Creative Child

5 Ways to Handle Defiance

by Rebecca Eanes


Here are a few things to try.

1. Insert playfulness. Anytime you can be playful and silly, you'll likely gain cooperation more easily. So rather than demanding she pick up the toys now so she can go to bed (which she'll probably delay because she doesn't want to go to bed), try making a game of it. Break out into song about how it's cleanup time and ask her to beat the timer or something like that.

2. Work on coping skills. Learning to communicate and manage feelings like frustration and sadness are key skills that many children (and adults) don’t master. Author of The Happy Kid Handbook, Katie Hurley, suggests body mapping. “Draw the outline of a person (or if you’re like me, Google and print). Ask your child to think about all the places on his body that feel sore or different when he’s mad. You might point out that your heart races when you’re mad, and that makes your head feel dizzy. Doing this exercise with your child is important. Color all of those places red. Tell your child that when those places start to feel red, his body is signaling him to get help in a frustrating moment.” In addition, teach skills like deep breathing to regulate emotions.

3. Trade in the Time-Out chair for a calming corner. Using time-in, where you go with your child to co-regulate, is very helpful in encouraging eventual self-regulation. When we isolate children during moments of distress, we only trigger alarm and add more stress. If we calm our own fears and lean in, offer teaching tools to help them calm their minds and bodies, and then discuss solutions for better behavior, we are likely to see much less defiance. Tools such as the Time-In Toolkit from Generation Mindful are very helpful for teaching emotions regulation.

4. Up the quality time spent laughing and connecting. A lot of times, in the daily busyness of life, parenting can become somewhat automatic. We get through all the daily duties and we're there but not present. And during particularly frustrating seasons of life, we may spend more time correcting or admonishing than enjoying one another's company. These things take a toll on attachment, and some repair work may be needed. Start speaking lots of positive statements to her as well. Tell her what she's doing well and how much you adore her more often than usual.

5. Keep a finger on the pulse of your child’s stress. If certain people, situations, classes, or activities are causing stress to spike, you may need to step in and discuss solutions. The pandemic has been a source of stress for children, and we are seeing an uptick in anxiety and emotional distress as a result. Be supportive, nurturing, and proactive in helping your child reduce stress so they can heal.

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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