Times have changed. Raising kids as submissive and obedient is not considered ideal in today’s world.
In fact, it’s healthier to raise kids who can speak for themselves so that they can grow to be self-reliant and have high self-esteem.
But no parent wants to deal with a defiant child who won’t listen to what they say or comply with their requests.
It can seem like an irony.
We parents need to find a certain invisible line through which we can walk so that we don’t kill the spirits of a child who wants to speak their truth – their raw feelings – but at the same time, we need to make them understand the need to be self-disciplined and have an order in life.
Kids often do not understand why they need to sleep on time or study what they don’t like at school. But kids who are usually compliant do what they need to do easily.
On the other hand, more strong-willed kids need to know the “why” behind everything and they have their own certain way of doing things. So, it’s harder to get co-operation from such kids. And as a result, they express defiance.
But it doesn’t mean they cannot do the things they don’t want.
So, how do we deal with angry and disrespectful children?
Here are some tips.
9 WAYS TO DISCIPLINE A DEFIANT CHILD
1. THINK FROM THEIR PERSPECTIVE
If you ask me what the biggest parenting struggle I face is, it is convincing kids to do the things they don’t want to do.
It could be studying, going to bed on time, or even bathing.
(Thankfully, over time I have learned some tricks to make them do these chores).
But when we think from a child’s perspective, it’s hard being a child too.
What they want is to be free and do whatever they want. But they are constantly asked to stick with schedules and are expected to behave as well.
Most of the time, decisions are made for them on when to wake up, what to eat, what to study, etc.
It’s hard being pushed around. Also, keep in mind that some kids are temperamentally more oppositional than others. They are more emotional and upset with the way they are asked to do their chores.
They don’t like being controlled as they have their own strong opinions and feelings.
So they protest to tell you how upset they are and what they want to tell the authority figures would be – You can’t make me do things as you please.
Analyzing the roots of their struggle and being compassionate helps in understanding what they go through and reacting accordingly.
And also, the most important thing is to understand the personality of your child.
When your child is defiant and disobedient, it’s hard not to wonder why your child is difficult.
And it’s especially frustrating when you see other kids who are not like that. Your own kids differ from each other when it comes to the easiness and flexibility in responding to daily chores.
The biggest mistake would be to ask your child “Why can’t you listen to me like how your brother does?”. That paves the way for a lot of self-esteem issues and neglected feelings.
Related: 20 psychologically damaging things parents say to kids (and what to say instead)
Hence, accept the personality of your child as the ability to be assertive and defiant has its own positive benefits too. The trick is in using different techniques with each child according to their character and temperament.
What I have found is that what works with one doesn’t work with the other. Read on to learn how you can change your approach with particularly difficult defiant kids.
2. BE EMPATHETIC
My daughter who is a strong-willed child and highly sensitive at the same time throws a fit when she is asked to do things she doesn’t like.
And suddenly she becomes defiant and says NO.
It’s hard to stay calm and in control when she says NO outright to my face. To be honest, it hits my ego and I want to yell at her.
But from experience, I have learned that it never helps. It simply invites unwanted power struggles and tears which help no one. I also feel guilty later on thinking I should have dealt with the situation in a better way.
So in such situations, it’s important to stay calm so that you can help the child to comply with your reasonable request.
When your child is being defiant, try to be in her shoes and understand why she may be saying NO.
Maybe it’s because she is having fun right now and what you are asking her to do is no fun at all.
You can express her feelings in words – “I know how you feel. You are reading a story and going to bed right now doesn’t seem appealing at all.”
You can melt half of the struggle by just understanding and putting her feelings into words.
Empathy works like magic most of the time. It helps to melt whatever resistance kids are bringing up.
3. CONNECT WITH THEM
Sometimes defiance occurs due to a lack of attention. Their love bucket needs to be filled.
Instead of reacting and escalating the battle, try to connect with them at the moment.
You can ask questions like,
“What’s upsetting you right now?” OR
“Tell me why you don’t want to do it”, etc.
Asking them questions is not giving them the option to not cooperate with you, but lending a listening ear to them which will help you understand the reasons for defiance.
This will help in giving them different options to do what they are asked to do, if possible (think of win-win choices).
Or just simply empathize and offer support to tell them that you are on their side as well.
When you empathize and understand their feelings, they feel that you are on their team, which will help in melting away the resistance.
4. GIVE THEM CONTROL
Defiance most probably happens when they feel out of control. So giving them their power is absolutely important.
Children who have always been pushed around and if not given the opportunity to make choices will assert their independence in one or the other way.
So what to do about it?
Give them plenty of options throughout the day.
Let them choose the dress they want to wear, whether to eat the veggies they don’t like, what time to do the homework, etc.
And when they act defiant you can offer different choices, which will ultimately be leading them to do the tasks they should be doing.
After showing empathy and understanding what they are going through, you can offer solutions or explore win-win strategies together.
Remember, more than the path, the destination is important.
“So you don’t want to study right now. How about doing it after your 30 minutes screen time?”
It will be a win-win solution. And even though you are not controlling the order of the events, you are making sure it gets done no matter what.
Here, parents have to keep their egos apart and remember to not be stubborn thinking your child is disobedient. Think about how your child has his own preference in doing things.
When you respect that, the respect will be given back too and we can put an end to the defiant behaviour.
Give them a lot of control over their day. If your child seems angry and disrespectful when it comes to doing their chores, sit with them to make a daily schedule for them.
Help them to prepare a checklist for daily routine activities and let them complete the tasks in the order they prefer. This will help them to be in control over their daily events.
You can use digital reminders or visual reminders in the form of chore charts. Alternatively, you can use alarm clocks to remind them on time too.
All these little things give control to them, so they are more willing to do the tasks on their own. And it’s so much better than you always nagging and yelling at them to do the tasks, which can evoke defiance in them.
5. LET GO OF UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Kids are not robots, so we can’t expect them to obey everything we say. In fact, obedience is not the goal.
According to Psychology Today, research shows that teens are more resistant to peer pressure if they’re used to asserting their opinions with their parents.
If a child obeys your every request without reasoning back, he may grow up to become an adult who can’t stand for himself, and thus he may be taken advantage of.
And also observe if you are a helicopter parent who hovers around the child all the time being strict and controlling every scenario.
If that’s the case, your child can become defiant because he may be tired of the lack of freedom and control and defiance would be his way of expressing it.
Related: How to stop being a helicopter parent (10 effective tips)
6. YOUR TONE OF VOICE MATTERS
Cynthia Ulrich Tobias, the author of “You can’t make me” says,
The tone you use with your child matters when your child is in the moment of defiance.
When your kid is being defiant, you might have the natural instinct to raise your voice as well. But this can quickly aggravate the situation.
When you lose control of the situation, your defiant child gets what he wanted- and that is testing the limits and pushing your buttons.
So even if you have to repeat yourself, make sure your voice remains calm and firm.
7. ASK WHAT’S YOUR PLAN
This is a tip from Amy McCready of Positive Parenting Solutions. I love this tip and often use it with my strong-willed child.
Instead of ordering, turn it into a question.
For example, instead of saying “Fold your laundry”, ask “When do you plan to fold your laundry, sweetie?”
Even though this indirectly is a reminder, you are also giving control over when and where he can do it.
When you give respect, they feel in control and it helps to fix the defiant behaviour.
8. TEACH RESPECTFUL BEHAVIOR
Kids sometimes don’t know that the way they talk is rude or impolite. So you can coach them on it when they are being defiant.
When they are being defiant, you can tell them,
“That’s a very rude thing to say, I expect you to be more polite”
“When you say such words, it hurts me. If you want to talk about how you feel, we can do it when you cool down”
“If you don’t agree with what I said, you can tell me why you feel so. But talking impolitely cannot be accepted.”
9. CHECK IF YOUR CHILD HAS ODD
Many kids can be defiant at times, but if your child’s defiant behaviour persists consistently over a period of six months, it could be a sign of ODD (Oppositional defiant disorder).
According to Children’s Hospital.org, warning signs of ODD are:
- Frequent anger
- Always questioning rules
- Refusing to comply with adult’s requests
- Blaming others for misbehaviour or mistakes
- Becoming easily annoyed with others
- Speaking harshly or unkindly to others
It is true that usually, some kids show these symptoms one or another time. But if this behaviour lasts consistently for more than six months, he might need help from a therapist.
ODD is usually treatable. Kids can learn new strategies for better behaviour. If you suspect ODD, it is best to address the issue sooner so that it doesn’t escalate to serious law-breaking behaviour later.
Kids who are being defiant are usually highly intelligent and sensitive. These can be turned into positive traits and be encouraged so that they become self-motivated and successful adults later in life.
Defiant behaviour can be disciplined using the tips above. Also, keep in mind that lots of positive communication and empathy can improve your relationship with your child.
If a child does his chores most of the time, the occasional defiance could be used as a chance to improve your relationship with him by communicating more with him and solving issues on the go.