These are guidelines for working with children who are defiant. Some strong-willed or especially defiant children do not respond to the typical punishments or parenting strategies as other children. These children are at risk for accidental injury because they will often not cry if spanked, pretend it does not hurt and then end up really hurt and the parent does not realize they’ve been hitting that hard (there are no cues to go by with these children). These children will also pretend the punishment does not bother them. For example, they will stay in time out once you’ve told them their time is up. It is very challenging for a parent. Here are some strategies that work well with children who are defiant or have not responded well to traditional discipline.

Avoid the use of the word “no” as much as possible (phrase a different way such as “not right now”, “I don’t think so” or something like that).

Avoid direct commands that trigger rebellion because, even if you are saying “eat your cake”, they will automatically rebel (it’s just what they do).

Never use the word “don’t” (except as mentioned in number 1) because anything that follows this word is an automatic “do”. (Don’t is an attention getter and the children do not hear the word “don’t”, they only hear what follows. If you say “don’t run”; they only hear “run”).

Phrase things in a way that says what the child CAN do rather than what he CANNOT do. Instead of “no running” say “walk” for example.

Get it down to as few rules as possible to limit the opportunities to rebel. Focus on behaviors that violate the rights of others or are potentially harmful. (Another version of “pick your battles”).

Avoid power struggles if at all possible. Don’t argue over things that don’t really matter (if they want to wear clothes that are ugly or mismatched—let them).

The fewer things you try to make a battle out of, the likelier it is he will comply w/ the 1 or 2 things you HAVE to put your foot down about.

Use humor as much as possible (not in a belittling way).

Always give the child a choice of two options to get them to comply w/ what you want them to do. For example: “you know you have to brush your teeth, do you want to do it now or in 10 minutes”.

It’s ok to give in some as long as it’s not one of the items in 5. Just let the child know you are exercising the option to change your mind.

Try not to argue unless it’s one of the items in number 5. Use the phrase—“OK then, don’t do it”. These kids can be influenced very easily because they are compelled to do the opposite of what you say. Reverse-psychology works extremely well. Another example: “fine then, wear those clothes that don’t match–the other kids are going to laugh but it’s your choice what you wear”. However, never use the phrase “I don’t care” because these children often believe no one cares.

St Thomas


Leave a Reply