence-based tips for handling aggression in children, presented in two parts.

The first part concerns adjusting your outlook as a parent. The second part concerns practical tactics for teaching kids to master their negative impulses. Tips for maintaining a confident, constructive outlook 1. Don't take it personally. When your child fails to comply with a request, it's easy to feel disrespected. It's easy to feel targeted when your child flies into a rage. But these emotional reactions, however natural, are wrong-headed.

First, kids don't process emotions and information the way adults do see below. If your child is very young, there's a lot she doesn't understand about her own feelings, let alone yours. If your child is older, it's still likely that your child's misbehavior reflects impulsivity or incompetence-- not malice. Second, research suggests that our pessimistic social beliefs -- the tendency to attribute hostile intentions where none exist -- can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

People who assume the worst tend to provoke negative behavior from others. And parents who make hostile attributions can end up creating the very problems they want to solve. In one study, mothers who made hostile attributions about their toddlers were more likely, three and half years later, to have children with aggressive behavior problems.

This link between maternal beliefs and aggression in children remained significant even after the researchers controlled for pre-existing child difficulties, as well as the negative parenting behavior that tends to go accompany hostile attributions Healy et al 2015.

Reminding yourself not to take it personally isn't just good for your mood. It's good for your relationship, and good for your child's long-term development. Get realistic expectations about your child's ability to follow rules and comply with requests. Young children have shorter attention spans, and they are easily distracted. They take more time to process verbal instructions. Their working memory capacities -- the sheer number of things they can keep in mind at any given moment -- are more limited.

Learning new information, and adapting to a change of rules or procedure, may take longer than you realize Lee et al 2015. Young children require more practice than older kids do, and older kids need more practice than adults Yim et al 2013.

So when we issue directions, we shouldn't expect young children to respond quickly and efficiently. They work a slower speed, and it's harder for them to transition from one activity to the next.

They need us to provide them with clear, simple directions, and then give them the extra time they need to switch gears. Older children can handle more complexity and speed, but their attention spans, working memory capacities, impulse control, and task-switching skills are still developing. By tuning into your child's pace and abilities -- and providing patient, calm reminders -- you reshape the task into one he's got the equipment to solve.

And your child will get to experience the social and emotional rewards for cooperating -- a crucial experience for his long-term development.

What is the Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

You invest more time, but it's an investment that will pay off. Get realistic expectations about the development of empathy and kindness.

  • As a consequence, kids are less likely to learn on their own;
  • ODD and Substance Abuse In at least one community research study the number of ODD symptoms in childhood was a significant predictor of later alcohol use;
  • What sets children off?
  • The later development of ODD is often the result of unresolved anger from childhood experiences that can no longer be denied;
  • Loses control when receives constructive criticism;
  • Tips for maintaining a confident, constructive outlook 1.

Throughout childhood, kids are still learning about emotions -- how to regulate their own moods and read the minds of others. Dependent, inexperienced, and vulnerable, young children are more easily threatened, and thus more likely focus on protecting their own interests Li et al 2013. Older kids, too, may respond this way if they perceive the world to be hostile or unjust.

And some kids are at a physiological disadvantage. They have the ability to learn about social signals, but their brains don't reward them as much for doing so Davies et al 2011; Sepeta et al 2012. As a consequence, kids are less likely to learn on their own. They need our help. So while your child's behavior might look selfish, that doesn't mean she's incorrigibly self-absorbed.

Children demonstrate a capacity for empathy and kindness from a very early age. When they fail to show concern for others, it's often because they perceive the situation differently, or don't know how to control their impulses.

They need opportunities to learn -- by developing secure relationships with us; talking about their feelings and the emotional signals of others; and observing positive role models, and growing up in an environment that rewards self-control and cooperation.

  • People who assume the worst tend to provoke negative behavior from others;
  • Often actively defies or refuses to comply with requests from authority figures or with rules;
  • All he ever did was watch TV anyway;
  • Be a role model for your child.

Focus on maintaining a positive relationship. Researchers see families fall into a common trap: When kids misbehave frequently, parents tend to focus on all those daily conflicts. They feel obliged to answer every offense with criticism or punishment, and end up with a relationship that's mostly characterized by negative exchanges. It's a grim outcome, and it's also counter-productive.

Studies suggest that kids are more likely to learn desirable social skills when we provide them with positive feedback for making good choices -- not threats and punishments for doing the wrong thing. Moreover, a diet of negativity can make kids become more defiant. Negative parenting can lead to a downward spiral of misbehavior, punishment, retaliation, more punishment, and more misbehavior Cavell et al 2013. How do you stay calm and upbeat?

Health, Brain & Neuroscience

It isn't easy, not if your child seems stuck in "defiance mode. Studies show that therapists specifically trained in handling aggression in children can help reduce stress and improve behavior.

Through weekly sessions of coaching and role playing, parents learn effect ways to set limits, foster cooperation, settle arguments in a constructive way, and inject daily life with pleasant, loving activities. But the first step is reorganizing your priorities Cavell et al 2013.

Maintaining positive relations is more important than prosecuting every failure. Sometimes you need to choose your battles. For more information, see my tips for handling aggression in children.

Don't sacrifice your own psychological well-being. Dealing with aggression is very stressful, and stress hurts. It makes us ill, clouds our thinking, and damages relationships. It's contagious -- even young infants pick up on our negative moods Waters et al 2014.

  1. Parental Response to the Angry, Defiant Child Parents benefit by understanding the nature of excessive anger and methods of being able to master this powerful emotion.
  2. The acquisition of this virtue is most important and helpful for children to develop in order to control and resolve their anger. The second part concerns practical tactics for teaching kids to master their negative impulses.
  3. He acts to protect life and guarantee its future. Dealing with aggression is very stressful, and stress hurts.

And when parents are stressed out, it adds fuel to the fire: Their children's behavior problems tend to get worse. So addressing your own well-being shouldn't be an after-thought, a luxury to be put off until your child's behavior problems improve.

It's a pressing issue, a central player in the crisis.