Defiance: The sass stops here!

Defiance: The sass stops here!

Defiance can be a real beast, which is why the sass stops here! For parents dealing with defiant children, here are some good tips for you.

There isn’t a parent out there who has not experienced times when their children responded to them with outright defiance. Hopefully, these incidents happen early-on.

You know, during those wonderful toddler and preschool years--while you still have time to correct the situation. But no matter how old your child is, you must remember this…defiance is NEVER acceptable.

What is defiance?

Before we go any further, we need to define what defiance is. Is it questioning the decisions you make? Or arguing with you? Is it doing the opposite of what you say to do? Or, is it ignoring you completely and doing whatever they wish?

By definition, defiance is willfully refusing to conform; hostile and open disobedience. In other words, asking ‘why’ is not defiance--it is a quest for information and understanding.

Defiance isn’t even always arguing, but more on that in bit. However, if willful, obvious and hostile disobedience occurs, your child is acting in a defiant manner.

How to handle defiance?

While we take a closer look at the specifics on handling defiance based on the age of the child, there are two words you simply must keep in mind when it comes to handling defiance. Those words are 'immediateand 'explicit'.


Whenever your child is defiant, it will do no good to issue lame and ineffective threats such as ‘wait until your dad gets home’ or ‘wait until I get you out of this store’ or ‘you remember this the next time you want…’.

When your child disobeys, they need to be disciplined. There needs to be an immediate consequence for their action(s).

We’re not going to debate the issue of spanking right now, but whether it is a time-out in the chair, swift removal from the situation or losing a toy, snack, or whatever, you need to take action IMMEDIATELY!

Otherwise, the significance of your actions is lessened with time (even with older children).


Disciplinary actions taken for defiance also need to be explicit. Make the punishment fit the crime.

For instance, if your four-year old refuses to eat their salmon cake (possibly trashing it or feeding it to the cat), let them go without until breakfast.

If your six-year old refuses to pick up his toys, take the toys away so, there’s nothing to pick up.

If your young child defies you in public (running off, acting rudely etc), you need to remove them from the situation and/or restrain them physically by holding them or putting them in a stroller.

Age matters: The toddler years

As earlier stated, exercising their ability to defy you is part of a toddler’s growth and development. They are testing the boundary lines to see how firmly they are set.

Believe it or not, this isn’t a completely horrible thing. Testing the limits shows mental growth--it shows your toddler is thinking for themselves, learning to reason as well as make choices.

As a parent, you need to be ready for this. You need to have a game-plan in place for consistently re-routing your toddler’s defiance into obedience and compliance.

This ‘plan’ should include a certain amount of grace--using simple explanations of why defiance isn’t allowed and giving your toddler the opportunity to back up and start over.

Just be sure this grace is part of the discipline--don’t let grace take the place of 'immediate' and 'explicit'.

Preschoolers and elementary-aged children

By the time your child reaches the age of four, they have a clear picture of right and wrong in their world. They know hitting, lying, stealing and disobedience are wrong.

They are fully capable of behaving appropriately in most public situations you would put them in. So when a child this age acts defiantly, they are doing a bit more than testing the boundary lines.

They are testing your resolve in keeping boundaries in place. They want to know both where the boundaries lie and how much wiggle room there is.

So be prepared to either hold your ground or be taken out in defeat. But be warned: if you lose now, there’s not a lot of hope for you to win the battles you’re going to be engaged in during their adolescent and teen years.

Adolescents and teens

Adolescents and teens are at a point in their lives when they aren’t just testing the boundaries and your resolve to hold them in place. They are testing the reasoning behind these boundaries.

They are exploring their own thoughts, morals and ideals. Children this age are also dealing with self-image issues, peer pressure issues and the pressures of making decisions for their future.

Adolescent and teen defiance can be the result of frustration, anger, confusion, self-doubt or self-loathing and yes, even the desire of a child to bring pain to their parents.

It’s natural for children this age to push the limits on occasion. Like a toddler, they are in discovery mode. But when allowed to continue, these occasional outbursts become the norm, causing stress, heartache and possibly even permanent physical and/or emotional damage.

Immediate, explicit and appropriate

No matter how old the child, where you are at or what is taking place, defiance is never acceptable and should be dealt with.

To deal with defiance appropriately, you need to keep in mind that the disciplinary action needs to be a lesson in WHY their action was inappropriate WHAT they should have done instead and HOW making a better choice would have been more beneficial.

Also read: "Why is my child misbehaving?" These may be the reasons

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Written by

Darla Noble

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