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Dealing with Defiant Children

“My child refuses to cooperate.” “He/she is so strong willed and disobedient”. These are common concerns expressed by parents. 

 Unfortunately, many parents escalate the problem because they feel they have to “win”.   All too often, parents  allow themselves to get drawn into power struggles and the more they try to force their will, the more the child defies them.  We’ve all been there and it’s a very discouraging struggle for both the adult and the child.  

 In reality, the only behaviour we have control over is our own.  When dealing with defiance, parents need to first look at their own behaviour.  Are they being over controlling or perhaps over protective? These behaviours invite defiance. 

 If your child is an arguer, they may have learned it from someone nearby.  If it’s you, practice letting the child have the last word.  This is not to say that a parent should give in to the demands of the child.  But there are some very effective ways to defuse the situation so that a solution can be reached when cooler heads prevail.

 1.      First and foremost, don’t get drawn into power struggles.  As confrontation escalates, the brain goes into “fight or flight” mode and rational thinking becomes impossible.  Remove yourself from the situation, refuse to argue and take time to calm down and approach the problem later when you and your child have both accessed your “rational” brains again.

 2.      Let go of the idea of punishment.  Punishment will only put a further wedge between you and your child and depending on your child’s temperament, can invite further rebellion, resentment or even revenge.  No, you are not “letting the child get away with it”!  You need to follow through and solve the problem — but it’s how you solve the problem that is crucial! The following gives some tips on how to do that:

 3.      Empower your child with “positive power”.  Some ways to do this include:

  • Inviting your child into the “problem solving” process.  A child who has input will be more accountable and much more liable to follow through with whatever decision is made.  
  • Let your child take the lead by offering limited choices. Limited choices provide small steps in shared power
  • Stop telling (and ordering) so much and start asking more. In Positive Discipline, we talk about asking “Curiosity Questions”.  Curiosity Questions invite a child to think and use his/her power instead of defying your direct orders.  For example, “What is you plan to do your homework?” goes farther than “do your homework!

When your child exhibits defiance, remember the issue is not that you, as the parent, have to be totally in control.  Back away from the conflict,let go of things that aren’t important and leave your energy for the important issues.

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