Spit in the Soup! A Strategy for Defiant Behavior


Picture yourself having lunch with a friend. Right in the middle of the meal, you lean over and spit in their soup.

There’s probably a lot you could say, but you could never say, “Oh, I’m sorry; that was an accident.” It’s a provocative gesture that can’t be explained as anything but intentional.

I’m not certain what your friend will do or say in response to such a gesture, but it will definitely be something that was far from their mind when they sat down to lunch.

Think about that for a moment. Spitting in your friend’s soup brings a change in their behavior that you control for the moment. When used with an oppositional and defiant son or daughter, a Spit in the Soup gesture can provoke a positive change in their behavior.

Spit in the Soup addresses three strong characteristics of defiant youngsters:

1. They honestly believe everything they do is spontaneous and unique. Fortunately for us, their behavior is predictable.

2. A lot of their defiant behavior is of the indirect and “sneaky” variety. If “I didn’t know… ” or “I forgot” can be eliminated as excuses, behavior and compliance often improve.

3. They delight in pulling their parents into a war of words. Verbal backlash is their specialty.

As you will see the following, a Spit in the Soup intervention addresses all three of these characteristics: It’s proactive, it manages excuses, and it’s nonverbal. Best of all, it addresses all three characteristics with a measure of well-intended humor.

Mom’s Survey (Intervention #1): Mom smiles at Tommy as she hands him this “survey” and a pencil at breakfast:

Tommy: At 7:00pm we’re going over to the Smiths’ house for dinner. The last time we went over there, you were 20 minutes late getting home, and we had to wait on you. It was not a pleasant evening for any of us.

I was just wondering… should I worry about you being late again? Please put your initials in one of the answers below:

___No problem, Mom. I will be ready to go at 7:00pm.

___You can count on me being late again.

A Letter from Victor (Intervention #2): As Sarah comes home from school, Mom hands her a letter. It’s addressed to Sarah in a large, child-like script. She opens the letter to read:

Sarah: Please help me! I’m sitting here in the closet. It’s so dark and lonely in here. Sarah, I haven’t had any exercise or companionship in a long, long time. Before you start on your homework, would you take me out of the closet and run me over the carpet in the den? Would you help me, Sarah? Please? —Victor the Vacuum

Although there’s no guarantee either of these Spit in the Soup approaches will work every time, they are noncoercive. That can spare a lot of grief. Besides, if confronted about a note, a parent could reply, “It thought it might be better to remind you in a fun way than for us to get upset with each other.”

It would be difficult to argue with that. ###

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