It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Part 1 of 2: Noncompliance:The “Good Kid” Disorder

Noncompliance: The “Good Kid” Disorder  This article appeared in the Jan/Feb, 1997, issues of Learning. That issue also designated Dr. Sutton’s book (If My Kid’s So Nice, Why’s He Driving ME Crazy?) as “Editor’s Choice.”


Nathan frustrates the dickens out of his teacher. Though he’s clearly bright and capable, he’s never prepared for class, and he rarely does his homework. He’s always saying something like “Oh, I though this assignment was due next Friday.” He earnestly promises to do better but never follows through. He’s charming and pleasant—and on the brink of serious trouble in school. His parents say his behavior is similar at home. There’s one more thing: Though Nathan spends plenty of time joking around, at the core he seems to be miserable.

Teachers nationwide are seeing more and more students like Nathan. The psychological name for his problem is oppositional defiant disorder (a classification which includes an older term—passive aggressive), though many students exhibit the behavior without ever being diagnosed. In contrast to children who can’t sit still and are always in trouble for what they’re doing, oppositional and defiant youngsters are in trouble for what they don’t do.

Schoolwork and chores at home top the list. Oftentimes, these students are well mannered and seem to have good intentions, but they quietly defy your directions. In short, they’re just plain difficult. As Nathan’s teacher told me, “Maybe Nathan doesn’t act out, but he surely doesn’t act right.”

In the late 1960s, no classification existed for children like these. Today, this disorder takes up several pages in the American Psychological Association’s diagnostic manual. The way we typically confront an oppositional and defiant youngster are ineffective: Ignoring, pleading, bargaining and helping don’t work. “Get tough” approaches such as threatening and showing anger aren’t successful, either. They give the child the message “Do this or else,” and the child opts for the “or else.”

The suggestions that follow have proved effective with children and teachers nationwide. Be sure to share them with parents, too—these interventions will work best if they’re used at school and at home.

1. Eliminate excessive expectations. If the child perceives you as reasonable and fair, you’ll be able to work more effectively with him or her. Every day, set aside 20 to 30 seconds for interacting with this youngster. Discuss something of particular interest to the child, such as sports, a hobby, or a family vacation. Make sure this interaction contains no expectations—this might be the only unconditional interaction that the youngster has with an adult. Parents can set up these same types of interactions.

2. Encourage assertiveness. Since this child prefers silent noncompliance to verbal assertiveness, it’s important to encourage the child to be assertive. For instance, when other students in the class explain that they don’t have enough time to complete a long assignment, you can comment on the appropriate manner in which they expressed their concern. At home, parents should recognize and praise the child’s siblings when they show appropriate assertiveness.

3. Offer options and choices. Letting children select three assignments (or chores at home) from a list of five empowers them to make other decisions. Also, they’re more likely to complete tasks that they’ve chosen.

4. Give the youngster specific responsibilities. Asking this student to explain and demonstrate an important assignment or job, for example, accomplishes two things: It provides the child with status within the class, and it eliminates any subsequent excuse for not understanding the assignment. Parents can do the same by putting the youngster in charge of the family’s chore board.

5. Take control of homework. Homework can become a weapon that these kids use against you and against their parents. To combat this, have your class develop daily homework checklists. Be forewarned, though—the next thing the child forgets or loses might be the list. Also, work with parents to set up a structured time and place during the school day for the student to complete homework; before or after school, during detention or tutorials, or during a pullout class such as special education.

(to be continued)



August 3, 2006 - Posted by | Difficult Child, Educators, Parents

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