Are Our Kids "Defiant" or Are We Pushing Their Buttons?

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“I don't have to listen to you.”

“You are not the boss of me.”

“Why do you say ‘no’ to everything.”

“You just don’t understand.”

“Because I don't want to.”

These are but some of the everyday responses we get from our kids. The internet is inundated with “how-to’s” for dealing with what we are calling “defiant kids.” But is it true that kids are getting more and more defiant, or is it that parents are encroaching on personal space that our kids are trying to protect. Is this intrusion what makes them resistant, uncooperative, obstinate, and noncompliant?

To answer this, let’s start by exploring our innate human nature.

There are two intrinsic traits that are part of the very fabric of human existence:

1) Our desire to protect ourselves, or survive.

2) Our desire to grow, or thrive.

From the moment we are born to the moment we die, our lives are a dance between those two traits. During our children’s infancy and early years, while their physical bodies are developing, parents take the lead providing the proper care and nutrition. We shelter them from harm’s way physically, intellectually, and emotionally until they are able to start caring for themselves. That leaves kids to focus on their own emotional and intellectual growth and development. As children get older, parents start to let go and can turn over routine responsibilities to their children—from brushing teeth to changing their clothes to fixing their own meals. They learn to care for themselves and also continue to grow. By their teenage years, our children are dancing their own dance between surviving and thriving.

So how does defiance fit in? And what can we do about it?

When any one of these two innate human traits that help us survive or thrive are threatened, our kids will protect themselves and rebel by what seems to adults as being defiant or not cooperating. For example, if a 5-year-old does not like broccoli, and you’re giving ultimatums about finishing the vegetable before they’re allowed to leave the table, you are trying to manipulate their personal likes and dislikes. Taste buds are individual and personal, and forcing a child to eat something that they dislike will push them into resistance.

Or, if your curious tween cannot get off their computer because they have not found what they need for their science project, and you keep threatening them with consequences for being on the computer too long, they will certainly snap back, because you are interrupting their learning process. Now if your child is texting a friend and you spot them, find out what they’re texting about. If it’s project related, let it go. If not, remind them, kindly, to focus, or they will have to get off the computer. Multitasking online is both tempting and normal. We all do it. So before jumping to conclusions, enter their space mindfully or they will resist.

The point is that when children are being defiant, parents need to take a step back and dial into what exactly the kids are protecting. That will help you tailor your response to the situation. This is a sure-shot way to open up the doors of communication and understand each other better.

You may not think that your kid’s response is justified, but, as parents, we need to keep the dialogue open in a non-combative, open-minded and open-hearted, compassionate way—regardless of our own opinions. Our first job is not to judge but to accept and honor our children’s ability to take care of themselves and to grow. This is how they learn to be self-reliant and independent. We need to understand where they are coming from and respect their space. Respect is the true expression of the love we feel for our children.

Understanding human nature is the key to building solid relationships, and a lasting relationship with our kids tops the list for every parent. In working with our kids, it is imperative that we work with their innate nature and not against it. Otherwise, we will be raising a generation of “defiant” kids who are going to be happy to disconnect from us every chance they get.

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