I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that when my son turned 3 years old, he changed overnight.
It’s as if he woke up from a sweet and happy second year of life to a changed young boy … more ornery, less sweet and louder.
And I’ve been trying to find my patience ever since.
My son behaves well, but as he and his vocabulary grows, so, too, has his need to exert his own will. He’s become more brave and bold and courageous, not afraid to offend us or tell us, “No!” every single time.
He truly has his own agenda. As much as I do appreciate this newfound independence, it’s important to me that I not allow a power struggle to dominate the conversation every time.
But power DOES play a significant role here. When a child disrespects a caregiver or acts disobediently, it’s likely because they feel powerless. Even as adults, if we feel we aren’t being heard or respected, our response is to meet a need for power in a situation.
We all deserve that.
But for young children, an act of disrespect is also a call for help. They are in need of something bigger than the situation at hand, and it’s up to us to provide positive choices within limits to arrive at a place where everyone wins.
In face of defiance, start with a calm voice, at your child’s level, and repeat whatever it is they are trying so desperately to communicate. Let them know that you hear them and you do understand their stance. That doesn’t mean you are willing to concede, but it does allow them that moment to feel recognized.
After you’ve identified the problem, give them space to work through their emotions. Fits of defiance are not a good time to teach a lesson, so give them the time that you, too, would need if you were upset.
Then, when the environment is calm, discuss the argument and come to an agreement. In our household, an agreement is best met when my son has choices. If I say to him, “You have two choices to solve this problem,” we are both meeting our needs for power: I get to be in control of which choices he has, and he gets to be in control over which choice he makes.
As difficult as it may feel at times, it truly is gratifying to watch a child explore their independence. I’m so proud of my son! And I trust that behind his defiance is actually a wild curiosity and zest for life from a young child eager to face the world. How can I not support that?
About the Author
Angela Tewalt is a writer, storyteller and mother to two boys. She shares parenting stories and inspiration in Guidepost Parent.
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