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Defensive Behavior in Children

by Joann MacDonald

Just like adults, children get defensive when they feel like someone's backing them into a corner. If it seems like you can't even have a simple discussion with your child without raising her hackles, it might be time to examine your family dynamics. Improve your own communication and listening skills and watch your child follow suit.

The Art of Conversation

There are two sides to every conversation. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a vital part of communicating with your child is receiving her verbal and non-verbal messages. Parents and children often exchange verbal jabs until conversation becomes confrontation and the child takes a defensive position. If your child is able to disagree with you respectfully, it shows that you have both developed effective conversation skills. Whether she has questions or requests, make an effort to listen to her without interrupting. By listening actively, you show your child you are ready and available for communication. You also recognize her need to express her emotions and thoughts. This helps her become a better listener too.

Active Listening

Listening actively gives you time to think and respond less critically to your child. Take a moment to hear what your child has to say. Eliminate distractions like cell phones and retreat to a room without other onlookers. Share a conversation over your child's favorite snack. Put aside your viewpoint for a moment and give her your full attention. The AAP recommends you summarize and repeat back to your child what you think you have heard. Express what you believe are her underlying feelings -- "It sounds to me like you are afraid." Maintain eye contact and nod your head.

"You" Messages

When responding to your child's behavior, the experts at AskDrSears.com recommend using "I" messages rather than "you" messages. "You shouldn't behave like that," puts your child on the defensive, while, "I would appreciate it if you pick up your toys," is non-accusatory. Statements like, "You make me so mad," are likely to get your child's back up and instigate a fight. The same goes for threats and judgments. Try, "I am so pleased when you help clear the dishes off the table," rather than, "You are so lazy." Avoid asking a question when your child doesn't have the option of saying "no." Just say what you want, like, "Put away your school bag, please."

The Last Word

If you have a child who always feels the need to get in the last word, keep your tone respectful. As much as she tries your patience, you have the task of setting the tone for the conversation. Talking back can be more common during stages when your child shows a need for independence. Getting the last word in might just be part of her normal development. Comments that your child feels are unfair can also put her on the defensive. Be open to listening and respecting your child's viewpoint. If conversations evolve into shouting matches, send your child for some alone time or take a time out yourself. Pick up the conversation when everyone is calm.

About the Author

Joann MacDonald has been a professional writer for 17 years. She holds a degree in English and a Master of Arts in journalism. For more than 14 years, she was a communications specialist for a large public school system. She has also written for numerous magazines in the Greater Toronto Area. She blogs about thrift store shopping, parenting and vegetarian cooking.

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