Dealing with a Difficult Child


5 things not to do when dealing with a defiant or “difficult” child. 

1. Don’t lose your cool: The most crucial first step you can take when dealing with a defiant young child is to not lose your cool. “We don’t yell. Please stop.” “You can’t talk to me like that. Stop now or you will need to sit by yourself.” (If your child is old enough and it’s appropriate for them to sit alone.)

This can also be a good time to teach your child some calming techniques that can help them regain control.

2. Don’t  go down the well: There’s a reason why the saying “Misery love company” makes sense.

If your child can’t calm himself, setting limits for him to work through his rage can help. The point is to not jump on the crazy train with him. “I understand you’re upset. Can you calm down so we can talk?”“Since you won’t stop yelling I’m leaving the room until you calm down.” (If your child is old enough and it’s appropriate for you to leave the room.) “When you’re ready we’ll talk, but not until you get ahold of yourself.”

3. Don’t take the focus off responsibility: Since defiant kids often have a hard time taking responsibility for their actions, it’s important to tell them your expectations (“We don’t hit our sister”) and provide consequences for them upfront. Try to consistently reinforce them, all the while pointing out that they are ultimately in charge of their behavior.

By consistently not letting your child off the hook, he knows you mean business, that you care enough to hold him  accountable, and that there are boundaries in your home that shouldn’t be crossed.

4. Don’t Flash Forward: Too often when a child has a difficult temperament or a full blown Oppositional Defiant Disorder, parents fast forward to the worst case scenario possible, imagining all sorts of gloomy forecasts for their child’s future.

5. Don’t forget to pay attention to the good things about your child: Parenting a defiant child is likely one of the most difficult tasks any parent will face. Accepting one’s child doesn’t mean excusing bad behavior, but rather acknowledging that they experience the world differently than many of us. Point out to your child that you noticed by saying, “I like how nicely you answered me. Thank you.” Or “Thank you for not losing your temper just now.” Remember, it’s the behavior that you may not like, not your child him or herself.

A final point to keep in mind is that children with these personality traits may not be the easiest to live with while they are at home, but it is exactly these types of kids who can grow up and change the world. Everyone agrees that a calm, sweet child is easy to raise, but those traits, while admirable, may not be the ones that stop injustice, forge new ways of thinking, or uncover the unfairness and inequity of the world we live in.

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