How to deal with a defiant toddler

The other day, I ran into my next door neighbour, a lovely lady with three adorable kids. After the first few minutes of social small talk she blurted out her immense exasperation with her two defying toddlers. She asked me, more rhetorically than literally, about what she could do, as losing her cool had not been helping the situation. Being a teacher of 20 years has equipped me with experience of handling young children, but not toddlers. What do you do when a toddler looks you in the eye and does something you have explicitly told them not to? Losing your temper is a justifiable reaction , but is it the best? This got me thinking and researching about writing this post. Read on for the best strategies to deal with a defying toddler.


WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T LOSE YOUR COOL: You guessed it, all the research shows that you must not lose your cool. As soon as you do that, it’s game over. Defiant behaviour comes down to boundary testing and gaining power. Think of it as a power game, if you lose control the power is in your toddler’s hands, look at what their behaviour can do to you. The more they continue the more you lose it and boy does that feel good, they know how to control and manipulate you.

BE THE EXAMPLE: Children look to adults to model and copy behaviour patterns. If you get angry often, then chances are that your child will do the same. Model the behaviour you want your child to have when things go wrong, or when they get upset. Teach them strategies to calm themselves down, like counting or going somewhere by themselves until they are ready to return.

SET CONSEQUENCES FOR THEIR MISBEHAVIOUR:  There should be consequences for their behaviour, for example a time out system. Give them 2 chances to correct their behaviour and then give them time out. Have them sit alone for a few minutes, it needs to be something immediate and effective. Time out should be a minute for every year of their age.

BE SYSTEMATIC: Whatever you do, be systematic. Your child will know what to expect and will stop being defiant if they reach the same time out spot again and again, without you getting angry. Do not get into a long conversation about it and expect an apology. You are teaching your child about consequences, obedience and remorse in an effective calm manner. I repeat do not lose your cool.

PRAISE GOOD BEHAVIOUR: Just as misbehaviour should have consequences, so should good behaviour.  A reward is a consequence of good behaviour. Good behaviour should be rewarded with praise, affection or extra privileges. Every time your child reacts and responds in a good way, make sure you make them aware of it and praise them. Rewarding them in such a way  encourages more good behaviour.

These strategies are closely linked to the 1-2-3 Magic. I highly recommend that all parents read this book  ‘1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12‘ by Thomas W. Phelan, as it has foolproof strategies for dealing with misbehaving children.

I hope this post helps you. Don’t forget to leave me a comment below to let me know.

Till next time…

Peppi Orfanogianni


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