5 Positive strategies to handle a defiant child

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Does the idea of a defiant outburst from your child make you shake in your shoes? Here are 5 simple strategies to help you deal with them.

Worrying about how to handle a defiant child? How many times have your kids left the room in a stormy mood? Does the sound of slamming doors reverberate through your home? Do your kids yell, throw themselves on the floor and stamp their feet in frustration?

Welcome to the world of all children. Kids are incredibly malleable creatures. As they grow, they absorb behaviours in different ways. Mostly, these come through observation of parents, their peers and other children.

As a parent, I’ve had my fair share of defiant behaviour from my daughter. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t fun, but I’ve learnt to understand how to handle this without losing my cool.

Here are some simple and positive tips that will help you deal with defiance and come out of it alive and smiling. These can apply to pretty much all kids from toddlers to teens.

1. Speak in a level tone

The impulse to match a yell for a yell is very strong when it comes to kids vs parents. Something about the power dynamic being shifted is what makes parents uncomfortable when their kids act out in public or even act up at home.

As of today, I’ve gone 675 days without yelling at my daughter. That’s something I’ve worked on very hard, by the way. It didn’t come naturally to me. What I observed was this: A child who is yelling/angry is already in the grip of a strong emotion. They can’t manage another person yelling at them. It puts up barriers and breaks down communication.

Speaking in a level tone consistently, calmly, will help the child understand that you are in a comforting space. Little by little, their defiance will weaken and they will come in for support. A warm hug after a defiant episode works very well.


2. Keep instructions short

An angry child is a child who cannot follow reason. Lecturing them at this point of time is of no use, as none of it will register in their little minds. As the tantrum snowballs and gathers steam, stay calm. One trick is to remain seated. When we are seated, we tend to be in better control of our emotions.

While watching the defiant behaviour, give simple instructions in a level tone.

“Let’s calm down first.”

“Please don’t yell. I can’t understand you.”

“Let’s talk when you’re ready.”


3. Lay down simple consequences

Most kids these days are in a state of flux, much like their parents. We don’t want to yell at them or spank them, since both of those actions are counter-productive. But the one thing we can do is to lay down the law in certain terms.

If a child acts out, talks back or expresses defiant behaviour, let him/her know that these come with consequences. Take away a privilege and be clear about it. It doesn’t have to be drastic but it has to be something the kid will miss sorely. You can revoke TV watching privileges and as much as I hate it, I personally reduce her outdoor play time if the situation demands it. The key is to be firm so the child knows you mean business.


4. Rope in your partner for support

It’s very important to have a supportive partner/spouse/ caregiver who will back you up when the child is acting unruly. If you dole out a consequence and the child deftly goes to the other parent and worms her way out of it, that’s a fail right there. Ensure you and your partner are on the same page and let the child know that you are a united front when it comes to handling defiance. More importantly, let your partner know about the consequence you’ve meted out to the child and why it was done.


5. Discuss the episode when calm

All told, once the storm has passed, it’s crucial that you address the defiant episode with the child. Based on the age of the child, explain what was wrong about the outburst.

Similarly, find out if there was an underlying reason for the defiance which you may have missed out. Perhaps the child had a bad day at school or a squabble with a friend. Chances are he/she acted out the misplaced anger in an interaction with you. Be supportive and ask the kid to openly discuss these things with you.


As parents, we know that this is a challenging journey. We’re also always open to suggestions and ideas from each of you. Is there anything you’d do differently? What strategies do you use to handle defiant children? Do share with us in the comments.

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