Few things are as frustrating for parents and teachers as a child’s defiance. We’re often not sure what to do when faced with a flat-out refusal, especially when we’ve already gone through our bag of tricks. Defiance leaves us feeling stuck and powerless.
Childhood defiance manifests as anger, irritability, arguing and refusal. It’s fairly easy to identify; we ask a child to do something and they refuse by yelling, ignoring, telling us no, or shutting down. We’re left with our head spinning, wondering why they didn’t want to color the worksheet or brush their teeth. The task seemed so simple to us.
There is usually an underlying reason for defiance. It’s rarely about the task at hand, which is why it can be tricky to figure out the reason they’re refusing in the first place.
Here are some possible reasons the child in your life may be defying you:
Avoidance: This is the obvious reason and the one that is probably the easiest to manage. The child doesn’t like what you’re asking them to do and prefers to do another task instead.
A need for control: Children who have little control in their life may defy you for power. This often happens when children have experienced a recent traumatic experience.
Fear: When children are presented with a task that feels difficult, they may defy because they are afraid of failing. This tends to happen with children who are perfectionists or who have not yet developed healthy self-esteem.
Overwhelm: When a task feels too large, some children have a difficult time knowing where to start. Their brains have not yet mastered the process of breaking a large task into smaller steps.
Testing limits: This is a natural part of growing up. Most often, a firm boundary and letting the child know you’re not going to change your mind will make the defiance short-lived.
An abrupt transition: When a child is engrossed in an activity, you tell them to stop and they don’t feel ready, you may be faced with defiance because they haven’t had time to mentally prepare for switching tasks.
The good news is that most forms of defiance are completely normal and can be minimized. Next week’s post will provide all of you teachers and parents with strategies to help prepare in advance for situations that usually result in defiance and teach you how your language can alter the course of the conversation.