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  • Writer's pictureBrian Lindner

5 Survival Tips for Parenting Defiant Young Children

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

Copyright: ninamalyna / 123RF Stock Photo

The longer I parent the more I realize: parenting goes fine, until it doesn’t.

My wife and I have two boys, ages five and three. Life with young boys is a loud experience. The sounds of plastic sword fights, chasing each other with Nerf™ dart guns, and ninja “hei-yah” attacks often match the noise level of playoff football.

Then silence.

I search to find the source of the dangerous silence and find them in the pantry with a newly opened bag of jet-puffed™ marshmallows.

“Boys, it’s almost dinner time, put the marshmallows away.”


“No, put them away.”

Then 70,000 mini-marshmallows spray all over the kitchen.

I have never been as frustrated and devoid of patience as when dealing with defiant mess making. Our kids are great and we love them dearly but some days they are more than a handful and marshmallows don’t help.

How to handle defiance without risking a stroke

1. Check yourself.

Before responding to defiant behavior check your own emotions. It doesn’t work to respond with your own tantrum, I’ve tried it. Model the emotion you want to see from your children. To do this well it’s important to become aware of how you developed the expectations you have for your children. Think about how you were parented, how that influences your parenting, and how you can improve your parenting.

2. Get to know your spouse.

It’s not enough to understand your own desires for parenting, you must understand the expectations of your spouse. Talk about their experiences growing up and how they influence their expectations for your children. Couples who understand the unique perspective of their spouse have less conflict in marriage, especially when parenting.

3. Team up.

This is critical for every parent. You may be strong willed but you will break trying to parent alone. For parents who are married, it’s critical to work together for successful parenting and for a successful marriage. For single parents it’s critical you find someone to team up with who can support you and back up your parenting decisions. Develop a parenting strategy together when the kids are calm. Winging it generally provides poor results in parenting. Think ahead, develop a plan together for how you will respond to your children when they are defiant and support each other to follow through.

4. Time-Out.

It may be a good idea for the kids but it’s an even better idea for parents. Give yourself space to think and check your emotions in the moment. I’ve heard experts recommend one minute of time-out for each year of a child’s age. I usually don’t have the luxury of a 35 minute time-out for me. Ten intentional seconds can do the trick.

5. Get down from your high horse and talk eye to eye with your children.

When kids are defiant, it’s a natural reaction to “power up” and display authority by yelling or taking privileges away from them immediately. I have found when I deliberately stop and try to see the situation from their perspective, their negative behaviors are reduced. When I slow down my selfish agenda, and join them to play, I get closer to my goal of raising my boys to be solid young men.

Experiencing defiant behavior is exhausting. Children are experts in “divide and conquer” warfare. Remember, parenting is a team sport; you must team up to survive. The more you know yourself and your spouse the better you can develop a unified parenting strategy. When you Make some Wonderful in your marriage you will Make some Wonderful in your family as well.

What are your best survival tips for dealing with defiant young children?

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