What to Do When Your Child Resists Discipline

Posted by SharonSilver in Articles on Fri, Nov 18, 2011

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 like 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.”

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 Proactive Parenting.)

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.


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About Sharon Silver

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be, and the founder of Proactive Parenting. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding instead of reacting for ages 1-10. Receive 2 FREE tips from the book. Proactive Parenting is proud to announce the Online Skills Class. A class that any parent can attend, even if you live outside the US. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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