Parenting Child Psychology and Behaviour

Effective Ways to Handle Defiant Children

Shikha Batra
7 to 11 years

Created by Shikha Batra
Updated on Oct 03, 2020

Effective Ways to Handle Defiant Children
Reviewed by Expert panel

Does your child demonstrate defiant behaviour?


Are you having trouble dealing with his/her occasional periods of defiance?


If yes, you are not alone in this as defiant behaviour is a common problem faced by most of the parents during early years especially in toddlers as well as school-age children and also towards adolescence. It can be considered a normal part of a child’s development. 


  • A 6-year-old who shouts ‘No’ at the top of his voice and gives a deaf ear to all his parent’s pleas to lower the volume of the TV.

  • A 5-year-old who annoys his parents by throwing the plate filled with veggies which he obviously hates to eat on the floor leaving the dinner table and runs to his room. 

  • A 7-year-old who argues with his mother for not being allowed to go out to play before finishing his homework and slams the door of his room on her face even before she could finish her sentence. 


These are some of the examples of real-life children who acted out and demonstrated defiant behaviour. 


Whereas, if this behaviour persists for at least 6 months, is present in multiple settings and disrupts those around them it can be classified as ‘Oppositional Defiant Disorder’ (ODD) which is a severe form and an ongoing pattern of defiant, hostile and disobedient behaviour directed towards authority figures like parents or teachers. In this, a child’s behaviour interferes with his/her performance at school and affects their relationships with family and friends. ODD affects up to 16 per cent of school-age children and isn’t just a buzzword. In fact, it can be a nightmare for parents as it is a struggle to parent such children without strain. They might be required to seek help from mental health professionals, school counsellors, doctors and child development experts to manage a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.


Some of the forms defiant behaviour is likely to take would include arguing or not doing something being asked to do by the authority figure such as the parent or the teacher or by doing it very slowly thereby irritating them and making them angry.


There could be many reasons for a child to act out and demonstrate defiant behaviour such as him/her trying to take command of the situation or trying to push the boundaries by flexing their muscles and testing limits. They might be doing so to become more independent. They might also challenge the authority figure and disagree with them to assert their individuality more and more as they grow.


Here are some of the effective ways to handle defiant children:


Try and understand the causes and triggers of defiant behaviour.  Sometimes when children are forced to do something that they do not want to do at that particular moment or dislike doing it at all, they might act out and argue or indulge in back talking with their parents, teachers or other adults. For instance, when a 5-year-old is instructed by her mother to clean her room immediately, she might refuse to do it. She might either ignore the instruction or engage in an argument with the parent. Therefore, it is important once the cause has been identified, efforts are made to adjust situations so that the child is less likely to be defiant or oppose the authority figure. 


Setting clear cut age-appropriate expectations might do the trick. Giving clear cut age-appropriate expectations would mean breaking down a chore into smaller tasks or tailor it to his abilities so that it is not overwhelming for the child to handle and it might also make him do his job better. For instance, expecting a 4-year-old to do his own dishes would be too much to ask for. Instead, if he could be asked to put his dishes in the sink or help you in passing the clean dishes so that these could be arranged back would be more age-appropriate and would also make the child feel happy for helping you out. Besides, praise or credit for his efforts would increase his willingness to do so in the future as well. 


Be firm but understanding and respectful too. Let your child know that it is okay to disagree with someone, but the disagreement can be expressed respectfully. This will not only teach them to express their opinions without hurting others feelings but would also allow them to learn to see the positive aspects of other people’s opinions. For instance, if your child sees you expressing a difference of opinion with your spouse in a healthy and respectful manner, he is ought to follow.


Try to work out the solutions that work best for both the parents as well as the child. This can be done with school-age children who have developed verbal skills which would give them an added advantage to voice out their concerns and express themselves by pointing out what is it that they are not comfortable doing instead of demonstrating defiant behaviour. For instance- your child does not want to do the homework on a Friday evening and wishes to go out to play, which is against the accepted norm. You could sort it out by having a verbal discussion on it calmly and reaching a consensus that he would finish his homework before the decided period of time.


Establish ground rules and lay down consequences for not following family rules.  Shouting, talking back, arguing or talking in a disrespectful manner in the house is an absolute no-no with no compromises and would be taken seriously. In case the rule is not being adhered to, no second chances would be given and the child will have to face the consequences such as a time-out, doing an extra chore or even taking away privileges such as not being allowed to use gadgets for an entire day. Enforcement of consequences is important so that the child does not ignore your requests or undermine your authority in any which way. For instance: If your child yells at you for being reminded to study while watching iPad, you could punish him by taking away the gadget and not allow him to watch it for the rest of the day.


Make them feel like they have more control by giving them options. By allowing your child to have a say in when and how he wants to do things by working out with them the plausible options, you could avoid defiant behaviour from them. For instance- telling your child that he could put his books away and organize his study table anytime before bed would make him feel in control rather than feel overwhelmed on being asked to do it then and there. 


Give in sometimes by making a compromise on minor issues. It would not be a bad idea to give in on certain trivial issues so that you do not sound mean and rude to your child and s/he respects you more for allowing them to have a say at least in small day to day or important matters pertaining to them.  For instance- allowing your doting daughter to decide on the dress she wants to wear for her birthday party would make her feel in charge of such an important event of her life. 


Most parents have faced the issue of handling a defiant child at some point or the other in their life as even the most well-behaved child can be challenging to deal with at times due to his/her non-conforming and defiance in behaviour. The mantra to deal with a defiant child primarily would be in understanding the root cause of their behaviour and allowing them to test their limits respectfully.


Please do share with us how you have been dealing with the defiant behaviour of your child by pouring in your valuable comments and feedback below.


This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

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| Oct 06, 2020

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