How to Deal With Defiant Pre Teens

The preteen years are often intense for both parent and child alike. Children are at an interesting in-between state and parents get to become comfortable with their children being less dependent, yet possibly not as responsible or respectful as they'd like. Defiance is often a sign that the relationship between parent and child can benefit from some strengthening as well as clear boundaries.

Lead by Example

Model the behavior you want from your preteen. While there are many ways to encourage respectful behavior from your growing adolescent, modeling the behavior you want to see has the strongest impact. If you want your teen to speak respectfully, notice your own volume level and tone. If it isn't what you want to hear back, check yourself and modify your voice. As you figure out how to address your child's behavior, do your part to offer a loving example.

Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper to help you decide what you need to address. On the left half, write down what behaviors are not working. On the right side, write down what behaviors would work instead. If you don't want your preteen to swear when angry, an alternative may be for the child to share that he feels angry and then talk about what he needs or wants. Take your time with this and ask a friend, counselor or parenting coach if you need help to come up with alternative behaviors.

Appreciate her and show interest in who she is as a person in order to strengthen the relationship. Even though your preteen may seem hard to be around, this is the time when she needs you most. Ask if you can sit in her room and hang out for a bit while you smile and listen to what's going on in her world. According to Dr. Laura Markham of, preteens who feel understood, heard and loved are more likely to respond to guidance from parents 2.

Turn challenges into teaching opportunities. Chick Moorman, educator, and Thomas Haller, therapist, suggest seeing challenges in parenting our young as opportunities to teach instead of situations we must punish. If your teen won't do chores, it can be an opportunity to do them together for some bonding as well as real-world practice. Embrace the situation as an opportunity to stretch and grow together rather than another painful encounter as disciplinarian.

Communicate Clear Boundaries

Clarify boundaries and choices. One of the most important, and sometimes befuddling, aspects of parenting preteens is becoming clear about what is not and what is acceptable. If your teen slams her door in anger, you can offer her the choice of talking about how she feels or going in her room while closing the door softly. If you find that the choices you offer no longer work or you feel too controlling, reassess and communicate new boundaries.

Affirm that choices create results. We all makes choices. Preteens can learn the effect their choices have without heavy punishments attached. Cultivate choice awareness so your preteen can see that he has a choice and encourage him to explore alternative choices when he is unhappy with previous choices. You may ask him what he could do instead of yell when he feels angry. Offer some ideas if he feels stuck and then ask him what he might like to try if he has a similar situation in the future.

Allow your child to decide. It is important to recognize as a parent that kids need to be able to make choices of all types in order to become skillful in making wise choices.

Teach alternatives. If your child chooses to be defiant, role play alternatives. Allow that to be one way you can address the situation. If she calls you a name, you can both stop, breathe and start over. Own how you feel and ask her to do the same, with "I feel upset and you probably do also. Let's speak respectfully to one another. What do you need?" Let her know ahead of time when it's calm that you will be asking her to do this. Explore alternative, connecting ways of dealing with defiance from your preteen such as humor, a hug or listening and reflection of feelings.

Follow through with consequences. If you have have a rule that your preteen must turn off the iPod at 9 p.m. in order to use it the next day and you find that he is still playing it at 9:30 p.m., clearly communicate and follow through with respectful, related and reasonable consequences. You don't have to be the heavy when you have discussed the relationship of cause and effect in advance. Be impeccable with your word while loving at the same time.


If you are experiencing extreme defiance that results in harm of any sort or you are struggling to parent, seek assistance from a counselor, friend or coach.