“He’s not ready for treatment.” That’s what one therapist said about one of the strong-willed, oppositional kids I work with. She made this assessment in response to his refusal to participate in therapy. He had nothing to say to her, and he didn’t want to talk with her.
In my world, this scenario is typical. Strong-willed, oppositional, or defiant kids have a high need for control and autonomy, they tend to place a high value on their own perspective and experience, and they are on the lower end of the people-pleasing spectrum. They want it their way, and they don’t see that as a problem.
This therapist’s statement, and the strong-willed temperament traits I just described, fit with the fact that many of my clients tell me they’ve tried psychotherapy to change their kid’s problem behavior, but the therapy didn’t work. And that’s actually to be expected. Therapy won’t work with a strong-willed child who values his perspective and doesn’t want to change!
So you need a different solution.
I actually see oppositional kids’ problem behavior as resulting, not from psychopathology or a neurological disorder, but instead from a lack of training. They haven’t experienced the grownup-child interactions and related daily routines that would teach them NOT to be oppositional.
There’s actually no one better positioned to teach a child alternative behaviors than the parents, and, especially for kids whose rational brains are not fully developed, there’s no better time and place to learn these alternatives than in the real-time, real-world context in which the problem occurs. The thing is, most of us don’t know how to teach so the lesson is actually learned. But this is something I show parents – how to teach their kids to listen… to cooperate so it’s not just their way or no way… to manage their impulses… to manage their anger… Because just “talking about it” doesn’t cut it, right?
When have you tried to really teach your child something important, and they received that lesson, and the teaching was a success?
And what about the opposite? What have you tried to teach that just hasn’t gotten through? I’d love it if you’d share your stories!