Nov 28, 2016

Dr. Gellner: All kids can be stubborn at times, but what can you do as a parent if your child is truly defiant? I've got some answers for you on "The Scope" today. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering "The Healthy Kids Zone" with Dr. Cindy Gellner on "The Scope."

Dr. Gellner: We've all been there as parents, you need to get your child to do something and they dig in their heels, and they make that angry face, and they flat out refuse. The battle of wits has begun and your child has already scored the first point of the game. For some kids, this is a phase, for others, it becomes their norm. That is when you know you have an oppositional child on your hands.

As a pediatrician, I get asked all the time what the right way to handle this behavior is. Do you give them choices? Do you take things away? And honestly, the right way is going to be different for every child, but there are some things that work well for all children.

The first and most important tip is to think ahead. Anticipate what your child is going to do before their behavior gets out of control. Then, do what you've rehearsed in your mind rather than reacting in the heat of the moment. Come up with a plan, let them know they can do what they want at some other designated time, but right now, they need to get with the program and behave like a big kid. Remind them fussing gets you nothing. At our house it's you get what you get and you don't throw a fit.

Parents often want to label their child as defiant, but labeling a child like that only gives them ammunition that they will throw right back at you. "It's not my fault, I'm just defiant," as if that's a trait, like blonde hair and brown eyes.

Parents also try to be too nice with their kids sometimes, "Please, pretty please, please put your jacket on so we can leave." Don't beg. Kids will walk all over you if you beg. You want to let them know that you're the parent, you're giving the instructions and what you say goes. "Put your jacket on, we're leaving now," commands more authority.

The tone of voice is the issue, not the "please." Offering kids a choice also gives them more control, so they're more likely to be compliant. "You can wear your green jacket or your blue sweatshirt, but I need you to put one on now so we can go."

Finally, there's the ounce of prevention. Kids aim to please. They really, really want to be good in your eyes, so it's important to notice and praise good behavior. Look for instances to say, "Hey, that was really nice of you to share with your brother," or, "Thanks for picking up your toys for me so fast when I asked you to." We're quick to point out when they do something wrong, but we should be even quicker with pointing out when they do something right. Be specific so that they know exactly what behavior got noticed rather than saying, "You're such a good boy."

If these tips don't work and you're at your wit's end, talk to your child's pediatrician to see if there's another reason for the defiant behavior, and to see about getting a referral to a mental-health specialist.

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