How ADHD & Anxiety Can Cause Defiant Behavior In Teens

Oppositional and defiant behavior usually forms at age two for the terrible two phases and again around puberty. Many parents experience short bursts of oppositional behaviors. This is a normal transitional period. What isn’t normal is oppositional behavior lasting for 6 + months that progresses into violent behaviors that disrupt the daily functioning of the family.

Many professionals note that when this occurs a new parental approach is needed. This is due to oppositional defiance that is rooted in genetics and environmental factors but also a key element is that it needs two parties to participate.

With ADHD and anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder stems from genetics rooted in the brain’s chemical makeup. A child with ADHD will continue to have ADHD symptoms even if you, a teacher, or a second person isn’t around. Oppositional defiant behavior differs from ADHD as the teen needs interaction with another person. A person (being a parent, a teacher, or an authority figure) the youth can defy, disrespect, or disobey. These are called “defiant family interactions” to show that the child isn’t acting alone. (1)

Russell Barkley, PH.D., created the four-factor model to address the origin of defiance. This would include the child’s genetics to parental disciplinary strategies.


What are the 4 Factors?

  1. Child’s characteristics (including genes, temperament, and personality traits)
  2. Parent(s) characteristics (including genes, temperament, and personality traits)
  3. Environmental factors – Where the family lives (including socioeconomic factors, culture, community support, etc. )
  4. Parenting practices 

More than likely, defiant teens will display ADHD as well. This is due to the hyperactivity component in a physical or mental state. The brain is the staging area for both these disorders. When a child’s brain is moving a mile a minute or can’t sit still authority figures more than likely are constantly reprimanding the behaviors – “No, don’t do that”, “sit still”, “Don’t touch” – a constant flow of redirections can be a catalyst for defiant behaviors to manifest. 

That is why oppositional defiance is two-fold in that the parent(s) play a big role in the child’s temperament. If a parent is equally strong-willed, more prone to losing their temper, or if the parent doesn’t care and doesn’t pay attention to these behaviors – all can set the child up for more defiant behaviors. Yes, those are completely different sides of the spectrum and some of these areas can not be changed without a mental health professional guiding the way while some are rooted deep in the brain chemistry that despite parenting tactics their child is still displaying these negative behaviors. Each situation is different but there are areas to address that can help alleviate the negative symptoms and behavioral outbursts. (2)

What is a Parent Supposed to Do?

The professionals at SYMMETRY Neuro-Pathway Training have compiled a few suggestions on defiant teenager strategies.

First You may want to take a look at this self-administered test for Oppositional Defiant Disorder to see if any of the symptoms your child may be experiencing warrant a clinical evaluation by a mental health professional. This was taken from ADDitude Magazine. This is strictly for personal use and not used to diagnose a child with oppositional defiant disorder.

This self-test for ODD was designed from symptom criteria in the American Psychiatric Association DSM 5, 2013. It is not a diagnostic tool but is designed to determine whether your child shows symptoms similar to those of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), symptoms that might warrant a clinical evaluation by a mental health professional. This screener is for personal use only.

Second Find out more about the brain and how SYMMETRY Neuro-Pathway Training can help address brain-based concerns.

The Prefrontal Cortex (frontal) area of the brain controls the “executive functions” including judgment, impulse control, management of aggression, emotional regulation, self-regulation, planning, reasoning, and social skills. (3) A specialized test called a qEEG Brain Map is used to record brainwave data and the results from these types of children normally show an excessively high amount of slow wave theta brain waves in the frontal lobe. When an excessive amount of slow brain waves are present in the executive (frontal) parts of the brain, it becomes difficult to control attention, behavior, and/or emotions. (3)

What is SYMMETRY Neuro-PT?

There are many studies that show that the brain is capable of change. It can reorganize and re-balance the brain wave patterns through consistent practice. This is what we do at SYMMETRY Neuro-Pathway Training. We utilize neurofeedback to balance the brain to optimize the communication between the neurons so results will show improved concentration, focus, sustained attention, a decrease in impulsivity and hyperactivity, increased mood stability, improved sleep patterns, increased attention span, improved academic performance, increased retention and memory, and increased IQ scores.

Neurofeedback is a drug-free, non-invasive natural approach to impulsivity, ADHD, defiant behavior, or impulse control concerns in children, teens, and adults. It works to create more efficient brainwave connections by conditioning appropriate brainwave patterns, which improves a brain’s response to stress, impulsivity, and anxiety and combats the negative symptoms associated with many other cognitive issues and mood disorders.

Neurofeedback is an additional opportunity for rehabilitation through directly retraining the brain, and correcting the root cause of dysregulation, and is ideal when utilized with other programs; such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational, physical, and relaxation therapy.

With neurofeedback, individuals can balance the communication between different parts of the brain across the two hemispheres and develop the skills necessary to reduce or eliminate the negative symptoms they face through positive reinforcement simply by watching a movie, listening to music, or playing a video game.

SYMMETRY Neuro-PT benefits include:

  • Improved focus, attention, and concentration.
  • Better sleep.
  • More confident and improved mood.
  • Improved task performance.
  • Feeling calmer, more secure, and less stressed.
  • Improved memory.
  • The list goes on…

Third Review Parenting Approaches that are Recommended by Professionals:

Many parents decide a change is needed when their teen has become unruly. The best approach is to change parental practices to engage with a defiant teen in a positive affirming way in hopes to achieve a more positive response. This takes work from both parties to openly communicate and practice 3 methods: consistency, structure, and love.   

Defiant teens

Strategies for dealing with Defiant Behavior

In “Your Defiant Teen”, authors Barkley and Robin discuss beginning strategies:

  1. One-on-one time: Make a daily habit of spending time together ideally something your child enjoys.
  2. Communication: This is a key to any successful relationship. Learning how to address needs, manage defiant behaviors positively, deliver praise and learn to pick your battles. Children and teens need to have realistic goals and expectations placed upon them with consistent follow-through if rules are broken.
  3. Use incentives to modify behaviors: Children and teens respond to tangible rewards. However, one shouldn’t go out and spend hundreds of dollars on items the child wants just for being good. Using incentives is used to create a plan for rewards both parties agree upon. An example could be that if the teen wants more freedom, then they need to show more responsibility. If the teen displays responsible behaviors and follows rules, then the parent should feel more comfortable allowing certain freedoms. Children and teens want to be respected as much as adults but they have to teach them how to get there and make the right decisions in a structured way set forth by their parents.
  4. Solve problems together: Finding teachable examples for a teen to be more accountable for their actions, showing respect for their opinions, brainstorming solutions, and adding their solutions to the family dynamic can help the teen feel like their voice is heard and they will begin to communicate in more positive ways. (4) 

Final Thoughts

It is NOT easy raising a child with oppositional defiant behavior. It is NOT easy teaching a child in the classroom with these behaviors. These children need more attention to develop the appropriate skills to manage their behaviors. We understand how difficult it can be!

Dianne Kosto, SCN, founder of SYMMETRY Neuro-Pathway Training, understands firsthand when struggling on this path with her own son. She tried every type of school, program, and diet but in the end, what really worked for her family was addressing her son’s behavior through balancing the communication areas of the brain with neurofeedback while using a positive approach to disciplining the oppositional behavior. She admits that life with an oppositional teen was a struggle but “neurofeedback saved his life.”

SYMMETRY Neuro-Pathway Training offers in-office training for those local to one of our branches and an @Home Training option at HALF off of what other in-office neurofeedback training providers cost! Contact us today for more information.

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