Be Your Child’s Ally. Not Their Antagonist.
It’s such a classic scene, isn’t it?
The child in the grocery store, having a tantrum in the candy section.
Or in the toy store, throwing a fit because they can’t have that shiny, pretty thing they want.
Or at the playground, when they don’t want to go home.
It’s so common, so cliché, that this behavior has become entirely normalized.
It’s become accepted as a truth that this is simply what kids do.
“This is how they act when they can’t have their way.”
They scream. They cry. They burst out into aggressive behaviors.
In some countries and cultures, you’ll see stressed parents carrying their screaming little ones away from the temptation.
Sometimes gently. Sometimes less gently.
In other countries, parents have even less patience. Their little ones will receive a sharp reprimand. Possibly even a slap.
Because they need to learn, right? They need to learn boundaries.
That’s what kids do, right? They test your boundaries.
This reasoning breaks my heart.
Because, no, they don’t.
No, that is not what kids do.
Not by default, it isn’t.
Kids, by default, want to cooperate.
They want to explore and experience this wondrous world they’ve just entered, and they want to do it with you.
And just like any other human beings (because that’s what they are, remember?), they want to feel seen, validated, and understood as they go about this adventure and challenge called life.
When my children were young (and still to this day), I refused to consider parenting a battle for power.
It was not me against my children. It was always us against whatever frustration or obstacle they were facing.
So if my son stopped in the aisle, mesmerized by the latest Pokémon-thingy, I would stop right there with him.
I would admire it with him for as long as he wanted. That act alone, giving him that space and time, was usually enough, and he’d happily put it back on the shelf and wave bye-bye.
But sometimes, he’d be sad we couldn’t buy it. Then I would stay with him and participate in that disappointment. Oh, don’t we all hate that feeling? I would share his frustration, and I would put the problem, the obstacle, outside of us.
“It’s so annoying that we can’t just buy everything we want! Like that horse I want, you know that big yellow one. I want that horse!”
And then I’d take it a step further, preferably in absurdum.
“Darn it; I wish we could bring all the pokémons in the world with us home! I wish they could live under our beds and wake us up in the morning to feed us candy! And I want the horse to live in the kitchen! Perhaps if we get rid of the refrigerator, he’ll fit in there. Do you think that would work?”
And then I’d go:
“But what if they start pooping everywhere! And what if we loose all our teeth from eating all that candy! We’ll have no teeth, and will live in a house full of pokémon poop”, and I’d put on truly a terrified face.
And usually we’d be so into the fantasy that whatever toy caused the tears in the first place would be forgotten.
And quite often, my son would eventually become the voice of sanity, saying:
“No, mommy, we simply can’t have a horse in the kitchen! And we can’t live in a house full of poop!”
And I would have to give him right. And then we’d happily go about our day.
Of course, sometimes this wouldn’t work. He’d still be sad, perhaps because he was hungry, tired, or irritable for some other reason.
And then I’d just share that with him. I’d validate his feeling and let him know it’s ok. It’s ok, and it will pass.
“It’s ok, baby. I know you’re sad, sometimes it feels so hard when X happens. Come let me hold you while you cry”.
Because this is how I want to be treated when I’m sad.
I think it’s how most human beings want to be treated when they’re sad, frustrated, or upset.
Nobody wants to be “disciplined.”
Nobody wants to be told that “they’re spoilt”.
And, the most obvious one, nobody wants to be met by violence or aggression, in the incredibly vulnerable state that is sorrow, sadness, and anger.
And sometimes, it wouldn’t work because I was hungry, tired, or irritable for some other reason. And I failed at being the adult.
Those were the times when I would not react with empathy and support. Because I’m just human, and humans make mistakes.
But as soon as I regained my sanity. I would apologize.
And then we would hug. And we would agree that sometimes it’s just really, really hard to act nicely when you get angry.
And I mean, if we can’t always even manage it as adults. How can we possibly expect kids to be able to handle big emotions on their own?
It makes no sense.
So, no, I don’t believe in the term “defiance age.”
I think defying unempathetic treatment from the very people who are meant to guide and guard us in this world… is actually a very reasonable reaction.
More often than not, I would say that “defiance” simply is an expression of the awful feeling of not being seen and understood. Or even worse, completely misunderstood and accused of malicious intent.
So next time your kid is “defying” you and not “obeying” your rules, ask yourself what role you want to play in your children’s lives.
Do you want to be their antagonist?
Or their ally.
I know all children are different. And that some children, for many various reasons, will behave in ways that can be aggressive, harmful, and frightening both for themself and those around them. And yes, sometimes adults need to be firm. But only to provide a sense of stability, and a safe haven, for that small child who is trapped in a whirlwind of emotions.
There is no need for anger.
No need for discipline.
And there is never, ever, any need for violence.