Mom Tip Monday: Defiance

by Heligirl on March 14, 2011

in Daily Ramblings,Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles

With my little girl passing the 3 ½ mark this month, she’s running head on into a very defiant stage. My patience and resolve, not to mention positive discipline training, has been pushed to the limit no less than five times a day. Every request turns into a battle of the wills and it leaves me feeling depressed, defeated and frustrated at the end of every day.

Today I decided to consult my positive discipline books for some advice. I am feeling a little more prepared, and not a little embarrassed by my failure to see this before, so I wanted to share what I learned here for you.

I like how Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott and H. Stephen Glenn put it in their book Positive Discipline A-Z, “Defiant, disobedient and rebellious children are gifts sent to parents who need to practice inviting cooperation instead of practicing power over others, or being too lenient.”

They go on to say when this behavior becomes a regular occurrence, you’re in a power struggle that can easily turn to revenge. The more we try to force our wills or give in to a child’s demands, the more you’ll be defied.


Here is what they suggest to turn defiance, disobedience and rebellion into cooperation.

The first thing is to look at your own behavior. Typically defiance, disobedience and rebellion are in response to overly controlling or protective parent behaviors. Also, if your child is good at arguing, she may be getting that skill from someone else. Is it you? Practice letting your child have the last word. Sometimes dropping the rope in a tug of war is actually a winning move.

Try to get inside what your child is thinking to learn what might be behind the defiance. Does he feel bossed around too much? Does she feel neglected because of the new baby? Validate what you believe your child is feeling if you can.

Offer limited choices, allowing your child to take the lead and choose one. This helps give him some control.

Try to rephrase orders. Rather than telling your child what to do, ask what needs to be done. “What do we do before we have dinner?”

Let your child know you need and appreciate her help. This welcomes cooperation.

The writers then suggest we parents plan ahead to prevent future problems. Listen to how we talk to our kids. Are we ordering them around, nagging or scolding? Talk less and act more in these cases. Don’t say it unless you mean it, then say it kindly but firmly and follow through on what you say.

For children with a deep habit of defiance or disobedience, take time to train them and you. Share your expectations of appropriate behavior beforehand and follow through on the consequences. For instance, go to a park and the moment the behavior starts, take him by the hand and kindly but firmly state “we’ll try again tomorrow.”

Get in the habit of offering limited choices and asking questions instead of giving orders or lectures. Asking your child’s opinion and input then listening with all your attention to his answers goes a long way.

For older kids, get them involved in family meetings, inviting them to participate in problem solving. Children rarely rebel against their own solutions.

Choose your battles and let things that aren’t important go. Don’t waste your energy when it is needed on more important issues.

The authors end the section with some good advice that I know I could do with remembering more frequently. Keep these things in mind when working with defiance:

  1. Kids prefer to cooperate and do what’s in their best interest, but if they feel disrespected, they will suffer great personal pain to show they can’t be bossed around.
  2. If you wait and watch instead of jumping in to control, kids usually do the right thing. If they make a mistake, help them correct it. Show respect instead of control.
  3. Many kids are very independent. Instead of considering her defiant, consider her assertive and self-confident. How can you foster that? Perhaps giving her a little more room?

I hope some of this information was useful to you. After reading it myself I realized there are times when I’m short on time, patience or sleep and it is just easier to tell my daughter what to do. Almost always her response is to be defiant in some manner. This is a real struggle with me, to maintain focus on what is causing her behavior when I’m at the end of my rope.

I would sure love to hear if you’ve found ways to help foster cooperation and limit defiance in your family. Please leave a comment with any advice you can offer those of us struggling with ourselves and our kids as our little ones further explore their independence.


Liz F March 14, 2011 at 10:22 am

Re-posting for my mom friends who have older kids! I also can see a lot of how I can incorporate this into my own life 🙂 Thanks for sharing Jen!

Twitter: Heligirl
March 17, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Thanks so much Liz. I really appreciate the shout out!

Susan March 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Great piece! One thing I try like crazy is to not say “no.” That sets off my son. Instead, I say, “Not now, or I need some time to think about it, or I don’t know, give me a minute, or maybe next time.” I let my son know that it’s my perogative to take some time making a decsion. And he’s learned that sometimes he’ll get a no, but once in a while he’ll get a yes- or we negotiate a compromise.

If you find yourself in a power struggle, one thing you can do to disengage is to turn your back on the child and ignore them, until their behavior improves.
Susan recently posted: Seeing The Connections Again

Twitter: Heligirl
March 17, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Great advice Susan. We’re deep in that negative response to “no” phases here too. I love your suggestions. I’m going to focus on using them more. I tried one yesterday and it disarmed a potential tantrum. THANKS!

Nina April 7, 2011 at 2:17 am

To avoid saying “no” is sometimes essential in order to prevent a tantrum. I use different strategies to communicate they can’t get their wish fulfilled without having to say no. For instance I might give them in fantasies what they can’t have. If one of my kids want a chocolate bar on a monday, I can respond by saying, “Ooh, that sounds delicious, how many would you like to have if you could, I would like to have at least 3!” And then we could go on and on about our favourite chocolate-bars or other sweeties, and how we wish it would be healthy to eat chocolate so we could eat as many and how often as we’d like. And to maybe end the discussion I could say that according to our rules, we eat chocolate on saturdays – “I bet you look foreward to next saturday!”

Other times I encourage them to put an item they really want on their wishinglist which we have hanging on the fridge, it makes them feel listened to and that their needs are important to us.

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