These Six Positive Parenting strategies can help you respond to your child when they are behaving in defiant, disrespectful or unhelpful ways.
Children often act out when they are lost, fearful and in need of guidance. A child that is being defiant needs to reconnect with you and find his way back to calm. And until you can step in and help, the acting out will continue. Not because your child is bad, but because your child is still learning and growing. That being said, it can be difficult to respond in a calm, confident way. Misbehavior can push parental buttons and ring alarm bells in our minds.
A calm, helpful response even to the worst misbehavior helps children trust our guidance.
The following parenting practices can help you respond in a calmer, guidance based way to help your child feel and do better:
Slow Down: Practice Pausing Before Responding
Most tantrums and defiant behaviors are not related to emergencies, and so as long as you are sure your child is safe, take a moment to pause and plan how you are going to respond. My kids have definitively watched me staring into space and taking deep breaths before addressing their squabbles, spilled glue and unhelpful words.
When I fail to pause I find myself reacting and having to double my efforts on re-connection and making amends. When you choose to pause, you may believe you are doing nothing, but I promise, the power of that initial nothing is the road to a calmer response and a calmer child.
In the pause we can ask ourselves:
- What kind of guidance can I offer my child?
- How can we turn this moment around?
- What does my child need so he can get back on track?
Set High Standards for Respect:
We get to set an important standard when children act out and make mistakes. And they will make lots of them, they really will. If the goal in discipline is to create a standard of respect and trust, even in the face of conflict and disconnection, cooperation will eventually show up. Limits are certainly needed but coercion and threats are not. Influence comes from our relationship, from each interaction in which we help our child truly feel they are:
- respected fully
- loved unconditionally
- capable of doing better
When defiance shows up, do your best to speak respectfully so your child knows how to do that as well.
Believe Your Child CAN do Better
Do you have faith that no matter how many mistakes your child makes, he is a worthy, lovable being that can learn from your guidance? Do you have faith that your guidance will work, even when bad attitudes are showing up?
When children choose unhelpful behaviors it’s because they are stuck. When defiance keeps showing up it’s because that child believes they have no other way of letting you know that they feel stuck in hurt, upset feelings. We can help our child find the way out of that negative thinking. Have faith that your child is able to calm, learn and choose better behaviors. Tell your child you believe they can do better. It might sound like: “I know we can work this out together.” or “I believe you can find a better way of talking to me.” Show faith, be kind. It really does make a difference.
Focus On The Good
If you focus on acting out, terrible, no good, awful behavior, this is what your child will bring you home.
If you choose to see the good, the potential, even in challenging moments your child will rest in the idea that there is safety to grow and thrive in your home.
Notice improvement, focus on potential and tell yourself each day what is going well. During a moment of defiance, try to recall a time when things did turn around. This will help you calm as well.
It’s Actually OKAY If Tears Show Up
Not setting boundaries to avoid tears and discomfort does not help you or your child. When a child acts out they really need someone to step up and help them. This means staying calm and bracing the storm. Know how to set limits on behavior while still acknowledging feelings underneath.
When our children are unreasonable, they are asking for our help. They need us to set limits for them. They also need to know that we care about them. It’s our caring that puts them back on track again.” — Patty Wipfler
Trust your child and help her manage big, difficult, uncomfortable feelings. It’s not easy to hear a child tantrum, scream, and rage or talk back. It is however helpful to understand that children will step into an emotional roller coaster as they are growing and learning and often choose behaviors that are unhelpful. Brace yourself for the ride, it gets easier the more you are willing to be a facilitator of this process and the more you get comfortable with setting kind and clear limits.
Make Time For Yourself
It’s difficult to respond well to misbehavior and unruly children if you are stressed, drained and “sick and tired” from parenting. It can be very difficult to set time aside to care for yourself when you have young children. Making small pockets of time each day, to drink a glass of water, to step outside and take a few breaths, or to consciously make time once a week for an activity that is just yours makes a big difference in how you confront parenting challenges. In a moment of defiance or back talk – if you really need to – STEP AWAY and take a moment for yourself. This models self-regulation and does not take away your parental influence.
Remember that parenting is a full time job, taking a break helps you reset your mood and respond well to your child.
Are you open to learning new tools?
If you find yourself filled with anger, disappointment and resentment towards your child when they misbehave, or simply unable to respond in a calm manner, I want to invite you to join our Positive Parenting Q & A group – this is a place to learn more about how to implement Positive Discipline in your home and ask any questions you may have. I look forward to seeing you there!
Peace & Be Well,
More Resources For Dealing With Defiance
Alice Hanscam, author and parent coach wrote about the Power of Pause.
Parent Smarter, Not Harder: The Power of Pause by Christie Burnett at Childhood 101
Toddler Defiance – More about development and defiance in the toddler years
The Discipline Solution To Back Talk That Actually Worked
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