Defiance: Managing it through different stages of kids’ development

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Find out age specific ways to defuse your child's defiance with help from an expert in the field! Learn more here.

Defiance. It’s something that’s bound to grind the gears of even the most cool and collected parents. Why wouldn’t it? As a parental figure, you’re supposed to be the head honcho, and the one who calls the shots. No matter which age or stage of your kid, defiance rubs parents the wrong way.

The friction and tension of defiance often leads to heated conversations, and sometimes yelling. Obviously, no parent likes being the one who has to raise their voice and/or escalate a situation, but it’s a necessary evil…or is it?

Author and clinical Psychologist, Laura Markham, Ph. D. seems to disagree. In her opinion, there are proper ways to defuse a situation without resulting in a battle or even a war. Not only that, but she lists a number of ways that are completely age specific to your child’s stage of development.



Check out Dr. Markham’s tips and tricks for handling defiance for each stage of your kids’ development:


Though toddlers may shock you with how far they’ve come and developed since being a tiny baby, are still learning every second of the day. This means that even as they learn a sense of identity, they’re still learning that they can say “no” and do things by themselves. While there’s nothing wrong with them wanting to develop a sense of self and self-reliance, they often fiercely apply a sense of defiance to prove they can do things on their own. According to Dr. Markham, here’s how to handle a toddler’s defiance:

  • Let her know you hear: “You say NO bath, I hear you….” (Sometimes, that’s enough to get a toddler cooperating happily.)
  • Give her a hug. (Often, toddlers just need to reconnect.)
  • Decide how flexible you are: “Ok, we can just wash your hands and face today” or “And you are so very dirty, we do need a bath, so let’s find a way to make it work for you.” 
  • Kindly insist on your limit if you feel it’s essential: “You’re crying because you don’t want a bath….I am right here….You can cry as much as you need to…..When you’re done crying, let’s find your doll so she can take a bath with you, I know you like to wash her hair.”



By this age, your kids know and understand basic rules and guidelines. Whenever they are being defiant, what they’re really saying is, “I’m upset, I just don’t know how to properly express it. So, I’m going to use bad behavior to defy you and show you how angry I am.”

Dr. Markham suggests handling this stage and age of defiance as so:

  • Remind yourself that his defiance is a bid for reconnection, not something that requires discipline.
  • Reconnect through play, if you can. Try being mock-outraged to get your child giggling: “Excuse me…WHAT was that? Did I hear you say NO? You WON’T do what I said? We’ll see about that, won’t we? En Garde!” After your pillow fight or wrestling match, your preschooler will have giggled out his upset and reconnected with some oxytocin released by all that roughhousing; he’ll be ready to do what you ask.
  • If he’s too upset to play, listen. “You’re saying no, you won’t go to soccer practice? Something must be upsetting you about soccer practice….What do you think it will be like if you go?”
  • If his upset persists, set a kind limit and welcome his tears. He might just need to get all those feelings out with a good cry in your warm presence, after which he’ll feel reconnected and able to cooperate.


Parents! Learn the appropriate way to deal with your kids’ defiance based on their specific age and stage! Click next for more!

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