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How can I help my outwardly defiant stepdaughter?


​​My 6-year-old stepdaughter is outwardly defiant toward me, her mother and her father. Her mother and father are divorced and I am her step mother. Since she was 4 years old, we have always had issues with her behavior. She is currently on medicine for ADHD. She growls at her teachers and throws temper tantrums when she does not get her way. She does not do this at home with her father and me or at home with her mother, but she does it with all her teachers. She will lie for absolutely no reason. Recently, she lied and stated a child beat her up but when we went to the school to confront the teacher (the school has security cameras in each classroom so we reviewed the tape as well), nothing of the sort had happened. We try and set daily goals with her and encourage her to make good choices during the day. And we set daily and weekly goals so if she does as she is supposed to, she knows she will be rewarded. But she forfeits all rewards when she growls at her teachers when she does not get her way. We do not know what to do. We used to have services through Boys Town, but I would just like advice on how to handle this for the rest of the summer since we know things are out of our control when she goes home.


Sassy girl

​We are glad you are reaching out for help. This little gal has many years of classroom settings ahead of her so learning how to handle her emotions now will serve her well in the future. When the younger kiddos have undesirable behaviors, it gives parents an opportunity to teach them a more socially acceptable behavior to use instead. So, when told she can't growl at people at school, she needs to be taught what she CAN DO! What she can do and say instead. Perhaps you have already done this but give her actual words she can say that express her feelings in more acceptable ways. It also helps to teach her something physical to do with her body (hands, feet, etc.) for when she is angry and doesn't get her way. Teaching to a younger child should include not only telling them what you want but also showing her. So, demonstrate and practice the words and actions. Then to make sure she understands and can do it, have her demonstrate back to you. 

As you know, having kids practice repeatedly is where the greatest retention takes place, so this should be practiced throughout the day when she is not in school. Use scenarios that are similar to those in school where she has struggled, and some can be pretend as well. Be sure to reinforce her for using her appropriate words and body language during practice. She will change if she gets more attention and recognition for doing the right thing than she does for doing it in an unacceptable manner. The more she practices, the more likely she will learn to do it well back in the classroom environment. 

Many children need preventive prompts so if you have access to school staff, let them know what she has been taught and has practiced. Encourage them to prompt her before a situation occurs that would have resulted in growling and misbehavior.

We hope this is helpful and remember to do the teaching frequently and keep the practices brief and fun.