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How to Handle Child Defiance

Experiencing defiance from your child is difficult to manage and oftentimes frustrating, leaving you feeling defeated. There are often outbursts when they hear the word “no” or when things don’t go according to their plan. It can be a struggle to reason with them and find a middle ground, or to follow through with rules and consequences. A crucial step is helping them regulate and finding tools that can help you manage the defiance and meltdowns. In this blog, we’ll explore practical steps to handle child defiance.

A child being defiant isn’t about them being rude or naughty, but rather about the challenges that they are experiencing. In more complex cases where defiance is consistent with extreme behavioral challenges, these children may be struggling with Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder. Defiance is a behavioral disorder that can often coexist with and evolve from a place of anger, anxiety, depression, ADHD, or bipolar.

1. Understanding the Roots of Defiance:

So “why” is my child being so defiant? Understanding the root cause can be helpful in understanding the triggers, how to manage it, and what is the need behind the defiance. Oftentimes, it can be due to their age and developmental stage - finding their independence, expressing themselves, learning how to navigate their emotions, and environmental and parental influences.

- Take note of any patterns in their defiance and outbursts - does it happen at a specific time or in certain situations? Can you see them struggling to express their needs and expressing the struggles with behavior instead? Has there been any environmental change? Do they not know how to regulate themselves?

Once answering these questions, you can better delve into these appropriate techniques:

- If there is a trigger pattern: concentrate on the trigger and prevent the outburst or behavior.

- If there is a struggle to express a need: ask them, put up posters so they can choose their need, practice how to use their words at calm times together.

- If there is an environmental change: use compassion and validation for the challenges. Ensure a consistent routine.

- Incorporate regulation techniques: breathing, using a calm area, hugs, giving them space, using a pillow and writing as a way of release.

2. Stick to Consequences and Routine:

Children thrive in environments with clear and consistent boundaries and routines. Consistency with defiance and parenting techniques are key!

- Keep explanations and wording during defiance and meltdowns super simple and short: don’t over explain or keep talking as it overwhelms them and they are literally not hearing you!

- In positive parenting, we see natural consequences. Natural consequences are consequences that happen naturally due to a choice and behavior. For example; if your child is hitting you: put your arms out to give space, gently and firmly hold their fists together, squeeze their palms together, and separate yourself from them. Natural consequences can also look like: if the child throws and breaks something out of anger, then that specific toy gets taken away from them, and instead offer them something else to use as a form of expression (e.g. a pillow). If they are being defiant about too much use of their electronics, then they must be allowed less time on them the next day.

It’s important to note that this will initially come with more defiance! However, it’s important to stick to these steps, as your child will slowly learn that there are consequences to choices and actions. In turn, this will teach them important life skills for adulthood too.

Routine and consistency with your parenting approach are important. Specifically for kids with ADHD and OCD. When your child knows what to expect, it gives them a sense of security and safety, and they can learn that consistent rules and boundaries are in place. If there is any change to the routine, warn your child beforehand.

3. Positive Reinforcement and Encouragement:

- Ah, how kids thrive off of this! Give praise and positive reinforcement when your child makes a good decision, when you see them implement a technique or when they worked well with you, etc. It boosts their self-esteem and it lets them reflect on their behavior and what it is you are giving the positive reinforcement for. Concentrate on the behavior or action that they did!

- For example: “You made such a great decision by compromising with me. Thanks!”.

- A reward system for your child can be a motivator and it also helps with routine and natural consequences. When giving a child their ‘sticker’ for good behavior, explain the reason why.

4. Modeling Behavior:

“Fire with fire” is a term I use when it comes to meltdowns and defiance. Your child is fired up and so are you - which means that the situation won't boil down and you will be unable to help your child regulate and manage the situation effectively, if you yourself are unregulated.

I get it - it’s overwhelming and frustrating as a parent and it takes patience and calmness to handle it. So how do you help yourself as a parent and role model that knows how to regulate and manage effectively?

- Give the situation space: When you see it’s boiling over, recommend taking a breather and you will come back and discuss once everyone is calm.

- In your head, count to 10 and take a deep breathe for a moment and go back to the situation.

- Co-regulate: Regulate yourself and your child at the same time and guide them through it. Go down to their level or hold them tight and breathe together, squeeze a squishy together, palm press together, etc.

- Make a habit of expressing your needs through words: This leads by example to your child on how they can do so too. For example, you can say; “I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed, so I am going to my room for 10 minutes to take some time out”.

5. Balancing Discipline and Empathy:

We want to be empathetic and supportive of our child’s needs and emotions. Give them space to express and make it okay. At the same time, we also want to discipline with guidance and provide a nurturing and open environment.

  • Validating their feelings and struggles first, before you discipline and guide

  • Talking through their challenges and ways of regulating

  • Discussing how everyone could have dealt with the defiance or meltdown better

  • Be consistent with both

6. Provide choices and autonomy

aWe want to empower our children and give them the moment of confidence to make decisions and build resilience. These moments foster self-esteem and the feeling of “I can do it. I'm good enough"; giving the child a sense of control - which is an important factor in defiance. The motto is to be supportive but not overly supportive.

  • Give them two choices and compromises that work for all scenarios

  • Discuss decision making WITH them and don’t make the decisions for them (when appropriate)

  • Give them independence and autonomy that is age appropriate

  • Let them figure things out on their own and provide opportunities for them to self-regulate and make choices


Managing child defiance is a common challenge in parenting and you are not alone! With the right strategies and consistency, it can be navigated successfully. Every child and situation is unique, and finding the right approach may require a combination of strategies and ups and downs. It’s a journey that takes time but with hope and patience, it’s worth it and you will slowly see your child grow for the long-term.

Parents and children sometimes need professional support. BreakingTheChalk provides tailor-made therapy and parental and family consulting, worldwide, for your child’s need and wellbeing.

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