If you’ve been asking yourself how to deal with a defiant child that does the opposite of what you tell him, don’t despair! Here are 5 positive parenting strategies that you can start using immediately.
You’ve been in that stare down.
It’s like a death match.
“Sweetie,” I say, “Don’t throw that toy”
He takes one look at me and then chucks it across the room.
What do you do when your child does the opposite of what he’s told?
Put him in time out?
Take away privileges?
And then what happens when he does the opposite of what you say again and again? When there is nothing left to take away…
If you’ve asked yourself, “How do I parent a defiant child?” you are not alone.
If you are looking for an article on new consequences or ideas to make your child comply, this isn’t it.
However, if you want a more peaceful and positive home where both you and your child will be happy, read on.
Calm yourself when your child does the opposite of what you say
Your child’s defiance isn’t about you at all.
It’s all her. She is feeling a lack of control in the current situation and is trying to regain it by being defiant.
Yes, it is frustrating and must drive you crazy.
But, know that she is not doing this to make you mad.
She’s doing it because she wants to make more of her own decisions and that’s a really wonderful thing!
Our best success indicator as parents is that our children become autonomous and can do things on their own.
This defiance is a really good thing! Repeat this to yourself to regain your calm.
BUT… there is a time and a place. You usually have very good reasons for telling your child not to soak the dog with the hose or hit his baseball in the house.
Now, to get her to see that.
Try to empathize with a defiant child
As a classroom teacher, I had quite a few students who acted outright defiant.
One in particular, whom we’ll call Nathaniel.
Every adult command felt like a direct threat to him. He came into my classroom mid-year. When we did our first reading block, he talked to the other kids instead of reading. Chatting and laughing.
When my student teacher came to talk to him, he gave the “Ya, ya… I’m reading.”
Totally blew her off. I was fuming.
However, I knew that if I asked him to start reading, he would give me the exact same answer.
This kid was used to adults telling him what to do without any regard for what his personal wishes.
So instead, I asked him to stay inside for recess so he could finish the reading assignment he didn’t do in class.
He grunted. Said a few, “Whatevers,” and stayed inside.
Once the the rest of the class left for recess, I sat down next to him.
I told him he wasn’t in trouble and I tried to gain some common ground.
“It must be really frustrating to come into a new school mid-year. Leave your friends at the other school and come here.”
“Ya,” he replied.
“I never had to do that, I imagine it must be hard.”
“Ya,” he repeated. But something inside him had changed. He softened. When he saw I wasn’t lecturing him, he dropped his defenses.
It’s the same with our own kids. They put up a glass wall that protects them against our words, anger, anything…
Usually, defiance at home is a matter of the kid feeling a lack of control.
At least they can control this one little action of throwing their LEGO across the room.
The first step is to emphasize with them and tell them how you understand.
Something simple like,
“I see that you really want to throw your sister’s shopkin across the room. It must be really fun to see it fly, right”
“You don’t like your sister telling you what to do. It makes you mad.”
Don’t worry about being wrong in your guess. If you are wrong, your child will tell you and it will get you closer to understanding exactly what’s going on in his head.
Look for alternatives
Since defiance is an act of control, your child wants something but is unsure how to get it.
Throwing LEGO’s might be a sign of boredom and that he needs alternate activities to explore when he’s bored.
Now, this doesn’t mean it’s your job to entertain your child.
Instead, talk to him about your own emotions. You can say things like,
“When I’m bored, I….
- Like to go outside, or
- Do something I’ve been putting off
- Read a book
- Play a game
- Eat the entire kitchen (That is just me being truthful, but not something I suggest saying to kids. I’m working on that one 🙂
Giving alternatives is a great way for your child to start self-regulating and making his own decisions.
I know.. I know.. Sometimes when our kids make us mad this is the last thing we want to do.
But JoAnn, aren’t you rewarding them for their behavior?
No, not exactly.
When we start looking at defiance as a loss of self control instead of simply bad behavior, re-establishing the relationship between you and your child makes a lot of sense.
“Come here and cuddle me for a second” or “Here, let’s sit down for a bit,” can help you hit the reset button on any strong emotions building up.
Sometimes, we get so busy that we yell across the room to our kids and expect our demands to be immediately complied with.
If a defiant action keeps happening, we say,
- “Don’t do that”
- “Put that down”
- “Stop hitting your sister”
If we’ve already empathized with our kid, brainstormed choices and reestablished our connection with them, it’s time to make it physically impossible for them to continue with the action.
This is not meant to be a WWE throwdown.
Rather, if your child is throwing LEGO’s, walk over and take all the LEGO’s away.
If she is spraying the dog with the hose, turn off the water and take away the hose.
We don’t need to say anything. The phrase “actions speak louder than words” is particularly meaningful in parenting.
Plus, it’s super satisfying walking over and taking something away in a calm manner while staying stone silent.
Your child will be caught off guard. They won’t know what you are going to do.
It’s kind of exhilarating. Try it. You’ll see what I mean.
The next time you ask yourself, “what can I do with a defiant child?”, first tell yourself that it’s not a statement against you… it’s all them exerting their independence.
After you try to empathize and brainstorm alternative ways they can use their emotions, don’t hesitate to take action and make it impossible for them to repeat the action again.
If the behavior continues, I recommend the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk(affiliate link). You’ll want to check out the section on problem-solving starting on page 103.
You got this mama!