- Defiance is a common marker of a child’s social and emotional development between 2 and 4 years old.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!