It’s bedtime. You tell your preschooler to put down the tablet and get ready for bed. He gives you a resounding “no!” using that tone--you know the one. He says this with eyes still glued to the screen. He didn’t even look at you! Now, before you snap, heed some advice.
Defiance is defined as “open resistance or bold disobedience.” The child above is an example of what a defiant child is like. Ask him to do something and he will give you a blatant, almost disrespectful, no. Tell him he can’t watch TV before bed, and he goes on doing it while you’re in the room. Behavior like this can definitely test a parent’s patience but the key to putting a stop to it is with understanding.
It’s not uncommon for kids to start exhibiting defiant and stubborn behavior once they reach preschool age. It’s normal for them to start testing adult guidelines and expectations. At this age, “defiance is about finding a way to assert yourself,” Susanne Ayers Denham, a psychology professor of at George Mason University in the U.S., said.
Defiance could be your child telling you that he's feeling like he’s being pushed around or overly controlled, says psychologist Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.
Plus, defiance could also reflect your relationship with your child. “Because a defiant child is rejecting the parent as leader, at least at this moment, defiance also indicates that the child feels disconnected from the parent,” Dr. Markham wrote in an article.
So how do you deal with a defiant preschooler? Here are a few smart tips: 1. Avoid punishments. Remember, your child already feels like she’s being pushed around. Punishing her will make her feel even more controlled. Instead, set rules and consequences that are specific and logical: “If you play with the basketball in the house, we’ll have to keep it outside.”
2. Be understanding. According to Dr. Markham, the best way to solve defiance is with connection. Put yourself in your child’s shoes and find out why your child is upset or being defiant. Show him that you can be understanding. In a calm manner, reflect what he’s feeling.
Say for example, your child is having a playdate but it’s time to go as it’s getting late. When you tell him it’s time to leave, he screams, “Ayaw!” Give him a hug and tell him that you know it’s tough to leave, but it’s time to go. This way you’re making a connection with your child and showing that you’re not the enemy (and remember, patience!) 3. Listen. If your child is kicking his legs and waving his arms, fighting his way out of going to school, there may be a reason for it. It can be too easy to get angry right away, but try to stay calm. There might be a reason for his attitude. Ask him why he doesn’t want to go to school. Once you show him that you understand and that you’ll work on his problem with him, he can start calming down.
4. Empower your preschooler. Because your preschooler feels like she’s being pushed around, giving her opportunities to make decisions and practice her independence can lessen the defiance. For example, instead of imposing that your child’s homework needs to get done as soon as she gets home from school, give her the option of doing it then or after an afternoon snack. If she's refusing bedtime, ask her instead if she wants to brush her teeth first or change into pajamas. And, instead of telling her what she can’t do, tell her what she can. Rather than saying, “You can’t play with your tablet now” try for, “Why don’t you pick out a bedtime story for us to read together?”
5. Choose your battles. Little things don’t need to be turned into big deals. Your child doesn’t want her hair in braids. You can style her hair it lots of other ways. She wants to use chopsticks as drumsticks. Let her bang on empty cardboard boxes. Sometimes, it’s just kids being kids.