How to Handle a Defiant Child

Posted by Brian P on January 21, 2020

Dealing with a defiant child can be nerve-racking, especially in an emergency. Outright refusing to listen to you can put your children’s lives in danger. Yelling and screaming in public certainly won’t make you look like parent of the year.

Take a deep breath and follow these five steps to get both you and your defiant children back on the right track.

1. Be Strict on Rules & Accountabilityangry-boy-indoor_BtZIuaBo

House rules are important to live by. When your children leave the house, they’ll be living with other people who won’t coddle them the way you do. Following the rules teaches kids the self-discipline to make healthy choices through every stage of their lives. Holding them accountable to this structure is good parenting and creates a daily compliance reminder.

2. Understand the Situation

The World Health Organization recommends assessing a situation before acting. This ensures you’re taking the right steps toward a full resolution, instead of pouring gasoline on a fire. Be sure you know the reason your children are defiant before immediately jumping to punishment.  Have empathy. Perhaps you’re in the wrong, and simply disregarding your child’s opinion teaches bad lessons down the road.

3. Provide Choices Whenever Possible

According to the American Psychological Association, choice is a central part to a free and healthy life. Providing your children with choices gives them a sense of personal responsibility and freedom, rather than being led through life on a leash. They need shoes on to go outside, but give them a choice of shoes to wear. Let them make their own decisions (and mistakes) sometimes to curb defiance.  

4. Don’t Just Punish – Praise the Positive!

If you only enforce consequences, you’re breeding defiance. Positive reinforcement is a much easier way and should be incorporated into every child’s upbringing. You ground them or give them chores for failing a class, so give them a treat for passing. An allowance is a great way to start, so long as you make your children work for it. When they get defiant, withhold allowance to hit them in their wallet, where it really hurts.

5. Maintain a Strong Dialogue

While your kids may be legally bound to you until they’re 18, they’re free to think whatever you want. You can’t control what they think, and if you’re not maintaining a healthy dialogue with them, you’ll never learn new developments in their lives. Conversation builds trust in a family relationship. If you want your defiant child to start listening to you, then you need to both talk and listen.

Defiant children may just be expressing themselves in the only way they know how. As the parent, you’re the experienced voice of reason. It’s up to you to think the situation through and work with each defiant child on a solution together.


Cherry, K. (2019). Positive Reinforcement and Operant Conditioning. [Web]. Retrieved from

Dingfelder, S. (2010). How important is choice? [Web]. Retrieved from

Hartstein, J. (2017). The Importance of Setting Limits for Your Child. [Web]. Retrieved from

HealthyFamilies BC. (2014). Why Talking is Important. [Web]. Retrieved from

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