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An Interview with Jeff Bernstein, Ph.D. on Defiant Children

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 30th 2007

download this podcast read the transcript

Jeff Bernstein, Ph.D.Dr. Bernstein talks about how parents can better understand and manage defiant children's behavior so as to bring all family members closer together. Defiant children are often angry, frustrated, looking to externalize blame and operating under the assumption that they are equal in authority and wisdom to adults. Parents of defiant children too often "take the bait", become emotional, angry and authoritarian themselves and end up trying to manage the resulting conflicts with demands and threats. Dr. Bernstein suggests a more detached, mindful and judo-like approach that is calm, firm and non-controling. Parents who are able to show their defiant children through their actions that they are understood and respected (as well as loved) and at the same time, who are able to firmly set expectations and limits can defuse and avoid otherwise explosive situations and get to the results they want. By modeling the response they would like their children to emulate, parents are able to teach their children how to better self-sooth and interact.

Understanding defiant children also means appreciating how situational, medical and mental health conditions affect them. Exasurbating conditions like depression, attention deficit disorder and substance abuse need to be screened for and addressed.

Links Relevant To This Podcast:

About Jeff Bernstein, Ph.D.

Jeff Bernstein, Ph.D.

Jeffrey Bernstein, 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 is an expert on a variety of issues including: child development, family concerns, self-esteem, ADHD, learning disabilities, discipline, toxic thinking in intimate relationships, and most recently, difficult children and other parenting issues, which is the subject of his new book 10 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 meia attention. He has been quoted in publications such as Cosmopolitan Magazine, Ladies Home Journal, The Chicago Tribune, and Men's Health Magazine. Bernstein has appeared on several radio stations and on the Today Show, Court TV, Comcast Cable Televsion network, among other venues.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

more - - Oct 20th 2010

i want to read more about this topic. it is possible?

Thank you. - Mary - Nov 16th 2007
Thank you for this very informative piece.  We have a 10 year old daughter who is sending us over the edge.  She argues about everything, even as she wakes in the morning.  She is brilliant though and can be very loving.  The advice you gave on understanding the core problem and remaining calm IS something that we try to do regularly, but slip too now and then and then the yelling begins.  Being mindful of this truly is crucial.  Thank you for the reminder to practice this.  It helps to also see that Dr. Bernstein is geniunely concerned.  One last thing, I thought the visual of the short and long fuse was wonderful.  When I have an opportunity for a teacheable moment I will surely give this a try. 

Not all ODD parents shout at their kids - catherine australia - Oct 1st 2007
How about the kids who are oppositional but their parents dont shout at each other. What is going on there?

ADHD? - ANS - May 10th 2007
Is it possible to have a defiant child who does not suffer from adhd and, either way, how does a parent keep from being driven crazy by the child?

What do you do when a child isn't defiant (and maybe should be) - Anna - May 10th 2007

Hi Dr. Dave - this is Anna from Israel and I am abusing your Chingo link at Shrink Rap Radio becuase I couldn't enter a comment on Mental Help dot Net and I wanted to react to your interview with Dr. Bernstein. All in all, I found it a very valuable interview especially since I'm a father myself and I can see my sons being defiant from time to time. I was wondering about the flip side of this. If a child is not feeling happy and doesn't feel that he's being understood, he doesn't necessarily have to show this by being defiant as a matter of fact I think as a parent at least I as a a parent am very happy when my child is defiant. I really applaud that. I respect that. I think he is courageous. Maybe that is becuase when I as a child felt bad I got depressed. I was never defiant. Somehow this led my parents to believe that everything was okay becuase I would silently go along my own way. So how does Dr. Bernstein or you for that matter look on an issue such as that you know when a child sort of seemingly functions well - is a little bit silent - has the odd indication that he's not feeling too well - bed watering or not sleeping too well or sometimes crying or not having too many friends. What do you do then? Give us an answer if you can. Thank you.

Editor's Note:  Dr. Van Nuys sent us this comment from a listener in audio form and we've transcribed it.  We uncovered a bug in our comment system that was preventing listeners from leaving comments.  Woops!  Should be fixed now.  Sorry for the inconvenience.  

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