Show Notes: Defiant child, the boundary testing threenager

Don’t miss this interview with Dr Ashley Soderlund from Nurture and Thrive Blog. Ashley gives a brilliant answer to my question about a defiant child who has started playing the no-game (doing what I tell him not to) in jest, and for real. Ashley provides developmental context around this issue. I found her answer very helpful in understanding and addressing my boundary-testing threenager issues! Ashley specialises in emotional development and stress regulation. I ask the question on boundary testing 15 minutes into the interview, after learning more about Ashley, and discussing emotional regulation and self soothing.


The problem

Defiant child, the boundary testing threenager image

  • At 2-3 children are learning that they have their own sense of self, separate from parents. They want to practice this new-found independence skill.
  • Simple defiance peaks at age 2 and slowly decreases until age 5 or 6, and negotiation increases.
  • Independence and compliance are both important skills but they often competing.

The solution

  • Committed compliance (e.g. cleaning up enthusiastically when asked) requires self-regulation and a warm parent-child relationship.
  • Committed compliance is more common at 5-6 years than 2-3 years.
  • The no-game is a fun, warm way to practice independence. So is is a good thing as long as it can be separated from other times.
  • Direct defiance in the no-game could be removed a step by playing it with toys.
  • Bring in a playful game or listening helper when things (like cleaning up) have to be done.
  • Use natural consequences “You are choosing to x, but we are running out of time for story. If you choose not to brush your teeth now, we might run out of time for story.”
  • Snatching toys: explain turn-taking (more concrete than share), encourage empathy for sibling, come up with a good natural consequence
  • Work towards interdependence


Listening Helper: How to get your child to listen

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Have you found ways to foster a good balance between independence and compliance? Please share your wisdom in the comments below.

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