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Parental Advice for Defiant Children

by Christina Schnell

Your child's defiance can be maddening, and your stressed or angry reaction can spurs your stubborn little one even further forward. According to psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, defiant children see adults as equals instead of authority figures, which leads them to develop unrealistic expectations about what they should be able to do. Parenting a defiant child can be frustrating, but there are ways to ease the tension in your home without constantly giving in to your child's demands or bringing in a drill Sargent.

Remain Calm

Defiant children thrive on pushing your buttons, and the more worked up you allow yourself to become, the more they'll stand their ground. When your 6-year-old folds his arms and simply refuses to get in the car for soccer, it's tempting to say, "I'm going to count to three...two and a half, two and three quarters." The problem is that by the time you reach 'three' you're raving mad and your child doesn't really know when you're going to reach your breaking point. Instead, respond before you reach a frenzied or frustrated state by giving one warning and then following through with a consequence, reports Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein in Psychology Today.

Give Control Over Acceptable Choices

Many parents mistakenly try to over-correct defiance by controlling every area of their child's life. But according to child behavior specialist Dr. Jeremy Jewell, letting your defiant child choose between two or three acceptable choices sets them, and you, up for success. For example, instead of saying, "Do you want to take a jacket?" ask, "Do you want a jacket, sweater or sweatshirt?" This presents the scenario in such a way that no matter what choice your child makes, he's still, in some sense, cooperating.

Praise Good Behavior

As a parent of a defiant child, it's easy to get so fixated on everything they're doing that you sometimes miss the opportunity to praise them for doing something correctly. Sincere praise is effective, even if it's for something you believe your defiant child should be doing anyway. For example, when he gets up and dressed without a fight before school, say, "Thank you for being so cooperative this morning. I really appreciate your help."

Give Consistent and Reasonable Consequences

As a frustrated parent of a defiant child, it's easy to threaten overly severe or unrealistic consequences in the heat of the moment. "If you walk out that door, we're not going on vacation," or "If you don't wear a helmet, you'll lose your bike-riding privileges for the rest of the summer." Instead calmly think of a natural consequence to your child's defiant actions, for example, failure to pick up his toys results in losing those toys for 24 hours. And then, follow through. Poorly enforced consequences tell your defiant child that he can outlast your parental authority.

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