Is this behaviour triggering for you too?
“She’s behaving in a defiant manner, she’s acting like a know-it-all. She refuses to follow my instructions. She’s snapping at me rather than talking, or she just shuts down…”
These are the concerns we hear from parents we talk to on a daily basis. It can be very frustrating, upsetting and emotional for everyone, when your daughter is behaving this way and you’re on the receiving end of it.
Today, we want to dig a little bit deeper into defiant behaviour, especially because we can see this behaviour as being a symptom of eroding confidence. Layer that with a breakdown in the relationship, and maintaining and growing confidence become very challenging!
When we ask parents about what defiance feels like, we hear that you feel like she’s being selfish and ungrateful, that you find it hard to stay calm when she’s being argumentative like this and that it can feel really challenging to not respond to every single altercation as it’s happening.
If any of these sound familiar to you, firstly know that you are not alone and secondly, keep reading as Dr Diane Harner and I would like to shed some light on one key area of this “friction-causing” behaviour.
LOSS OF AUTONOMY
Take a moment to think about times or situations in which you feel as though you can’t make your own decisions. When you don’t have the option of deciding what comes next, or perhaps you can’t do things that you want to do in your own way. This is what it feels like to have your autonomy taken away.
We know that if your daughter cares about autonomy (which is very likely at this stage in her ‘Identity Phase’) and she feels like that is being taken away from her in some way, she will move into a threat state.
When we’re in threat state, (fight flight or fright), defiant behaviour is the fight response.
It’s the pushback, it’s the resistance, it’s the telling you no… It’s in these moments, if you can take a moment and get some perspective, ask yourself: “What’s going on here? What is behind this?”
A lot of the time with defiant behaviour, you will start to see evidence that she feels as though her autonomy is being taken away, or diminished.
When we see this behaviour, our natural instinct is to get a little bit bristly, but it’s about trying to find that patience and the pause button to really understand what is going on for her: why is she pushing back? Is it that you are taking away something that she wants to have control over, or she feels that she has a right to have control over?
When you believe she is at the maturity level to discuss the concept of control and autonomy and how it makes her feel when that is compromised or taken away – this can be a useful strategy to help her understand why she isn’t (in that moment) able to have control or autonomy.
The next step is considering: how do you get her out of threat state and back into reward state?
It’s a natural conclusion that: if taking away autonomy has put her into threat state, then finding some way of giving her back autonomy is going to put her back into a reward state.
A simple way to achieve this is by giving our children options. We’ve seen this work from a young age, it gives our kids the power to choose, gives them control over what happens next, and they feel like they have the autonomy to decide for themselves.
Example: A simple example of this could be that you want her to come and watch her brother’s soccer game and she’s adamant she doesn’t want to go. Your power lies in giving her choices along the way. Going to the game is a non-negotiable but perhaps she has the choice of bringing her laptop or a book to entertain her during the game. And maybe after the game she gets to choose where you all get to go for ice cream! These decisions allow her mind to shift into the things that she does have control over.
A key consideration in managing defiant behaviour is to pick your times for conversation, because when you’re right in the thick of her defiance, and she is heightened and in threat state, nothing productive is going to come out of that conversation.
When there’s something that you do need to discuss, unpack or maybe you need to put some boundaries in place and get some clarity around what’s going on – choose peace time. We don’t do problem solving and putting rules in place and putting boundaries in place when she is aroused or in threat state. A peace time conversation is when to do the problem solving.