Practical Strategies for Working with Defiant Children

Children who are defiant and challenging exhibit a number of behaviors that are very difficult for professionals and parents to manage. They frequently lose their tempers, have tantrums, argue and blame others, refuse to obey adults’ rules, are angry and resentful, get their feelings hurt easily, and are sometimes physically aggressive. When professionals see these children in their offices, it is nearly impossible to gain their cooperation without using some special behavior management techniques.

When Your Young Client is DefiantWhen Your Young Client is Defiant demonstrates specific techniques that professionals and parents can use to identify specific behaviors, understand the causes of defiance, identify triggers for explosive behavior, defuse power struggles, use problem-solving strategies, and free children from their defiant roles. The course is designed to provide clinicians with effective and practical strategies to manage challenging and defiant behavior in their young clients.

According to the author of the course, Adina Soclof, MS, CCC-SLP, a certified Speech-Language Pathologist, “children frequently speak ‘in code,’ especially those who have underdeveloped verbal skills, such as children with language delays.” Soclof gives the example a child who says “you’re so stupid,” or “you can’t make me do that!” The adult’s task is to (1) get over the anger that results when a child speaks disrespectfully and (2) de-code what the child is really saying. In this case, the child may be saying “I am so mad at you,” or “I don’t feel in control here.”

Of all the skills taught in this course, the most powerful may be the use of praise to encourage and motivate positive conduct. Defiant children rarely hear anything positive from adults. For them, life is full of demands, complaints and criticisms. They soon develop a damaged sense of self-esteem. Adults who can master the art of delivering an honest bit of praise will find a more cooperative child.

One of the most difficult situations presented by these children is the temper tantrum that can quickly spiral out of control. The following are some examples of helpful responses that can be used to defuse a conflict before it gets out of hand:

Don’t Engage:

  • Can we take a break and start over?
  • I get upset when you speak to me in that way, let’s take a break.
  • I don’t want to argue with you.
  • Let’s calm down and talk again a bit later.


Show Empathy:

  • You sound mad.
  • You sound frustrated.
  • Please help me understand why you are so upset.
  • You really don’t want to go to help the neighbors, but I told them you would.


Invite To Come Up With A Solution:

  • Can we come up with a solution?
  • I want to work together with you to find a solution.


Children who believe they are “bad kids” will act the part. Clinicians cannot emphasize enough to parents and teachers the importance of separating the behavior from the child. A combination of empathy, flexibility, patience and understanding of defiant behavior is crucial in gradually bringing about the desired change and channeling the negative behavior into a positive light.

Ms. Soclof is also the author of another continuing education course, Improving Communication with Your Young Clients – one of our most highly rated online courses ever.

Professional Development Resources is approved as a provider of continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB #1046); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC #5590); the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Association of Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC #000279); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR #PR001); the Continuing Education Board of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA #AAUM); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA #3159); and various state licensing boards.