by Gladys Rodriguez, Psy.D, Premier Psychological Services
Most parents find the moments they share with their children to be a source of immense pride and joy. Nevertheless, these feelings fade away when children act in a defiant manner. When their attempts to manage their child’s defiance fail, parents become discouraged, questioning their ability to guide their children effectively.
Experts have identified several factors that might increase a child’s tendency to be defiant with his parents. These factors include the quality of the interactions these parents have with their children, the parents’ physical and/or emotional health, and the parents’ expectations of what their child should do. If your child is often defiant, try incorporating the following suggestions into your daily practice.
Examine how your parenting practices affect the quality of the interactions between you and your child. Research has shown that certain parenting practices might predispose your child to display a pattern of defiant behavior. For instance, the way you give your child directions might affect his willingness to cooperate with you. If you want to increase the probability of your child’s following directions, capture his attention first by establishing eye contact. Then, proceed to tell him what he needs to do. Keep in mind that directions should not be too long. For example, telling your child “put your dish in the sink, rinse it off, then put it in the dishwasher, and bring me the cookies” might be too overwhelming for your child to follow. Giving one direction at a time could increase his focus. Directions should not be vague either. Telling your child “act your age” does not tell her how exactly you want her to behave. Finally, do not give your child directions in the form of a question. If you say to your child “would you like to pick up your toys?” he might actually say, “no!”
Do not let today’s daily hassles absorb the time you should be spending with your child. Experts also have identified low parental supervision and involvement as one factor that might increase a child’s tendency to behave in a defiant way. Try to separate a time for you and your child to share a special activity, such as reading a story or asking her how her day went.
Are you expecting too much from your child? High parental expectations also have been linked to increased defiance in children. Make sure that what you are asking your child to do is developmentally appropriate for her. For instance, a two year old who refuses to share her toys with her sister should not be considered defiant; she is just displaying the egocentricity that is typical of two year olds.
Take a personal health inventory. Chronic health problems can prevent you from managing your child’s behavior effectively. If you are experiencing health issues, it is time to seek medical attention. Do not ignore your own emotional or mental stresses either. If you are experiencing persistent emotional and/or behavioral difficulties, consult a mental health professional.
Examine your relationship with the child’s other parent. Relationship difficulties in parents may increase a child’s tendency to defy others. If you are experiencing difficulties with your child’s other parent, increase your communication with one another and resolve your differences privately, not in front of your children. Couples therapy might be helpful in cases where a successful resolution is not achieved.
If your child’s tendency to be defiant is the result of his difficult temperament, try to maintain a predictable schedule. Daily hands-on, active play might also help with a child who has a tendency to become irritable. However, over-scheduling your child might be counterproductive. Make sure your child gets plenty of time to relax.
Do not forget to model positive social skills, such as sharing, asking for and offering help, and greeting others. Encourage your child to incorporate these skills into her daily behavior by praising her enthusiastically every time she exhibits any of them. Children love pleasing their parents!
Take a moment to notice your child’s positive attributes. What do you like most about your child? Think about his accomplishments and those special moments when you laughed and played together. What made your child seem so special then? Make sure to let him know how special you think he is! Noticing your child’s positive attributes will do wonders to keep your relationship with your child healthy or repair it, if it has been damaged by frequent negative interactions.
If your child has been displaying defiant behaviors only recently, you might not have any reason to be concerned. Implementing the above-mentioned suggestions might help decrease your child’s defiance. However, if your child continues displaying this pattern of behavior for more than six months, you are not able to identify a change in your child’s environment, or there is no change in your child’s behavior after implementing these ideas, there might be some other factors that might be predisposing your child to behave in a defiant manner. In this case, you should consult a mental health professional for further guidance.
Gladys Rodriguez, Psy.D., is a Licensed Child Psychologist in private practice at Premier Psychological Services in Houston.