07 Mar

How to handle a defiant child?

defiant child


The question of how to deal with a defiant child is something most parents have struggled with at one point time. Defiance in children is a common problem, especially in young children. It’s a normal part of a child’s development and can be expressed in behaviors such as talking back or disobeying parents, teachers, and other adults.

Among school-age children, defiance will more likely take the form of arguing with you or not doing something you asked (or doing it very, very slowly). Your child may be trying to exert control over a situation or declaring his independence. He may be testing his limits and authority. Or maybe expressing his dislike for something you asked him to do, such as picking up toys or doing chores.

What’s the problem with labeling a child as ‘defiant’?

deal with a defiant child
labeling child as defiant

According to Alan Kadzi, professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University, and author of more than 40 books, parents may be quick to label their children as “defiant,” and fail to recognize that what they do as parents can impact their child’s behavior. Rather than labeling the child as defiant, parents need to ask how can he or she be a better listener?

Research suggests that the way we convey instructions to our children affects the probability they will comply with our request. For example, adding a “please” might increase the chance of compliance. Another important aspect is the tone of your voice. Also, giving kids a choice does increase the likelihood of compliance. Liking giving an option to wear a red or a white shirt creates the perception of allowing the child to choose while getting them to do what you require that is wearing a shirt without much of a tantrum.

The power of praising good behavior:

Unfortunately, we are quick to point out the wrong things that our children do and often fail to notice and appreciate their good things. Many of us fail to recognize how important it is to notice and praise good behavior in order to eliminate the defiance in our children. We also need to let them practice their desired behavior. Parents can initially help their children and gradually let them do it on their own. This is also the best way to make the child independent. It will not happen overnight but practicing and repeating a positive behavior will eventually get you success!

Ways to deal with defiant child:

defiant child
defiant child

1. Get to the root of the behavior:

Look for causes and triggers and try to keep track of your child’s defiance. Is there a pattern? Are there certain specific things he doesn’t like or want to do? Is he defiant when things are too hectic or hurried? Also, make sure that you are clear enough about the rules and chores of the house, and that they are age-appropriate so your child can follow them. Once you investigate the cause, you can take steps to adjust situations so that there are fewer chances of your child opposing you.

2. Set your child up for good behavior:

Try to avoid situations in which a child may be defiant or exhibit some bad behavior. For instance, if you know your child tends to get cranky if he has too much on his plate, try not to schedule too many things after school or on the weekends.

3. Treat your child as you would want to be treated:

Just like grown-ups, your normally well-behaved child can have an off day. He may be in a bad mood or may be feeling overwhelmed. Be firm about what your child must do, but speak to him in a loving and understanding manner. When you set a good example of how to express an opinion or disagree in a loving and respectful manner, your children will follow.

defiant child
treat them with love

4. Establish absolute ground rules:

Make sure your child knows exactly what he must and must not do. For instance, if talking to you in a disrespectful manner is something that is an absolute no-no in your house, make it clear to him that this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated further. Be sure to choose a consequence you are willing to enforce so he doesn’t learn to ignore your requests and undermine your authority.

5. Compromise when you can:

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to give in when your child wants to exert control over something minor so that you can stay firm when it comes to the bigger stuff. In this way, he also feels motivated and develops high self-esteem.

6. Discuss alternatives:

Sometimes, a child may exhibit defiant behavior because he wants to have more say in when or how he does things. One way to help children feel like they have more control is to give them some choices.

7. Transfer Authority

Give your child a perceived choice whenever possible, such as letting him pick out his own clothes, or asking him if he wants to walk upstairs to bed or crawl like a spider.

8. Baby them:

Strong-willed kids know they are challenging, so they are often insecure about your feelings toward them. Assure them of your love frequently, especially when they have misbehaved.

9. Discipline effectively:

Make consequences consistent, fair and firm enough so he experiences a negative effect. An earlier bedtime is a good choice, or a loss of electronics.

10. Hold your child accountable

You cannot expect your child, regardless of age, to be compliant if he does not know your expectations. Holding your child accountable does not mean that is obedient all the time, but it does mean that you set the limits, and you provide a consequence when your child decides to break rules. The goal is not to prevent your child from breaking the rules but to teach him, preferably at a young age, that when rules are broken, its consequences do follow.

defiant child

11. Choose your battles

Parenting is exhausting enough when things are going well, but when one of your children is purposefully misbehaving, the difficulties are multiplied. So choose how you spend your energy wisely!

12. Set regular times to talk to your child

In a moment of downtime, when things are going well and you don’t anticipate an immediate power struggle, sit down with your child and let her know that you take your job as her parent very seriously and your intentions are to keep her safe and help her grow into a responsible, productive, self-reliant adult who will be as happy and fulfilled in life as possible. Remind her that your family has rules and values that are in place for her future, not to cause her grief while growing up.

How to handle defiant kids
talk to your child


Defiant behavior is a part of growing up and is absolutely normal. When a child acts out and demonstrates defiant behavior, there is usually a reason behind it. Whether it is just looking for attention, testing boundaries, taking the time to understand why your child is acting out is often a big part of the solution.

In some cases, what appears to be defiance may simply be because the child is too focused on an activity. Understanding what is behind your child’s behavior is an important part of addressing the problem of a child who seems to be defying you.

On the other hand, defiant behavior that persists for a prolonged period of time and interferes with a child’s performance at school and his relationship with family and friends can be a sign of something called oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD. If you suspect that your child may have ODD, consult your family doctor to get help and information.

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