All little kids defy their parents from time to time. Sometimes it’s because the thrill of doing something “forbidden” is irresistible, or it’s payback for being stopped from doing something he wanted to do earlier in the day, or perhaps he has just forgotten the rule. But regardless of the reason, defiance can push our buttons like nothing else. We get mad, then our emotional elevator drops down, down, down to a primitive state of anger. Too often, we get sucked in so fast we just react . . . and then overreact. 

A little defiance is normal, but repeated disrespect must be stopped. Now here’s the tricky part: Trying to squash your child’s defiance with a display of anger often boomerangs. (Think of it as trying to intimidate a member of a motorcycle gang!) Rather than meekly giving in, your macho (or macha) little friend may actually yell right in your face and refuse to back down.

Tools to Prevent Defiance

Here are some simple steps to prevent defiance before it happens: 

Feed the meter.

Throughout a normal, happy day, offer your child dozens of little time-ins (like attention, praise, gossip, and hand checks), fun routines (like special time), and confidence builders (like offering options and playing the boob) to make him feel like a winner. These steps build the loving bond and magically help our kids become more cooperative and less defiant. 

Practice patience-stretching and magic breathing.

When you teach your child self-control you’ll make it easier for him to avoid conflict—with you or anyone else. 

Plant seeds of kindness.

Practice by role-playing, by telling homespun fairy tales with messages about life lessons regarding right and wrong, and by catching others being good. 

Tools to Stop Defiance

You will be most successful teaching your children respect, fairness, and calmness when you model them yourself, during times of conflict. So, when you’re caught in a toddler rebellion, use your ambassadorial skills to help you turn conflict into cooperation. Here’s how:

Connect with respect.

Use a few phrases to show you understand and care. 

Let your child “save face.”

To help both you and your toddler save face, try offering options, inventing little competitions (making a game out of what you are requesting, like having a race), or suggesting a win-win compromise.

  • Offer options. For example, if your toddler is refusing to get dressed, offer her a choice between getting dressed herself…or running errands in her PJs. “You can dress yourself or I can take you to the store in your pajamas (even though you might get cold). Which one sounds best, get dressed or be in your cold pajamas?”

  • Make it a game. See if you can find a way to turn your struggle into a race. Even a countdown from 10 might be motivation enough for your tot!

  • Suggest a win-win compromise. Strike a bargain that lets you both feel like you’ve won! Learn more about how to use win-win compromises to boost cooperation. 

If Defiance Continues

If defiance continues, it’s time for a consequence…

  • When to give a mild consequence: For mild defiance, do a clap-growl or connect with respect plus kind ignoring. 

  • When to use a “take-charge” consequence: For serious disrespect, do a clap-growl (to show your displeasure) and then use a timeout or give a fine. Remember, your child is leaving you no choice but to give a consequence. “You are forcing me to give you a time-out.” After the time-out, don’t immediately talk about her defiance. Wait until later that day to gossip about how her actions made you unhappy or role-play about it with her dolls.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.