Inside: Here is how to decipher whether your child is being defiant or if you have an underlying problem on your hands.
My sweet 3-year-old middle child was no longer himself.
He was… how shall I say this… a worse version of himself.
Instead of smiling and charming the pants off of me and everyone around us, he’d turned sullen. Whiney. Extremely emotional and resistant to nearly all of my instruction. At first I was at a loss. What on earth was going on? Was it the terrible 3’s? Was it a stomach ache? Was it some wonder week or result of a shift in routine?
Whatever the reason, I saw it as a challenge… I wasn’t about to lose this battle to my 3 year old.
My Type A-ness kicked in. If my kid thought he was going to fight my every instruction and get away with it, well, he had another think coming!
So I did what many other mothers would do in my situation… I tightened the consequences. I thought I’d reign him in. I would tomato stake him and we’d get to the bottom of this whole defiance issue. After all, I loved this baby more than words and didn’t want him growing up entitled with a bad attitude.
You are probably smarter than me. You may not be surprised at what happened next.
It was a dismal failure.
It just got worse
His behavior did not improve it simply got worse. More emotional. More volatile. More confounding. I wondered if I was being too strict. Or perhaps too lenient. Did he feel unloved? If so then why didn’t our individual time together seem to help the issue?
Around this same time I was doing Love and Logic® parenting training and I had an epiphany. An epiphany that turned things around nearly immediately.
As soon as I finished the lesson I sat back in my chair and let it sink in. There was a clear reason my son was fighting my instructions, commands, and our family rules. There was a reason he wanted to do anything except that which he was told to do. And it was more than just an instinctual reason. And the reason was this…
He felt powerless.
The Need For Control
Control is a basic human need. The desire for it is so strong we’ll do nearly anything to regain that sense of control. When we feel powerless, we attempt to exert our power in any way we can. Children: by tantrums, meltdowns, procrastination, or defiance. Adults… in similar but perhaps more “adulty” ways.
My dear middle son didn’t get to choose games with the older kids, and the younger ones are too little to fall under his leadership. Then mommy and daddy wanted him to do This and That and The Other and it all added up to a sense of powerless.
I hadn’t been giving him enough healthy and age appropriate choices.
He’s too young to control his daily routine, his meals, or his life direction, but he’s surely old enough to make decisions throughout the day that give him back a sense of control. I wanted to lessen the power struggles between us while still maintaining our family boundaries.
How to give away control you don’t need
Turns out, this is fairly easy to do.
Give choices you are okay with
Throughout the day make deposits into your child’s power bank. Every choice you give your child becomes another deposit in your child’s sense of control.
“Would you like a red plate or a blue one?”
“Do you want to read 1 book or 2?”
“Should we go inside now or in 5 minutes?”
Give two options that are both okay. You are not stretching your boundaries and your child feels powerful.
Provide choices before your child gets resistant
Throughout the day – any time you think of it – give choices to your child. Choices about their shoes, their clothes, or which toy to play with. The more deposits you make into your child’s power bank throughout the day the less resistant they’ll be when you don’t allow them to choose.
Provide two choices for your child. If they haven’t chosen within 5 to 10 seconds, choose for them and move on. This will help your child learn how to be decisive and it communicate your limits.
“Would you like to go to bed now or in 2 minutes? You don’t ever want to go to bed? I’m sorry to hear that, we’ll go now.”
Once your child has become resistant and is demanding to do their own thing, offering choices then becomes a power struggle. At this point you can enforce a family consequence and move on. Then, when the time of conflict has passed, continue giving choices.
At first I felt ridiculous
I immediately began giving my son choices. Choices about how many books to read (3 or 4?). Choices about which clothes to wear (soft shorts or jean shorts?). I felt ridiculous and silly for the first few times until I looked in his eyes…
He was beaming.
3 choices was all it took for him to go from screaming at bedtime to getting calmly into bed and asking for a kiss. And it’s worked ever since. When I give him a choice he looks me directly in the eye, smiles, and makes his choice. He feels a sense of control over his own life.
He’s no longer acting out to prove a point.
He’s stopped melting down and throwing tantrums nearly as much.
He is a happy child again.
And all it took was sharing some control with my son.
“Sharing control within firm limits teaches wisdom and responsibility.” Love and Logic®
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- your child will stop throwing tantrums for attention
- you’ll know how to validate and affirm your child’s emotions
- you’ll feel more in control of the atmosphere of your home and will be able to operate out of a place of love, not frustration
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