Written by: Cally Worden
No! It’s the word that all parents dread hearing from their kids. It’s a stake in the ground that requires not only our attention, but also our best persuasive response. It is often strategically timed to push our stress levels to the max, which requires super-human levels of patience to deal with. Defiance is a natural part of our children’s development, so how best to navigate the choppy waters around the land of No and keep our sanity intact?
It’s Not Personal
Easy to say, hard to forget! When faced with a child whose sole purpose in life seems to be to push the buttons that wind us up. Being on a rational level, we know our kids aren’t deliberately setting out to frustrate us, they are showing defiance as a means of getting our attention. It’s their way of saying ‘Hang on, my opinion is important too!’. If we respond with anger and frustration it’s akin to telling them their feelings don’t matter. We may still require them to comply with our wishes, but it’s important to do this from an objective position, not one where we’re wrestling with our own inner demons. Their behaviour is not personal, so don’t receive it that way.
Consider the ‘Why’
In general kids only act defiant when they are feeling put upon in some way, or out of control. Thinking about how we relate to and communicate with our kids may provide the answer to the ‘Why?’ behind the defiance. It’s easy to spend a lot of time giving our instructions to our kids and making demands on their time – clean your teeth, hurry up and put your shoes on, sit up straight, eat your greens – the list is endless but it’s all important stuff. To us. But not necessarily to our kids. Defiance can be the only way they have of exercising a little control in their world, so we should cut them some slack and try to work on motivating them a little more, instead of being on their back all the time.
Practice Positive Self-Talk
Our natural response to defiance may initially be calm, but can quickly descend into frustration, which may achieve the desired result but also serves to make all concerned feel sad. Before blowing a fuse try some positive self-talk. Take deep breath and a mental step back from the frustration precipice. Talk yourself through what’s going on in front of you, lead your mind to a calm place from where you can formulate a more helpful response than ‘I don’t care whether Barbie is dressed yet or not, JUST PUT YOUR CLOTHES ON!!!!’. Not always easy, granted. But doing the calm thing can really work and you’ll both feel better for it.
Acknowledge your Child’s Feelings
In the midst of defiance your child is focused on their own interests. What you want is of no consequence. It is very disarming to them, therefore, when you remain calm and show that you recognise and understand the feelings behind their behaviour, Wow! Suddenly they see a glimmer of hope – you do actually GET IT. They may remain defiant as you calmly insist they do what you want, but they will do so from a place where they feel valued and loved, with little to actually rail against.
Don’t Expect Too Much
If your child gets physical in a defiant moment it’s important to deal with that and keep them and you safe. Once under physical control, your child may seek other outlets for their frustration, such as verbal abuse – ‘I hate you!’. While unacceptable, this is a move forward from physically lashing out, so it’s important to let it slide and deal with it another time. Clamping down on all defiant behaviours at once will only serve to make your child feel more out of control, and they may resort to further extreme behaviours as a result.
Play with Power
Our kids need to feel powerful sometimes. Games that allow them to test that can help reduce their need to act out at other times. Allow them to play ‘Push Mummy Over’, or ‘Knock Down My Tower’ with humour, and mock annoyance from you. Feeling in control boosts our self-esteem and confidence. Our kids need to know where the boundaries are, it’s also important to let them test them in a structured way – how else are they going to learn when to stop?
The Humour De-fuser
Using humour in a defiant moment can, if applied sensitively, work wonders at helping your child through their behaviour. The mouth clamped shut at teeth-cleaning time can be teased open with a smile when you try to brush their ears instead, for example. Be careful though, as too much teasing or ill-directed sarcasm can make a child feel lost and a target for ridicule. Keep your humour sweet and stop if your sense it’s causing upset.
Love your Child
Following an act of defiance (or during it if you can manage it!) keep reminding yourself that your child is still little, still learning, and needs the guidance you are providing. It can feel horrible playing the ‘bad guy’ all the time. I find it very emotionally draining. But we’re not the bad buys, we’re the champions, the super-heroes of the parenting world. Why? Because we love our kids no matter what, we care enough to put ourselves through feeling awful to help them learn the difference between what’s acceptable in life and what’s not. That’s some positive self-talk right there. And don’t you forget it.