How to Handle a Defiant Child

by Jim Edward

All parents have been there. Your child throws a tantrum at the worst time. Talks back in front of others. You’re embarrassed, enraged and at a loss all at the same time.

Children are defiant for a reason, and if this behavior isn’t managed early on, you could find yourself in a very tough situation—for the long haul. According to Mighty Mommy, these eight strategies can help you cope before you lose your patience (and your mind):

Hold Your Child Accountable

Children of all ages need to know the family rules for everything from helping out with chores, to completing homework, to bedtime and curfews, to acceptable behavior toward others. The time to discuss these matters is when things are going well, not after an incident has occurred.

Sit down with your kids and let them know what types of behaviors you will not tolerate in your family. List examples of unacceptable behaviors. You cannot expect your child, regardless of age, to be compliant if he doesn’t know your expectations.

Choose Your Battles

Parenting is exhausting enough when things are going well, but when one of your children is purposefully misbehaving, the difficulties are multiplied. So choose how you spend your energy wisely! For instance, if your high schooler wants to wear pants that are too big because that’s the style, do you really need to start the day off on a negative note by hassling him over poor fashion choices?

Act, Don’t React

When you witness defiant behavior from your child, don’t get angry and lose your temper. Instead, take a step back and calmly tell your child that you don’t approve of the behavior and that you will handle it at a later time. This will raise a sense of fear in your child’s mind because he’ll have time to think about the poor actions and the potential consequences. Not only are you using the time to calm yourself down, but you’re also teaching your kids how to do the same.

Enforce Age-Appropriate Consequences

Effective consequences can largely be grouped into two categories: removals and impositions. A “removal” is taking something away from the child, such as your attention, an exciting environment, or a pleasant activity.

“Impositions” are consequences that impose a new situation upon the child. Paying his own money into a family “fine” jar, doing extra chores, having to run errands with mom because he abused the privilege to stay home alone by inviting friends over without permission—these are impositions. But if you don’t follow through with consequences for bad behavior, you send the message: If you wear me down, you’ll get your way. Bad idea!

Keep Your Power 

When you engage in an argument with your child, you’re just giving them more power over the situation. In effect, you’re enforcing the child’s perception that they have the power to challenge you, which can lead to even more defiant behavior.

The next time your child tries to draw you into a power struggle over something just say, “We’ve discussed what is going to happen if you do this. I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” and leave the room. When you leave, you take all the power with you. Know that the more you engage your child in an argument, the more control you’re giving away.

No Second Chances or Bargaining

Consistency is key if you don’t want to reinforce bad habits. Once your child is old enough to understand that behaviors have consequences, don’t give him repeat chances.

If your son calls his friend’s mother a “fat butt” when you arrive for a play date, you firmly say, “You know we don’t talk like that. We’re going home now so you can spend some time thinking about what you said,” and leave immediately after he apologizes. Do not bargain with your child, don’t offer ice cream or money in return for better behavior. This is possibly the most damaging thing a parent or caregiver can do.

Always Build on the Positive

Make sure that you build on the positive attitudes and actions of your children. Praise your children for their positive behaviors, while rewarding them when they show a cooperative attitude. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in raising a responsible child.

Set Regular Times to Talk to Your Child

In a moment of downtime, when things are going well and you don’t anticipate an immediate power struggle, sit down with your child and let her know that you take your job as her parent very seriously and your intentions are to keep her safe and help her grow into a responsible, productive, self-reliant adult who will be as happy and fulfilled in life as possible.

Remind her that your family has rules and values that are in place for her future, not to cause her grief while growing up.

2018-08-01T19:16:40+00:00

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