Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How to Manage the Defiant Child

By: Dyan Eybergen BA,RN,ACPI

All behavior has meaning. Defiant behavior is no exception. Children are in constant pursuit of having their needs met: physically, spiritually or emotionally. As parents, we are responsible for helping our children get those needs met in socially acceptable ways. Easier said than done! It can be incredibly frustrating dealing with the child who digs his/her heels in and refuses to cooperate with a parent. Parents often default to measures of threatening, bribing and or arbitrarily doling out punishments that don't always make sense to a child. 

Here are some quick tips for helping children manage their misbehavior and teach valuable lessons of empathy, emotional regulation and self control.
  1. Hold Your Child Accountable: Children need to learn how to put things right by making amends for their wrong doing. It's more than just merely having them apologize. Use empathy to help your child understand how his/her behavior has impacted others: "I feel disrespected when you ignore me when I am asking you to put your toys away. When I am left to clean up it takes away from other important things that I need to get done". When children realize how they affected other people they are more apt to make choices that are respectful of other people's time and requests.
  2. Use age appropriate consequences: Giving alternative behaviors can sometimes be all it takes to help your child self-correct. When asking your child to NOT do something give them options for how they can behave appropriately and when they take that opportunity they have already learned a lesson and it is not necessary {most of the time{ for you to do anything else.  If you do need to resort to imposing consequences make them realistic for your child's age and stage of development. It wouldn't be fair to ground a 3 year old who has no concept of time or send your teenager on a time out to sit on the bottom stair.
  3. Don't engage in power struggles: Keep your requests concise and to the point. Children will engage in an argument to deflect from what they have done wrong or from what is being asked of them. Hooking in only escalates conflict which takes a great deal of time and focuses on the child's misbehavior.
  4. Use positive reinforcement: Tell your child what you want from him/her instead of saying what you don't want! Try and remove from your vocabulary words like: don't, stop, quit, enough, NO. Instead of saying "Don't talk to me like that!" say: "I would appreciate you speaking to me in a kind and respectful voice." Praise behavior you are looking for: "It was very thoughtful of you to call last night when you were going to be late; it helped me not to worry."
  5. Consistency is key: As parents, if we do not follow through on consequences, or we engage in power struggles where we eventually give in to the child, we give the message that if challenged enough we will let the child get away with defiant behavior. A child will quickly learn in this scenario that he/she has all the control in the relationship. Be consistent with your parenting and teach children that you are true to your word and that they can rely on you to help them manage their misbehavior in ways that enhance learning and teach coping skills.

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