Sometimes I feel like my kids intentionally nag me with their defiant behavior, that they get great pleasure in pushing my buttons and seeing how far they can go. And sometimes that behavior gets on my nerves and makes me act in ways that I would rather not.
Each parent deals with defiant behavior at some point on their parenting journey. Defiance, rebellion and disobedience is perfectly normal behavior in children, and it is often a means through which they communicate.
Defiant behavior is expressed in many ways: some kids just won’t listen, others will display risky behavior, some will act aggressive, others will be difficult to be around, and others still will use inappropriate language.
The good news is that we now know that similar motives drive defiant behavior, at least most of the time.
Knowing how to effectively deal with defiant behavior isn’t always easy. This behavior often ends up driving us up the wall when we feel that our kids are being willingly disrespectful, and it can lead us to act in ways that we later regret.
Your perception of your child’s defiant behavior influences how you view and react to that behavior, and ultimately, how long that behavior lasts.
Repeatedly defiant behavior can drive anyone up the wall. This article will help you:
- Understand why defiant behavior happens
- Give you simple tips to better address this type of behavior
The reasons behind defiant behavior
Several reasons can help explain why children behave the way they do. Here are five of the most common reasons for defiant behavior in childhood.
One of the most common reasons behind defiant behavior is children’s desire to understand and test their boundaries: just how far can they go? What can they get away with? That’s why you’ll see many kids give you a cheeky look (to ensure that you’re watching) before performing a defiant act.
Playing around with the boundaries is common but quite natural behavior in childhood.
Nobody likes being told what to do all the time and kids are no different. Children’s desire for autonomy begins is reflected in their actions as early as during the toddler years.
A child seeking more control over their life can display different forms of defiant behavior such as a non-compliance of rules, refusing to do as they are told, displaying aggressive behavior to get what they want, arguing, and so on.
Your child’s level of development can be the reason behind their perceived defiant behavior. Many children, especially young ones, are still in the process of developing different skills such as self-control, focus and concentration, keeping still, listening to and following instructions, and so on.
For instance, we know that children have short attention spans, meaning that the longer they are expected to keep still and do the same activity over and over again, the higher the chances that they will begin to display behavior that some may describe as “defiant behavior”.
In other words, expecting your child to perform tasks or behave in a way that they are unable at the developmental level will often lead to defiant behavior.
Also, young children have not yet fully developed their emotional intelligence skills, meaning that they will find it difficult to deal with frustration and any emotion-provoking situations. This explains why your child will shout out “No!” when asked to come have dinner or go shower.
Skills such as empathy and cooperation are also still developing, and this may be displayed in defiant behavior: “I won’t give it back!”, “I won’t share!”.
One of the common reasons behind defiant behavior is the quest for attention. Children seeking attention for any number of reasons may do so through their behavior.
If your child feels that being defiant is the only way to get attention, then they will continue to display that behavior, even if the attention that they receive is negative (tantrums, using inappropriate language, acting the class clown, “bothering” siblings, etc).
Several scientific studies suggest that children who feel like they “have nothing to lose” tend to express more defiant behavior. For instance, one study found that children who perceived the quality of their relationship with their parents as “poor” tended to display more defiant behavior. Another study came to the conclusion that in older children, weak parent-child ties had an impact on children’s behavior.
Regular exercise is good for your child. It helps them keep in shape, improves concentration, reduces stress and anxiety, and stimulates brain growth. Exercise also helps children burn off energy.
In other words, if your child does not get sufficient opportunities to use up their energy, this can be displayed in “defiant behavior” in their attempt to spend that excess energy.
While dealing with defiant behavior is never easy, the good news is that defiance in childhood is often short-lived, and several strategies can make this phase easier to deal with. Below are five strategies that can help you better deal with defiant behavior in your child.
How to deal with defiant behavior
Defiant behavior in childhood is quite common. The good news is that there are similar solutions to address this behavior.
Here are six solutions that can help you address your child’s behavior more effectively.
1) Spend more time together
Spending time with your child makes them feel special and makes them want to preserve the parent-child relationship. While it is difficult for many parents to find time to spend with their kids, even “little moments” count.
An easy way to achieve this is to schedule specific time daily to spend time with your child. Even 15 to 20 minutes a day will do wonders for your relationship and help reduce defiant behavior. Below is a free 30-day challenge with lots of ideas of activities to help you get started.
2) Allow your child to feel like they have control over their environment
Let them decide when to take their shower, do their homework, or even choose their own chores.
Remember that it is important to give your child a framework within which to make their decisions. For example, if you let them do their homework at a time that they themselves choose, it is important to specify the time by which the homework should be done.
Even the youngest children benefit when allowed to choose between two options (do you want an apple or a banana for your dessert?”).
3) Provide clear limits
Giving your child more autonomy also means setting clear limits and expectations. When your child knows exactly what is expected of them and the consequences of misbehavior, they are more likely to display appropriate behavior.
It is important to be clear about the behavior that will not be tolerated, and what will happen when that behavior is displayed.
That said, setting appropriate limits that make it possible to reduce children’s defiant behavior requires us to ask ourselves the following questions:
- How important is this to me?
- How important is this to my child?
- Does this concern my negotiable or non-negotiable values?
- Is it reasonable? (does my child have the developmental capacity for this?)
4) Catch your child being good
Stop paying attention to inappropriate behavior and focus on the behavior that you want to see.
Numerous positive discipline studies have shown that one of the most effective ways of dealing with child behavior problems is to focus on positive behavior and ignore negative behavior. They have shown that it is important to “catch your child being good”.
Positive reinforcement is an easy and positive discipline strategy that can help you reduce your child’s negative behavior, but only if it is applied appropriately. The Positive Behavior Kit has all the resources that you need to help you achieve lasting behavior change.
5) Physical activity influences behavior
Ensure that your child is getting to burn their energy every day. If they do not, you will observe behavior such as fidgeting, lack of attention, tantrum behavior and so on.
It is recommended that children should be physically active every single day. This article has easy tips that will help you ensure that your child gets the exercise that they need both indoors and outdoors.
6) Reinforce your child’s emotional intelligence skills
A large part of defiant behavior can be explained by your child’s inability to manage frustration, which can cause them to behave in inappropriate ways.
It is therefore important to help them familiarize themselves with different emotions, learn to identify how those emotions are manifested in their bodies, and select effective strategies to deal with emotion-provoking situations.
Age-appropriate resources such as The Emotions Kit have all the tools you need to help reinforce your child’s emotional intelligence.
While dealing with defiant behavior is never easy, changing how we view and react to it can completely change how we manage it.