Doing These Two Things Can Make Your Child Become Defiant

Identifying causes of children's defiant behavior

Posted May 14, 2014

We all make our share of mistakes given the challenges of parenting. While it is best to try to avoid negaitve parenting behaviors, some behaviors are more destructive to your relationship with your child, and more likely to foster defiant behavior, than others. Here are two to avoid:

Yelling and hitting. Nothing fuels defiant behavior like yelling and hitting. When you yell and hit you are showing poor impulse control delivered through a temper tantrum. What kind of life lesson is that to teach? To be sure, most of us have yelled. I have yelled at my kids and even grabbed them in a few past isolated incidents. I am not proud of this, and I encourage you to realize as I did that we are bullying our children when we yell at or hit them. While it may feel as if you have succeeded in getting them to stop their offensive behaviors, it’s a short-term fix and you’ve really just succeeded in increasing their defiant and aggressive behavior for the long term. More than hitting, yelling is a very pervasive parenting problem.

To avoid yelling or hitting take deep breaths, think about the negative energy you are modeling to your child, and remind yourself how such actions destroy trust. You can also try picturing youself looking down from the ceiling when your child is difficult. By watching your interaction from above, you will have a healthier perspective and will be less reactive.

Criticizing. If you find yourself criticizing your child, please stop. Criticism means making negative comments about your child’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, and/or who they are themselves. Children often see such criticisms as put-downs. Put-downs include name calling, ridiculing, judging, and blaming. They really hurt children—it’s just that simple. Put-downs are detrimental to effective communication, and they will damage your child’s self-esteem. Children who are put down by their parents often feel rejected, unloved, and inadequate.

You should certainly give constructive feedback on your child’s behavior, or something he has done, but don’t criticize the child himself. Use empathy to remind yourself of your child's struggles and to be supportive in how you discuss concerns.


Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over twenty years experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared on the The Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS eyewitness news Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child(Perseus Books, 2006) and 10 Days to Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007).