If you’re a parent dealing with ADHD defiance it can be overwhelming and isolating as you feel you are constantly dealing with anger management issues. Defiance is open resistance to rules and instructions. ADHD defiance can be especially difficult as some symptoms of ADHD reinforce defiant behavior. ADHD symptoms that exacerbate defiance include high energy, impulsiveness, forgetfulness, and disorganization. Even with an ADHD diagnosis, it’s essential to remember why children act out. Kids act out because they want attention, they don’t know how else to behave, they are overstimulated, or for a variety of other reasons. 

 When you’re dealing with ADHD defiance it’s easy to take it their negative behavior personally. Acting out, for both young children and teenagers, is usually not done out of malice but because they are having issues processing their emotions. Keep this in mind and work to replace those natural feelings of hurt and resentment with tools that keep you from amplifying their behaviors. This includes working on anger management and applying consequences to appropriately reduce defiance.

Avoid power struggles

Power struggles are a tool children use to get what they want. Some examples include baiting (using hurtful language to create response), name-calling, and shutting down. These are common parenting struggles seen in all homes, and not just with kids with ADHD. When a child has ADHD they tend to power struggle more which can be exhausting as you’re not dealing with the original issue.

A good way to know if you are in a power struggle is by asking, “Am I talking about their current behavior?” If you are not talking about their behavior then you’re most likely in a power struggle. Children engage in power struggles to move attention away from them and to avoid taking responsibility.

The skill of Observe and Describe helps parents stay out of a power struggle. Observe and Describe shows you how to objectively describe the behavior you want your child to stop. It also helps you give clear instructions for what behavior they should be doing instead. Your child will try to change the subject. If so, explain you can discuss that issue later, and redirect to their current behavior.

Use empathy, give small instructions, and praise compliance

These 3 tools help when dealing with power struggles. They will keep your emotions calm and help with escalating thoughts. It’s ok to take a break if you or your child need one or if your child escalates. Cycle through these 3 steps until your child is calm. It does not matter what order you use them in.

First, use empathy to express understanding of what your child is saying or what they might be feeling. People often create conflict to feel understood, so simply expressing understanding can deescalate a negative situation.

Second, give small instructions of what you want. This helps you stay focused on behavior and draws attention to what your child should do. It also provides a gauge for how calm your child is. The more willing they are to follow instructions the closer they are to discussing the negative behavior.

Third, praise compliance. Praise any effort your child makes to calm down or follow your instructions. It might seem counterintuitive to praise your child amidst their negative behavior, but the goal is to calm your child down to a point where they can be taught. Praising your child encourages increased compliance as it recognize what they are doing well and children like being praised for those things. Once calm, you will be able to address their negative behaviors.

Use Correcting Behaviors

Once your child has calmed down use the steps of Correcting Behaviors. If your child has acted out, they need to be held accountable to reduce overall defiance. You may be nervous to address the negative behaviors because it could cause your child to escalate again. If you don’t, they will continue to use defiance in future situations to get them out of consequences. Applying rules and following through with consequences is essential to reducing defiance.

If you’re new to following through with consequences, be aware that children sometimes act out more before they start to comply. Acting out is a tool they are used to benefiting from so they won’t give it up without a fight. They will eventually learn you aren’t going to give in and begin to comply. Do not skip the final step of Role-playing when using Correcting Behaviors. Practicing the positive behaviors will help rewire your child’s brain pathways to behave appropriately when emotions are high.

Implement Preventive Teaching

Although all the tools described above are helpful during and after defiant behavior, the best time to address these behaviors is before difficult situation occurs. Identify your child’s most common behaviors and teach positive strategies for how they should behave instead. The skill of  Preventive Teaching will help you teach the behavior you want. Preventive Teaching can be applied to many types of defiant behaviors.

You may also choose to teach behaviors that revolve specifically around your child’s ADHD symptoms. This includes things like establishing routines or implementing mindfulness techniques. After you teach something new, praise and reinforce with positive consequences anytime they apply the skill or new behavior. 

Keep in mind that your ADHD child most likely is acting out because they feel out of control and aren’t sure how to manage their high energy or lack of focus. Working towards parenting without power struggles and giving into ADHD defiance, will move your family towards healing. Reduction in parenting struggles  will give you more time to spend managing your ADHD child’s specific ADHD symptoms rather than dealing with escalated behaviors and anger management.

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