Strategies for Dealing with
Defiant, Rude & Oppositional
Students


Obnoxious and rude?
    Train them to be waiters in French restaurants!

 C'mon folks, just joking!  I recently had a bad experience with a stereotypically arrogant French waiter.  You see, each year, my wife and I celebrate the anniversary of our first date (at a cafe France') by going to a French restaurant.  Well, this last time I saw a brand of wine on the list that I remembered fondly from a wine tasting party many years ago.  Being a "visual" person and not knowing how to pronounce the name correctly in French, I said "We'll have a bottle of Clos du Bois" ("Kloss due boys" is how I said it).  The waiter looked down his nose at me and said "Monsieur, it's pronounced "Clooo da bloooo." (or some such thing)
I responded: "How do you say 'no tip' in French?" at which time he straightened up indignantly while my wife kicked me under the table... reminding me that one should never insult the waiter before the food arrives.
 

There are probably many other valid etiological possibilities for rude behavior.  Let's investigate them, along with other aspects of inappropriate refusals.
 


Defiant : Challenging; non-compliant; confrontational; openly and boldly challenging and resisting authority
 
 

We have 5 available choices when we don't want to follow a direction:

1. Deny or swallow our feelings & comply passively.

2. Refuse in a rude manner.  (This is the common choice for our defiant kids.)

3.  Withdraw or run away.

4. Avoid complying by use of trickery and manipulation.

5. Make our feelings and decisions known in an respectful manner.

*We want to help our kids adopt patterns #5.
     (Sometimes #1 is an appropriate choice, given certain circumstances)
 


 

Defiant Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

 


Why Do People Defy Directions?



1. Transitional phases of human development

 -Ages 2-3  Hey, it's your fault.  You taught them the NO word.  Now they're using it to test their environment and try to maintain their prestigious place in the world.  Think about it...you're the king/queen of the world...everyone jumps through hoops for you until that dreaded moment...the start of toilet training.  Previous to that time, you pretty much got to do things the way you wanted, when you wanted.  Now society places it's first demands on you.  There is a time and place for something.  As the eminent Dr. Freud might describe it: The superego (society's rights and wrongs) is imposed on your id (the part of you that is impulsive and self-centered).  Kids resist this restriction on their free world.  Defiance is an attempt to keep the known world the way it was.
    (Side note: Most of us no longer hold a grudge against our parents for imposing restrictions during toilet training.  In fact, I often thank my parents...Being toilet trained has really come in handy for me over the years!)

 -Adolescence  I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't know here.  With emerging new mental and physical abilities, pre-teens and teens want to have a say in their world.  They want to influence what happens and have their opinions considered.  This desire, mixed with a lack of life experience, and a not-yet-fully-developed frontal lobe (the part of the brain that helps us to recognize danger and fully feel empathy for others), especially in boys, often results in them wanting a longer leash than parents and educators feel it is wise to give.

 -Senior years  Imagine that your once strong body and nimble mind now start to fail you. (I don't have to imagine it...it's happening!)  You're much valued independence is something that you see fading.  You must rely on others for things that you once did capably on your own.  There is resentful at one's failing capacities.  Many voice: "I don't want to be treated like a child!" (What does that statement say about our society if we don't want to be treated like children?  Consider the RoseBud Soiux [American Indian nation] language in which the word for child means "Sacred Being".)
 

-Newly married?  It's not unusual for newly weds to exhibit defiance as they adjust to a new state of being.  It's difficult to adjust to a lifestyle in which independent decision-making is sometimes viewed negatively by the spouse.  How many of us felt that the other person was placing "unreasonable" demands upon us. (I love you...now change.)
 
 

2. Defense of assigned personal image
Many children has been assigned identities by the important adults in their lives.  They have been called "bad", "not very bright", "rude", etc.  Maybe the behavior pattern resulted in the assignment of the label, but maybe the label promoted the behavior... Imagine it, you hear someone who is in charge of raising you and has lived in this world much longer than you telling you that you are not doing well as a child.  They are all-knowing beings.  If they say that you are something, then you accept that they are right.  You adopt that identity.  What do rude people do?...RUDE THINGS!  We have created the very type of person we were trying to prevent!

So which came first?  The egg or the rubber chicken?  Doesn't matter.  Whatever happened before the youngster reached you, it's now up to you to do things right:  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER  say that a child IS a particular type of person.  You can say that the behavior is rude or that the action was thoughtless, but never say that the kid is rude or thoughtless (or some other negative identity tag).  See the link on this site titled "Nice ways to build self discipline in kids" for more information and strategies regarding this advice.
 
 

INTERVENTIONS:  (Ways to get our messages imbedded in the youngster's mind, and improve our connection with the student so that we are more likely to have our requests followed)

-Avoid using positive labels (e.g., "You're so smart.", "You're a good boy.") because they will be rejected by a youngster who sees them as being incorrect (given his/her life experience).   So what do we do in place of labels?  How do we break down old image (and build a new one)?  Disprove the image (and build a new one) with non-disputable evidence and point out factual evidence of good choice making.
      -"Thanks for holding the door for us.  That was a kind gesture on your part."
      -"Your patience with Ivan really helped him to understand the material.  Thanks."
      -"You showed a lot of restraint & self control in that situation.  Proud of self."
      -"Wow.  You got it!  Tell me how you figured it out."
 

-Set up the youngster for success  So if your eyes are pealed and he's not showing pro-social behavior? What do you do?  Arrange opportunities for the student to do well.  Set him/her up for success, and then recognize the good choice (or some approximation of it).
 

-Reminisce    If a potentially frustrating event for the student is about to occur, you can remind the youngster about times when the s/he made a good choice (perhaps times when you rigged the situation for success) and state your belief in his/her ability to make a good choice in this particular situation that is about to happen.

 When I was a kid, I remember overhearing people saying positive things about me.  I know now that my parents waited for me to walk by a conversation they were having with others at which time they would utter a compliment about me ("Other other boys were going to go swimming in the river rapids today, but Tom remembered that it wasn't safe and told them he had to meet a friend somewhere else.")  Did this happen to you too?  Devise opportunities to say positive things about how one of your students followed the directions or made a good choice.  Be sure to state the actions that occurred.  Do not label the student.
 

 -Model values and behaviors you'd like the kids to adopt   Are you on time for class?  Do you treat others with respect?  Your kids are watching.  You are a role model.
 

-Interpret the behavior by placing the unknown or scattered feelings into perspective.  Use "symptom estrangement" (Fritz Redl's term for separating the inappropriate behavior from the youngster...in other words "I hate the behavior, but I believe in your ability to change for the better.")  Here's an example:

   -"Lee, you're a kid with a lot of potential, but this behavior isn't helping your popularity with
   others.  I suspect that the reason you did it is because you were feeling victimized.  We
   need to learn better ways to handle these types of situations."
        (Symptom Estrangement:  Dislike the behavior while expressing belief in the kid's ability to change for the better.)
  -"It's a hard for you to hear people say nice things about yourself, isn't it?"
       Kid: "Don't nobody mean it when they say it."
  -"It's hard for you to believe that people can care about you, huh?"
       Kid: "Ain't nobody cares about me."
  -"Are you saying that because you don't trust that I'm telling you the truth?"
       Kid: "Hey, I've heard it all before."
  -"You've experienced a lot of failure in your young life, but that doesn't mean that you're
    a failure.  I see your potential, and I'm here to help you reach it.  There's still time."
        Kid: "BUG OFF.  Leave me alone."
  -Below that superficial rejection, which was an automatic response on the kids part, is a thought that perhaps someone does care about his/her welfare.  You've make a small pinhole in the dark cover over his/her psyche.
 

 -Prepare the student for your positive feedback (In order to prevents the automatic negative reactions found above)
  -"I have something nice I'd like to tell you.  Wanna hear it?"
       Kid: "NOPE." (but s/he is wondering what you were going to say)

  -"I'd like give you compliment.  How're you gonna react if I do?"
       Kid: "Not well."
     Teacher: "That's OK... I'll take my chances."

 -Make a quick retreat     Provide praise in written form (or make a very quick verbal commentary) and walk away.  In this way, there is no chance for the student to give you an automatic nasty retort.
 
 

3. Defiance due to Conflict Between The Student and Educators
    If your student is known to be "rude", "defiant", or "oppositional", s/he probably has a long history of negative experiences with authority figures.  You belong to a group of people who have made his/her life miserable and said nasty things to him/her.  Then s/he meets a nice person like you, but immediately categorizes you as being "one of them".  Expecting the rejection s/he has experienced before from teachers who initially said "I care about you and we'll have a good year.", but then became enemies in the behavior battle, s/he strikes out at you.

     Defiant kids will try to force you into that "mean teacher" role to keep their concept of the world intact.  It's a coping strategy: They are trying to manage a negative and unpredictable life.  They are trying to protect their injured self from further harm.  They want to get the "inevitable" rejection over quickly and on their terms.  They decide to reject you before you reject them.  They will try to prove that you are like the others in order to keep their world view intact (however distorted).  They will do things to make you take off your behavior management halo and  pick up a disciplinary pitch fork.

    Will you be able to maintain your caring approach when this student challenges you?  Will you be able to avoid taking these comments and actions personally?  Will you be able to stand back and say "Here is a child in crisis (again).  What should a caring professional such as myself do in this situation?  What reaction on my part is ethical, moral, professional, and in the youngster's best interests?"

    The idea that I'm trying to convey is that educators often create the very behavior that they complain about.  Many times oppositional behavior results from getting tired of hearing corrections, chastisement, complaints and other negative comments about oneself all the time.  At some point, kids get fed up and tell negative people to "take a hike" (or some other wording).  If we are going to change the defiant behavior, we must set kids up for success, catch them being good when they do succeed, and focus on progress, however small.  Changing these kids to be more cooperative is a series of small victories (in which both sides win and feel good).  If you're a bossy teacher, don't expect to make much progress with these kids.

    Often times, if we are to break a student's negative behavior pattern, we must break our own "dark side" ways first.  Many of us hold the view that we are the masters and the students are our slaves...that we are the hammer and the students are the anvil (I would remind you that the hammer wears out long before the anvil).  Pupils are expected to obey our every direction without question.  Certainly that form of compliance would be nice, but does it teach our youngsters to think, reason, develop self-regulation of behavior, and become thoughtful citizens? (The answer is a resounding "no")

    As students get older, they want to contribute to the environment in which they find themselves.  They want to influence the events in their community (the classroom and school).  They also want more responsibility within that arena, and respect for their views.  Certainly we teachers (in general) have more experience and wisdom than our youngsters, but part of being a wise elder is helping the younger generations to develop into thoughtful societal contributors, not automatons who robotically follow commands (except perhaps in emergency situations).  Refrain from escalating a minor incident into a major battle.  Talk privately, NEVER in front of others.  Avoid bringing up past failures and infractions.

   Youngsters who feel that they have no control over a situation will fight for control.  Often, they are able to disrupt our classes, gain the support of others, and be viewed as a champion for student rights.  Many "oppositional" young people, perhaps due to life circumstances or familial/cultural upbringing (more on this topic in the future) may be more sensitive to being "ordered" to engage in actions (e.g., starting work, completing work in a certain prescribed manner, ceasing behavior deemed inappropriate).
 

INTERVENTIONS
 -Recognize the "wounded animal" that doesn't trust and is trying to prevent deeper hurt.  This child is afraid, but showing you other behaviors to disguise that fear.  If we could just place ourselves in their shoes...we would look funny and our feet would hurt...but let your empathy for others who are hurt win out over caustic reactions.

-Avoid coercive "Do it dammit!" directions.  Use requests and the word "Please" before politely stated directions.

-Avoid toxic penalties.  When we engage in behavior battles with kids, we are at risk for coming to view them as the enemy.  Then we decide to "get tough with them to teach them a lesson".  Odd...we don't learn lessons that way and would refuse to do what others want us to do (or at least resent them)...but somehow we think that everyone else will learn a lesson is we "get tough with 'em".

 -Use "Symptom Estrangement" (see above).

 -Don't take it personally.  The behavior is part of the student's disability.  Let these oppositional things bounce off of you.

-Never give up on a youngster.  Keep believing in their ability to change for the better...now that s/he has a persistent, and caring teacher like you. 
  
  
 
Click here for a "Powerpoint" slide show explaining how and why teachers and students engage in classroom conflict (and how to keep it from happening in the future)

4. Fear of failure upon seeing teacher's assignments
Imagine that you are in a group of peers.  You are presented with a task that you know you are not able to do well.  You are afraid of being publicly exposed as not being able to accomplish what others can do.  You have a choice:  You can be "bad" or "dumb".  Which one would you choose?  Certainly, the "bad" badge has more prestige to it than the "dumb" label.  Many of our kids will choose the former when faced with failure.

Are you sure that the material is on your student's level?  Could your student be avoiding imminent failure?  Do you know your students' instructional levels (if they were motivated to show it)?  Are you able to identify this student's learning preferences (hands-on, video, etc.) and learning style (auditory, visual, global, inductive, etc.) so that you can teach to his/her strengths?  If not, what will you do to seek out this information?
 
 

INTERVENTIONS

-Modify assignments so that reading/writing level do not come into play.  See web sites like www.LDonline.com for ideas on how to modify assignments so that kids can show their knowledge without limited skills getting in the way.

-Focus on effort, not accuracy.  If kids are trying their best, we should be happy teachers doing cartwheels!  With effort will come accuracy and acquisition of knowledge.  Promote "best effort" over grades and scores.  You'll find that exactness will increase over time if kids don't fear grades.  Can't focus solely on effort due to the school's requirement that you must submit grades?  Could you build effort into the academic grade (sort of like a daily quiz)?  If not, at least focus on effort in your classroom, even though you must eventually assign a grade.  That grade will probably be higher than if you focused on the grade obtained on assignments.  Kids will learn more if they're engaged in the task.  Requiring only one's best effort results in progress. 

-Get them started first with some help and support.

-Break down the task into sections and have each part checked before next part.

-Offer options for completion.  Provide acceptable ways (to you) for showing one's knowledge.

-Have the student place his/her answers/thoughts onto audio tape.  Then score those answers for content.  Use written work as an exercise to improve that particular skill.  In other words, separate the information from the skill that gets in the way of showing one's knowledge.

 -Implement cooperative learning, peer tutoring, and/or cross-age tutoring (see the link on this site titled "cooperative learning")
 
 




OTHER GENERAL STRATEGIES TO USE
WITH
KIDS WHO DISPLAY DEFIANCE
 
 

The Event That Never Happens

Prevent and Analyze
    Be proactive.  Based upon past experience and analysis of the youngster's behavior, predict situations in which the behavior might arise and attempt to prevent it's occurrence.  Become skilled at identifying the goal or function of the student's behavior (see the links on the home page of www.BehaviorAdvisor.com titled "Figuring out why kids misbehave..." and "Functional Behavior Assessment").
 
 

Defusing Refusing

Say it nicely

    We all like to be shown respect by others.  If "non-compliant", "defiant", and "oppositional" kids feel that their view point has been considered or that they have been "asked" rather than "told" to do something, they are more likely to comply.  Consider your own life: How would you prefer that bosses, spouses, elder siblings, parents, principals, and professors gain your cooperation?  Don't you respond better to a friendly, supportive supervisor?
You can find tips on saying it nicely in the following links on our home page:
    -Nice things to try (before using "do it or else" interventions)
    -Gaining and getting respect
    -I messages

    If these strategies fail, you can always follow them with the usual coercive interventions.  If the less intrusive strategies don't work initially, don't give up.  Keep using them before implementing penalties.  Kids will, over time, notice the progression of events and recognize the benefits of responding to your earlier, gentler attempts to gain their cooperation.
 
 

Offer a selection of choices that are acceptable to you

    "Non-compliant" pupils wish to have some degree of influence or control in a situation.  They rebel against adults who they view as being oppressive.  Instead of demanding that the work be completed in a prescribed manner, give the youngster "power" in a situation while still getting what you want (displaying knowledge).  Just provide the youngster with a choice of several ways of completing the assignment.

    Suppose you want Jasmine to write in her daily journal, but she refuses.  You might offer her the following options which you deem acceptable:
    -Write in pencil instead of pen
    -Use a green ink pen
    -Use a felt tip pen
    -Compose the essay on a computer, print it out, and paste it in the journal
    -Draw a picture of what she would otherwise write about (ask for a caption and short summary later)

    A picture???!!!!  How can I suggest such a thing??!!   OK, then don't offer that option.  However, please consider that a picture represents her story, and if she's going to rebel against your demand to write in blue ink, you're not going to get anything from her when she rebels (and the argument will ruin your day, irritate the principal when you send Jasmine to the office, and upset the other kids).  Isn't the submission of something better than nothing at all (at least as a start)?  Once you have her product, thank her for submitting it, find something to compliment, and encourage further compliance.  Perhaps after some positive  commentary, you can say "Now I realize what you're capable of doing.  I know I'm going to see more of this super work in the future. Right?"  Or compliment  the product and try to get a bit more out of the youngster right then ("This is a well drawn and realistic rendering.  Would you mind writing a caption to it so that we know what it's about?"  OR   "This essay is very strong in content and your penmanship (is this a sexist term?) and writing mechanics are excellent.  You know what would really distinguish this piece from ordinary ones?... More colorful and vivid words that enhance your images.  Remember our lesson on adjectives?  Can you fit in 3 or 4 descriptive words for your nouns?  Don't worry about writing your piece over again, just write the adjectives above where you want them to go.  I'll know where they belong.")

Another example:  "Josh, you're on the cleanup crew today.  Do you want to be the gum scraper, paper picker upper, broom pusher, dust pan holder, or mopper?  Graffiti remover?  Oh...thanks for reminding me of that.  What's your plan for removing it? ("Paint over it.")  That will certainly get that scribbling out of our site, but then we still have a messy wall.  Would you like to use soap and water or spray chemicals and a rag? ("Spray chemicals.")  OK, but you realize that you'll have to wear goggles and rubber gloves, before you use the spray bottle right?  (OK)"
 
 

Allow the student to self-monitor and self-evaluate
Allowing student to evaluate their own work gives them "power".  You might provide a checklist to be completed, or ask the students to list the strong and weak points of their academic products.  For behavior in general, visit our page on "self monitoring".  This procedure involves the student in his/her own behavior change for the better.
 
 

Send a note
    Notes are a great way to prevent misbehavior, nip it in the bud, or address issues.  The permanent and novel (at least between teachers and kids) form of communication often makes a more dramatic impact upon the behavior and emotional state of our students.  Below, you'll find examples of different types of notes.  Just remember though: watch the wording (remember that this note might be shown to others) and be aware that it is more difficult to convey emotion in writing...add a smiley face to the note (or to your face as you deliver the document).

Pre-emptive/Preventive Notes (Present these to the student(s) before the activity/event)
"Svetlana, remember to raise you hand to offer an answer or comment."

"Group 2: Bring your discussion to a close soon.  Have your projects put away by 2:10pm."

A

fter-The-Fact (Present these to address a behavior/event after it has occurred)
"Chandra, please see me at your convenience, but before the bell rings."

"I was saddened to hear of your family's loss.  If you want to talk, I'm available."
"T.J.: Insightful answers in class today.  Thanks for contributing."
"Shoshana, thanks for helping me yesterday.  It's greatly appreciated.

"Calvin, I let some rude remarks pass today.  I expect respectful behavior tomorrow."

Humorous Reminders (To address issues that need resolution now...or in a couple of minutes)
Dear Willie:  Please stop using invisible ink.
    Your ledger.

Dear Josie:  I get lonely without words.
    Your notebook.

Dear Ali:  I can't think straight.  I need my mind organized.
    Your locker.

"Offers Of Assistance"
Here's a typical scenario:  The teacher says "Hector, open your book to page 14 and answer the questions please."  Hector says "I ain't opening no stupid book.  This is baby crap."  Hector is sending a false message to his peers...He's too bright for this material and rejects you for asking him to do the assignment.  The true message is that the material is much to difficult for him.  He knows that it is better to be "bad" than "dumb".  Here's how to use notes to gain cooperation...

If you detect that the youngster needs assistance:
    -Continue to teach the lesson while moving slowly toward the student.
    -As you teach, write on a "post it" (sticky back) "Do you want help?" (Be sure to use the word "want"...he can't admit that he "needs" help)
    -Keep walking, but look back to the youngster in a couple of seconds
    -Wait for a cue from him/her as to "Yes" or "No"
    -If "Yes", write another note: "From me or another student?"
    -Watch for a non-verbal reply (e.g., nod of head, pointing to someone)

"Offers of assistance don't force kids to reveal that they need help and give "personal space" to oppositional kids while being supportive.
 
 

Engage in Problem Solving
    Visit this site's page on "Problem Solving".  Once familiar with the process, schedule a meeting with the student.  Respectfully and cooperatively work with the student to devise a new plan.
 
 

Try novel ways to gain compliance
 CLICK HERE to go to a listing of novel ways to gain student compliance.  Inside, you'll find a description of various strategies and activities related to them.
 
 
 

Develop your skills by modeling effective strategies.

By far, the best program I've ever reviewed is "Total Transformation", a multi-media package designed for use by parents whose children have become "out of control" in their defiance and non-compliance. It models and discusses realistic and effective phrasing and interventions for becoming assertive rather than pleading or aggressive with one's child.

Many teachers have found this program to be helpful in allowing them to become the "captain" of their classroom (without becoming either the coercive Captain Bleigh or incompetent Joe Hazelwood... captain of the Exxon Valdez). More information on how teachers are using the program can be found at http://www.empowering parents.com/School-of-Hard-Knocks.php

Click on the image below for more information.

Total TransformationParent Group Award

More information



  

Click here to read about various types of oppositional tactics & games of defiance 
(and how to handle them)

  

    Click here to read an article that provides tips for working with oppositional kids

 

Click here to read how a teacher used praise and positivity to create compliance and on-task behavior in a defiant student                                                   

  
Click here to read how various strategies were used at home to improve the behavior of an active and defiant boy                                                    
 

Click here to view a list of suggestions for when students insult your lessons.

Click here to read about how a teacher changed the behavior of a student who refused to do his academic work.

Click here to read one of Dr. Mac's keynote addresses pertaining to defiant kids


Resources
Dr. Mac conducts an all-day staff development session on working more effectively with defiant kids.  See the link on the home page titled "Dr. Mac's Staff Development Workshops"

Fetch The Index Page
NOW Dang It!!!   Oops.    Sorry pooch.   What I meant to say was that I would really appreciate it if you'd be so kind as to bring the home page to my screen.   You might carry it here in parts, or drag it along the ground, or get another puppy to help you...Or do you have another idea for fetching it?
 
 

    Author: Tom McIntyre   at    www.BehaviorAdvisor.com