Wise Counsel Interview Transcript: An Interview with Jeff Bernstein, Ph.D. on Defiant Children
Dr. David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by www.mentalhelp.net covering topics in mental health, wellness and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.
On today's show, we will be talking with Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein about how to deal with your defiant child. Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist specializing in couples and family therapy in the Philadelphia area. He reports that he has helped well over a thousand defiant children and their families restore their relationships.
He's an expert on a variety of issues, including child development, family concerns, self-esteem, ADHD, learning disabilities, discipline, toxic thinking and intimate relationships, and most recently, difficult children and other parenting issues, which is the subject of his new book "Ten Days to a Less Defiant Child."
The title of Dr. Bernstein's previous book is "Why Can't You Read My Mind?" His work has received quite a bit of media attention. He's been quoted in publications such as "Cosmopolitan" magazine, the "Ladies Home Journal," the "Chicago Tribune," and "Men's Health" magazine. Among other health venues, he's also appeared on several radio stations and on the "Today" show, Court TV and the Comcast Cable television network.
Now, here's the interview.
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, welcome to the Wise Counsel podcast.
Jeff: Thank you, David. It's a pleasure to be here with you today.
David: OK. Well the title of your book is "Ten Days to a Less Defiant Child." How did you come to write this book?
Jeff: [sarcastically] Well, it's kind of amusing, you know. [laughs]
Back in the late '90s, when my marriage didn't do well, and my wife and I ended up heading for divorce. I tried to make sense out of what was going wrong and I wrote my first book, "Why Can't You Read My Mind?" which is a book looking at the toxic thinking patterns that couples have and that really messes up their relationships.
Well, then you fast forward to about four years ago and, as I realized that I was struggling with my own children, here I was a psychologist specializing in helping so many families, and yet I would get over-reactive, my kids were getting defiant for a host of reasons, but my reactions to them was just making things worse.
And I thought, "You know, let me really see if what I can see what's going on for me" and then I just gave a lot of thought to it, and I thought, "Why don't I write a book about dealing with defiant kids and maybe I can learn how to be a better dad." [laughs] And that's how it all came together.
David: Well, I'm really glad to hear that this comes out of your own experience. I know instances where therapists propound on various theories that really are outside their personal experience. There's a famous family therapist that I'm thinking of who never had a family, never had children.
David: [laughs] But everybody turned to for advice about raising children. So, I'm glad your expertise is rooted in experience with your own children. How old are they, at this point?
Jeff: Sure. Well, my oldest daughter at this point is 15-1/2. I've got a son who is 13 and a daughter who is 11.
David: Ah, you may be writing another book before long [laughs] about dealing with your teenager.
Jeff: Well, that's right. They certainly keep me humble, put it that way. But, I tell you, I am so grateful not only to have written the book, "Ten Days To a Less Defiant Child," but to really try to live by what I wrote. Because I really believe in it. It's just help me get so much closer to my own three children by following all the principles that I really describe in that book.
David: Yes. Now, what's the age range that you're addressing in the book?
Jeff: Really, age four to 18, but the principles of the book, of leading with understanding, of being calm, firm and non-controlling, which is really the key formula in the book, I really see that those principles and strategies certainly will work with defiant children and teens. But, I use a lot of it in my couples' therapy work, even coaching people with work relationships.
So, it really can be applied all over as I see it. But as we're talking about defiant children and teens, ages four to 18.
David: OK. And let's define the word "defiant." Just what sort of behaviors do you have in mind there when you talk about defiance in children?
Jeff: Well, and I glad you asked that. Certainly, I'm sure a lot of people have heard of what's called ODD, which is Oppositional Defiant Disorder and not every child is going to have Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
But kids who are defiant and, when they meet the Disorder, really the key is that they are frequently doing these things that I'm about to list. But kids can have different levels of what I'm going to describe.
Really, what we're talking about, David, is a child who loses his temper often, often argues with adults, actively defies or refuses to comply with adult's requests, the rules, they deliberately provoke people. These kids are masters at manipulating. I use the metaphor that these kids know how to float fish hooks and it's like a parent in a little bucket.
Jeff: Like they're captured and they have no room to go and these kids let those fish hooks sink down there. They often blame others for their own mistakes. So they externalize their blame. They're touchy, they have a short fuse, they're easily annoyed by others. They get angry, they can be resentful and these kids can be really vindictive and they can lie.
David: Well, are these quotes "bad kids?"
Jeff: Not at all. In fact, frankly, I think these children are very good kids. I mean I had a kid in here who keyed his father's car because he was very angry. This was a 10-year-old boy and then only three years earlier, he contributed all his birthday money to a charity, to a soup kitchen or something. I can't remember the specific one, but I believe it was in this community.
A lot of these children are good kids, but they're very misunderstood. They're very frustrated. The thing about defiant children is they think that they are equal to adults. They have this very distorted perception that they are actually equal in authority and that's where they jam up.
David: So they don't want to be controlled because they feel like they're ready to be in control themselves.
Jeff: Exactly. And that's why a key element of "Ten Days to a Less Defiant Child" is to help parents learn to bypass the power struggle. To help them bypass the emotional reactivity that defiant children have. And to do that, is where I encourage them to be calm, firm and non-controlling.
David: OK. Well, I'm going to have you go into those in some greater detail but before we get there, at what point should a parent begin to get concerned about their child's defiance? In other words, what's that boundary between oh sort of ordinary, everyday, garden variety resistance and the sort of defiance that you're talking about? When should a parent get concerned?
Jeff: Well, we're talking about really a continuum here. A lot of kids are going to have their, particularly younger kids, you hear about the terrible twos. If a kid goes on with some very difficult behaviors more than two to four weeks, and the behaviors continue to escalate, I think at that point you really need to be concerned. I think it's better to err on this side of being concerned than just ignoring and accepting it.
David: OK. So once again, what are the characteristics that help you identify whether you have a defiant child?
Jeff: Again, these children tend to be very emotionally reactive - meaning they lose their temper. They argue with adults very frequently. They defy or refuse request on rules. They deliberately annoy others particularly parents, people on authority - the teachers. They blame others for their mistakes. They're touchy. They're easily angry. They're resentful and they're often spiteful.
Let me just add that for most kids that have problems with defiance, most of it shows up in the home. Certainly, there's a good amount of defiant students out there, but in general, what I see is that children and teenagers are more able to hold it together at school and then they come home and often unload on their parents.
David: Yes, that's interesting. It's like home - they recognize as the safe place where they can get away with this stuff.
David: Yeah. In your book, you talked about what parents need to understand about their defiant child. What is it that the parent needs to understand?
Jeff: Well, I think that the best thing the parents need to understand is that often under the defiant behavior, these children are feeling very helpless. They're feeling inadequate. They're feeling frustrated. They feel like they don't know how to express themselves and that they're often upping their negative behaviors to get attention and help.
David: I guess that as parents get more and more frustrated, there's a lot of yelling that can go on and you discussed that in your book fairly extensively. You talked about sidestepping the "yelling traps", so did you go through that yourself? [laughs] Did you find yourself yelling and what is your advice?
Jeff: Oh my goodness, David. I remember picking up my kids when they were three, five and seven, that's really when I was saddled with being a dad. I mean, when I was married, I worked two jobs. I did my private practice. I worked for a hospital. I just didn't have an appreciation for what it was like to really be a dad - a parent.
When I used to take the kids, they'd start to act up. I would pull the car over. I felt that they needed structure. I was a consequence ravenous parent. Maybe at some point during the interview you can talk with me a little bit about consequences.
Jeff: And boy, I was "You're going to get out of the car and you're going to stand there." [laughs] and I would yell. Oh my goodness, it's embarrassing to look back. I remember one time I screamed at them. I put them on the deck of my apartment and I forgot how cold it was outside. I didn't have little footy, and they were knocking on the glass. And so I learned really the hard way. This isn't working.
I remember years ago washing my son's mouth out with soap. I know you asked me about yelling but I'm just talking about all these behaviors where we're over reactive.
David: That's one of those old fashioned tried and true methods - the washing out with soap. I don't know if it's tried and true.
Jeff: Well, the only thing that was true was my son got more and more angry and spiteful and it didn't work. I remember I used to scream at my oldest daughter. Oh my goodness! I'm always humbled. I mean, I won't say always but very often. I mean it was just the other weekend that my oldest daughter who had some frustrations going on in her life. She was being very snitty with me, difficult and saying some nasty things. I really wanted to just unload. I remember Jeff - calm, firm, non-controlling.
So I said Carol, "I'd like to really talk to you." "I don't want to talk to you." And then I said "OK. You know, I can't force you." And then later she turned and said "All right. Fine, if you want to talk, where? So we went up to my room and the themes of inadequacy, the fear of getting into college, the anxiety about her body image - it all just came tumbling out.
So what parents, I think, will benefit from remembering is that when a child acts defiant, deep down they're hurting. My daughter, even, it was funny, a few weeks ago reminded me of that. She said, "Dad, I don't know why you call these kids defiant because deep down they have things bothering them." [laughs]
David: Oh wow!
Jeff: It's kind of funny, you know.
David: Yes. Yes. So getting back to the yelling, because you know I think frequently we talk louder to try to emphasize our points and our authority. What is it that you have to say about yelling and what you call the "yelling trap"?
Jeff: Well, what I feel about the "yelling trap" is any yelling puts you in a trap basically. And what yelling does, in short, it really fans the flames that defiance... It's like pouring gasoline on a fire. It just really creates a lot of heightened emotionality and reactivity. It's very, very difficult. Kids that are defiant feel off of it. I encourage parents to really understand the reasons why they yell because unless you understand the reasons...
In the book, I talked about it. One is, a response to just being highly frustrated - intense frustration. When we feel bluffed, we yell. There's a lot parents out there.
"My parents yell at me, so I do it too." That's what is done, that's what works.
I found that for me, David, yelling became a habit. [laughs] It became my modus operandi. That's what I thought I was supposed to do rather than really try to build relationship. For a lot parents, they'll come in here and they'll say, "Screaming seems to be my only option. It's the only thing that works; it's the only time they'll listen to me." But then what they'll find is it may work short-term but longer-term, the resentment just builds.
David: Yes, plus I would imagine that maybe they'd start yelling back at you.
Jeff: Exactly. If the child doesn't start yelling back, then he or she will become passive-aggressive and do some things that are more covert but still annoying like maybe damage some property and steal. They have that kind of sarcastic attitude and are snitty. As we all know in mental health, when issues aren't dealt with, they come out sideways.
David: Right. So when you find yourself on the verge or yelling or wanting to yell, that's what you do there as you kind of notice that and tell yourself to be calm?
Jeff: Yes. A lot of it is about mindfulness in that way. Even a couple weeks ago when my daughter was testing me, I really stepped back and I said, "OK, Jeff. Here's another opportunity of many, where you can either react... It's like I can rent or buy a DVD; a lot of these new ones that will have alternative endings. Maybe they filmed an alternative ending and you can check it out after you watch the movie. Really, you get to pick your ending of an interaction. More than likely if you begin with the end in mind, as Stephen Covey said in "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" - famous writer. You begin with the end in mind. You'd think how do I want this conversation to end up? How do I want this interaction to end up? If I yell right now, where's it going to take me, versus where I really want it to end up?
The more that your mind falls, the more that you can as you're going through it as parent or an educator, start to really pat yourself on the back and say "Boy, I'm going myself restraint right now. These are only words; I don't have to get sucked into this. I don't have to go there." The more you empower yourself right in the interaction, the more you can soothe yourself. The beauty of it is when you get a couple under your belt where you don't yell, you can remind yourself when the next one comes up about how helpful it was not to over-react. And you just keep building on it.
David: That's really great advice. But the key thing is, as you say, mindfulness -- that learning to be aware in the moment. Often, it just goes by so quickly that you're in it and you don't even know you're in it until you take a look back.
Jeff: And, David, what a good point you're making. But you know, a lot of times I'll have parents come in initially and they'll say, "I can't do it. I can't stop."
And I'd say, if a mad man with a machine gun burst in this office right now and held a gun to your child's head, God forbid, and said, "Shut the blanketey blank up or I'm going to blow his brains out, " your physiology may be wired such that you would normally scream but you know what? [laughs] You'd find a way to deal with your physiology.
Jeff: And you'd do what that guy told you to do.
Jeff: So, whatever your natural instinct is, I think we take a lot for granted and we really can control a lot. So what I tell people is, not such a dramatic thing, but I'll say, "Forget whether they are Republican or a Democrat, if the President was in your living room, would you be screaming and going off on your child? If your over-reacting and yelling was filmed and broadcast on CNN throughout the country, would you still do it? [laughs] Most times, when people take that reality check, they'll agree that they probably can control it.
David: Yeah. Only if we are on a reality show, the Maury Show, or something...
Jeff: Right. Right.
David: ...then we'd let it all hang out.
David: You also talk about avoiding power struggles and I know that can be really challenging. Can you give us an example of what you mean by a power struggle and then how you handle that sort of situation?
Jeff: Sure. Well, again, a lot of these children and teenagers that are defiant, they're looking for a power struggle because they often feel they can wear the parent down. The parent will explode, the parent will feel guilty, or just get worn down and say "Yeah."
One thing you want to do is, where possible, you want to give your kid or teenager a chance. Like he or she may ask be able to go out and stay out to a certain hour. And you might say, "OK, look. What do you think you can offer me to help me feel safe with this? Can you text message me? Can you call me? Can we agree? What would be a good compromise?"
So, really letting them help make some of the decisions, rather than being dictatorial I think is a really good way to avoid a power struggle. Another important thing is to be calm, firm and non-controlling. I can't emphasize that enough.
The non-controlling part came from William Glasser's research who did a lot with juvenile delinquent girls years ago and that's how he got famous. What I add to that is being calm and firm. So, you can be firm but you can also be non-controlling. I can give you an example if you'd like?
David: Yeah. Sure.
Jeff: I'll give you an example of my own children. About a year ago, that my kids were coming out, I picked them up at their mom's house. And I have a fairly good rapport with their mom, good co-parenting. Bu Sam, my son, walked out.
And I guess he was arguing with his younger sister and he punched her in the stomach. And, oh my God, nothing got me more fired up than seeing that. Especially my son hitting a girl, let alone his sister. So, like a very well-adjusted, together psychologist who [laughs]...
Jeff: ...I started screaming, "You get in that car right now. How dare you hit her?" and she's crying and he's trying to explain things. "I don't want to hear it, Sam." I was doing everything that I said you shouldn't do.
Jeff: So, he gets in the car and he's sighing and scuffing and I turned, he's sitting in the back seat, and I said, "You will apologize to your sister." And he looked at me and he said, "Make me."
David: Oh, now, you're in a power struggle.
Jeff: Now, I'm in a power struggle. So, I took a breath and I reminded myself where it could go and it's gone in the past and so I turned to him and I said, "Sam, the reality is that I don't know that I could make you. I could try. I think it's going to get ugly. It's not going to work for either of us."
"So, here's what I'm saying, Sam. I know you're better than this, as a young man that would hit your sister. But, I'm asking you please to apologize to her. And if you're not going to do it, you're not doing to do it. But I'm asking you please to think about it. Because I think it's the right thing to do." And about 5, 10 minutes went by, there was silence. And then I heard, "Fine. Sorry, Gabby."
Jeff: Now, maybe it didn't quite have the dressing on it and softness. But he got the point. And I turned to him and I said, "You know, I really appreciate your saying that. Thanks." And then it was all defused. That would be out of my own backyard, out of my own kids, an example of how to avoid a power struggle. I was calm, but I was firm. But I was also non-controlling. And it worked.
David: Yes, that's a great story. That's a great story. And I guess your complimenting him after he did that minimal apology could be considered an instance of positive reinforcement. Most people have heard of positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Maybe you can say something about how these come into play in your approach.
Jeff: Absolutely. Well, I tell you, when children are defiant, one of the biggest problems is that parents -- look, let's be fair to parents. Parents are worn down, they're working, they're trying to make a living, there's more than one kid in the house. Maybe they have an older parent that's not well. The sandwich generation. There's lots of stresses on parents.
So, I don't want to come off as some holier-than-thou--and that's why I give examples from my own life, about my own struggles as a parent as well. But, nonetheless, these defiant children and teenagers often don't hear enough good things.
The parents get worn down, the praise and encouragement get skimped. And it's amazing when parents can really in an authentic way give their child, catch them doing things right, it can be very motivating and it can really help curb defiant behavior and keep it very contained.
David: Catch them being good.
Jeff: Pardon me?
David: Catch them being good.
Jeff: Catch them being good. It is a whole different way of thinking.
Jeff: And even just saying, "Thank you." I mean, it's amazing how really, just turning to these kids and saying, "Hey, I got in the house and the cat knocked over the mail and went all over. I bent down and the grocery bag split and went all over and I know you wanted to go start your video games and boy, I really appreciate you helped pick up a few things. Thank you."
You know? It's a real good way to reinforce appropriate behavior.
David: Yes. Yes. Now you...
Jeff: Now, negative... go ahead.
David: Yeah. Good. Negative reinforcement. Go with that.
Jeff: Yeah. The negative reinforcement is really where you take something away that's bothering a child and then supposedly he'll be motivated. Like for example, "I'm not going to let you, I'm going to make it real unpleasant for you, you can't play your video games until I say it's fair." So you're withholding. Negative reinforcement is really about withholding.
Positive reinforcement is about presenting something positive.
Punishment is when you present a negative consequence.
Discipline is when your goal is to teach. Disciple. The word "discipline" comes from the word "disciple", which is "to teach." So, really, what I'm trying to emphasize is that parents I think do best with any child, especially a defiant one, when they're coming from the place of being patient and teaching versus trying to control them, take things away from them in a punitive way or really make their lives miserable.
David: Well, I think a lot of parents have heard there have to be consequences for bad behavior and you said that you've got to be consistent and you described yourself as a consequence-ravenous parent and you wanted to say a bit more about that.
Jeff: Yeah, well what I wanted to say is that that was my former self. I really believe the best road to building a good relationship with your defiant child is not to "hit them over the head, " I should say, with consequences. Consequences, I think, really escalate the situation quickly. Now, am I anti-consequences? No, not at all. I do think consequences can be very, very helpful but I think parents need to be judicious. Less is more. Make the consequences when you really need them but really try to lead by catching them doing things right, praising appropriate behaviors, being calm, firm, non-controlling.
A lot of parents get in the habit of thinking that their child was defiant or that it's always about them. I remember at times my daughter would be sniffy to me, she'd be kind of rude and I would let her know that I didn't appreciate her tone but I'd also remind myself she had some other struggles going on. A child of a divorce, had some issues with some peers... It's important to remind yourself that not all of defiant behavior is necessarily aimed at you. It doesn't mean you have to sit back and tolerate it, but the more you understand, it's just... It keeps coming back, David, to understanding. I can't emphasize how important that is.
David: Maybe that's what you're getting at in your book, you stressed the importance of changing thinking patterns in children and adults. What are the patterns that you want to change in the children, the thought patterns and what are the thought patterns for the adult? I think you've been talking about them but maybe we can just review them.
Jeff: Well, let me give you one concrete example. When I get children in here with their parents in my office, I'll say to the child, "Do you think your parents love you?" Most kids will say, "Yes." They may say it begrudgingly, they may groan, they may roll their eyes. But when I say to a child, "Do your parents understand you?" They'll say, "No," and I'll get a lot of parents that will lean forward in the chair and say, "You know what? I love him to death. I'd take a bullet for her or him," and I believe them. But then, again, you got this kid who's saying, "You love me, that's great, but do you really understand me?"
A big way to kind of challenge, I think the whole way of what's important when you're just dealing with defiant children is I say the parents understanding defiant children is just as important, if not more important than loving them because most of the time when defiant children act out, they don't feel understood so they just escalate their defiant behavior.
David: OK. What do you do about changing the child's way of thinking? Where do you try to intervene there?
Jeff: Well, when I get kids in my office, really it's about building relationship. "10 Days to a Less Defiant Child," the book, the program, it's really a book for parents and the whole premise is gold floats downstream and so do other things. When the parent really shows a lot of calm, firm, non-controlling reactions, leads with understanding, avoids power struggles, those sorts of things, it usually just trickles down or it comes down pretty quickly to the kid.
The changes are amazing. I mean, I've had people really write, I've seen reviews on Amazon, it's been... I mean, no one program... I'm not trying to sell you snake coil here and tell you my program's going to change every child but I've been so grateful. I mean, I've gotten emails from Australia and Africa and all over the country and basically, people are just thanking me because if they really apply these principles in earnest, the defiance really tends to lessen and it lessens dramatically. Really, a lot is on the parents and parents may be very frustrated and say, "Well, why do I have to do this work? Why me?" Because they're the adult.
Now, that being said, when I have kids here in my office, I try to develop a friendly relationship with them. I praise them when I can ask them to own certain things, like most of these kids are very honest. Most of these kids will admit that they have a short fuse. With the younger children I draw two sticks of dynamite, I label one A, one B. One has a long fuse, one has a short fuse and I ask these kids, "If you had to go through life, which one would it be easier to be if you were that stick of dynamite?" They all say, "The one with the longer fuse." "Well, why?" "Because I won't blow up so quick." They get it.
Jeff: So I really re... I'm sorry?
David: I said "wow!" That's a great...
David: That's a great way to communicate with them.
Jeff: Yeah, and so I reinforce that and then I turn to the parent and I say, "Can you see how your child is..." "Can you see how Tommy or Johnny or whoever is owning this?" I really try to stress and reinforce ownership of problems. They may say, "Yeah, but you know, when we leave this office it's a lot harder than that, " and I'll say, "OK, well you know, if I had a way to make parenting completely easy, I'd have cars lined up down on Route 95 all the way down to Florida." I mean, there's people out there who say, "I don't want to have kids, I don't want to have them, " but then, again, if you want to be a parent, yeah, it's not easy work but you know what? If you start really following the principles of keeping your reactivity down if you have a defiant kid, it becomes so much more pleasurable, it really does.
David: Yeah. Now, some kids...
Jeff: A lot of... Go ahead, I'm sorry.
David: Some kids are defiant at school. Is there anything that the parent can do to help diminish that?
Jeff: The defiance at school?
Jeff: Yeah, I think often there's a parallel here. Most research will show that somewhere in the range of 50 percent of kids with ODD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, so of course that's when it's more severe, has ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. So really, kids who are frustrated academically often will act out. So you really want to make sure there isn't an underlying learning disability, there isn't some kind of Asperger's autism or anything to limit social interaction.
A lot of children may have plain old vanilla anxiety and stress which could get in the way of their peer relationships. Again, that whole context of understanding the child may be... If a kid's having a hard time because they don't feel popular and they don't have anybody to sit with at lunch, changing their lunch period to where they may have at least one friend to sit with, letting them take lunch in the library for a little bit just to give them rest. But being flexible, usually giving a child at school an ally, very, very important.
David, I'd like to come back to one point you raised too about dealing with the child, him or herself, with your own perceptions?
Jeff: I do use a lot of cognate therapy and by that I mean I really try to challenge kids in their "all or nothing" thinking. A lot of these kids that are defiant have low EQs, low emotional intelligence, so I really try to structure it for them and help them not say "Always," "You are never fair," "This is never good." I really ask them, "24 hours, seven days a week? Come on, is that true?" When I have that kind of rapport with them, I can really get away with challenging them and sometimes even, they'll catch me. I'll say the word "always," so I thank them and I said, "Wow! That's really good feedback" I also ask the parents to be sensitive to that. When the parents allow me to, for lack of a better word, "correct" them, I turn to the kid and I say, "Can you see how mom and dad..." I got to give it to mom and dad, they're letting me give them some feedback here, they're letting me challenge them, you know, what do you think about...
Jeff: So it's really about creating openness.
David: Nice, very, very nice. Now, one of your final chapters is on overcoming stubborn obstacles and I'm guessing that that refers to when you get a case that's really difficult. Tell us a little bit about that.
Jeff: Well, again, I was kind of alluding to this, but, I mean, you get some kids that have environmental situational stressors like divorce. Some kids have been sexually abused, some kids may be addicted to substances, illegal substances, anxiety, depression, Asperger, Turret syndrome, ADHD, obesity, health concerns, diabetes. There's a lot of issues that can certainly way heavy on a child's mind and it's very important that you address these, that you understand. I mean, if a child is defiant but he or she has a real problem with their academics due to ADHD, that needs to be addressed, whether it's through behavior management techniques, whether it's through medication. You really need to address the underlying issue.
As far as the ADHD, I just like to say I have a new book coming out this August, which is "10 Days to a Less Distracted Child." It's not just about ADHD but applies to the calm, firm, non-controlling model to kids with all sorts of attention deficits, whether it's, again, a neurological or an emotional or a situational circumstance, it needs to be addressed. That's really what overcoming the stubborn obstacles is all about.
David: OK. I'm wondering if the kinds of things that you're writing about, these defiant kids, I'm wondering if that's on the increase. I don't remember kids like these when I was growing up. Is there an epidemic or something? And if so, what would you attribute it to?
Jeff: David, I don't know how much I can bring in current events or not... Am I?
David: Whatever you want to bring in is fine.
Jeff: Certainly, we only had at the time of this interview, a few weeks past the Virginia Tech shooting which was just horrible. I think it really exemplifies when you have a child in pain who's got maybe some certainly psychotic thinking process going on and had been isolated and alone and feeling very ineffective and just horribly inadequate and had a lot of rage that we need to address this. I think our society is moving faster and faster, kids are bombarded with more pressures to look perfect, to be perfect.
There's Generation My Space which we see out, all these kids now communicating through MySpace and Facebook. Yet I've talked to a lot of these kids who acknowledged to me that it really isn't such an intimate friendship, it's kind of like acquaintances. I think years ago we had grandparents that were often living closer to the parents, parents weren't moving around. Divorce seems to be, if not, on the increase, taking its toll with more and more relocations. There's just a lot of strain, the family unit has undergone a lot of challenges.
I think a lot of kids are also caught up with multimedia type of things, computer games, devices. A lot of kids are overscheduled today, a lot of dual career couples. What I'm trying to get at is there's a lot of kids who feel very jammed up and isolated, and as much as there has been an emphasis on kids getting into college and being more competitive in the world, the basic skills of emotional health, which is learning how to identify problems, solve problems, how to soothe yourself in a healthy way, those things I don't think are taught enough. Yet our society is going faster and faster so a lot of kids feel left in the dust and a lot of these kids become defiant.
David: OK. Yeah, that certainly makes a lot of sense to me. I think we probably should wrap things up and I'll wrap it up with one last question which might be on some people's minds which is, is it really possible to get kids to be less defiant in just 10 days?
Jeff: I'm sorry David, I didn't hear your question.
David: Is it really possible to get kids to be less defiant in just 10 days?
Jeff: Well, I don't want it to be self-serving that I answer "yes," so I'll say, "It's a resounding yes!" It's very highly probable, it's very likely if parents follow this program in earnest. Really. I mean, it's amazing to me how quickly children will deescalate their defiant behavior patterns if parents would only take the time to learn how to be calm, firm, non-controlling, learn how to stop their own yelling, learn how to stop their own witting and unwitting ways that they fuel the defiant behavior.
I am not blaming this on the parents, I am not putting all the responsibility on the parents, but at the same point, they are the adults and they are the ones that can really start the chain of change. The more that parents can start to make these changes, the children will follow suit. I've seen it in teenagers, I've seen it in young children, it really makes a difference.
David: Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, thanks so much for being our guest today.
Jeff: David, it was a pleasure. I enjoyed speaking with you.
David: I hope you enjoyed this interview with my guest, Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein. If you are the parent of a defiant child or you're a teacher, I think you will find this book very practical, down-to-earth and effective. It's available as a reasonably priced paperback. It also has an appendix summarizing the approach and a list of other resources related to the health and welfare of children.
As you heard me say in the interview, one of the things I especially appreciate about Dr. Bernstein's presentation is that it is rooted not only in his clinical practice and psychological theory but just as importantly, in his experience as a parent.
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If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like Shrinkrap Radio, my other interview podcast series which is available online at www.shrinkrapradio.com and "rap" is spelled R-A-P. Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.