Inside: Here is how to decipher whether your child is being defiant or if you have an underlying problem on your hands. If you have a defiant kid, stick around.
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 or 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.
The plan was to 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 defiant kid behavior did not improve. In fact, it simply got worse. He became more emotional, volatile, and 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 was being a defiant kid. 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.
Check off critical household, social, and hygiene skills for your child so they’re prepared (not petrified) of growing up!
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, being a defiant kid, meltdowns, procrastination, or defiance. Adults… in similar but perhaps more “adulty” ways.
As I learned and observed, I realized that 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. This was causing him to be a defiant kid.
On top of that, 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, “giving away control” is a fairly easy to do. These tips should give you an idea of how to do this and change your defiant kid:
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, but your child feels powerful.
Read: The Surprising Reason Our Kids Are Insecure
Provide Choices Before Your Child Gets Resistant
Throughout the day – any time you think of it – give choices to your child.
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.
Emotions are a H U G E part of a young child’s life. These “I Am Feeling” cards will reduce tantrums, meltdowns, and help your little one learn emotional awareness.Learn More
Tips on Giving Choices to Help Defiant Kid
- Give choices that you’re ok with… such as what shoes they should wear, picking their clothes, or which toy to play with.
- Start by giving two choices for your child. If they haven’t chosen within 5 to 10 seconds, choose for them and move on.
- Add more varied choices as he/she gets used to your limits. This will help your child learn how to be decisive and it communicate your limits.
- If you’re child is resistant on choosing between the choices you give him/her say something like this:
“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 a defiant kid 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.
Read: 32 Consequences Moms Can Use For Negative Behavior
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. It has 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.
All of the melting down and throwing tantrums have stopped.
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®
Ready to try and deal with this temper of yours? Let this checklist help you get a handle on it.
Why couldn’t I figure this out? Like duh, mom, of course. I’ve been on the pendulum swing lately, going from one response to another to try to avoid power struggles with my 3 yr old. This is GREAT advice! Thanks for the post.
Debra Fette says
I have 12 year old twin boys. Does giving them choices work as well with older kids then the younger ones? Is there any useful advice you can give me? Thank you.
Rachel Norman says
yes! See my last comment, if they are used to tons of choices then they may need less or if they are used to no choices they need more.
Hi! What is to be done when your kids are past this? I mean, I do my best to give them options as much as I can and it’s met with resistance (choosing an option they want, not one I offered; ignoring what I say entirely until I get frustrated then they are frustrated with me because I’m upset at them) this happens multiple times a day to the point where life doesn’t feel “light” or fun.
Rachel Norman says
Sarah, I’d probably mvoe to the “you choose” then give 10 seconds, then make it happen. I think there are 2 sort of sides. One is that a child doesn’t get hardly any choices and then giving choices empowers them. OR they get too many choices and they are a bit too big for their britches and need some choices removed until they recognize who is the “boss.”
glenda rayworth says
Rachel, thank you for this article, I am going to share this to my husband and we’ll try this to our 5 year old son. He just started kinder and has been whiny a lot, it’s frustrating. Thanks again and wish you the best.
Kimberly Lloyd says
GREAT article! Such simple ideas but really do work like magic!! ? All those simple ideas I used on my kids and they really responded to it!! I CAN’T say it will last forever..they DO grow up and decide they don’t have to listen to their Mama’s anymore!! LOL. ? But I’m sure your Miss Maya will catch on right away (if she hasn’t already!!) And if you start Rory Anna off early she’ll be well taught by you AND her big sissy!! Anyway, sending to my Em..Gabriel is trying to feel his oats and my baby girl is ready to pull her hair out!! Poor girl!! So, hopefully this regimen will help..
Thanks again hon…maybe someday I’ll get to meet those beautiful girls of yours..? I lknow you don’t really know the real me and that saddens me..I’m not the person that you made have heard in the past…and I can tell you alot is NOT TRUE..its like the telephone game..one person says something and by time it gets to tthe 15th petson it is NOT the truth of what had been said or happened….but it IS the past and I’m sorry..truly…I know I didn’t do anything to you directly, but I also know that alit of what was said is absolutely NOT true…like your mom has been saying to me recently, everyone wants to move on from the past, forgiveness is given and they want me so much back in the family…and I told her I would love that..as long as it’s not like it was before..and she assured me it wouldn’t be…soo in that I hope if that happens, we can become friends..truly..I DO love you Rachel..I always have..take care sweetie…~Aunt Kim ⚘
Right on time! Thank you for this :)
I try top five my kids choices bit it is getting very hard now that they ste 3 and 5. It seems when I give one a cover the other throws a fit. Does anyone have 2 boys close in age with any suggestions?
What is the love and logic parenting training you did? I tried googling it and cane up with a lot of different choices… I’m interested in looking into it! Thanks for the choices idea… gonna try it with my kids to see if it helps!!
Rachel Norman says
Robyn, are you talking about language of listening training or love and logic? I’ve done both~