If your once-sweet bundle of joy has become a defiant preschooler with no respect for authority, don’t fool yourself: you might be in charge, but he’s in control. Regaining that control is imperative -- and not impossible. A lack of respect often results when parents are overly lenient and fail to establish clear boundaries. Fear not, you haven’t ruined him. He’s still young enough to shape into the compliant, sweet boy he was meant to be -- one who won’t scream, “No!” at every turn.
Nurture your little munchkin, comfort her and let her know you love her no matter what. While this might be difficult at times -- like when she’s screaming “no!” at you and covering her ears -- it’s imperative. Connection brings forth trust, which is the basis of respect. If she trusts that you’ll meet her needs -- both physical and emotional -- she’ll trust you to set limits. Take a deep breath, remember this angry little person is your baby and let her know you empathize: “I understand you’d rather play outside than clean your room -- cleaning is no fun! But having a tidy room is one of our rules and it needs to get done before you can go outside.”
Establish clear boundaries with rules that are easy to follow. He's not allowed to ride a bike without a helmet, but he can ride on the sidewalk beside you if he’s wearing his helmet. Running into the street is strictly off-limits, but he can hold your hand, look both ways and cross the street with you. He wants limits -- without them, he feels insecure and his world feels chaotic. He also wants you to stand behind those limits. His loud protests might be that you’re not holding to your limits firmly enough and it scares him.
Be consistent. Never waver from following through on a punishment. If you can’t stick to the rules, why would she? Although it’s sometimes easy to ignore bad behavior, it sets a bad precedent. If she knows you won’t enforce a time-out if she steals her sister’s toy while Mommy's on the phone, it makes it easy for her to justify acting out. Put down the phone and become the enforcer.
Reward his good behavior. If he’s polite and respectful towards you, recognize that, especially since it doesn’t happen often. The more you reward respectful behavior, the more appealing it will become. Although sometimes it seems that his life mission is to defy you, ultimately kids want their parents’ approval.
Establish expectations and expect her to comply. She will only be as compliant as you expect or as defiant as you let her be. Tell her you know she’s perfectly capable of following the rules because she’s such a big girl and so smart. The earlier you establish your expectations, the better for everyone. There should be an absolute assumption that mother and father know best.
Teach him empathy and caring. A preschooler who doesn’t respect others isn’t thinking about how his behavior affects others. Parents often forget that emotional intelligence needs to be nurtured as well. Talk about your own feelings and ask him about his. Next time he says an emphatic “No!” to your request, tell him that makes you feel bad. “Honey, I understand you don’t feel like taking a bath right now, but it’s time. It makes me feel bad when you don’t follow rules. You know it’s bath time, and I won’t take no for an answer. Now let’s go play in the bubbles.”
Treat her with respect. Be a good listener. Let her know that what she thinks and feels is important to you.