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

This is the second and final part.

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.”


6. Spit in the Soup. Predicting a child’s oppositional and defiant behavior can help eliminate it. For example, sometimes Simone “accidently” drops a box of crayons just as the other students are lining up for lunch (obstructionism). The next day, as the children are lining up, pull the crayon dropper aside and say gently, “You know, I was wondering whether you were going to drop your crayons again, like you did yesterday.” She won’t. Though this is a temporary measure, it can help a teacher or a parent to get past a tough spot.

7. Reward compliance—strategically. This works especially well with the youngster who has difficulty getting on task, and it can help you get more out of your instructional time. For example, Christopher regularly camps out at the pencil sharpener. He spends so much time “getting ready” that he never gets anything done! The next time that Christopher is grinding the life out of another perfectly good pencil, announce that students who are in their seats and working have just earned a five-minute bubble-gum break.

Of course, Christopher will know he’s been set up—so announce that another break like this will occur tomorrow. Guess who will stay in his seat? On the off chance that he doesn’t, wait until he goes to his seat and then announce the break. He’ll know you cut him some slack—and he’ll be more likely to cut you some slack, too. A refinement of this strategy is to set one or two timers to go off during an activity and to reward students who are in their seats and working when the timers sound.

8. Appeal to reason. Appealing to a child’s sense of fairness and reason can lead to compliance, as long as this tactic isn’t overused. For example, let your students know that you’d appreciate their working quietly at their desks on a day when you’re not feeling well or while you set up Friday’s field trip. Parents can ask for this kind of cooperation as well.

9. Use humor. Overstatement can be useful in redirecting an upset youngster. For example, when Alexandra comes slamming into the classroom after an argument with her mother, you could say, “Hey, looks like you ate your Wheaties this morning!” This may be just enough to break the tension and put her in a better frame of mind.

10. Note improvement—and say so. Whenever there’s any measurable improvement, you and the child’s parents should make it clear that you’ve noticed. Keep theses comments casual to avoid causing the youngster to feel patronized or manipulated. Whenever children realize that their efforts have been recognized, they’re motivated to continue improving.


Most children aren’t born with oppositional and defiant behavior. Okay, there may be a few who are—the doctor pops them on the fanny, and they say, “I ain’t crying!” In most cases, though, opposition and defiance are reactive behaviors, a duel for the reins of control. These scenarios seem to spark oppositional and defiant behaviors:

Acute emotional distress. This includes crises and losses such as divorce, death, or natural disasters such as fires, floods or hurricanes. The children are forced into abrupt and unacceptable changes. Part of the natural recovery process is for the children to regain control over their lives—a process that is manifested in oppositional and defiant behavior. This behavior is usually temporary.

Chronic emotional distress. This condition is more subtle and has more damaging long-term consequences. These children typically live in highly dysfunctional families: They’ve suffered abuse or abandonment, or their parents abuse alcohol or other substances. In short, these children’s lives are one ongoing crisis. And in many cases, these crises are well-kept family secrets.

Overdependency. Children who haven’t experienced major emotional distress can also show oppositional and defiant behavior. This is especially true of children who feel they can’t freely express themselves, children who believe they must act a certain way to get approval from key adults in their lives, or children who have had excessive expectations placed on them. Perception is reality here. A parent’s expectations may not seem excessive to you, but may to the child. These children fear that in being honest about their resentment, they might be rejected. Their anger and bitterness leak out, one drop at a time. They’re in a silent rebellion.



August 6, 2006 - Posted by | Difficult Child, Educators, Parents

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