5 Tips to help you cope with a defiant child

By | July 31, 2012 | Motherhood & Family

5 Tips to help you cope with a defiant child

Do you have a stubborn child that doesn’t like to be told what to do? It seems the smallest request can quickly turn into a showdown of wills. Who needs defiance or a meltdown just as you’re heading out the door in the morning or trying to get supper on the table? Here are a few great lines that can help you get a more positive response and win the co-operation of even the most obstinate child.

1. Ask, don’t tell.

Strong willed children object to being told what to do or to following orders. Instead of telling your child what they should do, try asking them what needs to happen.

Instead of: “Hang up your coat.”

Try: “Where do coats go?”

2. Control the situation, not the child.

We often threaten our children in order to get them to jump into action. Of course, the strong-willed child will just refuse and dig their heels in further. Instead, try a few changes to your wording that will turn a threat into a simple statement about how the routines happen in your house.

For example, “No supper until you clean the play room!” is threatening and a demonstration of your power to control your child through punishment. Try using what we call a “When____ then____” statement.

It looks like this: “When the play room is cleaned up, then I’ll know you are ready for supper.” It sounds almost the same, but the meaning is very different.

The routines are now the boss – dictating what should happen – not a parent’s personal power over a child. In fact, when statements are said in a neutral way, the child has the power to decide for himself. This power and freedom of choice is critically important to strong-willed children.

Here are some other examples to help you get the gist of it:

When your hands are washed, then I’ll know you are ready for your supper.”

When your sun block is on, then I’ll know you are ready to go to the park.”

3. Offer choices.

Sharing power with the strong-willed child is crucial. You can share power by giving choices. When a person has a choice, they hold the power that comes with being the decision maker.

Here are some examples that could help move along a bedtime tuck-in:

• Would you like to turn off the TV or shall I?
• Would you like to hop to the bathroom like a bunny to brush your teeth or slink like a fox?
• Would you like to read Hansel and Gretel or The Three Little Pigs tonight?

4. Reflective listening instead of replying with a rebuttal.

It’s so easy to lock horns with a headstrong child. Too often we end up in counterproductive arguments that have everyone defending their position in an endless fight of “point – counter point.” Instead, try something different when you hear your child make a rebuttal. Listen to him intensely instead of defending your own position.

Rather than:

Child: I don’t want to wear my coat.
Mom: You have to. It’s freezing out there.
Child: Not for me, it isn’t.
Mom: Its only 40 degrees! You’ll catch a cold.

Try this:

Child: I don’t want to wear a coat.
Mom: (Reflect back what the child is saying in word and body language.) “Sounds like you’ve made up your mind and you’d like me to know that you’re deciding it’s a no coat day for you today!”

By listening, Mom or Dad reflects back to the child that she or he appreciates the child’s power, feelings, and their personal position on the matter. When a child feels understood and empowered, he doesn’t have the need to push back and oppose you. You proved by listening that you’re more an ally than the enemy. You’re “taking the wind out of their sail” as eminent child psychologist Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs would say. Your child is more likely to act constructively and co-operatively…over time!

5. Blame the timer.

Your self-determined child doesn’t like to feel you’re pushing your personal agenda on them.

Instead of announcing:

“It’s time go home” or “It’s time for bed” which is almost always followed by the real or unspoken, “Because I said so!” (and makes you the meanie in your child’s mind), set a timer to ring and share your disappointment!

Say: “Oh, Mister Timer, I wish you were not ringing to say its time to go home. We were having fun at the park!”

Now you and your child are on the same team, both upset with the timer! Be sure to follow through with leaving.

What other tips can you suggest? Comment below.

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Alyson Schafer

Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada's leading parenting experts. Alyson is the best selling author of 3 parenting books: Breaking the Good Mom Myth, Honey, I Wrecked the Kids and her latest Ain't Misbehavin’. She’s also the media's go-to person for parenting and speaks regularly on parenting issues involving kids of all ages. For tips on discipline, bullying, sibling rivalry and other daily parenting issues visit www.AlysonSchafer.com.

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breadwinningmom April 13, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Great tips. I have 3 kids with total different dispositions. I’m finding that my youngest is pretty stubborn. Not sure if it is the age, or her personality, but regardless, I need to modify my parenting technique. I’ll add a few of these to my arsenal. 🙂