Stop Defiant Behavior in Young Children by Role Modeling

Posted May 25, 2016 by

Stop Defiant Behavior in Young Children by Role Modeling

I saw the most amazing thing on the playground the other day: a little girl wanted her dad to help make a little boy share the slide, and dad…refused to help.

Before I get into that, though, let me tell you about the little boy.

He was being bratty, standing on the slide, not letting anyone else use it. If another child came near the slide, he screeched and yelled, “No!

He threw several mini-tantrums, laughing like this was the funniest thing ever.

Has this ever happened to you?

Few situations are more difficult to deal with than having a child who is aggressive (verbally or physically) toward other children. While it’s not uncommon behavior, it can be embarrassing and frightening when your child screams, hits, scratches or kicks to get his or her way. Sometimes, like in this young boy’s case, a child might think he’s “playing” when his behaviors are anything but playful.

The interchange on the playground went on for a few minutes, and the little boy’s mother watched as the dad and daughter worked through the problem. “Daddy, please make that boy share,” the little girl asked.

I loved Dad’s response:

“No. You can do this. Please go ask him to share with you.”

She walked over to the slide and asked the boy to share. Again, he declined. The girl went back to her father.

“He said ‘no.’ Will you tell him to share?”

Once more, Dad said no. “It’s hard when kids won’t share. Would you like to ask him again?”

The little girl went back to the bottom of the slide and looked up at the boy. “I would like to use the slide, too. Please share with me.”

At this point, the boy looked at his mom. “This little girl is asking to share,” she said. “We’ve talked about how we share. What needs to happen here?”

After a few seconds of hesitation the little boy dropped to his bottom, turned and crawled back up the slide, letting the little girl have her turn.

It worked!

I love this interchange because it demonstrates so much of what we talk about on Empowering Parents: act as a coach for your child, model appropriate behavior, and remain calm and cool in the face of tantrums.

Oftentimes, this approach is easier said than done. Not this time.

Do you struggle with aggressive, bratty behaviors in your younger child? If so, you’re definitely not alone. In the article below, Dr. Joan writes about how to help your child deal with stressful situations – including the behavior problems of other kids! And as always, we’re here to help.

Related: Defiant Young Children and Toddlers: 5 Things Not to Do


Becky Staples has worked with children and families in a variety of settings including schools, homes, and community agencies. She has a degree in Education and Child Study from Smith College and her Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Becky has been working with Empowering Parents families since 2008.

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  1. Grace05 Report

    I realise now just how judgemental i was of other parents and their parenting skills.  My youngest of three girls is different and I struggle every day with her.  I never judge an other parent now, as i am not in her/his shoes and do not know if their screaming child has kept them awake all night and had tantrums for the last week from morning until night.  The parent in the playground of the non sharing child may be at the end of her tether.  I also say this to my children when someone is rude or unkind.  You don’t know their situation.  You can only change how you react to it.  The parent of the child who wanted to use the slide may have a ‘normal’ child and may never have experienced the type of trauma, upset, raw edge nerves, that comes with a child that doesn’t react in the normal way.

  2. dramitbang Report

    children’s good behavior and misbehavior Depend on Good Parenting.  And the  right way to Reward good behavior. Praise your child and give extra attention when he or she does something right. Give a reward for good behavior. get to keep and collect lots of good memories.

  3. AngelaUrquhart Report

    Pff this is a great example in ideal circumstances but not if the parent is half of the problem or not there at all.

  4. Katrina Report

    I have a 9 yeT old boy that is always angry and is always yelling hitting , feeling it is ok and never wants to talk about it only screen and say it don’t work on me don’t touch me I dont like mean parents . Help

  5. rwolfenden Report

    It can be difficult
    when it feels as though your child wants to argue with you about everything,
    and is not following directions or meeting her responsibilities. For some young
    children, being placed in another room away from a parent or caregiver can
    create tremendous anxiety, and can cause the behavior to escalate even
    more.  In addition, I do not recommend locking your child in another room
    when she is acting out because it is not teaching your daughter how to manage
    her emotions in a more appropriate way.  Instead, you might try using some
    of the strategies that Dr. Joan Simeo Munson outlines in her article, 
    Thank you for writing in.  Please be sure to let us know if you have any
    additional questions; take care.

  6. ShannonL15 Report

    My son is having problems dealing with germs.. Feeling like things are dirty. He sometimes refuses to eat, or wear or do certain things if he feels peple have come too close to him. He screams and yells at everyone. Somedays he is good for the most part and has no issues… Some days are bad and everything sets him off. It is causing great frustration and stress in our household… I dont know how to help him, it feels like nothing we do is right. I dont think he wants to be like this, but he doesnt know how to stop either.

    • rwolfenden Report

      I can understand how you might be feeling stressed and
      frustrated with your son’s behavior.  Something that might be useful is to
      talk with your son during a calm time about what you are observing, and helping
      him to develop more when he is stressed or anxious.  In addition, you might
      check in with your son’s doctor about your concerns.  S/he would be able
      to assess your son and rule out any underlying issues which might be
      contributing to the behavior you are seeing. Thank you for writing in. 
      Take care.

  7. Devastated Mom Report

    Even though my son has been diagnosed with Manic Depression & Oppositional Defiant a Disorder., I’m still trying to model good behavior, despite his mental inability to comprehend. How do I handle his flagrant disobedience when everything I’ve tried (explaining, lecturing, taking away privileges, rewarding good behavior & unfortunately when @ the end of my rope, yelling) hasn’t worked? Most if not all the problems could be taken care of if he stayed on his meds but he’s in denial (very common) that he has any mental problems so he refuses to take them. To make matters worse he’s on 2 additional prescription meds to handle the side affects of his main meds since they are VERY heavy duty & turn him into a “ghost” as he put it-meaning he’s physically here but not mentally. No wonder psychiatric patients the world over refuse to take these awful, horrible heavy duty meds since their side affects are so profound & intolerable & as bad as the condition itself!!! They have to take additional meds to handle the side affects, which have their OWN side affects!!! Have done a lot of research & discovered his problem is from a vitamin B deficiency, specifically Niacin, that a few doctors are having tremendous good results with large, therapeutic doses of Niacin even though it’s not a cure & must be taken daily for life. Again have the problem of getting him to take any pills. I learned that mental illness is exploding larger than ever the world over & is probably because the food eaten the world over is grown in depleted soil & MOST people with mental disorders have a higher than average need for good nutrition!!! Please help me & many others with this terrible problem.
    Devastated Mom

  8. Drowning Mom Report

    Just wondering how to handle my 14 yr old son… He’s not completing, or maybe not turning in his class work. He’s an AIG student, has high 90s, to 100s as his grades, until he decides not to turn his work in. I’ve went as far as taking his phone away, his Xbox, and he won’t be allowed to hangout with friends until he turns in, or completes the work. He’s going to be starting high school in the fall and he’s going to be taking college prep classes. Knowing that this needs to stop, what else can I do?

  9. MelNewman Report

    HI I have seen this happen before and been in a similar situation.
    Most of the time, my daughter is good and waits patiently, saying “Excuse me” or sometimes “Excuse, watch out, I’d like to go down now please!”
    There was one time my daughter was in a playground with only two other children -a brother and sister. The other girl (younger than my daughter) blocked my daughters way and hit my daughter, laughing, screaming in a very loud and shrill way. My daughter doesn’t like loud noise and asked her to be a bit more quiet and please let her through. Again my daughter was hit -quite hard- in the face.
    My daughter cried, but asked again if she could go through and use the slide – she’d been waiting a fair time by then. Again the girl hit her and screamed.
    I stepped in, asked the girl politely not to hit, but to share! She screamed “NO!”
    My daughter got down in tears and, as we were about to go home anyway, packed up to leave. I asked my daughter to go back and play somewhere else instead, but she didn’t want to.
    The girls mother saw my daughter walking away in tears, ran up to my daughter and gave her a lolly, but did nothing to stop her daughter from blocking the way or hitting.
    The girls mother asked me to go and tell her not to hit. 
    I felt that it should have been the mothers responsibility and just briefly looked at her, wondering what to say next. She looked at me again and just smiled, rubbed my daughters cheek and said “Ooouch, sorry.”
    I accepted her apology, but felt it right that the little girl who hit should apologise, not the mother! My daughter said the same thing through her tears. We went home, with great regret that day.
    I wished I’d have stayed and really thought about what I could have done to help my daughter get through this.
    I however, also am in two minds about it all: I was brought up in a way where we just had to learn to “toughen up” and “get over” perceived unjust/unfair things. A little hit happens sometimes – kids do that. Its only little. “We shouldn’t ever wrap our kids in cotton wool”, “gotta bring them up a bit tough.”  that kind of thing went through my head as i went home.
    What are your thoughts on this situation?  What could I have done better? Id like to know if I was wrong!
    All comments accepted 😀

  10. Alice Marie Report

    I work with several students at school with ADHD, ODD, and a few various psychiatric diagnoses, too (i.e. depression, anxiety, Bipolar Disorder).  It really upsets me when kids are very oppositional, defiant, and disrespectful to me.  It is also scary as I’m not sure how far some of the students will go.  Any suggestions?  P.S. I’m a speech pathologist

    • dextina2 Report

      Hello Alice Marie, when working with any child you can not be scared because all of them can smell it a mile away. Believe in your program and if a child makes you feel discomforts, or you don’t feel safe then ask administration to have someone in there with you. Get to know the ones that you feel unsafe with. Find a way to go in the classroom and interact with them, there likes and dislikes….. I think you know where I am headed.

  11. Twins mommy Report

    Awesome that the little girl showed a sense of being a self advocate. My question while reading this was ” where was the boy’s mother who was hogging the slide and acting so inappropriately? ”
    It was her job not to continue to let this behavior go on. Children look to parents for instruction and guidance.

    • Victoria Allbritton Report

      I dint keep cash in my purse i use only debit cards to prevent that problem he has to earn spending money

    • dextina2 Report

      Hello Mi73, not that you are for sure the teenager is stealing. Find out why the stealing is taken place if they totally deny the stealing, have a move night that shows people stealing and what happens to them. I am sure you can find documentary on YouTube. I hope this help.

  12. Victoria Allbritton Report

    My son who is 8 autism and ahhd thew a fit and hit his face because he wabted mm candy i said dont hurt yourself that looks bad mommy loves you it broke my heart to see that i didnt buy the mm candy and said next time lets be nice no hurt and we wikk get candy and he was fine

    • Susan LMFT Report

      It’s great that you didn’t buy the candy when he had the tantrum and hit himself because that would’ve reinforced and rewarded his tantrum so he would use that same tactic in the future to get his way. Never give in to tantrums or bad behavior. Great job mom!

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