An Upside-Down Way to Address Defiance in Children with Trauma Histories

Few things frustrate me more as a dad than defiance from my fourteen-year-old son when I tell him to do something and he either ignores me or flat out refuses to comply. It makes my blood boil and all I want to do is fly into a rage.

After all, this is:

  • my house he’s living in,
  • my food he’s eating,
  • my hot water he’s using to take a forty-five-minute shower,
  • my Wi-Fi he’s streaming Netflix on,
  • my cell phone plan he’s texting his girlfriend with,
  • and my gas he’s getting a ride to school with.

Therefore, you’d think the least he could do is muster a morsel of respect and throw away his fruit snack wrapper when I tell him to.

Maybe you can relate. In general, men have a tendency to struggle when our authority is challenged.

If you’re a dad who’s raising a kid with a traumatic background, your child might display oppositional behaviors that stand toe-to-toe with your perceived right to rule your home. It’s hard to deal with the fact that we have hairy chests and imposing statures, and yet these miniature humans still won’t obey us.

Maybe we feel emasculated by our kids’ defiance, but maybe our kids’ defiance isn’t really about us at all.

What if she isn’t ignoring directives because she’s just a lazy kid What if he isn’t being disobedient to get under your skin? What if she isn’t defying you to control the home environment? What if he isn’t arguing simply because he loves to argue?

What if our kids’ defiance comes from the fear that adults don’t know or want what’s best for them? If your child has a history with adults who proved themselves to be untrustworthy and unconcerned about the child’s wellbeing, then perhaps your child struggles to trust that any adult will act in their best interest.

Your child’s defiance might be caused by the fear that complying with your instructions will be harmful to them. If this is the case, then becoming more stringent with your expectations and consequences won’t effectively increase compliance.

Instead, your kid needs compassion and the opportunity to learn that when you tell them to do something, it will be good for them. They might not inherently understand this, so in order for our children to trust us, we have to prove that we’re trustworthy.

After considering this for a while, I’ve started telling my son to do things that I know he will want to actually do. Not only will he get used to complying with my instructions, but he’ll also learn that my instructions are good for him.

Here are some examples:

  • “Grab yourself a Dr. Pepper out of the fridge to drink on the way to school.”
  • “Plug the aux cord into your phone and play your favorite song right now.”
  • “Take off your socks so I can scratch your feet.”
  • “Sleep in an extra half hour tomorrow. I will call the school to excuse your tardy.”

Find some things you know your child will gladly do, instruct them to do one of them, and let them see that you want good things for them.

This strategy probably won’t completely cure defiant behavior (if it does, I should get a book deal), but at the very least, it shouldn’t hurt anything. Children will get to do things they like, they will hear Dad’s voice instructing then, and they will hopefully discover that Dad wants good things for them. That’s got to be great for any child trying to build an attachment to new parents.

Try it out and let us know how it works, and if it fails miserably, please don’t sue me. Also, if you have any tweaks or other tricks you’ve tried, we would love to hear them!

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