How to Deal with Childhood Defiance: 5 Steps - MakeSureHow
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Learning how to handle defiance can make for a happier household.

From time to time, every parent has to deal with her child's defiant behavior. Starting in toddlerhood, defiance is a normal way for young children to exert their growing independence. But if disobedience and defiance have begun to cause serious conflict at home, you need a plan for taking control of this challenging behavior.


  1. 1
    Use positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior. If your toddler gets more attention from you by misbehaving than she does by following rules, it's no surprise she'll probably put more energy into defying you; for kids, even hearing you yell is better than getting no attention from you at all. So reward her for playing quietly by herself, putting away toys or any other behavior you want to see more of. And don't worry, rewarding doesn't mean showering her with lollipops and toys; a smile, a hug or a few words of praise -- in short, your attention -- is rewarding enough.
  2. 2
    Tell your child what he can do instead of what he can't. Too often, kids hear nothing but "no" or "don't" all day long, and while you can't cut those words out of your parenting vocabulary entirely, you'll use them far less if you praise what Dr. Alan Kazdin of Yale University Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic calls the positive opposite. So instead of telling your preschooler, "No jumping on the couch!" say, "Sit on your bottom, please." Then, make sure to praise him right away when he does what you ask.
  3. 3
    Validate your child's feelings when she acts defiant. It's not easy for young kids to live under the rules and order of adults all day long; just think how annoyed you'd be if someone turned off the TV during the last 10 minutes of "Dancing With The Stars," with nothing more than a cheerful announcement of "That's enough TV for the day!" While you can't give in to your child's defiant acts, you can help her calm down by showing you understand her feelings. So next time she screams out "No!" when it's time to brush teeth, calmly say, "I understand; you really don't want to brush your teeth. You were having so much fun playing." Just letting her know that her feelings matter might be all it takes to get her to comply.
  4. 4
    Offer choices. Defiance is often a young child's way of demonstrating his independence from his parents, and giving him a few choices can help him feel more in control of his life. So the next time bad behavior rears its ugly head at bedtime, ask your preschooler, "Do you want to brush teeth or put pajamas on first?" Giving him a little bit of power can nip defiant outbursts in the bud.
  5. 5
    Don't give in. Children need to know that what you say goes, no matter how ugly their behavior. So when your preschooler refuses to put on shoes and head out the door, keep your cool and simply say, "It's time to get your shoes on. Either you put them on or I will." In some situations, you can't force your child to comply, but you can deliver an appropriate punishment, like taking away a toy or privilege. So if your child won't open her mouth to have her teeth brushed at bedtime, tell her, "If you don't open your mouth and let me brush your teeth, you're going to lose a bedtime story." Whatever punishment you choose, make sure it's something you're willing and able to follow through with.


  • Remain calm, no matter how heated your child becomes. Defiance can be incredibly frustrating for any parent, but seeing your anger and other strong emotions may actually encourage your preschooler to argue with you, according to Zero To Three.

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Categories: Education and Communications

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