Just about everyone who has kids or who comes into contact with kids could tell a story or two about defiance. Sometimes these stories make us laugh, sometimes they make us angry; but mostly I see adults becoming frustrated when a child is being defiant. I can’t say that I blame them for feeling frustrated because raising and teaching kids is definitely frustrating from time to time. You see, those little souls have free will. They are free to make choices and are free to be defiant. It’s all par for the course!
So what are we really talking about here? Yup, defiance.
Defiance is displayed when children refuse to follow rules and directions of those in authority. Those in authority are commonly described as parents, teachers, and other caregivers. Defiant children cause disruptions by using inappropriate behaviors such as being rude, refusing to do what they are told, and purposefully make choices that go against what they are taught. As we know and understand, parents and teachers are normally very frustrated with these children and wish that they could find a way to help increase compliance.
More On Free Will
Many of us believe that kids need to obey and respect their elders no matter what. There is no place for defiant behavior. Kids are to show respect no matter what! In a perfect world, maybe that would be the case. However, do you remember our talk about free will? Free will is truly a blessing. It allows for children (and adults) to find independence, learn from our mistakes, and to find our own path in life.
Just imagine if you did everything that your parents and teacher told you to do. How would your life be different today? Would you have a different career? Would you live in a different location? Would you have a different spouse? Would the number of children you have be different? What about the food you eat or the car you drive? I think you get the point! Thank God for free will. Although some members a our human race abuse this privilege; show your kids how to embrace their freedoms and unconditionally love them through these many learning opportunities and trials of life. No one is perfect (including you). Your kids will make mistakes. They will fail. They will be defiant. This is normal, yet must be addressed. Do not accept defiance, help you child grow from these trials. Start doing this by looking in the mirror.
As a parent, take a moment to reflect on your parenting style. Typically we show peices of different parenting styles throughout the years but all parents can generally fit into one parenting category.
Authoritarian Parenting – mostly likely to produce children who have low self-esteem and social abilities. These kids struggle for control in their lives and may either comply with their parents out of fear or rebell in a attempt for personal control.
Authoritative Parenting– this is the most beneficial approach to raising children. Both parents and kids greatly benefit from this approach. Children have high rates of success in their lives, feel good about themselves and are capable of problem solving and take healthy risks.
Permissive Parenting – generally results in children who have a low level of caring about various aspects of their lives. School, behaviors, and self-regulation are seen as large problems.
Uninvolved Parenting – results in children who are likely to be uninvolved themselves as their level of academic, social, and emotional competence is seen as poor.
Many (not all) defiant children that I have come into contact with over the years have lacked positive experiences in their life and may have parents who are authoritarian in nature. This type of parenting style reinforces punishment rather than discipline (teaching) and does not take into consideration the feelings, needs, or wants of the child. It is a ‘do as I say, no matter what’ approach to raising kids. Needless to say, this is unhealthy. As a result we see these children living in fear and are likely to end up displaying defiance as they long for control over their lives. This may result in negative behaviors in an effort to obtain this control.
- Another scenario where we see this strong desire for control is when children’s lives are chaotic and violent.
- Lack of routines, having several different caregivers, lack of supervision, lack of a loving and nurturing home, marital problems between parents, financial stress, multiple moves, and lack of positive consistency can all result in children using defiant behavior and seeking control.
- Children who suffer from a disorder called oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) are typically cast-off by their peers. This is due to their poor social skills, and difficulty with problem-solving, and aggression. When faced with a social dilemma, they are more likely to resort to physical aggression rather than using their words to find a solution. Furthermore, children with ODD rarely take responsibility for their behavior. They tend to blame others for their actions (“She made me do it”).
To find the professional help that your child needs, ask their pediatrician along with the counselor or social worker at your child’s school for local referrals. These individuals will be able to provide you with therapeutic and community resources. The Counselor’s Corner at is also here to help.
Additionally be aware of these interventions:
- Pay attention to other possible causes of behavior problems. These are areas that should be dealt with immediately.
-Problems of impulse control
-Other physical or emotional problems
Work alongside your child’s pediatrician and mental health counselor to help to address these concerns appropriately.
- Choose your battles carefully. Try not to argue or force compliance. These two things only serve to escalate hostile interactions. Use strategies such as planned ignoring, calmly give choices, calmly give consequences, and let the topic go until your child is calm. At that time, be ready to discuss how to use more appropriate behaviors.
- Discipline appropriately. This includes:
-Clear and simple communication of behavioral expectations
-Set appropriate limits
-Monitor and supervise children’s behavior carefully
-Provide positive attention, rewards, and privileges for effort shown toward meeting expectations
-Use strategies such as planned ignoring, time-outs, redirecting, and/or restricting privileges when they do not meet expectations
-Teach and reinforce appropriate behaviors and choices at every opportunity
- Give many more positive reinforcements for behaviors over negative corrections. Recognizing even small gains and efforts is a positive way to increase desired behaviors.
- Attempt to identify your child’s triggers to becoming defiant. Do this by asking yourself, “What happened just before the behavior occurred?” Once you have it figured out, use incentives to motivate your child to have a more productive outcome in the future. Future planning for success is part of the learning process for both of you. For more information on using incentives and how they differ from bribery, check out or bribery vs. incentive page.
- Identify what purpose the behavior is serving. Do this by asking yourself, “What happened after the behavior occurred?” This will help you to evaluate your own behavior and environmental factors that may be reinforcing negative behaviors.
- Use distractions and redirect your child away from an upsetting situation to avoid a disruption.
- Provide a safe, private place to allow for escape and a chance to decrease negative feelings.
- Use a behavior plan at home and at school. These should tie into each other and must be reflected upon regularly by you, your child, school staff, and a mental health provider (if one is working with your child or family).
- Always give choices. These choices should be options that you and your child are comfortable with. By doing this you are encouraging them to make a positive choice while instilling a feeling of control by making their own decisions. Since control is something that is frequently sought from defiant kids, this can be a powerful strategy.
Taking steps now to address defiance will make positive change possible in the future.
Change is now! Visit the Counselor’s Corner to arrange for online counseling for you and your child.
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Barb, LMHC, CPC, Ed.M, CAS