Community Health Systems, Inc.

Defiant Kids

Mindful Minute

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 indirectEliminates 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.
Eliminates confusion.
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.
Use gestures.
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.
Child: Why?
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.
Child: Why?
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:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression (can manifest as irritability in kids/teens)
  • Trauma (direct or indirect exposure to abuse and neglect)

Click here to learn more!

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.