Once, when I was 16 or 17 years old, I got up the guts to tell my mom “No” right to her face…once.
Holy moly, if only that were the case for us as parents of sassy, spirited, and strong-willed kids! My kids were born with the word “No” on the tip of their tongues, just waiting to be used daily. Many times daily. Defiance is honestly one of the things that wears me out the most. When I hear my kids get up in the morning, one of my first thoughts is “I can’t do another day of defiance.”
I don’t want to feel that way any more and I don’t want any of you to feel that way either. Because of that, I am over the moon about today’s episode!
Alan Brooks, LMFT gives us not only one way to respond to defiance, or two ways, he gives us SEVEN different ways for you to choose from! After you listen to this episode, you won’t wonder what to do in a defiant situation, you’ll wonder what you did before this podcast.
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Alan Brooks, LMFT
What you need to know about defiance
Kids are trying to to understand their world and what’s going on. They’re trying to make sense of rules and boundaries. Like most of us, they want control. They want power. They want to be in charge and that’s hard. They want to be understood and have a voice.
The trouble is we can’t let a three year old or even a thirteen year old fully be in charge.
But I want everyone to understand that defiance is not a sign of dysfunction or even a sign that your child will grow up to be defiant. Rather defiance is a normal part of every child’s development. It’s how they start to test the world around them, to see what their boundaries are. It’s the way that they are voicing the feelings and the thoughts that they’re having because they haven’t learned anything else yet.
Use defiance as a teaching moment
In situations where your child is defiant, you have a really good opportunity to teach and model healthy ways for them to get what they want/need. Even though it may feel negative, you can turn it into a positive so that by the time that they’re eighteen and gone, they’ve got some really great tools.
In the meantime, I want to give you seven solutions to help you handle defiance in a healthy way.
Re-frame how you see defiance
Here’s a quote that I really like:
“Toddler defiance is just a sign of healthy development.”
This is so true. You’re going to have some defiance. In fact, you want that. You want kids to be independent. You want them to be curious and capable and inquisitive. You don’t want to raise little robots. You don’t want to raise push overs that don’t have a voice and can’t stand up for anything. Let’s let them be strong. Celebrate that.
Solution #1 Childproofing
I still remember 20 years ago going to Thanksgiving on the east coast to a great grandma’s house. Her house was not kid friendly. I spent two days chasing my toddler around telling him “No”, “You can’t touch that”, and “You can’t do that!” It was miserable for him and for me. So just do what you can to make your home and your surroundings as kid friendly as possible.
Also, maybe look at the things that caused defiant behavior in the past and eliminate those things. If treats are an issue, maybe decrease the amount of treats you have in the home. If electronics are an issue, maybe invest in a device that controls how much electronic time each child can have per day.
Really look at what triggers defiance and see if you can’t eliminate some of it to make everyone happier.
Solution #2 Fortify your child
What does that mean? Again we’re talking preventative here, but a child will not behave well if they do not feel well. If you want your child to be less defiant it’s good to pay attention to their basic needs. I use the acronym H.A.L.T.
Is your child:
Making sure that your child has slept well, eaten well, has had time to connect with you, and isn’t around a lot of negativity in the home can help your child be less defiant.
Solution #3 Give your kids some control
Kids want to feel like they have some power in their own life. But how can you give them power in a healthy, balanced way?
I’m sure you all have learned this in different parenting workshops or books or articles you’ve read, but just give them control by giving them choices.
“Would you rather have peas or beans with dinner tonight?”
Then let them make that choice.
If there’s been certain areas that you’ve been fighting for weeks or months, be creative, think ahead and come up with some ways to give them control by giving them choices in their life.
Be sure to give them two choices that are genuinely OK for you. When they make a choice it’s’ not good to go back on it or to tell them it was a bad choice.
Solution #4 Respond instead of react
Respond to defiance with healthy parenting instead of reacting with anger and frustration.
Here’s another quote:
“I view defiance as communication gone sideways.”
When you can listen, understand what your child is trying to communicate, and problem solve…behavior often improves!
When your child is being defiant, take some time to find out why they throwing a fit? Gather some information and let them have a voice instead of just reacting and telling them how it’s going to be. Let them tell us why they don’t want to go to grandma’s. Maybe there’s a reason, so let them communicate and we can practice listening with patience.
And again, you’re not letting them be completely in charge but let them communicate then be part of the problem-solving process. You can come up with solutions if you can stay focused and stay positive.
Solution #5 Be creative and find distractions
Going back to the example where the child does not want to go to grandma’s house. That’s the only thing they can think of. They have tunnel vision, so as parents we can help them focus on something else. We can help them get something else in their mind and to distract them.
So instead of just saying “We’re going to grandma’s house, just deal with it.” Try saying something like “We’re getting in the car to play “eye spy” while we’re driving. Who likes to play “Eye Spy”?”
There are SO many ways to distract our child’s thinking or to redirect it. Use a little creativity to get their mind of the thing they DON’T want to do and onto something they might enjoy doing. You’d be surprised at how much defiance you can avoid using this technique or how many power struggles you can diffuse.
Solution #6 Do Nothing.
You can just choose to do nothing. I found another quote that I just loved.
“You don’t have to attend every power struggle to which you are invited.”
So if you have a child throwing a fit in the living room because you just turned off the TV, walk away. Sometimes it’s OK just to walk away and you don’t always have to solve it. Sometimes I think we over-parent, we try to solve everything or have a teaching moment every second. Sometimes it’s better for us to say nothing and let our kids self soothe. They need to be able to figure it out on their own because you’re not always going to be there.
Also, walking away can shorten the power struggle. Obviously that doesn’t work in every situation, but in some it really is the best option.
Solution #7 Consequences
I left this solution for last because I really do want parents to try to avoid defiance or quickly diffuse it. However, there will be times when your child will choose not to use good tools and will make a choice that earns an appropriate consequence.
Before we get into consequences used for disciplining, I want to remind parents to teach kids that there are POSITIVE consequences for positive choices and NEGATIVE consequences for negative choices. Parents have a lot of opportunities to teach this life lesson to their kids.
I did this a lot with my own parenting. I would tell my kids the positive outcomes for positive behaviors.
“If you can hurry up and get ready for bed, we can read some books together before bedtime.”
“I’m going to set a timer, if you get your shoes on before me, you’ll be the winner!”
In the case that all else fails and they continue to make negative choices, let them know that there will be a consequence for that. They may try to negotiate their consequence, but tell them there’s no wiggle room, there is no negotiation. It’s just how it is and I’m going to follow through with what I say.
We’ve set our kids up to either believe or not believe what we say. So pick a consequence that is really easy for you to follow through with, but still significant enough that means something to your child.
Don’t ground your child for three months, that’s going to make your life so miserable. But if the consequence was losing friend time, have them lose friend time the next day. That’s going to be very easy for you to follow through with.
The next time your child is defiant, try one or more of these solutions to see if you can diffuse the defiance quickly.
If you want to learn how to quickly diffuse a power struggle, go here.