Google+ Authentic Parenting: How To Overcome Defiant Behavior Without Punishment

Friday, December 2, 2011

How To Overcome Defiant Behavior Without Punishment

We’ve all been there: we ask something of our child and they ignore us, or they blatantly say no or refuse any form of cooperation. What’s going on here and how can we approach this situation differently so it doesn’t lead to anger and frustration?

First of all, it is important to understand that perceiving behavior as defiant is in the way we label things, not in what our child is actually doing. Behavior often labelled as defiant is often our child’s reaction to our being in a dominant position. When we feel uncomfortable because of our child’s reaction, this is our child urging us to step out of a position of control and dominance, into a place of empathy and equality. There is no need of dominance and control in a parent-child relationship, but it is a tricky thing to overcome.
When we feel this discomfort, instead of getting angry or frustrated, because they are being defiant the most important step towards peaceful living is to relabel the behavior: instead of defiance, see the reaction as authenticity, honesty, inquisitiveness, an invitation for you to look at the situation differently.

What are some practical steps we can take when these situations occur?

When you feel disempowered by the way your child behaves towards you. Take a moment to analyze the situation. This disconnects you from these feelings of anger and frustration and allows you to start on a clean slate afterwards, instead of letting the anger build up and lead to confrontation. 
First, consider how you approached your child: where you being gentle, or where you already a little frustrated? Did you ask nicely or did you command. What was the body language you were using?
Secondly, consider your child’s point of view: was he completely immersed in an activity? What is he reacting to? Does he have any needs that are more urgent?

Get at their level
Looking your child into their eyes will ease out frustration and anger, it will also connect parent and child in a way that restores the flow.
situation: Mom: “We’re leaving for granny’s house, will you put your jacket on please?”
Child: “No!”
solution: Mom goes to the child and sits down next to her, looks her in the eyes. “Do you want to go to granny’s house? She’s waiting for us.”
Child: “Yes.”
Mom: “Well, it’s very cold outside. Wouldn’t it be best if you put your jacket on? You could get chilly.”
Child mumbles.
Mom: “Do you want me to help you with your jacket? And we can even put the new bonnet and mittens on.”
Child smiles and goes to get her jacket and bonnet.

Get involved
A few minutes of enjoying what they are doing together may very well lead to easy cooperation afterwards. It also helps to reconnect and step out of a position of dominance.
situation: Your child is watching cartoons and you call them for dinner, they show no response.
solution: Watch the end of the cartoon with your child, talk about it together, ask what happened before. When it’s done, suggest to go eat dinner together.

Sometimes it’s enough just to rephrase our demand as a question to get some cooperation, to use a more empathic language.

Is what you are asking of your child realistic? Is it al all necessary? Does it need to happen now, or can you do it later?

Be playful
Maybe what you suggested is just no fun for anyone, think of ways to apprach the situation that make it fun, try a few playful parenting alternatives.



  1. Sounds good in theory :) I will be printing this off & referring to it, we have some defiant kidlets here. My question is, in that scenario about going to granny's house, at least 2 of my kids would answer "no i dont want to go, i want to watch tv/play outside/etc" and most situations where we are going somewhere/doing something, it is something that the kid/s HAVE to do, but do not want to do. What do I say when they refuse to change out of their PJ's? Etc etc. I am all for gentle discipline, & I am not being snarky - i just think the scenario in this blog post is a bit idealistic :)

  2. Well, first of all, I offer lots of different solutions here, but I know what you mean, ad I have been there... many times!
    First I wonder wether what I want my daughter to do is really necessary. FE, you say your child doesn't want to change out of their PJ's, maybe they do want to wear a sweater over it? And if you're not going anywhere, it's not really necessary to get dressed.
    Obviously if you have more than one child, it gets more and more difficult to take into account everyone's wishes, what you can try to do is find a middle ground: we're all going to grandma's house now, but we're bringing the game you are playing, or we're stopping on the way there to get an icecream...
    Hugs to you!

  3. The most resonating sentence that parents should take away from this awesome post is - changing the way we see the situation. I couldn't agree more! Great job!! Love it!

  4. Thank you Amanda. I also think that's the most important thing about parenting, to step out of the knee jerk reactions and wonder 'why?'

  5. These are all great suggestions. My little guy turned 3 a month ago and, boy, has he changed! I get "NO!" all of the time.

    One of my biggest problems, though, is his attitude. "You need to put on your coat or you could get cold," gets the response, "I want to be cold!" And, "Please don't jump so close to the edge of the bed. You could fall off and get hurt," gets, "I want to get hurt!" I know this is just his being contradictory and seeing how I will react, but it also means he still keeps doing the same thing and there is no reasoning with him. Anyone have any suggestions?

  6. Hi ALicia,
    The first thing I noticed about what you say in your comment is the "you need to", kids, like adults don't like it if someone thinks they can make assumptions about their needs... Watching our words around our kids is really important. Maybe you could say: "we're going out, which jacket do you want to wear?" or "Could you go and put on your jacket, we'll be leaving for x".
    Second scenario, instead of saying what not to do, suggest what he should do "Hey, why don't you jump in the middle of the bed? It's much softer and bouncier."


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