How to Deal with a Defiant Child
Setting Good Boundaries is Key
It may come as a shock one day to discover that the adorable child you once had has somehow transformed into the mischievous terror now ignoring your every direction. While as parents we may passionately fixate on finding the culprit - that is, the schoolmate or neighbor who clearly affected your little angel – it is likely just a new phase in your child’s life. As adults we know that rules exist for our benefit, whereas children must be continually taught this. When you discipline your youngster, keep this in mind: kids thrive when given boundaries and it’s up to you to set them.
Defiance in a child can exist on many levels, at different times, and is a handy term used by parents to encapsulate unapologetic disobedience. From the two year old who stubbornly continues to empty the contents of your sock drawer every morning, to the nine year old who in taunting silence refuses clean up after herself, defiance rears its ugly head in most kids. Parents who either consciously or lazily ignore the problem when it develops are in for a much harder pattern to break later on – if they are even able to break it at all. The best approach is to confront defiance head-on, and here are some handy general methods moms have been using for years:
#1. Stay calm. It is important to always discipline from a place of love and not from a place of anger. If you cannot deal with the current situation without over-reacting, walk away for five minutes to compose yourself.
#2. Speak normally. Yelling at your child will only exasperate the problem and inadvertently teaches them that conflict can only be resolved through heated exchange.
#3. Clearly explain to your child how they have disobeyed you. While you may be greeted with disgruntled sighs, rolled eyes, and overall disregard studies have shown that children truly are listening to their parents – even when you think they aren’t.
#4. Have an established punishment for the defiance and always stick to it. If the boundaries you have set continually change a child’s disobedience will become prolonged. Even if you want to let them off the hook – just this once – don’t do it. Persistence in how you discipline teaches a child that there are always consequences for breaking the rules.
For those parents who have tried everything that the experts have said and still have a child with a defiant attitude I say this: general guidelines are just that – general. Be prepared to set higher standards if the ones you have tried do not work. Remember to tell Susie or Robbie that if they don’t pick up after themselves next time it will cost them two quarters instead of one. Or explain that the Wii, or ipod, or phone privileges will disappear for a day or maybe even a week from when they apologize for their actions. In my experience a defiant attitude can be broken by finding your child’s favorite free time practice and placing limitations on it. Use your head to positively impact your child’s behavior.
Remember to emphasize throughout the disciplining process that you still love your child no matter how they behave, but that they need to learn to respect your wishes as a parent. This life-lesson will prepare your child later on to be a better student, worker, and parent. While it may be agonizing right now, boundary persistence will pay off big in the end.