Moms need to differentiate childish mistakes from defiant behavior.

How to Handle Defiant Behavior in Your Children

by Damon Verial

Some moms might believe their children were born defiant. To an extent, this is true. Children are driven to do what makes them happy, and sometimes this includes impulsive behavior. No child is born obedient; obedience is something parents teach to their children over the years. As a mom, you have the opportunity -- some may say responsibility -- to effectively teach your children to follow the rules.

1 Recognize mistakes as what they are. Mistakes are forgivable and often one-time happenings. This frees you up to focus on those important defiant behaviors that are truly causing problems in the family. Defiant behavior is only defiant if your child knows he shouldn’t engage in it.

2 Set well-defined limits on what your child can and cannot do. Carefully choose what behaviors you limit. Having a phone book of rules will become problematic for both you and your child. When you set your limits, clearly define them and elicit a summary from your child so that you know he understands. The very act of repeating what Mom says proves that he knows what he cannot do.

3 Explain why your family limits exist. Give your child a rational and fair reasoning for why the rules should be followed. Some moms have a tendency to play the mom card, using the dreaded words, “Because I said so.” Avoid this in favor of a reason your child can rationalize. In his book, “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” psychologist John Gottman recommends drawing attention to how the rules could protect the children from the same behavior. For example, you explain it by saying, “We don’t call people dirty names in this house because it hurts people’s feelings. What if I called you a bad word? How would you feel?”

4 Work together with your child to find alternative actions. Suggest solutions for younger children and brainstorm for older children. The key is to cooperatively find an alternative behavior with which to replace the defiant behavior. This is often an opportune time to teach your child morals regarding certain situations. For example, if the targeted defiant behavior is name-calling, you can explain why politeness and mutual respect are important. Then, you can elicit ways to show politeness and respect even when you are angry, avoiding name calling for more productive ways at solving interpersonal antagonism.

5 Set consequences on breaking the rules. Clearly describe what will happen the next time your child engages in a certain defiant act. Although not always possible, making the consequence match the behavior helps in motivating children to follow the rules. For example, a child who does not turn off the television and go to bed before his bedtime could expect to lose his television privileges for a set amount of time. However, you should avoid violent punishments even when the defiant behavior itself is violent. Again, elicit from your child a summary on the consequence so that you know she understands.

6 Act on consequences. If your child acts defiantly even after your discussion and rule-setting, follow up on the consequences. Not doing so only shows your child he can get away with breaking the rules, making him more likely to defiant. Don’t be too upset if a young child breaks the rules again, as young children are naturally childish and impulsive. Just be sure to make it clear that rules are to be followed, and when they aren’t, people will suffer the consequences. Enforcing the rules is a long-term process, but it works in changing behavior.

About the Author

Having obtained a Master of Science in psychology in East Asia, Damon Verial has been applying his knowledge to related topics since 2010. Having written professionally since 2001, he has been featured in financial publications such as SafeHaven and the McMillian Portfolio. He also runs a financial newsletter at Stock Barometer.

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