“My child is constantly testing boundaries and becoming more defiant. What can I do when she throws a tantrum?”

March 13, 2018

Parenting children who are strong-willed can be challenging at times. However, taking the time to set appropriate boundaries and addressing the attitudes motivating your child’s behaviour will help to make the process easier.

The following five principles can come in handy when your child starts to test the boundaries.

1. Stay calm and confident

Being able to keep your emotions in check when the tension rises is half the battle won. Try to stay calm even when your child isn’t, and use logic and empathy to guide your child to a mutually acceptable resolution of the problem. Some phrases that can help to defuse a situation include: “I hear you,” or “I can see this is hard,” or “How would you like me to help?”

This may also mean not being embarrassed to confront unacceptable behaviour in public places or in front of others. For example, if your child throws a tantrum at the supermarket, cut the trip short by escorting your child to the car and heading home. Make it clear that they cannot accompany you on further outings until their behaviour improves.

2. Plan for common triggers in advance

Don’t wait for situations to arise before talking about the issues. For example, if your child usually has trouble waiting for his food to arrive at a restaurant, devise a plan together before mealtimes that will help him wait patiently. This strategy can help you avoid unnecessary mealtime battles.

Most strong-willed children have a high need for control and predictability. Sometimes this means planning ahead and looking at the menu options if you already know which restaurant you’re going to. Also offer age-appropriate choices so that your child gets a share of the “power” and feels like his desires and needs are being acknowledged.

3. Match disobedient behaviours with appropriate consequences

Communicate with your child on expected behaviours beforehand and also the possible consequences if he chooses to disobey. Aim for consistency in the implementation of these consequences, regardless of which parent is meting it out. Keep your cool if your strong-willed child challenges these standards, and don’t give your child an opportunity to seize control of the situation.

Read also: 6 Empowering Lessons to Teach Your Children

4. Reassure the child of your love after the confrontation

After the unaccepted behaviour is addressed and appropriate consequences meted out, it is important to take time for both parent and child to cool off. Try to hug or hold them close and reassure them of your love in spite of their misbehaviour.

This is a teachable moment – the gentler you are with your discipline, the more the relationship is strengthened and the more receptive your child will be to the correction.

5. Stay in touch with your child’s feelings

Take a step back to understand the reasons behind your child’s actions. Try to cultivate an awareness of the day-to-day happenings in your child’s life at home and at school. Think about any possible fears, anxieties and circumstances that might be driving the disobedient behaviour.

Ultimately, your child needs to know that you are genuinely concerned for their well-being and have their best interests at heart. Let them know that the reason for your discipline is not to restrict them, but to guide them with your wisdom and whole-hearted support.

Read also: 5 Ways to Help Children Identify and Express their Emotions


Written by June Yong.

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