“60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child”

ISBN 978-1-878878-75-5 (paperback)

108 pages, 8.5×11″, illustrated, with index


      This book combines years of experience in working with difficult youngsters with practical strategies that have gotten results. It is a fast-paced journey through the challenges counselors and support staff face today.

The author, Dr. James Sutton, has this to say about 60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child:

Difficult and defiant youngsters can be tough on counselors and therapists. These youngsters have a knack for getting us upset enough to do EXACTLY what justifies their thoughts and actions. We quickly can come out losers in a battle of wills they know how to win.

Experience being a great teacher, let me tell you about Joanie. At the ripe old age of 14, Joanie had her defiance strategy down pat. I presented her with a pencil and paper task, my “safest” opener for a psychological assessment. With a flourish, she wrote “I HATE SHRINKS! on the paper and passed it back to me with a sneer.

Now there’s a pretty clear message, right? She was ready for me to become angry and upset with her and to intimidate and cajole her into cooperation. She had set a trap and was itching for me to step into it. EVERYTHING inside me wanted to accommodate, to plant my big foot squarely in the middle of it.

For reasons that are difficult for me to explain even today, I DIDN’T take the bait. I sensed (correctly, as it worked out) her behavior was more about hurt than hate.

That’s okay, Joanie,” I said as I put my assessment materials back into my case. “As important as this assessment is, I’m not going to force it upon you or anyone else.” (Don’t get me wrong; my blood pressure was getting a workout.)

I pointed to the three words she had scribbled on the paper as I leaned forward in my chair. “Did you have a bad experience with a counselor or a psychologist?” I whispered.

She nodded.

“That must have upset you a LOT!”

Another nod. For the next 20 minutes, I gleaned a ton of information from Joanie, all communicated by her with nods and shakes. Eventually she spoke. When our session was over, she asked me a question that put a rainbow over the whole afternoon:

When are you coming back?

With Joanie, I was more lucky (and perhaps a bit intuitive) than smart. But I was smart enough to add a new intervention to my collection:

When working with difficult and defiant youngsters, do what they DON’T expect. The child will not be prepared for it, making their responses more genuine and less “prepared.”

Joanie’s gesture, her three-word bear trap, was bold and provocative. Other difficult and defiant youngsters can be exactly the opposite … warm, interactive, cordial and VERY verbal. (In fact, these kids can be so smooth and slick in the counselor’s or psychologist’s office it’s difficult to see ANY problems or concerns.) But, when they leave your office, NOTHING changes. Unfulfilled promises and responsibilities are blamed on faulty memory and a dozen other things, and they have wonderful, believable and plausible excuses for every issue. With these youngsters, you don’t worry about them talking to you; that’s ALL they do … TALK.

So what do you do with the Joanies and the others, especially when conventional approaches absolutely do not work? Good question, huh?

It’s been 35 years or so since I began collecting answers to that question. (In fact, the topic of successful strategies for teaching and counseling difficult and defiant youngsters was a big part of my doctoral dissertation.) I DON’T have all the answers to the question, but I DO have 60 of them: 60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child: a Guide for Counselors. (“Child” in this context refers to both young ones and adolescents.) This guide, compiled from in-the-trenches experiences of myself and others, is a best practices goldmine of ideas and strategies for working with tough-to-reach youngsters.

Here is a sampler of what is addressed by some of the interventions and strategies you’ll find in 60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child:

How to MINIMIZE a child’s apprehension, especially during the first visit

How to DEEPEN rapport and establish a working trust with the youngster

How to HANDLE denial and minimization

How to DEFLECT at least some of the defensive behaviors

How to ADDRESS delicate issues squarely without losing the child

How to ASSIST the child with the concepts of acceptance and forgiveness

How to TEACH a child a better way to manage anger when provoked

How to MANAGE a youngster who is “splitting” (using you against other adults; Joanie would have been good at this)

How to HELP youngsters interpret and evaluate their own progress

How to DISCERN insincerity, avoidance, manipulation and outright dishonesty

60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child has a bonus, a handy topical index that can immediately direct you to a needed intervention.

Will this guide solve ALL your problems with tough youngsters? Hardly. (For that you’d need a MIRACLE, not a book). It will, however, provide you with enough tools to make your work easier, significantly more effective, and a LOT more enjoyable.