I say, “Just do it.” My child says, “No way.” Now what?
Every parent has experienced moments of exasperation when a child seems determined to do exactly the opposite of what one desires. You need to make a quick trip to the store for a missing recipe ingredient and your child refuses to get in the car. Or half the cookies baked for a school fund raiser mysteriously disappear. Your rule might be no outdoor play after dinner on school nights – but there is an open window and an empty room. How do parents deal with a defiant child?
Consider your child’s temperament. Parents are able to detect differences in babies’ personalities; temperamental differences have genetic foundations. While many children are easy-going, some are slow to warm up when confronted with change, and others are very resistant to it. Provide daily routines and structure transitional activities, especially for children with more difficult temperaments: “In five minutes we’ll clean up this game and then you can pick a book to look at in the car.”
Look for meaning behind the behaviors. There is a Greek proverb, “You cannot reason with a hungry belly; it has no ears.” Is misbehavior tied to hunger? Or perhaps the child needs more sleep. Have there been problems in friendships at school or in the neighborhood? Could there be a problem with bullying?
Reinforce the opposite behavior. Catch the child being good instead of focusing on the negative behavior. For example, if siblings fight in the car, then reinforce cooperative behavior. Have them work as a team to earn stickers that can be redeemed for a family outing to a favorite park or buying a new board game to play as a family. Or you might have an activity bag that is only used during car rides.
Don’t hold emotional grudges When misbehavior occurs, give consequences that you will enforce rather than long punishments that become too inconvenient for you. For example, when a child refuses to go to the store, explain that if the child doesn’t get in the car, there will be a time-out. Have the child sit in time out for as many minutes as the child is old. After time-out, don’t hold an emotional grudge, just head to the car. If the child still refuses to cooperate, then explain that when the two of you get back from the store there will be another time out and another consequence (earlier bedtime perhaps). Be matter-of-fact, but firm.
A Scripture reflection “Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness ...” (2 Tim 3:16) What Bible verse is God breathing life into right now for your family? Let that prayer help center you during parenting’s rough moments.