By Bob Lancer

Have you encountered a child who routinely seems to deliberately overstep boundaries even when doing so could prove harmful to herself and to others; who seems to recognize but then ignore or deny the feelings of others as he intentionally relates to them in ways they find offensive and disrespectful; who routinely and seemingly deliberately demonstrates disrespect for the orderly conditions of her environment by creating messes for no other reason than to create the mess and then running off to leave her mess for others to deal with? The child who displays such conduct is often labeled “defiant” as he intentionally spreads chaos into his surroundings, uncontrollably and repeatedly disrupts harmonious peace and quiet with loud and wild screaming, who lies and sneaks things that are forbidden to him (before the age of 6!).

This pattern often begins to show itself when children demonstrate a stubborn resistance to potty training and bowel movements. It shows itself in particularly unruly toddlers who seem to run off into danger and tantrum multiple times daily. It becomes quite clear by the age of 4, when the child has obviously demonstrated the power to know better, but appears to lack the self-restraint to actually do better.

The parents of such children rarely take responsibility for the problem (modeling for their child not taking responsibility for the problems she poses to others), usually blaming it on the child’s own intrinsic disposition or regarding it as “normal and natural”.

They typically regard the parents of children who demonstrate more considerate and cooperative behavior as “lucky”, and they often express the arrogant attitude that they are too smart to gain anything from reading books or attending seminars on parenting, child behavior or child development, while it can be observed that they expose their child to too much parental anger and immature adult defiance and rebelliousness (in other words, the “defiant” behavior is modeled); they provide too little deep emotional connection and understanding of the child; they permit the child to run wild with too little parental observation, involvement and supervision; they regularly place the child in the position of being over-tired; they leave the child with too many others too often and for too long of a period; they impatiently dish out too much harsh physical  and verbal correction; they generally neglect the child emotionally due to the parent’s own unexamined emotional blockages; they generally relate with the child as a part of themselves (ie: possessively) rather than as a unique individual with particular needs; and they too often place their desire (or addiction) for superficial self-gratification over the child’s deeper need for truly involved and aware parenting.

Sadly, these children are often headed for far more serious trouble as they mature and grow more powerful, and often toward medication as the parents seek someone to “fix” the child as they continue relying on their broken or “old school” parenting patterns.

But there is hope.  As the parents and caregivers of these children do seek and find some deep insight into the actual causes and solutions to the problem of “defiance”, and gain clarity as to the distinction between healthy, acceptable defiance and unhealthy, destructive defiance, and how to deal with both, the situation can turn around.  It is never too late to help a child into more healthy, loving and responsible self-development. It really comes down to little more than the parent or caretaker accepting their responsibility for the results they are getting (or not getting) with the “defiant” child.