Defiant Students: Interventions and Strategies
edited: Tuesday, September 16, 2008
By Ruth Herman Wells
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, September 16, 2008
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Teachers and counselors: Here's ideas, methods, interventions and strategies for defiant students
Here's the absolute, no-fail way to win every power
struggle with every kid every time: Don't struggle
for power. Think about it. The minute an adult
wrestles with a kid for power, they've immediately
lost. And, the younger the child, the more true that
statement becomes. To give you an image, you want
to take your "sails" out of their wind, so to speak.
Here are some specific tips and tricks to use instead
of getting caught up in the "Yes, you will"-"No, I
won't" battles when everybody loses.
How do we know what to recommend to you? This is
all we do. Our popular web site (http://www.youthchg.com)
is your Problem-Kid Problem-Solver packed with lots
of creative ideas, along with books, workshops, and
*** It's Fun to Torture Adults: For many youngsters,
it can seem like sport to "trap" an adult in a power
struggle. What better way to get out of doing what
you are supposed to be doing than to debate it? For
example, if you run a counseling group, you may notice
that it seems impossible to get some youngsters to
come to group on time. Instead of taking group time
to debate if "the bus was late" is a satisfactory
excuse, turn it over to the group. The group may
decide, for example, to have the latecomer clean
up after the group is over, a natural consequence of
inconveniencing the group members. Notice the issue
switches from being an adult-kid issue to a
kid-to-kid issue. Once your group has set a
standard policy, never waste time debating again.
*** BONUS TIP: Set an on-going limit on how long
you'll discuss compliance issues. Your youngsters
will know that they have only a brief time frame,
and that this time can not be during group or class
time, but on their own time.
*** Meet the Bickersons: Teach kids about the "bicker-
backs", when people get into a griping match. Teach
them how to spot the "bickers" and to stop the
"backs". They'll learn that you won't bickerback and
will give up attempting to bicker with you. This
is a great device to give to families.
*** BONUS TIP: Teach kids "Ask once, you're assertive,
ask thrice, you're aggressive." This saying can
become a common comment that youth use with each
other, relieving you of some of the chore of
confronting coercive behavior.
*** When Do You Let Them Have It?: We got that
question recently in our workshop from a teacher who
wanted to know a "really good put-down" to stop the
bickering and clowning. This question was easy. You
don't ever "let them have it." There is never a
circumstance when it is okay to demean a child.
Channel the child instead. For example, working
with a class clown can be a battle as the child
debates whether comments were "appropriate" or
not. A fun approach is to ask the class clown to
morph the comment for different audiences, such as
for the boss on the job you really want. You are
assisting the child to gain skill in adapting
content to fit different circumstances, rather
than focusing on squelching what could be a
terrific asset for the long run. Successfully
teaching the child to channel the humor can help
the child become a wonderful team member in
the work place, someone who can lighten up tense
and difficult situations with appropriate humor.
*** BONUS TIP: Have your class or group establish
rules about the number of talk-outs per hour,
and to create a standing policy about what to do when
problems occur. Without a recommended number for kids
to follow, some won't be able to discern a reasonable
number on their own. Young people need practice
providing self-governance; most adults don't need that
practice. With this intervention, not only do you shift
the problems away from being adult-kid to kid-kid,
but you are aiding your kids to practice essential
*** Defiance, Coercion and Acceptance: As you work to
discern what to do in situations that could easily
become power struggles, avoid coercing kids, and putting
their backs to the wall so defiance becomes one of the
few options left. The more you can use acceptance to
find a mutually agreeable middle ground, the more
success you will have with children and youth who would
otherwise power struggle.
*** BONUS TIP: Be sure you know a lot about conduct
disordered youth, your most hard-to-manage children.
If you do not know this child "backwards and forwards,
inside and out", and how to work with this youth
completely differently than everyone else, you will
be very vulnerable to being entangled in power
struggles for control and safety. Because conduct
disorders are very slick and manipulative, you may
not even fully appreciate exactly what is going on.
There is no quick strategy to just disarm this youth.
You must take the time to learn about their
operating system and acquire the special set of
techniques needed. You need to ensure you know
all about this youth who may be 11-15% or more
of your population. Visit our huge web site for
resources for defiant students that can give you immediate help.