Defiant Child Always in Trouble? How to Get Him to “Listen Louder”


“I can’t find anything good about my child!”

“I am so angry and frustrated I don’t even like her/him right now!”

We talk to many parents on the Parent Support Line that feel that they are unable to find something positive about their child because of their argumentative and sometimes abusive behavior. This is especially true if they have a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder. But to be honest, a teenager with hormone surges can act in a very similar way.

My son has ODD, so I understand the feelings of frustration. But just for a moment if you can, take a look at things from your child’s perspective. I’m guessing they may feel that they can’t do anything right.  They feel constantly criticized and “in trouble.”  They are convinced that their parents are unfair and that they are there to make their life miserable! It seems to create a vicious cycle, literally, of anger, confrontation and resentment. Needless to say, communication seems to be restricted to negative exchanges.

Related: A Day in the Mind of Your Defiant Child By James Lehman, MSW

I spoke to a brilliant woman this week who gave me permission to share her idea for positive recognition. She has a Good Deeds Book for her elementary-aged child. Her child struggles with compliance and respectful behavior. She started a Good Deed Book and reads it out loud to him every night. She writes down anything that she can give him a compliment for.  He looks forward to this every night! One good deed she read was that he did what Mom asked him to do the first time. She then told him what that was.  Imagine what you could fill the book with!

You could start off by acknowledging that your child brushed her teeth. Maybe your son wore a clean shirt without prompting. He was frustrated with a sibling, but did NOT hit or call them names! She walked around the dog instead of pushing it out of the way. It could be something as simple as your child started to throw a game and then put it down. Start by looking for little things. The mother who told me about this idea, told me that her child now makes sure she writes things down in the Good Deed Book as the day progresses.  It’s become a positive motivator by itself.

Related: Need help parenting your defiant child?

How reassuring it would be for that child as well. As James Lehman says, they will “listen louder” if you start off any conversation with: “I noticed that you ….” Or, “I saw you give that…” This not only lets them know that you are really paying attention to them, but they are also getting some positive feedback. Know that even if your child says: “You’re just saying that because you’re my Mom!” they do WANT to hear it.  The more positive comments they get, the more likely that good behavior will be repeated.

The Good Deed Book can also help parents who are struggling with their child. As Debbie Pincus states in the article Sometimes I Don’t Like My Child, it’s their behavior we don’t like, not our child. I think that training ourselves to look for good behavior can also lift some of the stress of parenting a child that consistently defies you and the rules — and lets us focus on the child we have, not the child we imagined we would have.


Holly Fields has worked with children with emotional and physical disabilities for more than 15 years in the home, at school, and in rehabilitation settings, as well as therapeutic riding programs. She was with Legacy Publishing Company as a 1-on-1 Coach for two years. Holly has a Masters Degree in Special Education. She has two adult children, two rescue dogs and one cat.

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