Jesus was defiant.
He defied Satan’s temptation. He defied the religious structures of the day. He defied legalism. He even defied death.
One of our problems as parents is that we treat our kids’ defiance as if it is entirely bad. We then seek to make it go away – sometimes at all costs.
What if instead of a thinking of defiance as a problem we saw it as evidence of a gift God put in our children, coming out in unrefined, selfish, or sinful ways?
After all, it takes boldness, conviction, strength of will, and a plan to be defiant.
What if our job was not to make defiance go away, but to affirm and re-purpose those talents after the pattern of Jesus’ defiance?
Apply It Now
Pretty much every kid loves to experiment with chaos: dropping food, smearing things, investigating cupboards or containers, throwing toys — you name it, a toddler has probably gotten into it.
It can be easy to get aggravated when your child gets into yet another mess. But if we expect kids to just stop when we say “stop,” we’re probably not going to get very far.
Why? Because we’re fighting their brains.
Recently we received this question from Michelle:
I am struggling with a tween who often says no to my requests. She is a good girl most of the time, but she will be disrespectful to me and I have no idea what appropriate/related consequences to give her when she tells me “no” and then in essence dismisses me by looking back down at her book, ipod, etc. I try to remain calm but when I tell her this is a warning and that she will have a consequence for not obeying, she will look at me and ask what it is. And normally say, “oh well, no big deal” and still not obey me. I also realize that hormones are playing a part in her behavior but she cannot say no to me when I ask her to do something. HELP!!! Normally she will apologize later that night when we are praying together but she still didn’t do whatever I asked.
I’ll never forget her statement. I was speaking to a grade-school teacher in a Christian school about behavior problems with her students. In the context of the conversation she actually seemed more upset about the obedient kids than the defiant ones.
She declared, “I can always tell the kids parented by strict parents who follow parenting programs that demand first-time obedience. They do what you say but take no risks. They won’t give answers unless they know they’re right. The kids who fight back, they are usually the bold ones, the creative ones, the energetic ones. Many of them are leaders. I love the chance to shape these kids!”
It was a Sunday evening. I was emotionally and physically done for the day and looking forward to a quiet house. Suddenly I overheard squabbling about who was the rightful owner of a large stuffed panda bear.
My engagement with sibling conflict has often aggravated my son’s anger: he feels criticized by my effort to protect his younger sister. I should have known better than to get involved in this panda bear affair, especially when I was already a little bit cranky! But I was tired and I just wanted them to go to bed so I could have a little peace and quiet to start my week.
Brian and Jana were very concerned about how much work it was to get their 8-year-old son, Brady, to do much of anything – look up from his book when they talked, get ready for school in the morning, get dressed for baseball, take a shower… Just to get the kid to tie his shoes was an aggravating power struggle.
Brian observed, “I need to out-think him to get him to do something. And it has to be creative, or it doesn’t work.”
To help Brian understand and feel the impact of the “outfoxing game” on his son, I asked Brian how it would feel if his boss needed to outmaneuver him or threaten to dock his pay to “get him to perform” at work. Brian answered, “Pretty unmotivating.”
When kids say “No!” parents tend to react rather than respond. Reacting tends to lead to unconstructive power struggles that follow this basic pattern:
Parent: “Yes or else!”
Child: “I don’t care!”
Parent: “Well I’ll show you who’s boss!”
Now parent and child are in a power struggle, and when this happens no one really wins in the long run. Even if kids eventually give in to their parents’ “yes,” they feel defeated. They will likely seek power in unhealthy ways later, because they have a God-given need to have a sense of power over their lives. A lack of healthy power can lead to depression, passivity, resentment, or even rage.
Recently we got an email from a mom asking what to do when her 10-year-old son refused to help with the dishes after dinner, even when punished with spanking or loss of electronics. Conflicts around chores are something that many parents and kids struggle with, so we thought we’d share our response.
When kids say “No,” parents’ first instinct is often to go right to threats or punishment to gain obedience. Spanking or yelling usually happens from a place of demanding obedience as a first goal. But if a parent’s first goal is to tap into God’s holiness and the fruit of the Spirit on the way to helping the child learn to value obedience, the scene usually goes much differently.
Julia was a spitfire. When she was a tyke, she was ready to take the world by storm. All who knew her mom, Maggie, knew of this little one’s intensity. Creativity, exuberance, a ferocious snuggle instinct, and excellent vocabulary were sometimes difficult to enjoy amidst defiance, meltdowns, sleep issues, and definitely a plan for how she wanted to run the family, even as a pre-schooler.
Maggie wrote, “Julia, you are a little firecracker. You know what you want and how you want it done, and have always been able to communicate that.” Maggie, also a horse trainer, carefully navigated how to train this feisty “filly” in a way that captured her heart and didn’t break her spirit. It wasn’t always easy, to be sure.
I’ve blown it many times. But the following event stands out as an example of both failure to live by the stuff I teach, and the power of the teaching. Upon reflection, it’s a tale of battling giants.
One warm afternoon my blooming adolescent son Daniel pushed me beyond my limit. We’d been arguing and the basic conclusion was, “Son, you’re going to do this because I’m the dad!” He didn’t like my conclusion. So he kept arguing. I tend to like when my kids stand up for their beliefs when dealing with others. But not with me.