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All you need to know about tackling difficult children with defiant attitudes

Team StoryWeavers|June 21, 2022, 17:12 IST|

tackling difficult children with defiant attitudes

Do you know a child or even an adult who is difficult to deal with – be it as a parent, teacher, relative, or a friend? Being labelled as ‘difficult’ is hard, especially for children and adults alike. Today, we are going to explore what everyone needs to know about how to handle difficult children. 

Things everyone needs to know about difficult children

A book by Ann R. Sutton, Parenting A Defiant Child: How to Train Difficult Children and Control Kids with Intense Emotions, lists down four things that can be identified in a defiant child. It should be noted that some level of defiance is perfectly normal, as children tend to explore their newfound independence by testing the limits of the people around them, mostly parents. 

The four identifiers in difficult children are as follows:

  • The child is likely to provoke others frequently without any evident reason. 
  • The child might tend to intentionally disobey those in positions of authority, such as parents.
  • The child tries to pick up fights with siblings regularly. 
  • The child has a tendency to throw tantrums when things don’t go their way. 

Questions that parents must ask themselves about their child’s defiance

Russell A. Barkley and Christine M. Benton’s book, Your Defiant Child, First Edition Eight Steps to Better Behaviour, lists three questions that parents need to ask themselves about their child’s defiant behaviour. Dr Barkley is a clinical psychologist who is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the VCU Medical Center.  Following are guiding questions that will help you understand the causes of defiant or difficult behaviour:

  • Think of a typical confrontation with a child and ask yourself: What do you think makes your child refuse your parental requests on some occasions? What do you think is motivating the child to act this way? What do you think the child is expecting to happen by acting this way?
  • Explore different influences that might be enabling such behaviour.
  • Think about how long the child’s behaviour has been non-compliant with your parental requests. Try to trace it back to the origin or, in other words, the first instance. 

Tips for parents to deal with defiant behaviour

A book, Positive Discipline: A Teacher’s A-Z Guide, by Dr Jane Nelsen, lists a few strategies that can help teachers deal with defiant children. These tips will also be helpful for parents. They are as follows: 

  • Reflect upon your behaviour, as defiance is often a response to excessive control by authority figures such as parents or teachers.
  • Validate the child’s emotions and ask questions to understand the reason for the defiance. For example: ‘Could it be that you are angry because we did not give you the extra time to play?’
  • Do not ignore the behaviour, and address it openly with kindness and firmness. Give limited choices and allow the child to choose. It will help them feel like a part of the decision-making process. For example: ‘Would you rather do a maths worksheet or go over the multiplication tables?’

Children are less likely to engage in difficult or defiant behaviour when they are invited to give their inputs and feel like they are a part of the process. Parents should give clearer instructions and set effective boundaries to increase the likelihood of desired behaviour. As always, be patient and consistent, and you will see that your child is finding it easier to follow through with your parental requests.

Did you find this article helpful? What do you do when your child engages in difficult behaviour? Let us know in the comments below. 

Also read, 


  • Parenting A Defiant Child: How to Train Difficult Children and Control Kids with Intense Emotions. (n.d.). (n.p.): ZeroNever.
  • Benton, C. M., Barkley, R. A. (2011). Your Defiant Child, First Edition: Eight Steps to Better Behavior. United States: Guilford Publications.
  • Duffy, R. A., Owen-Sohocki, D., Nelsen, J., Ortolano, K., Escobar, L. (2009). Positive Discipline: A Teacher’s A-Z Guide: Hundreds of Solutions for Almost Every Classroom Behavior Problem!. United States: Harmony/Rodale.

About the Author

“Me-kha-la!” That happens at least once when she introduces herself to new people. She wholeheartedly believes in the quote by Arthur Rubinstein that says – “if you love life, life will love you back”. She is an organizational psychologist and psychometrician. She was a class teacher of 36 adorable girls for two years, grades 2 & 3, as a part of the Teach For India Fellowship. These little girls have a special place in her heart, and when she writes for children, she writes for them!

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