Why grade-schoolers defy their parents
Reproduced directly from babycenter.com
Authored by Karen Miles
Your grade-schooler is well past the temper tantrum stage, thank goodness. But he’s not exactly obedient, either. In fact, he refuses to come in for dinner when you call him, ignores your requests to pick up his socks, and responds with a surly “what for?” when you ask him to take out the trash.
“So what’s going on here?” you wonder. “Did I mess up somewhere along the way, or is my kid just out to get me?”
Believe it or not, you’re probably doing fine. Frustrating as it is, it’s normal for grade-schoolers to test adult guidelines and expectations. At this age, “defiance is about finding a way to assert yourself,” says Susanne Ayers Denham, a professor of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
As your grade-schooler matures and learns more about the world around him, he develops his own opinions about relationships and rules (or adopts his friends’ opinions). So don’t be surprised if he tries to assert himself by defying you and your “stupid” directives. Unlike a younger child, though, your rebel-in-the-making probably won’t have a fit when you ask him to do something he dislikes. But he may pretend he didn’t hear you, or respond very s-l-o-w-l-y to your request. (“You mean, you wanted those socks picked up today?”)
What you can do about defiance
- Be understanding.
When you ask your youngster to come in for lunch and he yells, “Not now!” and then fumes when you make him come in anyway, try to put yourself in his shoes. If he’s skateboarding with his buddies, tell him you know it’s tough to leave, but lunch is ready.
The idea is to show him that instead of being part of the problem, you’re actually on his side. Try not to get angry (even if the neighbors are checking out the show your grade-schooler is putting on). Be kind but firm about making him come in when he must.
- Set limits.
Grade-schoolers need — and even want — limits, so set them and make sure your child knows what they are. Spell it out: “You’re not allowed to make phone calls without permission” or “You must come in when I call you the first time.”
If your youngster has problems abiding by the rules (as every child does), work on solutions. Talk the situation out and try to get to the bottom of your child’s defiance.
Maybe he balks at doing his homework because math is giving him trouble. In that case, perhaps a computer math game or a few math sessions with an older sibling will help. Or maybe he doesn’t like to come in when you call him because he doesn’t get enough free time outside. Once he knows that you’re working with him to solve the problem, he’s likely to tone down the defiance.
- Reinforce good behavior.
Though you may be sorely tempted to give your grade-schooler a verbal lashing when he defies you, hold your tongue. “When a child behaves badly, she already feels terrible,” says Jane Nelsen, author of the Positive Discipline series of books. “Where did we ever get the idea that in order to make children do better, we first have to make them feel worse?” In fact, doing so may only produce more negative behavior.
Instead, try to catch your child acting appropriately and encourage him to continue. Remember, disciplining your grade-schooler doesn’t mean controlling him — it means teaching him to control himself.
Punishment might incite him to behave, but only because he’s afraid not to. It’s best for your child to do the right thing because he wants to — because it makes the day more fun for him or makes him feel good.
Still, let your child know that when he breaks a rule, there will be consequences. Be specific and logical rather than punitive: “If you play with the soccer ball in the house, we’ll have to keep it in the garage.”
- Use time-out’s positively.
When your grade-schooler’s about to blow his top because he isn’t getting his way, help him cool off. Rather than a punitive time-out (“Go to your room!”), encourage him to retreat to a favorite corner of his bedroom or a comfy couch in the family room.
Maybe your child would even like to design a “calm-down place” for himself — with a big pillow, a soft blanket, and a few favorite books. If he refuses to go, offer to go with him to read or talk.
If he still refuses, go yourself — just to chill out. Not only will you set a good example, but you also might get a much-needed break. Once you both feel calmer, that’s the time to talk about appropriate behavior.
- Empower your grade-schooler.
Try to provide opportunities for your youngster to strut some of his cherished independence. Let him choose his own clothes (as long as they’re reasonably clean and free of holes and stains). Ask him to pick tonight’s vegetable from a choice of three, or settle on a Batman or a dinosaur binder for his schoolwork. “This kind of involvement doesn’t mean your grade-schooler is running the show,” says Nelson, “it just shows that you respect him and his needs.”
Another way to help your child feel more in control is to tell him what he can do instead of what he can’t. Rather than saying, “No! Don’t swing that bat in the house!” say, “Practice swinging in the yard, Jake.” Your child is old enough to understand explanations now, too, so tell him why indoor batting practice is ill-advised.
- Choose your battles.
If your fashion-savvy grade-schooler wants to wear a camouflage T-shirt with striped shorts, what do you care? If he wants waffles for lunch and peanut butter and jelly for breakfast, what’s the harm? Sometimes it’s easier just to look the other way — when he fails to comb his hair, for example, or stores his clean laundry under the bed instead of putting it in the proper drawer.
Avoid situations that might spark your child’s defiant streak. If a particular friend seems to be pushing his buttons lately, invite a different playmate over for a while. If he hates to see people pawing his PokÈmon collection, put it away before his cousins visit.
If you happen to find yourself in a tricky situation, though, try to meet your grade-schooler in the middle: “You can’t chase Aunt Sarah’s cat around, but maybe you can fill his food bowl.” It’s not 100 percent foolproof, but it’s worth a try.
- Respect his age and stage.
When you ask your grade-schooler to make his bed or clean the bathroom, make sure he knows how. Try to take 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 an inability to follow through on a responsibility that’s too difficult.
Finally, respect the unique world your grade-schooler lives in. Rather than expecting him to happily jump up from a game he’s winning to come set the table, give him a few minutes’ notice to help him switch gears. (“Zeke, we’ll be eating in five minutes, so please finish up and set the table.”)
He probably won’t be overjoyed about having to leave the fun to fool around with forks — in fact, he’s likely to grumble all the while. 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.