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Child Behavior Help: How To Deal With A Defiant Child


All kids display defiant behaviors from time to time. Child defiant behaviors are especially apparent in toddlers and preschoolers (2-4 year old).
Most kids display defiant behaviors when tired, hungry or upset.


• Ignoring when addressed by adults,
• Arguing with parents,
• Actively refusing to comply with rules or requests,
• Deliberately annoying people,
• Blaming others for their mistakes or misbehaviors,
• Getting angry and edgy,
• Throwing temper tantrums,
• Being spiteful or vindictive.

By refusing to follow rules, defiant kids send important messages: “I don’t want to interrupt playing and I want attention,” “I want to be in control, I want to be my own boss,” “I want to test boundaries.”


As parents we dread these behaviors the most. We get stressed out, angry and annoyed; feel overwhelmed and lost; frustrated and helpless; scared and underappreciated. Many parents react to their kid’s defiant behaviors with anger and resentment and, therefore, get trapped in frequent power struggles. These power struggles usually wear parents off and leave behavior problems of kids not addressed and thus, unresolved.


There are various strategies you can use with a defiant child. Dealing with a defiant 4 year old is not the same as dealing with a defiant 6 year old. See suggests below on how to deal with a defiant child from ages 4 and younger.

Avoid power struggles

It is a lose-lose approach that leads to temper tantrums, hurtful words, anger on both sides, and time and energy-consuming back and forth arguments. These arguments are emotionally draining and can lead to hurt feelings. Instead, prepare your child for the upcoming transition from a fun play to a less interesting task.

Related Article: How To Respond To Your Child’s Hurtful Words.

Give your child a bit of time to prepare for transition

You can start by approaching your child, getting down on his level, making eye contact and saying, “Wow, this is a big tower you’re building! You should be very proud of your work! In five minutes, you will finish building your tower and go wash your hands to get ready for dinner. Let’s put the timer on.” Count down in a friendly voice with your child monitoring the timer: “Three minutes left… Two… One… Time is up”

Give your child some control

If your child is still not ready, welcome his cooperation by giving him as much control as possible, “Not done yet? Well, your tower will wait for you after dinner. Where do you want to leave it: on the floor or on the shelf? You want to put it there all by yourself or you want me to help you?” Appreciate your child’s need to cooperate without feeling powerless and thus angry: “You want to hop to the bathroom like a bunny or dance in like a ballet dancer?”

Provide positive attention

Positive attention can reduce behavioral problems in kids. Provide positive attention by smiling and hugging your child and staying firm. Praise your child for being cooperative.


If your child refuses to follow your directions, stay calm and allow him to cry his frustration out by being empathetic yet consistent: “You are saying you don’t want to finish playing… You certainly don’t… And the timer is up. You need to wash your hands and go to the table.”

Allow your child to cry

If your child is still crying, let him know: “It looks like you are still upset. You are crying… As soon as you are done with crying, you will be ready to wash your hands and come to the table.” Stay away from giving attention to negative behaviors. If he repeats, “I don’t want to… I won’t do it” then stop responding or prompting further (such exchanges are indeed a power struggle). Let him work through his frustration on his own. When he calms down is and ready to join you don’t forget to give him a big hug.

Use positive reinforcements and rewards

Consider using stickers for praising your child when he comes to the dinner table. Praise him for being cooperative: “You washed your hands and came to the dinner table. Good job! So proud of you!” At the end of the week you can do a fun family activity as a reward for your child’s behaving well throughout the week.

Be kind to yourself

Dealing with a defiant child is stressful. Don’t forget that you need breaks too. Simplify your routines and slow down. Remember, things don’t have to be perfect. Reduce your stress by practicing mindfulness and exercising.

What other strategies work for you and your child?

Written by Madlena Rozenblyum, LCSW-R. Madlena is a licensed psychotherapist and a parenting expert. She is also a published author, speaker and a passionate believer in the power of positive parenting. Madlena is a principal expert and an author of a new parenting program “Parenting Solutions: Reducing Child’s Anger and Aggression” at Everyday Parenting. This program is based on the principals of positive parenting and will help you achieve successful results in as little as 4 weeks! Get the results you’ve been looking for, START you risk-free trial now!

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