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Talking Back & Defiance in Children

by Amy Morin

Although hearing a child scream "No!" can certainly infuriate even the calmest of parents, it's often developmentally appropriate. Almost all kids talk back and refuse to follow directions occasionally. Your response to defiance and talking back influences the likelihood of your child repeating these behaviors the next time you give him instructions.

Reasons Children Behave Disrespectfully

Sometimes children behave defiantly in an effort to exert their independence. For example, a preschooler might try to show that he's no longer a toddler by insisting he do things his way. At other times, children talk back or refuse to do what they're told because they lack skills to regulate their emotions in socially appropriate ways. They might react impulsively to angry feelings and refuse to follow instructions. Chronic oppositional behavior might signal a more serious condition called oppositional defiant disorder.

Promote Good Behavior

Encourage your child to behave cooperatively by promoting good behavior. Praise your child when he complies with instructions without talking back. Say, "Thank you for putting your clothes in the hamper as soon as I asked you to." Build a child up before criticizing his negative behavior, suggests Kenneth N. Condrell, a child psychologist who writes for the Fisher Price website. Provide additional positive reinforcement for good behavior in the form of sticker charts or rewards.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Children who behave defiantly often feel empowered when they have choices. For example, ask your child, "Would you rather clean your room now or after your show is over?" When a child has some control over his environment he may be less likely to behave defiantly. When giving your child instructions, avoid asking a question. Asking, "Do you want to pick up your toys now?" invites the child to say, "No!" Instead, say, "It's time to start picking up your toys, please."

Enforce Consequences

Create age-appropriate rules that you'll be able to enforce consistently. Make rules about respect and following directions. Explain the consequences for breaking the rules ahead of time. If your child talks back or refuses to follow directions, provide a warning and if the behavior continues, place him in time-out. Start the time-out when your child gets to his room, advises the experts at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Avoid adding on extra minutes if your child continues to talk back.

About the Author

Amy Morin has been writing about parenting, relationships, health and lifestyle issues since 2009. Her work appears in many print and online publications, including Mom.me and Global Post. Morin works as a clinical therapist and a college psychology instructor. Morin received her Master of Social Work from the University of New England.

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