Pay back or Push back? Addressing Oppositional Behavior

Conflict with mother and son I recently participated in a discussion about behavior regarding school engagement on a list serve for professionals who teach and support children with ADHD. The educational specialist had written that she was working with a first grader whose school wants her to work with someone on “her organizational skills.” Someone who can help “reduce problem behavior (both in the classroom and at home) and collaborate with Mom”. She went on to say,

This student displays oppositional behavior and is inattentive, manipulative, and sometimes inappropriate. Weak executive function skills affect her academic performance. Although she has street smarts and a decent sight vocabulary, she often has trouble decoding because she may not read the letters in left-to-right sequence, often substitutes final sounds in CVC words, demonstrates reversals when writing letters/numerals, and resists reading books and the writing (TC program) required by her school due to lack of motivation and organization.”

Here was my response:

What parents and teachers sometimes perceive as “Oppositional” behavior, I find is very often more a matter of the adult having unrealistic expectations of a child and a child not having the skills to respond to the adult’s expectations appropriately.  Parents and teachers are often loving and well-meaning but unaware of the true challenges the child is facing (processing speed, working memory, attentional challenges, emotional regulation issues, etc.) that may be in play.  So as a result, adult attempts to “motivate” or “support” can cause the child to respond with fight, flight, or freeze.  What we see as “Pay Back”, meaning the child being intentionally oppositional, is often just their “Push Back” to help them survive in the moment – postpone or avoid what they perceive they cannot handle.

This is why I believe that regardless of the interventions we do directly with the child, parents and teachers also need their own education and support in understanding how to help – and not help, the child.

More than curriculum sometimes, teaching emotional regulation needs to be the focus of our teaching – at any age. I am often called by parents of older teens who feel that their child “just doesn’t get” the consequences of their poor conduct and lack of involvement. These parents see the surface – the behavior, not the story leading to the behavior.

It’s very scary to look inside and address one’s weaknesses, fears, and worries about the future. Just when it seems they don’t care and fight you the hardest is when it’s often time to slow down, calm down, and regroup. We need to teach kids how to regulate their emotions and help them feel safe to share their fears, concerns, and doubts without the risk of being shamed, blamed or criticized.

You Are Never Alone
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2 thoughts on “Pay back or Push back? Addressing Oppositional Behavior”

  1. Hello! just want to tell you about this great book – ADHD to Honor Roll: How I Cured My Child’s ADHD Without Drugs (And You Can, Too!) by Soozy Miller.
    Tells a real history about a mother who found different and natural ways to deal with her son’s ADHD. I recommend it to anyone looking for answers. 🙂


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