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What to Do When Your Child Resists Discipline

This article is the second in a 3-week series about parenting ideas. Last weeks article was, “The Key To Becoming a Better Mom.”

Last week I wrote about the difference between reacting and responding, and reading about a parenting technique versus applying one.

Children can ignore, laugh, scream, or argue in the middle of being corrected. No matter what they do, there is a thread that connects it all, and that’s what this article is about. But first, a W-A-R-N-I-N-G: When a parent begins using a new parenting technique something will most likely happen smack-dab in the middle of the experience that can make even the best parent feel as if the new technique has failed. I call it the “Danger Zone,” as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. The “Danger Zone” occurs in the middle of a power struggle or a battle of wills, it’s the final part of the struggle. The “Danger Zone” impacts parents and children differently.

We’ve all experienced moments when our sweet child seems to be totally consumed by a battle of wills. No matter what we say or do, she’s dug her heels in and is giving it all she has. She’s screaming loudly, arguing like there’s no tomorrow, and just refuses to cooperate. It feels like she’s purposely working against you—and she is —but not for the reasons you think. When you stop reacting and using timeouts for everything, and begin correcting behavior by being calm and firm—which is what I call “responding,” your firmness takes up all the air in the room; it comes through loud and clear! That’s unsettling for a child, so she begins giving you all she’s got. She amps up her reaction big time! Why? She’s unconsciously trying to get you to go back to the way things have been every day of her life, even if daily life has been filled with yelling and timeouts. For her, yelling and timeout is normal. It’s like the old saying, “Dance with the devil you know, rather than the devil you don’t know” type of thing. This new firmness is the devil she doesn’t know and this new firmness is making it clear that she has to change and that’s hard to do.

What Your Child’s Resistance Can Do to You

When a child turns up the volume on her reaction in response to your new calm, yet firm way to correct behavior any parent naturally begins to wonder, “Is this working? Should I should get firmer, push harder, yell louder, or simply bail and go back to timeout, because this doesn’t look like it’s working?” The truth is it is working! Things are just about to change. Don’t Give Up!

The “Danger Zone” is the moment just before your child understands that she’s crossed a line in the sand, and now has to change her behavior, right now. (For more information about the “Danger Zone,” read “Why Yelling Doesn’t Work” at

What to Do if You Get Trapped in The Danger Zone

As promised the rest of this article is about the difference between timeout, which usually involves reacting, and discipline, which allows a parent to respond. Here’s that side-by-side comparison. Refer back to this when and if you get trapped in the “Danger Zone”. So what’s the difference between timeouts and discipline?

Using timeout makes a child feel as if they have to pay for the crime they’ve committed.

Using Discipline encourages a child to learn from the consequences of his actions, which is where true learning comes from. Timeout causes a child to say what she “thinks” a parent wants to hear, so the timeout will stop. Discipline opens up a dialog that keeps parent and child bonded as they search for answers together. Timeout regards any questions about why behavior is being corrected as disrespectful, and unnecessary.  Discipline encourages a child to ask questions about why she’s being corrected, so she can learn about herself and her behavior, and hopefully make changes next time. Timeout happens after misbehavior and can ignite even more arguing and power struggles. Discipline is a prearranged agreement between parent and child to share what will happen if the child doesn’t follow the rules. Discipline also allows the rules to be the bad guys, not the parent. Consider making a switch from reacting to responding, from timeout to discipline. It’s totally worth going through the battle of wills and the “Danger Zone” to get to a new way of parenting.

13 Responses to “What to Do When Your Child Resists Discipline”

  1. Sharon

    Thanks for this second post of the 3 week series! The explanation of the Danger Zone and what is really happening there is a great reassurance to parents that the discipline technique is working! It is so easy to think the contrary and abandon the discipline technique. But like you say, parents just need to continue to hold their calm and "respond" to a screaming child.

  2. Lovely Light

    As a former children's behavioral health worker, I found that many parents gave up on a new technique before they could see results. That was often because it gets worse before it gets better. Kids will test the new boundaries a parent sets, but will start to settle down when they see the parent is holding firm. Often parents feel that "they've tried everything" and often they have, but have been ineffectual or don't realize that they did the technique wrong. Re-trying a technique can be helpful when you have the correct guidance!

  3. Susie Lee Wiener

    It may sound a bit odd,but a good way to get kids to listen to you is to whisper. They will really listen to hear what you say and then do what you say. It really works!


  4. Donna F.

    I agree with the whispering technique. I think the most important thing to do is to remain calm. If you get angry and upset and the child sees that, they will feed off of that and things will probably get worse and will not resolve. Of course, this is certainly easier said than done.

  5. Mike

    I don't have any kids, but I used to work summer's at a camp near Yosemite. I was in charge of the horsemanship program. Most of the campers were from REALLY rich families. The first year, I had this expectation that they would be really difficult and demanding.

    The kids waiting for the next session of riding would sometimes have to wait for an hour or so before they got to ride. So, we had to deal with keeping them entertained. When we didn't, we had trouble.

    We taught them about the horses and how to take care of them, etc. We played a lot of 'Duck, Duck, Goose," a game I still don't understand entirely. And talked to them. I don't think a lot of them had adults in their lives that ever really just talked to them and listened.

    It turned out great. Everybody had a good time. Hardly anyone argued, (if you argued or abused other people or, esp., a horse you lost riding privileges for the rest of the summer. I never had to enforce either of those rules). Everybody had a good time.

    Don't know if that reflects what parents go through, but it worked for me!

    (BTW, I don't have any kids)

  6. Alena Bejenarou

    Thank you for the great info! I really need it with my 2yo. Discipline is something that is huge in our household especially with a boy. Good to know about timeouts. Very useful thank you
    Alena Bejenarou

  7. Betty Curran

    When my children were small there was a lot of conflict because they were so close in age and they seemed to join together to get into trouble. Disciplining one is hard but 3 at the same time was totally overpowering. I wish I had had more guidance while they were growing up.
    They made it in spite of me!!

  8. Charity S

    This is an issue that I use to deal with. I'm not sure if it's defiance, stubbornness, or just acting out. We've moved past the toddler days..but now I'm facing the almost teenage stage. Which one is worse?

  9. Security Alarm Now

    To deal with this situation (which all parents face) parents need to be provided training that makes them understand to tackle their kids behavior. Kids also feel stressed and this lets irritated behavior comes out of kids.


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