Discipline In Light of Defiance

Ask Kytka Archives: April 12, 2002

Q.  “I need advice on how to handle complete defiance…for example, my 4 yr. old just looks at me and says, “No.” with a grin on his face when I ask him to do something. If I start to help him, he’ll just roll around on the floor or run out of the room and refuse to help. It’s very frustrating. I like the idea from Beyond the Rainbow Bridge of using the word “may” when asking the child to do something. (“You may pick up your shoes.”) Do you have any good advice on discipline?”

A.  I believe that a steady rhythm completely solves the “need” for discipline. When things are the same every day, there is no other option. It eventually comes to be expected that after we play, we clean up… no arguments. It is when each task is made part of a whole, a cycle, that it just becomes natural to complete the cycle. To me it’s like washing hands. Everyone dries their hands after washing. Although not really necessary, although not actually a part of washing… it is done so often that it has become a part of washing. (just a thought)

Also, asking a child that age anything, you are likely to get a defiant answer. I think leading a child into the task will get you much further… especially if you start the fun little “now I will wash my hands” song… that invites the child to join in, and at this age, they


LOVE this. (And if they are having a defiant day in general, and opt to sit it out, it may be best today…. they may be struggling with something, not feeling well, just wanting to watch to get the rhythm down, etc…) The key is to have SET BOUNDARIES in place. Of course, they must remain flexible enough to no interfere with his need to experience life! Of course, there are also certain times when a parent must say a firm “No” and stick to it, for example, running into the street.

In my own experience, all three of my own children listen. I do not try to rationalize and offer great explanations and scientific facts and statistics: I give them a simple yes or no and there is no other option. I think that parents of our generation have mistaken parental authority for abuse and that it’s okay to give the child a “no, because I’m the mommy and I said so” type of response. There should never be negotiations with a young child. A young child doesn’t know the answers and is counting on you to lead the way, set the example and guide him.

I had a mother, father and child (approx. 4 years old) come to look at our house recently. I was writing in my office and suddenly I heard the loudest, most blood curdling screams I have never heard before. I jumped from my chair in a complete panic and discovered that these people had been sent by the realtor to look at our home. It turned out that the boy did not want to come inside. His father suggested the mother look at our home while he and the son waited out in our yard. That was not acceptable to little Jonathan. His mother suggested he and daddy wait in the car listening to music. That was not acceptable to Jonathan. No matter how they tried to coerce him into settling down and being quiet, nothing worked.

He continued to wail and scream and thrash about my front yard in such a way that neighbors on both sides came outside to look at what was going on. My children all stood with wide eyes and their mouths hanging ajar because they have never seen anything like this before. I suggested that Zachary get his bird and ask Jonathan if he would like to look at it. When Zachary walked into the front yard, the boy instantly stopped the screams and began to ask questions about the bird.

His movements were jerky and he was obviously agitated. He looked to me like he was on some kind of drugs because he was ticking and jerking in a very unnatural way. It looked like a severe reaction to something he must have ingested – or at least that is what I am telling myself it was to be able to see a valid reason for his horrid behavior. And yes, his behavior was horrid! But the way he was able to turn it on and off – THAT was scary!

So when he violently wanted to GRAB the bird, and Zachary pulled away, he went into act two of the massive fit. Now the entire time, his mother AND father are talking to him in calm voiced “Jonathan this” and “Jonathan that” and they are attempting to rationalize and negotiate with this child. Then they are resorting to bribes “If you just settle down now so we can look at this house we will go to get ??? later” (His screams drowned out the reward, so I didn’t hear it!)

I could not believe that they stood in my yard for 12 minutes jumping like two helpless children around this royally spoiled brat. Yes, I said SPOILED BRAT. Listen people, walking on eggshells around young children is NOT the answer. Whispers and sweet talking are not the answer.

Bribery and rewards are not the answer.


In my opinion they should have 1) allowed him to continue to have his fit as they took turn looking inside or 2) firmly stated a “here is your choice option” (the choice being you can come quietly with us or you can stand out here alone and wait for the police to come!). Instead he was in complete control of his parents and the situation. A four year old!

They were doing absolutely no service to the poor child by jumping around him and trying to please and calm him with bribery and talk of rewards… for what? Is he a monkey at the circus? I just didn’t get it. So anyhow, nearly 15 minutes go by and they are STILL in my front yard, half speaking to me and half trying to negotiate with Jonathan. The mom keeps apologizing over and over and over, to where she sounds like a broken record and dad is the brightest shade of red I have ever seen. They finally announce that they will not be able to view our home today because Jonathan was having a bad day. They said they would try to come back when Jonathan was feeling better… So while mom and I were trying to work out the details, the father tried to pick Jonathan up off the ground and I think that he thought that dad was going to carry him into our house – so he crawled UNDER THEIR CAR! The horrible screams got worse because apparently, it’s HOT under there and he must have gotten a burn.

Now, I never would have allowed it to escalate to this point, but when he attempted to crawl under the car I would have literally dragged him out because he could get hurt. They spent another 20 minutes trying to coax him out from under the vehicle. They finally drove away with him lying across the back seat WITHOUT a seat belt! I am STILL shocked and it was weeks ago. Why didn’t they turn their negotiations to a stern order? I know parents who tell me that I sound too “bossy when I order my children to do something”. ??? Who is in charge here? THE PARENT.

The parent makes the rules, the parent enforces the rules and the parent is the boss – bottom line. I love my children with all of my heart and they know what is acceptable and what is not. I have never spanked my children, although I have told them what it means and about the spankings I received as a child. I have threatened to spank them on a few occasions. At this they get frightened and act upon my request.

I am terribly saddened by the mistaking authority for abuse in our society and I think that the majority of parents are doing a great disservice to their children by not having rules, boundaries and consequences. Young children are reared to get their way and do as they please just to grow into troubled teens who go to jail.


The Boy Who Stuck Out His Tongue: A Yiddish Folk Tale

The widow’s son would rather make snowballs than help with the chores. “Promise, schmomise, I’m too busy,” he laughs when his mother asks him to help. But when he gets himself into a sticky situation, the kind folk of the little Hungarian community are quick to rally around. The good-natured hustle and bustle of traditional village life is vividly evoked in this comical tale, which shows that when people work together wonders can happen.

Eugene Schwartz:

Must Read Article:

Top Ten Discipline Principles

Audio Lecture:

“You’re No Boss of Me: The Challenge of Discipline Today, at Home and in the Classroom” What happens when teachers who were educated in the 1960s meet children of the 1990s? This sometimes comic, often explosive, but usually discouraging encounter constitutes a severe trial for most parents and teachers. Eugene’s insights as a parent and teacher have made this our most popular tape. To learn more, click here.

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For more information visit our rhythm and daily work pages.

“With conditions as they are in the world and a prognosis for a questionable future at best, the youth of today feel as trapped as their environment in a land where no one listens to their call for help. They are a reflection of their own environment, of a beleaguered planet. Parents are in a quandary as to how to “discipline” their wayward broods. Young people have a tendency to uncover the wounds, insecurities and inconsistencies of their parents after rendering them incapable of “control.” It is not through control that they will create harmonious, responsible, creative beings. One cannot set his child, however lovingly, on an undisciplined route at a young age and then pull back the reins and apply force when they reach puberty. Children need discipline and guidance, time, attention and love. If they did not receive it when young, they become like boats so far from shore floating aimlessly, yet dangerously further out to sea. The best time for child raising is when they are children, young and open to guidance and suggestion. When they reach the teen years, they are already starting to become crystallized in their thinking, attitudes and the way they use their time. If one begins early to impart clearly defined standards and morals that are neither rigid nor too loose, then the foundation is strong and they will have it to fall back upon in years to come. If parents have expected the schools to raise their children, perhaps because they did not have the luxury of time to do so, they can now observe the result. Most of all, children of all ages need love. It is easy to love a little one and more trying to love a young rebellious, teenage person. Truly, the age is a challenge. Never feel guilty if you made what you consider mistakes early on. Realize, acknowledge these errors and begin to rebuild that urgently needed foundation, this time with hands together.” ~Orion (Special thanks to Waldorf School Foundation HK for passing this along to us.)

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