Defiant Children? No Way!

Don't get mad, get silly! Tips for dealing with defiant kids.

Cherylyn Feierabend
5-minute read
Episode #125

My son is almost 4 and has started going through a new phase. I’m calling it the “no” phase. I do not like it. I’m going to assume that I’m not the only parent going through this and hopefully, with some research and sharing of tips, I will help all of us find a resolution, if not some sanity during this difficult period.

See also: 6 Tips for Handling a Defiant Toddler


So, basically it comes down to this: My son’s new favorite word is “no.” If I ask him to put his shoes away, he looks me right in the eye and says, “No.” I’m dumbfounded. “Put your shoes away in your room, please.” It’s not a question. It’s how we’ve always done things. He’s just decided that he doesn’t want to do it. Sometimes he’ll say, “Not right now” or “I’m working on it” (which he’s clearly not) or “No, no, no, Mommy. Later.”

This is one of those times where I keep thinking that bribes (I mean incentives) should kick in and do the trick. “If you want to get your star on your star chart tonight, you’ll need to do what Mommy says.” “No, Mommy.” So that’s how it is. His sister freaks out if she’s threatened with losing her star. My son just doesn’t care. This is proof that what works on one child doesn’t work on every child. So here are the tips I’ll be trying over the next few days.

Stop Saying No

I will stop using the word “no” in my own conversations and responses. Seems simple enough right? I’ve been trying to use it less already, but sometimes the kids ask for things that I’m not going to let them have. It’s lunchtime, no; they can’t have ice cream before lunch. So, instead of saying “no” I’ll say, “It’s lunch time right now. We’ll have lunch and talk about ice cream later.” The idea is to change the words around to make it more positive. While I am sure that he’s already heard me say “no” several times and, of course, that’s part of the reason he’s parroting it, I still think that changing my own behavior will help him change his own. Learning by example is a great way to learn when it’s a good example of how to behave.

Offer Choices and Avoid "Yes" or "No" Questions

When asking for help, instead of saying, “Put your shoes in your room” I will say, “Would you like to put your shoes away or hang or put your cup in the sink first?” Both of these are things I need him to do, so the idea is that instead of just refusing to do one of them, he’ll choose one, do it and they move on to the next.

See also: The Importance of Choice


Obviously if I have only one thing for him to do, I could give him an option of when he’d like to do it or if he’d like to do it another way. At one point he was refusing to wash his hands after a messy meal. The choice I gave him was, “Would you like to wash your hands yourself or do you want me to help you?” He said, “I’ll do it myself!” This is all I’d wanted in the first place, so that was a win for Mommy! Choices are good. Offer choices. Be aware of asking questions that have yes or no answers. When you have a child who is going through the “No” phase, asking him yes or no, will most likely end up with a negative response unless you question is, “Do you want ice cream before lunch?”


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.