"Your child is defiant, and is driving you up a wall. He is colossally resistant to following even the simplest requests. He is moody, seriously stubborn, overly dramatic, rude, and disrespectful — not every once in a while, but quite often … ."
So writes Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D., in the introduction to his latest book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. A licensed psychologist specializing in child and family therapy in the Philadelphia area, Bernstein, a well-known relationship expert, has also written Why Can't You Read My Mind? and Overcoming the Nine Toxic Thinking Patterns That Get in the Way of a Loving Relationship.
The father of three, his work has been profiled in numerous local and national media outlets, has been seen on national TV shows, and he claims he can help families restore their relationships in no time at all.
"All parents deal with children who challenge them on occasion by being difficult. Defiant children, however, take the challenges to a whole new level," says Bernstein. "Defiant children struggle in different areas of their lives and in different ways, but they do share common characteristics. They are quick-tempered, overly dramatic, and almost constantly resistant to doing what they are asked to do. They also almost delude themselves into thinking that they have just as much authority as their parents."
But why? What causes this behavior in the first place? According to Bernstein, science is not quite sure yet just how much is genetic and how much is learned behavior.
"There is strong evidence that the behavior might be due to a genetic predisposition," says the author. "But there is other evidence that this type of behavior can be due to actual distress in the family, such as divorce, a move or the loss of a loved one. Or the child may feel that parents or teachers are expecting too much of him or her."
In any case, Bernstein continues, there is no shortage of parents who deeply love their defiant child. It's just that many don't understand the deeper issues that may be brewing beneath the defiance. In fact, many well-intentioned parents may unwittingly fuel their child's defiant behaviors.
"And so I decided to write this book," explains Bernstein, "outlining the causes of defiance and presenting a 10-day program designed to help parents regain control over their child and all their lives.
"In my book, parents are given step-by-step guidelines to help them learn how to understand why their child acts defiant, how to avoid power struggles, how to successfully communicate without yelling, how to reinforce positive changes in their child and more."
Saying that occasional clashes between parents and children are not uncommon, parents may simply have to learn to give up some of the battles in order to win the war. Bernstein suggests not being overly concerned over small issues: "Wearing a pair of dirty jeans really isn't going to stop the world, is it? Parents must keep the main and important issues in mind and reinforce positive changes.
"Too often kids get the label of being a 'defiant child,' but nobody is defiant 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So learn to praise any random act of kindness, toward a sibling for instance."
He also suggests giving concrete, specific praise if the child does something that is requested of him without raising a fuss. Parents must change their demeanor from being judgmental to being calm, firm and noncontrolling.
Parents, he goes on, "need to understand their child. Try to see what's really going on beneath the surface. Try to encourage your child to say what they are thinking such as, 'You're never fair,' or, 'You always blame me for everything!'
"There's a magic that occurs when parents really understand what's upsetting their child. Most of the time their act of defiance is really a cry for help."
Bernstein stresses that perhaps even more important than loving your child is understanding them, and offers exercises to help parents evaluate their own behaviors.