What Are Some Ways That Parents Can Respond to Defiant Behaviors in Young Children?

Young children are sweet, funny and loving, but sometimes they are defiant 1. As a parent, you want your young children to use proper etiquette and display respectful behavior at all times, but you know that's impossible. Instead of working toward the impossible goal of perfect behavior at all times, spend your time learning how to respond to your young child’s defiance in a way that encourages her to behave a little better the next time she’s in the same conditions.

Positive Reinforcement

According to Yale University’s Dr. Alan Kazdin, acknowledge your children when they behave and praise them for behaving. Your young children are always happy to have your attention, and they will do whatever it takes to get it. If you only stop what you’re doing to tell them to stop what they’re doing, they’re going to keep doing it to get you to pay attention to them. Instead, focus on the good. For example, when your young daughter gives half of her cookie to her brother, smile at her and make a big deal of what she did for her brother. She will see she’s getting positive attention from you, and she didn’t have to defy you to get it.

Use Positive Opposites

Using positive opposites can be an effective response to your child’s defiant behavior. When your young child defies you, say by leaving his cup on the floor after asking him to put it on the counter, use a positive opposite. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t leave your cup on the floor,” say, “Please put your cup on the counter.” Your lack of words such as stop and don’t will have a positive effect on your kids and will have you responding less to defiance.

Walk Away

Sometimes the best response to defiant behavior is no response at all. When your kids are being defiant – in ways that are not harmful or dangerous to them or anyone around them – walk away. For example, if your young child is whining, ignore her. She won’t like that she’s not getting the attention she wants from her whining and she will eventually learn that whining has no benefit to her. She will stop her defiant whining and learn to ask for what she wants in a nicer voice.

Enforce Punishments

Kids break rules. They don’t listen. They test your patience. When they have broken a rule, enforce the appropriate consequence. The trick is to ensure your young toddlers clearly know the rules and understand them, and that they come with consequences. When he chooses to misbehave and defy the rules, he will face the consequences. Make this short and to the point. For example, if you find him taking toys from his sister even though one of your household rules clearly states that taking toys from someone else is forbidden, send him straight to time-out with a short explanation about why he's on his way to time-out.