Defiant Kids and the “No” Machine

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The mother asked her five year old son, “Pick up the blocks from the hallway. It is time to get ready for lunch.” The little boy shouts, “No! You can’t make me!” He then proceeds to pick up a block and throw it towards his mother. The mother has noticed that her son has been saying, “no” to more and more of her requests and wonders what is going on.

The act of childhood defiance and disobedience of parents’ requests is common though not often as extreme as the above situation. Occasional childhood defiance and disobedience is part of growing up and is used to test parental guidelines and expectations. This type of defiance also allows children to explore their individuality and achieve a sense of independence.

However, some children display defiance and disobedience on a much more regular basis. This can cause significant strife in a family. For these type of children, disobedience can be caused by unreasonable parental expectations. It could also be related to family stress, conflicts between parents, school problems, or a child’s temperament.

If a child is displaying frequent disobedience, parents should try to figure out the possible source of the child’s rebelliousness and inner struggles. These sources of rebelliousness can center on the family or the child himself.

The style of interaction utilized by families can be a revealing source of the rebelliousness. Some families show respect for each other and their ideas, personal values and privacy while others do not. When conflicts occur in families, some families deal with the situation by rationally discussing the issue while others react with anger and violence. Children often mimic the style of interaction that is common in their families.

The type of parenting style employed with the child can be another influence. Parents that frequently yell and spank are going to have more disobedient children than parents who use calmer means of relating to their child.

Children can also contribute to the issue. Some children have very different personalities from their parents which can create conflict. In addition, children can have difficulties relating to others which contributes to disagreements.

Parents who find themselves in the situation where their child is becoming increasingly disobedient can take a few steps to reverse the trend. If the disobedience has just recently increased, parents can tell the child that they have noticed a difference in his behavior and sense that there is something wrong. They can then ask the child for his help in trying to determine what is causing his anger and frustration. This can be a first step towards changing the behavior.

Children will often use parents as a model of how to react in situations including how to react when someone does not do what you want. This means that when parents lose their temper and yell, then a child will respond in kind and become more defiant. It is better for parents to react to the defiance by remaining calm and respectful. If the child remains belligerent, then a timeout can be utilized until he calms down.

The best way for parents to decrease disobedience is to acknowledge a child when he is being obedient. These acknowledgements and compliments give the child positive attention and motivation to continue to do what the parents request. The best part is that parents can’t give their child too many compliments or positive attention.

There are occasions where children continue to be defiant and disobedient no matter what their parents do. If this is the case, professional help should be sought out from a psychologist.

This article was published in the Richmond Register Health Beat Magazine in July 2014.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *