10 Ways to Deal with a Child's Defiance and Non-Compliance

Discipline Strategies to Get Your Child to Follow Directions the First Time Ask

Non-compliance is a common behavior problem among children.
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It's like that at one point or another, every child has looked at his parents and said, "No!" when he's been told to do something. And at certain points throughout your child's development, non-compliance can be appropriate.

When your child tests limits or asserts himself, he's trying to be more independent. And while budding independence is healthy, an outright refusal to listen isn't. 

The way you respond to a child’s defiance can either increase or decrease the likelihood that he’ll behave defiantly the next time you tell him to do something.

Whether your child says, "You can't make me!” when you tell him to pick up his toys, or he simply pretends he can't hear you when you tell him it's time to come inside, take action that will motivate him to start listening better.

1. Give Daily Doses of Positive Attention

Sometimes, children misbehave in an attempt to gain a parent’s attention, even if it is negative attention. Providing a child with just a few minutes of individual attention each day can often reduce non-compliance.

2. Praise Compliant Behavior

It’s important to offer praise when you catch your child being good. Provide your child with extra opportunities to comply with simple requests for the sole purpose of being able to offer him praise.

For example, at the dinner table, ask, “Please hand me a napkin,” and as soon as he does praise him by saying, “Thanks for handing me that napkin right when I asked you to.” This will begin sending the message that you appreciate compliance.

3. Give Effective Instructions

Make sure the defiant behavior you’re witnessing is actually defiance. For example, if you yell from the kitchen to tell your child to come to the dinner table, he might not have heard you. Give effective instructions by establishing eye contact and ensuring your child understands the directions.

Sometimes children are too tuned into the TV or the activity they’re participating in to really absorb what you’re saying. Eliminate any distractions before giving them instructions. This is especially important with children who have ADHD.

4. Offer Choices

One of the best ways to combat defiant behavior is to offer two choices. For example, ask a child, “Do you want to wear the red boots or the brown shoes?” By offering a choice, defiant children get a little bit of control they crave. Just make sure you can live with either choice.

5. Grandma’s Rule of Discipline

Grandma’s rule of discipline can be one of the best ways to encourage compliance. Give your child an incentive to follow directions by saying something such as, “Pick up the toys first, then you can go play outside.” Don’t nag or ask repeatedly but instead, leave it up to your child to do what you’ve said.

6. Create a Reward System

Reward systems encourage more compliant behavior. Token economy systems can be very effective with children who tend to be defiant. They often respond well to positive reinforcement for their good behavior.

7. Behavior Contracts

Behavior contracts remind children that they can earn more privileges once they show they can behave responsibly.

Set up a behavior contract that will help your child show you when he’s ready for more privileges. For example, agree to allow him to stay up 15 minutes later after he can go to bed on time for one week without arguing.

8. Avoid Power Struggles

Avoid getting into a power struggle with a child who is non-compliant. It will only make the defiance worse. Instead, use a warning such as an if…then statement to turn the behavior around. Offer one warning only and follow through with consequences when necessary.

9. Logical Consequences

Each instance of non-compliance should be addressed with a negative consequence.

Time-out, or a logical consequence, such as a loss of privileges, can be effective ways to discourage defiance. Consistent discipline is the key to reducing defiant behavior.

10. Seek Professional Help

Although extreme defiance can signal a more serious problem, such as oppositional defiant disorder, occasional defiance and non-compliance are normal child behavior problems. If you are concerned that your child may have a more serious problem, or if your discipline strategies aren’t working, talk to your child's pediatrician.

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