March 13, 2024

The Only Effective Way to Handle your Defiant Child (& Feel Triggered Less Often).

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Frustration, guilt, and shame in the morning.

Picture this: It’s time to leave the house in the morning. Your child has been stalling while you’ve been running around trying to get everything ready. You keep giving them a countdown of how long they have until it’s time to leave and reminding them of the things they haven’t done yet, but they’re still sitting on their bed, refusing to get dressed, and their breakfast is uneaten on the table.

You go into their room and tell them, “Get dressed.”

They respond, “No.”

You, “You’d better get dressed now! It’s time to go!”

Them, “No!”

If you had talked back to your parent like that, you would have been spanked and then grounded. You’re trying to do things differently with your child because you know how much the yelling and hitting hurt you, but what are you supposed to do when your child refuses to cooperate?

You know you’re supposed to stay calm, but when your child is disrespectful and defiant like this, all the Instagram memes and scripts from the books you’ve read go out the window and you yell. You say things you regret. You don’t mean to shame them, but you’re pretty sure they are feeling shame anyway.

You feel guilty because you know how you want to parent but for some reason you just can’t do it, and then you feel your own shame because there must be something wrong with you. You’ve been working on yourself for so long now, but it seems like change just isn’t happening fast enough. Your children are getting older and at some point, will it be too late?

Calm and ease in the morning.

Now picture this: It’s time to leave the house in the morning. Your child is dressed, with shoes on. Their breakfast is packed to eat on the way. They’re calm and relaxed, and so are you. Your child didn’t explode, and neither did you.

What happened? What got you from frustration and explosion one day to calm and collected the next?

You asked the most important question you can ever ask a child who is resisting you, “Why don’t you want to…?”

This is not a made-up story. This is the actual experience of a parent who worked with me. Her name is Maria, and ever since her daughter Isabel was born, she’s been one of those children who wants to have a real say in what happens to her body.

Understanding the child’s needs makes calm and ease possible.

Maria had had the “Get dressed!” “No!” conversation many days in a row. When Maria was enrolled in my Taming Your Triggers workshop, I encouraged her to ask her child, “Why don’t you want to get dressed?”

So she did. And her Isabel said, “Because I like knowing you were the last person to touch my clothes before I leave for the day.”

Isabel had a heart-melting need for connection that of course Maria was willing to help her meet.

Maria hugged the clothes, Isabel got dressed, and they left the house—on time, and without a meltdown from either of them.

If you’re in a struggle with your child, see if you can understand what need they’re trying to meet by resisting you. Often the same needs come up over and over again (this quiz can help you to see what are your child’s most important needs), so you don’t have to guess anymore.

Once you understand the need, you can find a strategy that meets their need—and meets your need as well. Now you aren’t navigating the guilt and shame nearly as often because you’re interacting with your child in a way that’s aligned with your values—and that feels good to both of you.


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