Defiant Children


On the following page are some tips for dealing effectively with defiant children. 
These tips are arranged developmentally, according to the age of the child.


Pre-K/ Elementary Age Children

     1.   Catch your child being good     

     2.    Be Calm (Scott, 2004)

   3.    Be Consistent

           4.   Communicate Clear Expectations (Scott, 2004)

           5.  Give your child (some) power over his life (DeBord, 2004)

Pre-Adolescence/ Adolescence
While dealing with an adolescent is different than dealing with a preschooler, the principles are very similar. 


§  Be Consistent with clear expectations for your child.

§   Give your teen power over their own life by helping them solve their own problems (DeBord, 2004).

§  Make sure your teen knows when you are proud of them.(DeBord, 2004)

§ Don’t let the only time you talk to your teen be when they are in trouble.  Let them know you notice the good stuff as well as the not so good behavior.  This will keep those important lines of communication open.

§ Say what you mean and mean what you say.

§ Do not get in the trap of making false promises as well as false threats.  Only say what you truly expect to do.




Steps to Getting Through a Tantrum


1.  Stay calm (this is a hard one and may take some practice, remember to use some relaxation strategies!)


2Ignore the tantrum.  This should be done if the tantrum is not endangering the child and/or is not in a public place.  If ignoring is possible, continue activities, but keep child in sight at all times. When ignoring, remember to not look your child in the eyes or say anything.

3. If the tantrum is endangering the child or is in a public place, move the child to a safe place that does not have an audience (siblings included).


4.When you see that the child is calming down (de-escalating), praise him/her for getting themselves under control. 


5Do not reward your child after the tantrum has ended by giving in to their demands. This only serves to reinforce the tantrum and guarantees a lot more in the future. Praise your child for calming down and then resume your activities. 



Helpful Tips


§ When a child is in the middle of a tantrum, intervening or trying to talk/rationalize with the child is futile and may only cause more agitation and escalate the behavior.  Talking and teaching the child should be done either at the very beginning when it is noted that the child is agitated and/or becoming frustrated or once the tantrum has stopped and the child is once again in control and thinking logically. 


§  In some rare cases, children endanger themselves or others while having a tantrum.  In these cases, consult a professional for training regarding how to implement time-out in a way that does not physically endanger you or the child.



Helping Your Child Manage His/Her Anger


1.      Talk to your child about what makes them angry and what helps them calm down. (Marion, 1997)

§  Keep communication open and let your child know he/she is free to let you know how they are feeling, but set boundaries on how they can express the emotions.  Many times being able to say "That makes me mad." without fear of punishment, is enough.  Validate their feelings without giving in.  You can say "I understand you feel mad about having to go to bed, but your bedtime is nine o'clock".


2.     Teach your child relaxation techniques to help them calm themselves down when they feel angry. (Marion, 1997)

§  Relaxation techniques include:  deep breaths, counting to ten, closing their eyes, or walking away


3.      Have a special place in your house that your child can go when he/she is angry where they can calm down and no one will bother them.  (Marion, 1997)


4.      Model Responsible Anger Management Yourself (Marion, 1997)

§  The best way to teach anger management is to model the behavior yourself.  Children learn best by example!





Helpful Resources


 Troubled Teens homepage.html     

 Teen Assistance Resource Center

 Tufts University: Child and Family Web Guide


Your Defiant  Child: Eight Steps to Better Behavior (1998) 
By: Dr. Russell A.Barkley

10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (2006)
   By: Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D.

The Defiant child   (1997)
By: Dr. Douglas A. Riley

The Explosive child  (2005)
By: Ross W. Green Ph.D.

From Defiance to Cooperation: Real Solutions for Transforming the Angry, Defiant, Discouraged Child (2001)
By: John F. Taylor Ph.D.


Misunderstood Minds: Understanding Kids WhoStruggle to Learn(2002)

1-2-3 Magic: Managing Difficult Behavior in Children 2-12 (1990)

How to Behave So Your Children Will Too! (2000)

Parenting Today: Who's in Charge (1995)



DeBord, K. (2004).Published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

Marion, M. (1997). Guiding Young Children's Understanding and Management of Anger.  Young Children 52(7), 62-67.

Scott, S. (2004).  Fortnightly Review: Aggressive behavior in childhood.  Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, London.


Sharma,V. P. (2004).  Tips for Dealing with Defiant Children.  Mind Publications. 







Dr. Jeremy Jewell