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Parenting K-6 Kids/Help managing meltdowns and defiant, rude, wilfull behaviro from our 6yo girl


My daughter turned 6 in April. She has always been wilfull and stubborn and harder to manage at times but this year has gotten worse. She does fantastic in school; is helpful, friendly, achieving, behaves well and has made many friends. Home seems to be another matter. She varies from defiant, rude, stubborn, mean and argumentative and has begun having almost daily meltdowns when she doesn't get "her way". We fear taking her places because of the behavior and dread having to ask her to do anything like pick up her toys or get ready for bedtime. Everything we say meets an argument and we have toddler level meltdowns often. We've tried everything we can think of to re-route this behavior; focusing on rewarding good behaviors or actions, taking away toys or priviledges, time outs, removal from fun activities, talking about the behavior and sadly even yelling and NOTHING seems to work. It's almost as if she doesn't care what we do or say, and even goes so far as to ignore us. Anything we do to punish her behavior just gets met with her heels dug in further and snotty remarks, or outright refusal to accept her punsihment. My H and I are beyond upset and stressed and have no idea how to handle this anymore. When she was younger, these instances were fewer and much farther between, and now it seems like we deal with something on a daily basis. We don't feel like we spoil her and have certainly told her "no" before and have given her tasks and chores as part of being a family; but now everything is met with some sort of negative behavior. Please help us find a way to get the sweet, fun, loving daughter we had back.

Beginning with some basics-

If a child is truly able to "turn a switch" from "on" (well behaved at school) to "off" (a monster at home), it means the child is making a willful decision to behave differently depending on the site. Misbehavior of this type is manageable by identifying the effective inducements at school and applying them at home. Or, most simply, be more like the school.

But, if the school reports temper outbursts as well and these require the teacher to accommodate to them (though teachers may not have reported these to the parents), the problem is likely being carried everywhere with the child. This would mean an underlying "condition" makes the child more susceptible to anger flare-ups than is normal. Under those circumstances, the child may only be able to control the intensity of anger from one site to another and might be "letting it all hang out" at home, which she sees as a safer harbor than school.

Before imposing discipline on a child, parents must be sure the child has the ability to make behavioral decisions. Underlying mood disorders, like Intermittent Explosive Disorder and even Bipolar Disorder (which can emerge in children as young as 6 yrs) block decision-making. Punishing a child with such a disorder as if it could be willfully controlled when it cannot be willfully controlled, would intensify anger or depression.

In a situation such as you describe, beginning with a basic child psychiatric assessment to eliminate "conditions" is usually a good first step. Once bad choice-making is isolated, discipline can be imposed.

Discipline can be broken into 4 modes: Deterrence, Deflection, Diversion and Drawing. Any form of discipline which imposes punishment (as in the first 2 modes) will likely increase anger and intensify defiance. The latter two modes work best when anger is part of the misbehavior and are most effective when affection is used to "activate" them.

In my book, Managing Misbehavior in Kids (on Amazon)and in another about to be published, How to Discipline Your Child (Without Going to Jail), I discuss the details of these disciplinary models. The underlying principle is to reward right behavior with affection.

Hope this is helpful.

Al Davick

Parenting K-6 Kids

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Alan M. Davick, M.D.


As a Johns Hopkins trained Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician with 40 years experience, I have focused on distinguishing underlying willful, poor choice-making (like Oppositional-Defiant Disorder)from innate "conditions" masquerading as willful misbehavior (like ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delay, Epilepsy and "Behavioral" Seizures). Though I cannot act as a formal medical or psychiatric consultant, I will answer queries with generic information and suggestions for discussion readers may direct to their own professional advisers, including physicians, psychologists and educators.


I trained at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Pediatrics, Child Psychiatry and Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrics. Thereafter, I've continuously practiced Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrics and have taught the principles mentioned above to parents, colleagues and professional groups.

American Academy of Pediatrics SW Florida Sportsman's Association Florida Writers Association

First Travel Meds - 1987; Managing Misbehavior in Kids: The Mis/Kidding Process; Bullying: Rarely Travels Alone; Discipline Your Child (without going to jail); AD(H)D: What Every Parent Needs to Know

Undergraduate - NY University WSC Arts & Science, NYC 1959-63 - B.A. Medical Degree- State University of NY, Upstate Med Ctr, Syracuse 1963-67 - M.D. Internship/Residency - Johns Hopkins Hosp/University - Baltimore, MD 1967-70 Major, US Army Medical Corps, Chief Pediatric Section, Savannah, GA - 1970-72 Sp. Fellow, Dept Child Psychiatry - Johns Hopkins Hospital/University - 1972-73 Practicing Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrician, lecturer, author - to date Currently practicing Child Psychiatry - SalusCareFlorida, Fort Myers, FL.

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