What Causes a Resistant Child?

Bill Corbett
January 22, 2013 — 1,142 views  

I asked the divorced mom of an 8-year-old boy for an example of what she meant when she complained that her son had become more resistant lately, during the weekday morning rush.  She stated that he would respond with a blatant “NO” when she asked him to do something such as “get dressed,” “finish your breakfast,” or “turn off the TV.”  His resistance was driving her to scold, yell, and demand.  By the time they actually left the house and got on their way, she was late for work, stressed and angry.  She decided she just didn’t like him anymore and felt so guilty about her thoughts.

I then offered her some encouragement by letting her know that she was not a bad mom nor was he a bad kid.  Her story is one I hear frequently from other parents.  I reminded her of the fact that it is incredibly difficult for one person to raise a growing child all alone.  While she appreciated my encouragement and support, she urged me to help her understand what she could do differently to get different results from him each morning.

Solving an issue effectively requires getting to the root of the problem.  If your car won’t start, you get someone to look under the hood to identify the root cause and get it fixed.  You don’t yell at the car, it doesn’t care.  If an adult close to you is suddenly angry with you, you determine what you might have done to get them mad and apologize, then provide a make up for what you did.  You don’t yell at them to resolve it.  If your boss tells you that your performance is less than adequate, you ask your boss for examples that illustrate how you can improve and you work on making those changes.  You don’t yell at your boss.

 Problems with your child can be solved in a similar way; yelling doesn’t work.  A child’s resistance or lack of cooperation with you is an indication that something is going on with them and the best approach is to find out what might be causing this resistance.  Children don’t know how to express an emotion or an unmet need verbally; it usually comes out in their behavior and in the case of this mom’s situation, through her son’s resistance.  Because your child cannot help you get to the root cause of the problem, a parent educator, a counselor, or a therapist can help.

If you’re dealing with a similarly challenging situation, the first question you want to ask yourself is, “Have I taken measures to engage my child in developing advance warning for transition in the morning or for identifying the structure I expect him to follow?”  No one likes being ordered around and told what to do.  If this is your situation, set up some time to establish morning routines for your child and include him (or her) in the process of creating them.  A child who feels included in the process of family routines and activities is more likely to cooperate in carrying them out.

If you feel that you’ve already done what I outlined in the previous paragraph, the next question to ask yourself is, “What might my child be trying to tell me through his resistance?”  Children (and teens) don’t communicate their needs very well verbally.  Instead, they act them out so see if you can interpret the resistance.  Have you been a little bossy and abrupt lately?  If so, slow down and increase the respect in your voice and actions toward your child, equal to what you would expect to receive from him.  Sometimes what we get from our children (and significant others) is a reflection of what we’re giving to them.  Ask your child if what they’ve been seeing from you in your words and actions has been less than loving.  You may be surprised with what you find out.

Occasionally, my wife and teen step daughter will bring it to my attention if I’ve looked and sounded a little grouching lately.  We all carry a very heavy load of work and worries that can have an effect on our appearance and behavior.  No one wants to be on the receiving end of attitude.  Although it’s hard to hear it, I love the fact that these two important women in my life have the courage to bring this to my attention so I can make some adjustments in how I act around the house or how I speak to them.

Another reason for resistance from your kids can be what I term as DISCONNECTION.  We all need to RECONNECT with those who love and care for us frequently.  Reconnection means being in the presence of that other special person and to get the feeling that they are with us 100%; they see us and only us, they are listening to us and nothing else, and they still care about us.  Children especially need this reconnection with their primary caregiver on a regular basis, and most often, after being away from them for an extended period of time; such as overnight or at school all day.

Reconnection doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or complex and it costs nothing.  Simply spend the first few minutes of each morning or in the moments that you pick your child up from school, listening to your child, looking deeply into her eyes, and NOT talking.  Appear to be deeply interested in what she has to say and if you do it right, this reconnection moment will most likely last a mere five minutes or less.  Reconnection has lasting affects and more than you may ever know!

Bill Corbett


Bill Corbett is the author of the award winning book series “Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids” in English and in Spanish, and the founder and president of Cooperative Kids. He has three grown children, three step children, two grandchildren, and lives with his wife Elizabeth and teen step daughter Olivia near Hartford, CT. You can visit his Web site www.CooperativeKids.com for further information and parenting advice.