Does this sound familiar to you?
“Matthew, it’s cold out — you have to wear your mittens.”
“Put on your mittens like a good boy and Mommy will give you a cookie.”
Now Dad, in a commanding tone: “Matthew, put on your mittens right this instant.”
Dad to Mom: “Hold him while I shove them on.”
Matthew starts wailing in earnest.
Mom to Matthew: “Fine, don’t wear them. If your hands get cold, it’s your problem.”
Dad to Mom again: “It’s freezing outside. He’ll get frostbite.”
Mom to Dad: “If his hands get cold, he’ll put the mittens on. Come on, everybody’s staring. We have to get him out of here.”
Do you have a defiant child? Do you feel like no matter what you tell your child to do, your defiant child won’t follow through with requests? One key to managing your defiant child is to END THE POWER STRUGGLE!
Most simply put, a power struggle is a battle for control, with parent and child duking it out over which one gets to decide what the child eats or wears, how he spends time or what he plays with, where he goes and when. The key ingredient, though, is that the actual object of the dispute is often not its crux. Usually, either the child is pushing for control beyond his years or capabilities, or the parent’s holding on tight to control something that would be better ceded to the child.
Typically, emotions run much higher than the issue — whether eating peas or wearing a tutu to preschool — would seem to merit. Your child objects to a simple request, and you (“It’s the principal of the thing!”) decide that you’re just not going to put up with this insubordination. Unfortunately, if the battles become a pattern and occur again and again without being resolved, they can come to characterize, and undermine, your relationship.
So make a commitment to end the power struggle today! Everything doesn’t have to be a fight. Some things are just not worth the battle. So many parents get wrapped up in the idea that their defiant child must be MADE to listen to them—that every time their defiant child disobeys them, then the child must be punished. I’m here to tell you that managing your defiant child’s behavior isn’t about disciplining every single thing your child does wrong. Instead, it’s about having a parenting plan that will change your defiant child’s behavior over time.
Here are some guidelines to get you started managing your defiant child:
*Start tracking. For a week or so, jot down in a notebook everything you and your defiant child fight over and when these fights occur.
*Categorize the data you collected and look for patterns. Do you fight with your defiant child frequently over bed time? Is your child more defiant when it comes to what they wear or what they eat?
*Rate the defiant behaviors in order of most important to address to least important to address.
*Focus your discipline of your defiant child on the behaviors you feel are most important to address, and let the other ones go for now. This is where you begin to end the power struggles with your child. It’s far more important to get your defiant child to stop hitting his sibling than it is to have him make his bed daily. End the power struggle over the bed and focus on disciplining the hitting behavior at first.
As a parent you can’t fight your defiant child all of the time on every misbehavior that he or she engages in. If you try, your life will be a constant battle, you’ll be exhausted, and your defiant child will never learn to respect you. Learn to let some things go, for now at least. Focus on what is most important. Fix those things and the other smaller problem behaviors will begin to fix themselves over time. Remember changing your defiant child’s behavior won’t happen overnight. It likely took many months or even years for your child to develop these habits and behaviors and it will take several months of hard, focused work on your part as the parent to undo them. But remember, the longest journey starts with a single step! Get started today and in a few months your child’s defiant behaviors will most certainly be diminished and you will be a much happier parent in the process.