5 Strategies for When Your Child Challenges You

Setting limits and being consistent should be one of the strategies when your child challenges you. This way, you will avoid future problems.
5 Strategies for When Your Child Challenges You
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 06 March, 2023

One doubt that’s common to most parents has to do with how to set limits. Many times, children put them to the test. Sometimes, they do it almost as a game or as a way to find out “what if”. Often, it can be unclear to you how to act. So, in the following article, we’ll share some strategies on what to do when your child challenges you.

Some keys to understanding defiance

Before thinking about how to set limits when your child challenges you, it’s helpful to clarify how to understand that behavior. In general, a defiant attitude can have multiple interpretations. To help you find what’s behind your child’s defiant behavior, it’s essential that you look at certain data, such as context or the child’s age.

For example, perhaps your child defies you at a certain moment because they’re practicing their autonomy and testing what happens when they behave in a certain way. This is a way of building their identity. However, it’s clear that not everything goes: that’s where you must intervene as an adult and provide guidance down the right path.

Different cases of defiance from your child

Adolescence is another stage in which defiance is constant. And the reason is the same: Young people need to mark a distance from their parents and seek to show who they are.

In other cases, there’s another message hiding behind defiance: Perhaps your child challenges you because they want to draw attention to themselves for some reason. For example, they’re jealous of the arrival of a new family member or they’re going through difficulties in other areas of their life and don’t know how to manage those emotions. Also, there may be more complex cases, such as an oppositional disorder.

A little girl covering her ears while her mother corrects her behavior.
When the child’s defiant behavior has no limits, is recurrent, and transcends to other relationships or areas where they spend time, it’s important to consult a professional.

5 strategies for when your child challenges you

Here are some strategies that you can implement if your child challenges you:

1- Set limits

These days, it seems like the word “limit” has become a bad word. However, setting limits means setting rules for behavior. However, these rules must be oriented toward learning and respect. Therefore, they should be in accordance with the child’s age.

2- Point out good behavior

When your child behaves as expected, it’s good to point it out to them. This way, they’ll feel more proud and confident, while the neural connections of well-being and achievement will be strengthened. Therefore, they’re more likely to want to repeat that behavior in the future.

In this regard, many parents will say you shouldn’t compliment your kids all the time because they’ll believe that what they’re doing is exceptional. In this regard, it’s important to remember that children are in a learning process. Just as you ask them to repeat the multiplication tables or the alphabet and congratulate them for it, you can also do it for appropriate behavior.

3- Keep calm

Every time you have to correct your child, it’s important that you learn to control your own emotions. It’s understandable that you’re tired of always repeating the same thing or that you feel irritated because you had a difficult day. However, when it comes to teaching, it’s important to be a good example. Of course, you must be able to do it without violence, with patience, and with proper values.

4- Understand the “what for”

Besides the recommendations to keep in mind if your child challenges you, there’s a question you have to ask yourself that’s paramount. Why do you think your child challenges you? The behavior of a child, and of people in general, is usually guided by a purpose. That is, through that behavior, they’re seeking to achieve something.

So, if you can identify the “what for”, you may be able to understand the defiance and do something about it. Some questions that could guide you have to do with observing when they defy you, around what issues, or if they do it in front of certain people, among others.

A parent and son arguing about tablet use.
When your child defies you, it’s important to choose a consequence according to the rule that was broken, communicate it to the child, and apply it immediately.

5- Be consistent with these strategies

Although over time and with practice, you’ll discover which strategy works best when your child defies you, it’s key to be consistent and constant. Otherwise, you may confuse your child. At the same time, it should also be clear what happens when your child breaks the rules.

Setting limits is educating children for life in society

It’s important to keep in mind that when you set limits for your children, you’re helping them. Life is organized around values and rules. Not indicating how they should behave, when they’ve done well, and when they’ve done poorly only exposes them to future problems. This is a way to educate them in emotional intelligence and to give them resources so that they know how to manage in the community in which they live.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Veiga-Neto, Alfredo y Maura Corcini Lopes, “Límites en la educación infantil: ¿rigidez o flexibilización negociada?”, traducción del portugués por Mariano Narodowski y Lucía Zuain, Revista Educación y Pedagogía, Medellín, Universidad de Antioquia, Facultad de Educación, vol. 23, núm. 60, mayo-agosto, 2011, pp. 77-88.
  • Landazabal, M. G., & Mateo, C. M. (2013). Problemas emocionales y de conducta en la infancia: un instrumento de identificación y prevención temprana. Padres y Maestros/Journal of Parents and Teachers, (351), 34-40.
  • Nages, J. L. S., Chica, Ó. D., Escolano-Pérez, E., & Martínez, A. R. (2018). INTELIGENCIA EMOCIONAL Y BIENESTAR III. REFLEXIONES, EXPERIENCIAS PROFESIONALES E INVESTIGACIONES. Zaragoza: Ediciones Universidad de San Jorge.
  • Guil, Rocio; Mestre, José Miguel; Gil-Olarte, Paloma; de la Torre, Gabriel G.; Zayas, Antonio
    Desarrollo de la inteligencia emocional en la primera infancia: una guía para la intervención*
    Universitas Psychologica, vol. 17, núm. 4, 2018
    Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia
    Disponible en: http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=64757109015
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.11144/Javeriana.upsy17-4.diep

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.