This blog post was written by Jeni Nestler, LPC-IT, a Behavioral Health Therapist at the Beloit Area Community Health Center.
My little one won’t listen. What can I do?
Parenting defiant children can leave caregivers feeling frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed. So, what can you do with a little one that won’t listen?
Below are some quick tips from Parent-Child Interaction Therapy.
Giving Good Directions – Parent Handout
Source: Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, Second Edition
|Make commands direct, not indirect||Eliminates any ambiguity about whether parent expects child to obey.|
Makes it clear the child, not parent, is to do the task.
|Direct: Sit down right here. Indirect: Would you like to sit down?|
Direct: Pick up your toys.
Indirect: Let’s pick up your toys, OK?
|Make commands single, rather than compound.||Easier for child to obey smaller commands that are not overwhelming.|
Some children can’t remember multiple-part commands.
The child gets more opportunities for praise.
|Put your shoes in the closet. (instead of . . . Clean your Room)|
Put on pajamas. Brush your teeth. Use the bathroom. (with a labeled praise for each compliance) (instead of . . . Get ready for bed.)
|State commands positively (tell child what TO DO, instead of what NOT TO DO).||Oppositional children rebel against “stop and “don’t” commands.|
Tells child what [they] can do instead
|Child: (on kitchen counter) Parent: Get down please. (instead of … Don’t climb on the counter!)|
Child: (bouncing ball indoors) Parent: Please get a book to read. (instead of … Stop bouncing that ball!)
Child: (runs away from parent) Parent: Hold my hand. (instead of … Don’t run away from me!)
|Make commands specific, not vague.||Lets child know exactly what is expected.|
Makes it easier to decide whether child has obeyed.
|Use your indoor voice. (instead of … Act nice!)|
Please walk (instead of … Behave yourself.)
Wait for your turn. (Instead of … Play nicely.)
|Give commands in a neutral tone of voice (instead of yelling or begging).||Children need to learn to respond to commands given in a normal, conversational voice.|
Makes interactions more pleasant for both child and parent.
|Come sit next to me. (instead of … Sit here now!! Or it would really make mommy happy if you would sit here, please?!)|
|Be polite and respectful.||Makes interactions more pleasant.|
Models good social skills.
Less likely to cause an oppositional child to disobey.
|Please hand me the crayon. Sit next to me please.|
|Be sure commands are developmentally appropriate.|
|It’s unfair to punish disobedience if the child was unable to obey.|
To encourage a child to try something new, use an indirect command or suggestion, instead of a direct command Enhances comprehension.
Provides less negative attention than repeated commands.
|Make a picture. (instead of … Draw a stop sign)|
Would you like to try and sign it? (instead of … Write your name).
Parent: Put the block (points at block) in the box (points at box).
|Use direct commands only when really necessary.||Neither adults nor children like to be told what to do constantly.|
If parents give many commands, it is hard to follow through with consequences each time.
|Child sits on knees while eating dinner.|
Instead of giving a command, parent chooses to ignore.
|Incorporate choices when appropriate.||Encourages the development of autonomy and decision-making.|
Doesn’t take the “power” away from a child who tends to get in power struggles.
|Please watch TV or color quietly.|
Please put on your white socks or your blue socks.
Use your indoor voice or play in the backyard.
|Provide a carefully timed explanation [either 1) before the command is given, OR 2) after the child complies]||Children who ask for explanations are usually more interested in stalling then knowing the answer.|
Gives child the impression that he might be able to talk his way out of it.
If used, give explanation before the command to head off arguing.
|Parent: Put the crayons away.|
Parent: Because we need to get ready to go.
Child: After I finish.
Parent: I said put the crayons away now!!
Parent: Our playtime is over, and we need to get ready to go to the store. Please put your crayons away.
Parent: (ignores delay tactics because explanation has already been given).
But why is my child defiant?
Different and/or multiple environmental and biological factors may influence your child’s defiant behavior. Additionally, defiant behavior can be a symptom of psychological distress.
Defiance may stem from:
- Depression (can manifest as irritability in kids/teens)
- Trauma (direct or indirect exposure to abuse and neglect)
Need some help?
If you/your child are struggling and in need of additional support, call CHS Behavioral Health at 608-313-3372 to schedule an appointment with a therapist.
- McNeil, C. B., & Hembree-Kigin, T. L. (2011). Parent-child interaction therapy (2nd ed.). Springer.
- Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). 3 Emotional Explanations for The “Defiant” Child. Psychology Today.