5 Ways to Handle a Defiant Child as We Return Back to In-Person School

Posted by Susie Pinon on September 11, 2021


This past year, many kids have lost their love for learning. As we begin to return back to in-person instruction, we are finding that students are not only struggling academically but behaviorally as well. When a child is unable to sit through the duration of their class, this may be an issue. We can attribute some poor classroom etiquette behaviors to the casual, remote-style of learning students have become accustomed to. 

We should also keep in mind that this new school year will be a brand new experience for the younger students who have had limited exposure to an in-person learning environment. Parents and educators alike may be expecting overly defiant behavior from their kids. Students will regain their footing in their adjusted classroom that probably feels scary and foreign to them.


Why Do Kids Act Out?

When a child demonstrates defiant behavior there is usually a reason behind it. They could be looking for attention or testing boundaries with whoever is in charge. They may not yet understand how to properly express their frustrations about school or their social life. 

When parents and teachers take the time and initiative to sit down and ask the child how they’re feeling, it’s often easier to get to the root of the problem. When we understand what is potentially triggering a child to act out, we are more likely to find a solution. Then, we can kick the poor mannerisms and patterns to the curb before they transform into an aspect of the child’s personality. 

How Can We Target Poor Behavior Immediately?

1. Focus on good behavior.

Make an effort to pay attention to all of the good behaviors your child has. Make it known and obvious that you approve and support the positive action(s). Positive attention to good behavior can be a smile, touch, or verbal praise. Body language speaks wonders, and children feel happy when they know they are pleasing a trusted adult. 

Instead of saying “stop” or “don’t,” reword your thoughts to twist the situation into something positive. For example, you can say, “please complete your homework,” and if they comply, respond with praise. Do this instead of nagging and yelling, and to your surprise, kids will listen more often since they don’t feel pressured to do anything. Enthusiasm counts. Let them see how thrilled you are with their good behavior.

2. Maintain a Positive Reinforcement Reward System

A simple reward system is magical for a child. First, make sure they understand that rewards are earned and not given. Rewards can also be stripped away if the positive behavior is not maintained. Before giving rewards, help your child to understand how they work and why they should care. Rewards should be tailored to your child’s desires and hobbies. 

Some examples would be going out to the movies, watching an extra half hour of tv, having dessert twice in one week, etc. Make it special for the child and create a reward system that provides them with something they actually want, not just something basic and boring. Depending on the age, rewards should be given for milestones. An example would be completing an entire page of homework, or for older kids, reading one entire chapter of a book in one sitting.

3. Give Instruction Once, Do Not Focus on Defiance

When we repeatedly remind kids of tasks that they should be doing, this actually causes them to become more defiant. Explain the task at hand, make sure they understand, and then allow them to work independently. As a teacher, I find it most effective to check in when the child appears to be stuck, but not to rush them if you can see they are actually really trying but just slow at a certain task.

Students should not need multiple reminders. They will enjoy the negative attention if they are struggling with behavior. When you walk away from the child during moments of defiance, you are leaving them with no audience to perform for and they eventually stop on their own without any prompting. This may even lead them to feel embarrassed in front of their peers and this should curb the behavior. When tantrums occur, as they sometimes do, stay calm to help the child calm down faster.

4. Hold the Child Accountable, No Matter How Young

Children learn mostly through acting like their parents. When we force a child to be responsible for their actions, we are being realistic with them right from the start. We cannot expect kids to be compliant with a set of rules and standards if they are unaware of the expectations. Holding a child accountable does not mean they will always listen, but it does provide a consequence when your child decides to break the rules. The goal is to teach that if rules are broken, consequences will always follow no matter what.

Enforce age-appropriate consequences, whether it be removing something or imposing something. When we remove something, that could be a toy, our attention, or the child from the environment. When we impose something, it could mean assigning extra chores or prompting the child to add money to a jar, depending on age.

5. Your Child Should Know There’s No Bargaining

Rules are there for a reason, and there are no second chances. Following through with punishments immediately after poor behavior will teach your child very quickly that you are in charge and they cannot get away with things. By being consistent, you are teaching your child appropriate behavior. You become more trustworthy, too. When parents result in bargaining or compromise, the child will just keep pushing for the next bargain. Maintaining control of the situation will keep your child’s defiance at bay if not mitigate it completely.

As students return to school, keep them in a structured environment to help them understand the importance of following the rules. Enroll your child in Math Genie to give them a boost or help them catch up with our trained professional educators. Students at Math Genie thrive in our classrooms, respect our teachers, and genuinely look forward to each class where they will learn something new.

Sign up for a free assessment today so we can help your child discover the genius within them.

We cannot wait to meet you.

The Math Genie Team


Topics: Behavior, Emotional Development, Child Responsibility, covid, covid slide

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