Saturday, January 12, 2013

Is Your Child Defiant?

People keep asking me if my son is "acting defiant yet". He is fifteen months old. Standard American Parents have been told that at this age their children will start displaying "defiant behaviors," hence why people keep asking me this.

I haven't been able to answer this question because the idea of defiance makes no sense to me. I don't think about my son's behavior in this way. In order to "be defiant" one must live in a world of control, power and authority. I don't live there.

Here is where I live:

My son has a point of view. His point of view is valid. His desire to keep playing rather than change his diaper is valid. He is not "defiant" when he lets me know that he doesn't want to change his diaper right now. Or, to say it another way, he is not "defiant" when he does not want to do what I want him to do. I am not an authority figure that he must obey. He is not "good" when he obeys me and "bad" when he defies me as the "is he defiant yet?" question implies.

People ask me, "Do you just let your son do whatever he wants then?!"

Again, "let him do" is another phrase from the control paradigm. I don't live there. My son and I have a relationship. I respect him and I don't allow him to disrespect me. All relationships have boundaries and... so does ours. Most of the time our relationship boundaries are effortlessly respected (toddlers who have been treated with respect are actually quite respectful little people). About once a week or so we will run into a situation where one of us is doing something that bothers the other--perhaps he wants to throw beans on the floor and I don't want him to or I want to leave the park and he doesn't want to--at which point I think some version of: "This is what I want. This is what he wants. We don't want the same thing. What can we do to get both of our needs met in this situation?" No one is "defying" anyone. We are just two people trying to get our needs met.

Every now and then I force my son to do something he does not want to do--perhaps change a diaper, perhaps get in the car and go somewhere. When this happens I don't lie about it or hide the reality of the situation from him: when I pick him up and put him in his car seat, he was forced to do something against his will by the bigger, stronger person. We both know it. If he struggles and cries while I strap him in, he is not being defiant. He is rightfully expressing his indignation and frustration with being forced. It is me who needs to apologize, not him.

The rare occasions where I have chosen to use force against my toddler have always been due to a failure in planning on my part. Given proper time to make the decision, adjust to a change in activity and connect with me, I don't think I would have ever used force against my son (and by using force I mean forcing him into his car seat or forcing him to change a poopy diaper, that is the extent that he has ever been forced to do something against his will).

For great reading on this subject, check out:
1,2,3... The Toddler Years: A practical Guide for Parents & Caregivers
Tears and Tantrums: What to do When Babies and Children Cry


  1. A powerful paradigm for re-examining the parent-child relationship!

    -The LGF

  2. I am a preschool teacher who teaches in this way. I often have friends and families ask me for advice and I always start out by telling them that if their goal is to get their kids to listen to them, nothing I say will make sense to them. I once told a set of parents, "Why do we treat children any different than we do each other? Why can't we allow them to think for themselves?" They looked at me dumbfounded and responded, "Because they're kids and they don't know how to think for themselves." Sad that people really don't know anything about children or how much they are capable of.

    1. So glad to hear there are preschool teachers like you out there!