Proverbs 22:6 English Standard Version (ESV)
6 Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.
I am certain that this post is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. For a long time, there have been preconceived thoughts on childhood defiance and a whole lot of punishment directed towards it. Most of these are founded in our pride and fear, not in our love. When a child back talks us, it causes us to scramble for control by any means necessary. Many times, this leads to a punishment that is inappropriate and often detrimental to the parent and child relationship.
First, I was to say what doesn’t work in resolving defiance and that is punishment and fear. Neither of these is Christ like. Neither of these is the way that God punishes us. Above all, these cause the wrong part of the brain to be become active when it comes to our children learning a lesson. Our brains are hardwired to avoid painful and stressful items, and when your parent is punishing you, it is both. Children often forget what lead to the punishment and focus solely on the punishment itself. This doesn’t lead to true change, rather better hiding the unwanted behavior.
Defiance is an action that is nearly always spurred out of fear, and that fear doesn’t always make sense, but it is always real and needs to be treated as such. When kids get defiant with me, and this happens often, the first thing I do is ask why. Why is this child not listening to me? Most of the time it is because what I am asking is above the child’s ability or they are genuinely afraid of something. Picture this you see a kid screaming about having to put something back in the store. They yell, “but I want it, you never buy me anything, I hate you.” The parent continues to get angrier, and then ends up either spanking the child or grounding them for an extended period. This hasn’t caused any change to happen in the child.
How to change this is to implement two skills validation and empathy. These two promote connection, which leads to obedience and an adult who can handle life’s stressors. When your child asks for something in the store genuinely state that it’s a cool item, and you wish you could pick it up for them. Next explain honestly why you can’t buy it. (This is why it is awesome for your kids to have an allowance, it teaches money management.) Finally show empathy. What may seem like a stupid gadget to you is truly the end of the world for your child. You want to validate them, by that I mean say something like, “I know you want that toy. I think it is pretty cool too, but right now I don’t have the ability to buy it.” If they said something hurtful towards you, address that later at home by saying, “When you said I hate you, it really hurt my feelings. I love you a lot and it hurts when someone says they hate you. I also know you were upset. I hope you didn’t mean what you said.” This is showing your child, at an appropriate time, how to resolve conflict, take ownership, and move past the action.
Consequence is the final piece of the puzzle, and I am going to say this, if you are having validating conversation, and are showing genuine empathy, you might not need to instill consequences. Much of what we learn is through communication not consequence, though consequence can be important. In this instance an appropriate consequence could be the child losing store privileges or perhaps a letter on why not to say hurtful things. When you are back in the store praise appropriate behavior, and when they are slipping up say hey that’s not how we act before giving any threats or punishments.
I am not saying to let your kids walk all over you, and to never have consequences for misbehavior. Logical consequences need to happen, but so often we inflict punishment that doesn’t meet the crime. Childhood mentality is so much different than adult. They don’t defy to hurt their parents, but rather because they are afraid of something.
1 John 4:18 English Standard Version (ESV)
18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
For further reading I highly recommend the book Beyond Consequences. My first readings on defiance came from this book and it is a wonderful place to start. It is based on 1 John 4:18. Much of my writing comes from experience working with defiant kids daily, and reading books like Beyond Consequences. I am not an expert but have seen quite a bit. I hope that you enjoyed this entry, and if you have questions please ask me! I am more than happy to share.