Managing Your Defiant Child

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05 Nov 2014

I know that when 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’ll make them do as I say! I’ll show them who is boss!” I will 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 does put a halt to all the negativity is think about why my child is being defiant and giving myself a quick review of a child’s mindset. The real key to managing your defiant child is to understand why they are defiant in the first place.

Reasons for Defiant Behavior
I try to remind myself that every child wants their parents’ approval. It means everything to a child. If they are not behaving appropriately, then they can’t have it. They may have other needs that are not being met. Maybe it is because they are independent-minded and following direct commands humiliates them.

They may need a way to save face. They could be tired and annoyed. They 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 following the demands of a tough teacher and may 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 it 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 your gut reaction and move into more positive thinking. Instead of saying to yourself, “How dare they!” try instead, “Something must really be bothering them. 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 give your child some choices, which gives them a feeling of control. Lastly, you can invite your child to come up with some solutions on how you can manage your future interactions.

Here is an example of how this can work:

Instead of this scenario:

Mom: “Eli, time to sweep the floor.”

Eli: “I am not doing it and you can’t make me!”

Mom: “Don’t you dare talk to me that way! You need to listen!”

Try delivering empathy and giving choices:

Mom: “Eli, time to sweep the floor.”

Eli: “I am not doing it and you can’t make me!”

Mom: “It sounds like you really don’t want to sweep the floor. You can choose another job like washing down the table or loading the dishwasher.”

You can then also invite your child to come up with solutions:

Mom: “I need cooperation when it is time to clean up. Can you tell me what would be the best way to ask you to help so you feel like helping?”

Stopping yourself from responding in kind when your child is defiant takes hard internal work. It is worth it. Delivering empathy is the secret to stopping arguments.

Offering choices and inviting children to come up with solutions gives kids the tools that 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. 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.