THE KID WHISPERER: Keeping defiant toddlers from becoming rotten teens

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My 5-year old has always been well behaved, but lately she has been refusing to do what I tell her to do, shouting “NO” at me when I ask her to do even the simplest tasks. I don’t know if I am panicking or if this is just a phase, but my instincts say that this behavior is going to continue unless I make it stop. So how do I make it stop? — Tracy, Cincinnati


Thank you for not buying into the “it’s just a phase” silliness. I have found that the most reliable predictor of an out-of-control teenager is a toddler whose parents patiently waited for a phase to end … for a decade.

You are right — we must stop this here and now, or the defiance will probably continue throughout childhood and often, into adulthood. In any case, it will last longer than it has to if we ignore it.

The next time your kid is defiant, you can just be sad and wait until later to give her a consequence. Here’s how I would do it. Let’s say what she was refusing to do was clear her plate after dinner. You can easily change this for anything about which she is being defiant.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, jeez. It made me so sad yesterday when you wouldn't clear your dishes.

Kid: It makes me sad when you are so stupid.

Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. It's important for kids in this house to do what they are supposed to do when asked.

Kid: It's important for the adults in this house not to be dummies.

Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. Right now, you presently struggle with doing what you are told, especially with clearing your dishes when asked.

Kid: You presently struggle with not being a moron.

Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. Before going about enjoying and living your life, you are going to need to become an expert at clearing your dishes when asked. I have stacked up 25 dishes on the kitchen table. I'm going to ask that you practice doing as you are told by carrying the dishes, one at a time, to the sink or kitchen counter. Do you think that if you clear 25 dishes when I tell you to clear the table, you can become an expert at doing what is asked of you?

Kid: I think that you are an expert at being a brainless idiot.

Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. I guess I'll get 10 more dishes. As soon as you can clear 35 dishes, one at a time, without refusing, complaining and without being unpleasant, we will consider you an expert at doing such things. Once you are an expert at that, we can talk about how much time you need to spend being nice to me and not hurting my feelings, since you are showing me right now that you also struggle with that. I have let your Girl Scout leader and basketball coach know that you may or may not be coming to meetings and practice this week or ever again, so you can decide how long this will take.

Kid: That's ridiculous and you are a ridiculous person!

Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. I love you.

You will then allow your kid to learn that being defiant doesn’t work, either by her putting away the plates, or refusing to do so. Either way, her life stops until she successfully follows instructions. Sit in the doorway to make sure she doesn’t leave the kitchen. Bring a book; this may take a while. No matter what she chooses, she will learn this valuable lesson.