Think back to your childhood. Slowly sift through your memories and think of the times your own parents felt like they were at the end of their rope with you from being uncooperative, disobedient, and ultimately a defiant child.
Does anything stand out? Can you relate to your child better or understand your parent a bit more?
While I personally have always had a will stronger than steel, I was never really a defiant kid. I think I tested my boundaries early in life and became a people pleaser in my tween years because I do remember feeling exasperated from getting treated as if I was a rebellious soul by nature.
…Like the time I was grounded because I walked in the door at 11:28 and that was “cutting it too close” to curfew.
…Or the time I was scrutinized for what I was really doing out until 4 am when I had spent the entire night at a friend’s house working on a senior English project.
But I know I was defiant as a younger child and toddler since it’s absolutely normal and human to push boundaries and question the powers that be. I understand how frustrating it can be as a parent to be kept at arm’s length or for a child to toe the line you’ve drawn in the sand.
Whether raising toddlers or teens, every parent deals with a certain level of defiance in their children and we simply hope that as they are older they grow out of the desire to be purposefully uncooperative and obstinate.
Why does raising cooperative kids matter?
Learning from our own past (because experience is a great teacher) and implementing positive parenting solutions to help raise up respectful and cooperative kids can be a challenge. And sometimes it doesn’t feel worth it because it would be easier to give in “this time”
But when we stick it out through the defiant years with grace and patience, it can pay dividends in a child’s life. Obedience and cooperation are important soft skills for children to know and implement in the learning environment and the workplace whether as the subordinate or the person in charge.
Obedience and cooperation are important soft skills for children to know and implement in the learning environment and the workplace whether as the subordinate or the person in charge. Respectful & Cooperative kids grow up to be…
Why? Because they seek to keep the peace, follow directions, find ways to make change without causing major disruptions, get work done, and more. They understand when they need to stand up for something and when it’s an inappropriate time to make a comment.
How to survive parenting a defiant child
Children will test their boundaries — that’s normal.
But it can be frustrating to know the right way to respond and teach better habits. It is possible to find strategies to help both child and parent navigate through it where eventually behavior problems, power struggles, and meltdowns are either a thing of the past or at a manageable level whether you’re struggling with your tot, tween, or adolescent teen.
Notice good behavior and praise it.
This doesn’t mean saying “good job” every time a child does something great or rewarding them with a treat when they eat their dinner so next time there’s no fit because dessert isn’t an option. It’s more about giving a child words of affirmation little by little throughout the day.
Anything you see that you want your child to do more of let them know. Acknowledge how well siblings are playing together or how well your toddler is behaving when something doesn’t go their way. Notice when other tweens are being unruly and yours isn;t adding to the chaos.
Thank your child for eating well with the family, tell your child how fun it was to spend together instead of watching TV, and comment on the little moments that typically go unnoticed.
Then offer a hug, high five, or whatever your family is comfortable with to help reinforce good behavior.
Instead of saying “stop” or “don’t”, find a positive opposite.
Figure out what you want your child to do instead and tell them. So “Don’t leave your clothes on the floor” becomes “Please put your clothes in the hamper.”
Give instructions once.
It’s easy to encourage more disobedience by giving it a lot of attention.
If you focus on their defiance, it can actually increase. The sooner a child understands that there are consequences for not listening the first time, the sooner they will do what you ask.
Obviously, there are times when a reminder is needed, but when parents work to leave the nagging behind and work to rationally communicate even with their toddlers, it creates mutual respect.
Put an end to triggering behavior.
When adults stop giving negative attention to this behavior, there is no reason for a child to continue. Sometimes if you’re really upset, it’s best to take a step back and away for a bit. If not, pull your child in closer. When you first start doing this, your child may actually throw even more tantrums because they are upset that their usual way of getting attention isn’t working.
In both circumstances, when you first start doing this, your child may actually throw even more tantrums because they are upset that their usual way of getting negative, over-the-top attention isn’t working. Eventually they will see that it doesn’t work anymore and they will stop.
Grab your free “parents’ guide to behaviors” download.
Arguments, Tantrums, & Meltdowns don’t have to be solved immediately.
Your goal is to just get past it…not necessarily to solve it. Stay calm and your child will calm down faster. Gently talk them through their frustration to help them calm down.
Use brief and immediate disciplinary actions.
If they can’t or won’t do something, use consequences that make sense. So for instance not going to bed on time results in an earlier night the next day or backtalk results in taking away a privilege or for a period of time.
We personally try not to add more if the child complains; that’s a separate issue.
Longer and harsher consequences aren’t usually more effective. The disciplinary action should fit the behavior and it should be an immediate or timely response so that your child makes a connection between the two.
The bottom line in raising kids with a defiant spirit
Continue to practice tip #1.
Ideally, we positive communicate and engage our children 90% of the time. Notice your child’s good behavior and give it positive attention. It’s only human to want to do more of what we’re prased for. Change your own parental responses and reactions and your child will change theirs!
Get the Positive Discipline Cheat Sheet
Need help reframing how you see or respond to situations with your kids? This cheat sheet will help you through some of those tough moments when you want to react with frustration instead of love. The sneak peek is below, but be sure to subscribe to download the full, printable version!
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!