How to Handle a Defiant ChildBy
I received this email a few weeks ago:
Hi Laura,I have a 4 year old who is by nature defiant. I say turn right and he says “no, left.” Everything is a battle from putting on the seat belt to especially bedtime routine. I have other children who are obedient and well-mannered so I know it is his temperment. I am a supernanny queen and do 800 millon consequences to his bad behavior. I am very consistent with following through. It is starting to escalate and affecting me in the home. I’ve started to feel like a failure and started feeling apathetic towards the rest of my responsibilities. Where is the joy? I’m wondering if you had any wisdom on guiding a boys heart?
Well, I will never claim to be a parenting expert, but I do have a few years of experience dealing with strong-willed boys. Here’s what I emailed back:
Rest assured, you are not a failure! Out of four of our boys, three of them were (are) very stubborn and strong-willed. Here are three points I’d like to share:
1. Don’t forget that you are the parent. Don’t feel bad or guilty about insisting on obedience. You win the battle, no matter what – even when it’s hard and exhausting. If you win now when he’s four, you’ll find it much easier to win when he’s bigger. My two most stubborn preschoolers are now my calm, mild mannered teenagers. (We’re still working on the 11 year old, who didn’t become strong-willed until he turned 7. Sheesh! We’re getting there, though.)
2. We have worked with our boys to help them understand this strong will that they have. Having a strong will isn’t a bad thing – not at all. But when one of our sons uses it for ugliness or to defy us – that is bad. We’ve explained that God gave him his strong will (kind of like his very own super power!) to use for good, to stand up for what is right, to be a leader – and helped him understand that he has to be careful to use that super power for God’s glory - not to get his way. If nothing else, maybe this idea will help you as the parent (if it’s too difficult a concept for your 4 year old). A strong will really is a good thing when used properly. Oh, but it’s exhausting sometimes when you’re in the heat of the battle with a child! (Undoubtedly, it’s best to have the full conversation during a calm time, so that you can give quick cues like, “Use your super power for God’s glory!” for the moments your child is struggling to obey.)
3. Obviously, do everything out of love. But when your child is being defiant, don’t feel like you need to coddle, reason with, explain yourself, or ask him “how this makes him feel” (at least generally speaking). I did too much of that, wondering where I had gone wrong to make him behave that way. Therefore, I felt like we needed to discuss his feelings in depth each time he was defying us. Finally, I just realized that the stinker was being downright naughty, just wanted his way, and needed discipline – not discussion. I saved a lot of energy once I realized that – and went straight to consequences because ultimately, that is what he was asking for and needed. Discussion took place later, if necessary. It worked so much better!
And then, any time he is being sweet and kind, praise him and enjoy that time with him. Those happy times will come more and more often, I promise!
What have been your experiences with defiant children? What advice would you give to parents dealing with strong-willed kids?