Hi everyone…I’ve seen some of this week’s behavior this past week in a few different places, so I thought I would share some ideas and insight into this behavior.

What behavior do you see?

This week’s behavior is defiance.  This behavior looks similar no matter whether it is in the home, classroom, or community setting.

What is defiance? states that defiance is: a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force; open disregard.

What happens? 
“When children are defiant, their goal is not to annoy, disrespect, or frustrate us. Rather, their goal often is to feel significant. Yet their defiance threatens our own similar need. As we both strive to feel significant, we can easily get enmeshed in a power struggle. How do you know you’re in a power struggle? You feel as if you’re being tested (which you are), and you get angry or irritated. You may even want to dominate the child to prove you’re the boss. But teachers never win power struggles. Once you’re in one, you’ve lost. And so has the child: No one wins a power struggle.” (The Responsive Classroom, 2015)

What can you do about it? 

The following information is taken directly from The Responsive Classroom site.

De-escalating Defiance

When a child is being defiant, you need above all to keep her (and her classmates) safe while giving her a chance to cool down. These general guidelines will help you and the child navigate episodes of defiance:

  • Avoid doing anything that will heighten the child’s stress and invite more resistance. Simply put: Don’t push her buttons.
  • Don’t try to reason or make an emotional appeal to win the child over. While in the midst of defiance, he will likely be unable to respond to you in a positive way.
  • Slow down. Waiting a few seconds (if safety allows) before you say or do anything lets the child regain her ability to cooperate and also lets you assess the situation calmly and objectively.
  • After an incident, reflect on what preceded it. Eventually, you’ll begin to recognize the situations that set off the child’s defiance (such as unexpected schedule changes) as well as the signs that he’s becoming uncomfortable (such as opening and closing his fists or avoiding eye contact).

Following are some specific steps you can take to guide a child past active defiance.

Intervene Early—With a Respectful Reminder or Redirection

When you first see signs that a child may become defiant, respond as soon as you can with respectful reminders or redirections. If you wait until a child has dug in his heels, he will likely be less able to respond rationally to your directions.

Students who have difficulty cooperating can be especially sensitive to being ordered around. Remember to:

  • Be brief. Avoid lectures and sarcasm.
  • Speak calmly and matter-of-factly.
  • Use short, direct statements.
  • Avoid questions (unless you will accept any answer).
  • Keep your body language neutral.

For example, to a child who’s challenging directions by standing up and yell­ing, you might quietly say, “Andre, take a seat. You can read or draw for now.”

When Using Consequences, Offer Limited Choices

Once a child has become defiant, you may decide to use consequences. Remember, though, that children who struggle with defiance are often seeking power. Offering a choice between a couple of consequences (instead of giving a “do this” order) lets the child hold on to her sense of significance and dignity and teaches her (and the class) that she’s still being held accountable for her behavior. For example, when Anna refuses to move during a transition, you might say, “Anna, either you can come with us now, or I can have [name colleague] come sit with you. Which do you choose?”

Avoid Negotiating in the Moment

Once a child has defied you, decide on a redirection or consequence and remain firm in your decision. Negotiating during the incident will invite further testing. It also sends the message that children can avoid a redirection or consequence by resisting.

If you do find yourself in a power struggle, take a deep breath and disengage. Let the child (and the whole class, if watching) know that you’re finished talking for now and will address the issue after the child calms down. For instance: “Max, we’re done talking about that for now. Everyone, get your writing journals out and start on your stories from yesterday.”

Give the Child Time and Space

Once you’ve given a reminder, redirection, or consequence, be sure the child follows it. But physically step back to give him more space—literally and emotionally. Doing so lessens the sense that you’re trying to control him. But don’t expect immediate compliance. A child who struggles to follow directions often needs a minute or two to decide what to do. If you insist on immediacy, he may automatically resist.

Who is the target student? 

Defiance can be exhibited by all ages, but our target ages for the purposes of this article is toddler to 18.


I look forward to your thoughts, comments, and questions. 🙂 Cindy


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