How to Handle Defiance

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07 Jan 2014

girl yellingWhen my children become defiant, my initial reaction is to lash out at them and get really angry. “How dare they!” I think, “After all I do for them, this is the way they talk to me!” My thoughts can go even further downhill, “I will make them do as I say! I will show them who is boss!”  I then find myself embroiled in conflict before I can even blink. Once I get going it can be hard to stop. The only thing that puts a halt on all the negativity is to think of why my child is being defiant and give myself a quick review of a child’s mindset. The real key to managing your defiant child is to understand why he/she is defiant in the first place.

Reasons For Defiant Behavior:

I try to remind myself that every child wants parental approval. It means everything to a child. When children act defiant, it may be because they are independent minded so following direct commands humiliates them. They may need a way to save face. They could be tired and annoyed or may have just come home from school and need some time to unwind. They may be testing your rules to see if you will give in. They might have spent the whole day having to following the demands of a tough teacher and need a break. A big cause for defiance in my house is if my kids feel that they have to do more than their siblings, whether or not this is actually true.

Be Positive Instead of Angry:

Once you have an understanding of why your child shows defiance, you can react to their defiance with compassion instead of anger. You might initially feel mad but try to ignore that gut reaction and move into more positive thinking. Instead of saying to yourself, “How dare they!” try instead “Something must be really bothering them to be speaking to me in this way. Something is going on inside their brain that is making them act defiant.” This helps keep the frustration at bay and will help you focus on more effective ways to respond to your child.

Use Empathy, Choices and Solutions:

The best way to respond to a defiant child is with empathy. You can reflect their feelings back to them. This helps both you and your child to remain calm. You can then present to your child some choices, allowing them to feel a sense of control. Lastly, you can invite your child to come up with some solutions on how you can manage future interactions.

Here is an example of how this can work:

Mom: Eli, time to sweep the floor!

Eli: No! I don’t want to! You can’t make me!

Instead of saying:

Don’t talk to me that way!

You will listen to what I say right now!

Try giving choices:

“It sounds like you really are not in the mood to sweep the floor. You can choose another job, like wiping the table or loading the dishwasher.”

Invite your child to come up with solutions:

“Let’s see if we can come up with a plan to make your jobs easier for you. What do you think would work?”

At a later date, when you both are calm you do want to address his defiance:

“Eli, remember when I asked you to sweep the floor and you said, ‘No! I don’t want to! You can’t make me!’ That was disrespectful. You may not talk to me that way. You need to say, ‘Mommy, I don’t like to sweep, can I do another job?’ or ‘ Mommy, can I have a break now and do my job a little later?”

Stopping yourself from responding angrily when your child is defiant takes a lot of  hard  internal work but it is worth it. Delivering empathy is the secret to stopping arguments. Presenting choices and inviting children to come up with solutions gives kids the tools they need so that they do not feel like they have to be defiant in order for their emotions to be heard and their needs to be met. Giving children the respectful words to substitute their disrespectful ones allows them to truly learn Kibbud Av Veem.  This is the best way for parents to turn their child’s defiance into cooperation.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.