Defiance: Why it happens and what to do about it (ages 3 to 4)

Defiance: Why it happens and what to do about it (ages 3 to 4)

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Why preschoolers defy their parents

Your preschooler refuses to leave his friend's house, ignores your request to put away his toys, and pushes his trucks down the stairs despite repeated reminders that's not allowed. Why is he being so defiant?

Your preschooler is less dependent on you than he was as a toddler, and he now has a stronger and more secure identity. He may even be developing a bit of a rebellious streak.

"Defiance is how a preschooler asserts himself," says Susanne Ayers Denham, a professor of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

What you can do about defiance

Be understanding. When you ask your preschooler to come in for lunch and she yells, "Not now!" and then cries when you make her come in anyway, try to put yourself in her shoes. Give her a hug and say you know it's tough to leave her friends, but lunch is ready.

The idea is to show her that instead of being part of the problem, you're actually on her side. Try not to get angry (even if you feel self-conscious in front of others). Be kind but firm about making her come in when it's time.

Set limits. Preschoolers need – and even want – limits, so set them and make sure your child knows what they are. Spell it out for him: "We don't hit. If you're angry, use your words to tell Adam you want the toy back," or "Remember, you always have to hold my hand in the parking lot."

If your child has problems abiding by the rules (as every preschooler does), work on solutions. For example, if he hits his little sister because he's feeling left out, let him help, then find a way for him to have his own special time with you. If he gets out of bed because he's afraid of the dark, give him a flashlight to keep on his nightstand.

Reinforce good behavior. Rather than paying attention to your preschooler only when she's misbehaving, try to catch her acting appropriately. A simple, "Thanks for hanging up your coat!" or "It's so helpful when you share with your baby sister!" will go a long way toward encouraging your preschooler to do more of the same.

And although you may be tempted to give your child a verbal lashing when she engages in antics that are less than desirable, think before you speak. It's important to make sure your words address the behavior and don't criticize your child as a person. ("You're so clumsy!" or "You're always getting in trouble.")

"When a child behaves badly, she already feels terrible," says Jane Nelsen, author of the Positive Discipline book series. "Where did we ever get the idea that in order to make children do better, we first have to make them feel worse?" And doing so may only produce even more negative behavior.

Also keep in mind that disciplining your preschooler doesn't mean controlling her – it means teaching her to control herself. Punishment might get her to behave in the short term, but only because she's afraid not to. It's best for your child to do the right thing because she wants to – because it makes the day more fun for her or makes her feel good.

Use time-outs – positively. When you can see your preschooler getting wound up and ready to blow a gasket because he isn't getting his way, stop the action and help him cool off. Rather than a punitive time-out at this point, take him to a comfy sofa in the den or to a favorite corner of his bedroom where he can calm down.

If it's too late to head off the unwanted behavior, give your child one warning that he's headed for a time-out if it continues – and then follow through. It's also helpful to let your child know ahead of time which specific behaviors are sure to earn a time-out. (Preschoolers will probably have to be reminded a few times before it truly sinks in.)

Your child's time-out spot should be away from other people and away from fun activities and distracting screens, but where you can keep an eye on him. It can be helpful to set a timer for the length of the time-out. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests using the child's age plus one year. So a 3-year-old would get a four-minute time-out.

Empower your preschooler. Providing opportunities for your youngster to make her own choices allows her to exercise her newfound autonomy in a controlled environment.

Instead of demanding that she put on the jeans you've chosen, for instance, let her choose between two pairs you've laid out. Ask if she'd like peas or green beans with dinner, and which of two stories at bedtime.

Another way to help your youngster feel more in control is to tell her what she can do instead of what she can't. So rather than saying, "No! Don't swing the bat in the house!" say, "Let's go outside and practice batting." If she wants an ice cream cone before dinner, tell her she can have one after the meal or offer her a more appropriate snack to tide her over until mealtime.

Choose your battles. If your fashion-forward preschooler wants to wear his green striped sweatshirt with his orange striped shorts, what's the harm? If he wants waffles for lunch and peanut butter and jelly for breakfast, does it really matter? Sometimes it's easier to look the other way when he splashes in a mud puddle on the way home, for example, or stuffs his puppet under his bed instead of putting it on the proper shelf.

Distract and divert. Avoid situations that might spark your preschooler's defiant streak. Why risk taking her to a fancy restaurant when you could just meet your sister for a picnic in the park? How realistic is it to expect her to behave in a clothing store or sit quietly during an hour-long community meeting?

If you find yourself in a tricky situation, use distraction to avoid a head-on collision with your child. If you're walking through the mall and spy a toy store that tends to send your kid into a frenzy, quickly steer her in a different direction or divert her attention. ("Wow, look at that fountain! Want to throw in a penny and make a wish?")

Respect his age and stage. When you ask your preschooler to make his bed or sweep the porch, make sure he knows how.

Take the time to teach him new tasks, and do them together until he really gets the hang of it. Sometimes what looks like defiance is simply the inability to follow through on a responsibility that's too difficult.

Finally, respect the unique world your preschooler lives in, especially the way he perceives time (or doesn't). Rather than expecting him to jump up from a game at preschool to get in the car, give him a few minutes notice to help him switch gears. ("Aaron, we're leaving in five minutes, so please finish up.")

There's no guarantee that he'll break away from his fun without complaint – he'll probably even grouse the whole way home. But as long as you're patient and consistent, your youngster will eventually learn that defiance isn't the way to get what he wants.

Learn more:

Watch the video: What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder? Child Psychology (June 2022).


  1. Ness

    you are not like the expert :)

  2. Penrod

    Blog in reader unambiguously

  3. Winslowe

    I consider, what is it very interesting theme. I suggest all to take part in discussion more actively.

  4. Wiatt

    In my opinion it is not logical

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