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Encouraging a Defiant Child

Last modified 2014-03-17 12:55

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  "Getting OUR Game Together"


Often, when considering the idea of encouraging a child who is defiant, we may think, "Is this really practical?",  "Will it make a difference?", "Am I wasting my time?", or "I'm the one who needs the encouragement!"  These are all valid questions and concerns.  So let's begin by looking at the Big Picture.


Our intention is to assist our in developing the coping skills to live a happy, productive, and meaningful life.  Done with kindness, care and unconditional love as the foundation, we will do whatever it takes to make that happen.  Having said that, it is OUR responsibility to get OUR act together first in order to implement the various strategies and interventions that are now widely available in books, audios, videos, workshops, and from personal development and mental health professionals.


In the several decades I've worked with children and families, I've been fortunate to have grown tremendously from the valuable lessons learned from the children with whom I have worked.  Obviously, we all learn as we progress, but right now, this moment, it is valuable to have some ground rules on which to fall back during those most stressful times.  Since what we are attempting to do is activate the healing within our children, it's vital that we are "on our game" during the times we interact with them.


Carl Gustav Jung, a well-known 20th century  Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical , in his book "Symbols of Transformation", speaks about the process of "antiadromia".  This is the process of converting something into its opposite.  In other words, getting the opposite of what you want.  In our interactions with children this is something to guard against.  When we have our "plan of action" together we present an aura and stance of self confidence, and assertively request what we desire from our child. Instead of saying, "You should stop that or you will get consequences", a better way to reframe is, "You might stop yelling if you don't wish to get consequences".  "Might" rather than "should" will help us connect to the child at a higher vibrational level.   They are more willing to HEAR "might" than "should".


So there are several ways to present things to children that will make more sense to them, and not mess with the vibration of cooperation and willingness to follow direction that you wish to create.  "Getting our game together" helps us just as much as the child, as it makes our interactions easier and more fun.   


Now let me outline a few more helpful hints to consider.  It is OUR job and responsibility to:-

  • Learn to communicate more effectively
  • Check our emotional barometer before interacting
  • Know when it’s time to take a break and regroup
  • Understand that there are things that we do that trigger reactions
  • Know our child's strengths and weaknesses
  • Be non-judgmental
  • Learn how to break up a defiant/anger pattern
  • Develop patience and resilience
  • Don't take things personally
  • Keep the long term goals in mind
  • Recognize and affirm the progress that has been made no matter how small
  • Learning to be casual but at the same time assertive and direct in setting limits and boundaries
  • Be consistent in applying strategies while expecting and being willing to endure the resistance and initial escalation in behavior
  • Do all this with unconditional love
  • Learn to enjoy the process since this is not a dress rehearsal and we do have a choice
  • Leave pride at the gate and be willing to ask for and accept help
  • Connect to community resources
  • Obtain respite as needed

All of these things will empower a parent or childcare professional to be more effective in helping the child heal, make it a more pleasurable experience, and create less stress and burn out.


We encourage defiant children best by being strong, confident, and truthful, and willing to engage the moment by BEING the best we can be at the time, and keeping in mind our love and vision for our child.  It's our job to be the adult and learn the best strategies, and practice them without beating ourselves up for making mistakes.  Again, taking time to acknowledge past successes, and keeping our long term goals in mind helps tremendously.

Okay, let me finish this chapter by giving an example of how I would encourage a defiant and/or angry child.   Again it's critical to KNOW our child and all the specifics about the situation which will determine WHICH strategies to employ and HOW to employ them. 


One strategy I employ with a child who is refusing to follow direction and cooperate is not to reinforce their "No".   Unless we have a safety issue going on that requires immediate attention, a refusal to do a chore or their homework is not worth a power struggle since it only reinforces them when they see they can pull you into their game.  Rather I set the parameters of what I expect:  "Okay that's your choice, but your favorite show is on in 40 minutes (or whatever happens to be something enjoyable that they truly desire), in order to watch, I need you to complete your work."  Say it once, don't engage, and walk away and allow them to be empowered to make their choice.  There are tons of scenarios that can be discussed but for now remember that YOU are in charge, not the child, and that you can encourage them to be their BEST while at the same time holding them accountable for their responsibilities.

The whole point is to encourage our children to reach their highest aspirations, and to be there for them each step of the way no matter how difficult the path.  A quote from Michelangelo comes to mind where he states that the greatest danger is not to aim too high and miss, but to aim too low and succeed.


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