Well here's a blog post that's been a long time coming! As a therapist who specializes in work with defiant kids, today I'm going to share a few of the tricks I have up my sleeve. Without further adieu, I present...
7 Simple Ways to Disarm Defiant Children:
1. Validate their feelings.
Look beyond what your child is saying, to what they might be feeling. Are they really feeling angry, or is this more sadness or disappointment? Try saying, "Wow, it seems like you are really disappointed that I said no. Of course you are disappointed! You really wanted another cookie!" This disarms kids because instead of arguing with them, you are showing how well you understand them. It's as if suddenly, the wind has been taken from their sails. Nothing to rail against here. If you guess the feeling right, you might witness a look of shock. All your child's anger might melt into tears right before your eyes.
2. Say yes, with structure.
As much as you can, say yes, but in a way that honors your family's values and rules. Instead of "No cookies until you finish your dinner," try "Yes, of course you can have a cookie, right after you eat 5 more bites of broccoli." Kids hear No all the time; No is like white noise to a spirited child.
3. Agree with them.
Agreeing doesn't mean that you don't hold your boundary- I don't advocate letting your child eat all the cookies in your house just because they want to! Agreeing means seeing things entirely from your child's perspective, even just for a moment. Instead of "Of course it's fair that you have to eat dinner first!" or "It's not the end of the world that you can't eat the whole box of cookies right now," try, "I know, I'm such a mean, mean mommy, and this is just plain unfair. You want the cookies right now! You love cookies, and you can't have them, and it's downright horrible." Think about it: When someone is in disagreement with you, you want to prove them wrong. It's harder to fight if someone is agreeing with you. An added bonus is that when someone agrees with you and affirms what you think, suddenly it's much easier to take a step back and see things from their perspective.
4. Use "and also," not "but."
Use the phrase "and also" to point out how both your perspectives are different, but each person's viewpoint is okay. Instead of "I want you to eat healthy, but you want cookies now" try "I want you to eat healthy, and also, you want cookies now." This doesn't negate anybody's point of view. From here, it might be easier to come up with a compromise, if one is possible.
5. Turn it into a game.
Making things fun is one of the best ways to disarm defiant kids. It's impossible to fight when you are laughing. Sometimes you will have to help your child have fun in spite of himself. Instead of launching into a lecture, make it fun. I'm not sure how far to take this example with the cookies... I mean I guess you could make dinner more fun, right? Maybe have everyone at the dinner table assigned to feed another person. That always makes for a good time (usually makes for a giant mess, too, but hey, you win some, you lose some). On a more serious note though: When you take the lead in structuring a game for your child to play, even a silly and ridiculous game, you are suddenly back in the driver's seat in the parent-child relationship. Always a good thing!
6. Use mirroring.
Mirroring is a fancy therapy-term that basically means acting like another person. Many parents do this intuitively: your baby is crying, so you make sad faces in their direction. Smiles lead to more smiles. You get the picture. You can also use mirroring with older children and teens. Get into the same posture and body position. If they are using an angry tone of voice, don't come at them with a sing-song happy-go-lucky voice! That's going to lead nowhere good! Use a stronger tone of voice when you say "You're angry about that!" If they are curled up sitting on the floor, curl up next to them and just breathe for a few minutes. Mirroring is another way to help people feel understood and seen.
7. Just ignore it.
This last one is pure gold if all else fails. Just ignore it! Not everything is worth an argument! As long as your child isn't at risk of harming himself or someone else, just walk away, removing yourself physically from the situation. It takes 2 to tango, and you can subtract yourself from that equation at any time you choose. You can also try to remove yourself mentally or emotionally without leaving the room, by changing the subject of conversation, firmly announcing that the conversation is over, or engaging yourself in a mentally distracting task or activity (I swear that smartphones were invented for this purpose).