What Clinicians Need To Know about Defiance

By Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT @pdresources.org

Defiant ChildDefiance is often construed as lack of willingness, outright resistance, and in many cases, harmful behavior. Defiant clients are often seen as unwilling, their bad behavior quickly written off, or, in many cases, met with harsh punishment and constrictive rules.

But defiance is not all bad. In fact, defiance is often a very telling sign. Clients don’t simply choose to be defiant, they resort to it. More often than not, it is because they know no other way of communicating their needs.

Defiance is a form of communication, albeit, an unsettling one. In their pushing back, resisting, and acting out, clients are trying to send a message that they do not have the cognitive resources or the executive functions to communicate in any other way. In a sense, a defiant child is not asking for help, but rather, screaming for it.

Yet, so often, this is the child that seems to invite power struggles, disrupt things at the most inopportune moments, and exhaust the resources of even the most patient caregivers, teachers, and therapists.

What is needed is not just a way to help the defiant child, but a way to understand his behavior, identify the areas of need, and provide him with the resources that he needs to function effectively. Often this means teaching him ways to manage executive function deficits and develop a new identity free from the label of “problem child.” Further, he must learn to act in a new role, with a new set of behaviors, and trust that his needs will be met without resorting to defiance.

Frequently, the family of a defiant client needs support in learning ways to respond to their child that do not trigger a relapse to defiant behavior. They too, will have to learn to trust that their new ways of responding will not be met with defiance and that they will not need to resort to harsh punishments as they might have in the past to control their child.

When a clinician is trained in how to recognize, understand, and work with defiance, he becomes an invaluable tool for the family, and often a pivotal factor in the family’s ultimate success and well-being. Not just can a clinician release the family from rigid and often hurtful roles, but also teach them more healthy and empathetic ways of communication that result in a better understanding of one another, increased feelings of happiness, and much improved functioning.

Related Online Continuing Education (CE) Courses:

When Your Young Client is Defiant is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that teaches clinicians effective and practical strategies to manage challenging and defiant behavior in their young clients. Children with difficult temperaments and those with developmental delays may have learned to express their dissatisfaction with challenging and defiant behavior like whining, anger, temper tantrums or bad language. They sometimes engage in negative behavior or “misbehave” because they do not have the necessary skills – communicative or otherwise – to make their needs known. This course will also focus on how clinicians can educate parents on how to manage difficult behavior and avoid power struggles at home. The dynamics and techniques described in this course are intended for use with typically functioning children and those with developmental or language delays. They are not generally adequate or even appropriate for children with serious behavior conditions like oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorders. Course #30-84 | 2016 | 53 pages | 25 posttest questions

Improving Social Skills in Children & Adolescents is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that discusses the social skills children and adolescents will need to develop to be successful in school and beyond. It will demonstrate the challenges and difficulties that arise from a deficit of these crucial skills, as well as the benefits and advantages that can come about with well-developed social skills. This course will also provide practical tools that teachers and therapists can employ to guide children to overcome their difficulties in the social realm and gain social competence. While there are hundreds of important social skills for students to learn, we can organize them into skill areas to make it easier to identify and determine appropriate interventions. This course is divided into 10 chapters, each detailing various aspects of social skills that children, teens, and adults must master to have normative, healthy relationships with the people they encounter every day. This course provides tools and suggestions that, with practice and support, can assist them in managing their social skills deficits to function in society and nurture relationships with the peers and adults in their lives. Course #40-40 | 2016 | 62 pages | 35 posttest questions

Improving Communication with Your Young Clients is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that teaches clinicians effective and practical communication and conversational skills to use with young clients and their families. Healthy professional and personal relationships rely heavily on effective communication techniques and respectful conversational skills. Clinicians and other professionals who work with children and their families can benefit from adding to their repertoire by learning communication techniques that improve the quality of these relationships. The correct use of language can increase your young clients’ self-esteem, motivate children to learn, engage their willing cooperation, defuse power struggles, and teach conflict resolution skills. With this information, you will also be better prepared to manage difficult conversations. Course #30-79 | 2015 | 52 pages | 21 posttest questions

These online courses provide instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document). Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion.

Target Audience: Psychologists | Counselors | Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) | Social Workers | Occupational Therapists (OTs) | Marriage & Family Therapists | Nutritionists & Dietitians | School Psychologists | Teachers

Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA Provider #AAUM); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501) and the Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).