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How can I deal with my child’s defiance?

angry little girl

Key points:

  1. Defiance is a common marker of a child’s social and emotional development between 2 and 4 years old.
  2. Parents can respond to defiance in a nurturing way by recognizing their child’s actions and feelings, empathizing with them, and trying not to engage in power struggles.
  3. Parents can also change the question or task into one where there’s room for the child to make decisions and exert a bit of control.
  4. Parents can model responding instead of reacting and encourage their child to put their feelings into words and other forms of self-expression.

Between 2 and 4 years of age, among all the amazing milestones your child is reaching, chances are you have already encountered a dreaded marker of your little one’s social and emotional development: defiance.

The experience of being a toddler or a preschooler is filled with curiosity, imagination, and also an increasing need for autonomy and exploring boundaries. With a still developing prefrontal cortex, you can imagine how, being a young kid in a world of grown-ups, your child enjoys and is happy to assert all the power and control they might get their hands on. At times, parenting a child can be very frustrating, especially when confronted with a continuous stream of no’s, but if you think of this behavior as your child’s way of exploring their newly found independence, you will be able to respond in a nurturing way that will continue to encourage growth, autonomy, and exploration. Here are some tips on how to do so:

  • Think “what’s the message that my child is trying to communicate by saying no?”. They are not being defiant in order to frustrate you, they are trying to express something.
  • Recognize your child’s actions and feelings, and try not to engage in a power struggle. Instead, try to voice what’s happening.
  • When anticipating a “no”, try and change the question or task into one where there’s room for your child to make some decisions and exert a bit of control. For example, you can ask your child which toys they want to pick up first.
  • Try to empathize with what your child is experiencing and why they are refusing to engage with you.
  • Model responding instead of reacting. Your kid is learning how to self-regulate and how to assert independence by watching you.
  • Ask them to be your important helper.
  • Encourage putting feelings into words and other ways of self-expression.
  • Remember it’s not personal, its developmental!

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