The Defiant Child

Helping your children transform their undirected defiance

Posted Nov 24, 2014

I come from a family of teachers, and I believe ideas matter;
the good ones deserve reverence, and the bad ones, defiance.
Nancy Gibbs

Your son won’t put his socks on, or you daughter refuses to go to school today. It is an act of defiance. But is it low emotional intelligence? Actually, on the contrary. The act of defiance is displaying an inordinately high level of emotional intelligence --- your children are actually listening to their inner wisdom. Instead of walking lockstep with all the other “cookie cutter kids” they are saying, “This doesn’t work for me.” It takes courage to stand up for what they feel inside. So how can we help our boys and girls that display defiance?

The Upside

Understanding the upside to defiance is helpful, too. Some of our greatest leaders listened to their inner wisdom like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, which was in contrast to what the world was commonly thinking at the time. So defiance can be very positive to correct injustices and to lead change. Of course, the challenge is that our highly sensitive and intense children aren’t yet leading social change (most likely). But they are patterned to be leaders so helping them begin to harness their fierceness for good is important.   

It starts with teaching them how to marry their highly responsive energy with mental intelligence. Currently, they are singularly responding from their emotions and it often comes out unskillfully (i.e. yelling, slamming doors, refusing to do things). So some of the things these children need from you include:

  • Listening to them
  • Giving them Choices
  • Co-creating solutions

When your child says, “Mom, I don’t want to go to the dentist” then it gives you an opportunity to work with them. But what if you respond, “It doesn’t matter. Put your shoes on and we are going!” Oftentimes, these old-school parenting responses escalate a situation versus de-escalate it. So listening to what’s really happening, helping your son or daughter navigate a tricky situation for them, and guiding them to a suitable solution is needed.

Of course, I realize there are some non-negotiable things like brushing your teeth, changing your underwear and going to school (most days). But there is a big wide open space to create solutions and help them feel heard as well as honored as they learn to navigate our world, which doesn’t always make sense to them.

The Truth

Defiant children look challenging, uncooperative and difficult from the outside. The truth is they couldn’t be any sweeter oftentimes. They are misunderstood. What some say is low emotional intelligence is actually them acutely listening to their inner feelings but without skill in how to let them out into the world. With some guidance and mentoring these defiant children can learn how to focus, deliberately use their intensity and make this world a better place. And isn’t that a worthy goal?

By Maureen Healy
© 2014

Maureen Healy is an award-winning author, popular speaker and expert working with highly sensitive children (and their parents) globally. Her books include: Growing Happy Kids, The Energetic Keys to Indigo Kids (about sensitive and stubborn children) and a forthcoming book about sensitivity.

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