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How to Deal With Defiant Children

Updated on July 13, 2012

Dealing with a Defiant Child

It is natural for children to be upset or angry at times, but having to deal with a child who is becoming increasingly defiant and difficult is a challenge for any parent. It may feel like you’re having to walk a tightrope all the time. For children, defiance is a way of asserting their independence. There are indications to let you know that they are capable of making their own decisions, and asserting their autonomy. Defiance could be an expression of their frustration. It could also be a way of expressing their frustration or anger with something happening at home or school. Defiance is generally seen in very young children, pre-teens and teenagers. Positive disciplining should normally result in acceptable behavior and help children understand why defiance is unacceptable and direct them towards acceptable behavior.

The defiant child
The defiant child | Source

The Defiant Child

A defiant child as we know is made, not born. Children often learn to react the way they see us behave, so it is important to reduce conflict in the home. As a parent, if you are constantly saying 'no', without providing opportunities for the child to explore life in a protective, positive environment, frustration and anger build up, making your child defiant. Psychologists also say that indulgent and permissive parents train their child to become defiant in the face of the slightest opposition. The lack of consistent discipline causes children to become belligerent and defiant. It makes them believe that they are equals and assert their rights, while refusing to comply to requests from parents.

Disciplining Children

Some parents consider disciplining their child as being harsh or restrictive. The truth however is that when you discipline your child, you –

  • help your child learn to be in control of his/her emotions
  • encourage your child to learn acceptable social behavior
  • help your child become responsible
  • empower your child to become self-sufficient
  • help them develop problem solving skills by working within limitations
  • help your child get along with his/her peers, playmates and significant others and become a socially well adjusted individual

How to deal with defiant children
How to deal with defiant children | Source

What are the problem behaviors of a defiant child?

Some of the most common defiant behaviors found in children and teenagers are –

  • Talking back
  • Being argumentative - especially with elders and authority figures
  • Refusal to comply with requests, and may at times do just the opposite of what he/she is told
  • Annoying behavior, throwing tantrums, being moody and resentful
  • Not taking correction well

If a child has most of these behaviours, the child could be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. You would need to take professional help depending on the severity of the symptoms.

Please vote on which method you would adopt to discipline your defiant child

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How to deal with a defiant child

It takes a bit of learning and patience, but with consistent effort you will surely be able to achieve your goals.

  • Change the way you approach the problem. Instead of seeing your child as the problem, look at what is causing the problem. Try to understand the problem and work to eliminate such problem behaviors in your child – and yourself.
  • List the problem behaviors that need to be changed, and deal with the most troublesome ones first.
  • Detach yourself emotionally from the problem – note that I said ‘problem’ not ‘child’. It helps to take an objective look at the reasons for the unacceptable behavior. This is often the key to effective behavior modification.
  • Decide on a suitable method of disciplining your child. This should be discussed between parents and any other adults who may be a part of the child’s life. You should then arrive at a workable consensus, however, discipline needs to be consistent. Going a step further, you should focus on increasing positive behaviors in your child.

Behavior problems in children
Behavior problems in children | Source

Dealing with defiant children

  • Positive discipline, that focuses on acceptable behavior, is more effective than punishment and harsh treatment. Decide on the consequences for behavior that is not acceptable, and
  • enforce the consequences consistently.
  • Do not get into bargaining, reasoning or arguments with your child while enforcing discipline. Arguments and power struggles give the child an equal status and encourage him/her to demand his/her rights. It also creates a climate of argumentativeness and struggle, which is a vicious cycle.
  • Learn to ignore small infractions. Picking on your child all the time for everything would produce even more negative behavior. Focus on the one behavior that needs to be changed and enforce the consequences.
  • It helps to give a warning to alert your child when he/she is indulging in defiant behavior. Just once is enough. Go to the consequences when warning is not heeded.
  • Reward positive behavior with personal attention. A smile and a hug, or an affectionate pat on the head, or even getting down to your child’s level and giving him/her a hug or a day out in the zoo or park. Do not give material gifts.

How to Handle a Defiant Child

  • Praise is an effective tool for increasing acceptable behavior. However, when you praise, make sure to let your child know why you are happy and which behavior of his/hers makes you happy. Use statements like “You have done a great job of making your bed.” Effusive praise in an animated voice and appropriate gestures gets the message across to your child easily. A affectionate touch could make it even more effective. Your child will love it and want more of it.
  • Be proactive. If you have observed and noted which situations trigger negative behavior, you could quickly distract your child’s attention before your child starts acting out. If your child always wants gum or chocolates at the checkout counter, you could give your child a handful of change and have him/her count them..just something to distract him/her for that moment. This breaks the chain of responses to a situation and encourages positive behavior.
  • Keep your cool – yelling and losing your temper will indicate to your child that it is okay for him/her to lose control too, and react the same way. A calm, firm voice signals authority and that you mean business. It gets attention immediately. Practice it, it works.
  • However, if your child is too upset to listen, take time to explain things when he/she has calmed down.

To sum up - Remember that children love attention. They will do anything to get your attention. Giving attention to your child when he/she exhibits positive behavior helps them increase acceptable behavior and helps reduce defiant or unacceptable behavior. Ignore negative behavior. Persist with your efforts, don't give up. Take professional help if you need to. While dealing with defiant children it helps to listen more than talk. Asking questions about their day encourages them to speak about how they feel. Direct questions about their feelings may not be suitable for young children, they may be unable to express themselves. Understanding improves your bond with your child, builds bridges of trust, strengthens love, breaks down defiance, and encourages compliance. Try a little love.


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    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      I agree with you that additional conditions like aspergers, retardation, ADD etc compound the problem. Let me see If I can work on a hub to address the issue.. I haven't worked closely with many children with aspergers. Have you considered professional help? Your child's therapist may be able to give you specific guidance which you need. Thanks for the question and making me think... best wishes to you and your child.

    • Bedbugabscond profile image

      Melody Trent 5 years ago from United States

      I have an aspergers child who is defiant. The biggest hurdle is teaching him acceptable social behaviors. He is in a different world when it comes to social interaction. I would love a hub about how to address teaching social behaviors to autistic kids!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Ruby, Isn't love the answer to all problems. I feel so sad when people do not understand the power of love... It just seems so right to punish, yell and show that you are more powerful, but I would think that by losing your balance over a small immature child we only showcase our immaturity.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Teaches, Thank you for your ever inspiring words. It seems parents unknowingly encourage defiant behavior. If only I could reach a few parents facing such difficulties my work here would be accomplished. I appreciate your stopping by to leave that insightful comment.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      @ Virtual treasures, here I am, true to my word may be a wee bit late.. but even so.

      When I said 'problem behavior' I mean defiance, tantrums or whatever behavior that defines your child differently.

      Sometimes it is possible that a gesture, a word or an action could trigger off a defiant behavior. A child I used to handle in therapy would often get violent at the sound of the word 'NO'

      We eliminated the word from the parents vocabulary and replaced it with.. why not try this?

      You would know what actions or words or expressions of yours cause your child to react the way he does...

      When you see your child as a problem you would want to punish and get even with you child.. (I will teach him a lesson, attitude) If you only consider the behavior as the problem you may just work towards eliminating it and replacing it with acceptable behavior. I hope this helps. Please do feel free to get in touch if you have specific questions. Thanks.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is another great hub. It's important how we as parents approach a defiant child. Really love is the answer. When a child knows he is loved, in time the defiance will slowly start to subside. I went through this with my Son when he reached the teen years. Thank you for really good tips..

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      This advice will certainly make parenting easier and help to raise a child who knows how to make better life choices. Love your tips on how to deal with the defiance: do not bargain and remain consistent in discipline is tops on my list. Voted way up!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Algarveview and VT Thanks for reading and the comments. I appreciate this.

      @VT, I am sorry for not being able to respond... to your question... right away as I am travelling... will be back at my writing station on Tuesday... I will give you a proper response then. I am clumsy on this phone and struggling to respond .. I am sorry ...I will be true to my promise. See you later.

    • Virtual Treasures profile image

      Ruby Jo Morgan 5 years ago from Michigan

      My step-son was diagnosed with ODD and ADD when he was 9. Sometimes his defiance was too much to handle. Can you explain a little more what you mean by "Change the way you approach the problem. Instead of seeing your child as the problem, look at what is causing the problem. Try to understand the problem and work to eliminate such problem behaviors in your child – and yourself." When you say problem, do you mean the bad behavior? Thanks!

    • algarveview profile image

      Joana e Bruno 5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hello, Sofs, quite an interesting subject, I have at the moment a throwing tantrums machine at home, so this could not have come at a better time... Voted up, useful and interesting and, of course, sharing! Stay well!