Creative Interventions for the Defiant Child

Toddler with Calming Jar

By Mikaela Griffiths Bester, Registered Expressive Arts Therapist

When your child’s defiant behaviour starts wearing you down, do you find yourself giving in to avoid an evening-long tantrum? Do you feel powerless to enforce discipline at home?

Try these creative activities to improve your child’s behaviour. Initiate them with your child and explain how they will be used. This will help to make the discipline process a combined effort.

THE JOY-JAR: Help your child decorate a jar with stickers. Draw lines marking ‘quarter’, ‘half’, ‘three quarters’ and ‘full’. Add a marble to the Joy-Jar for helpful behaviour, kindness etc. Ask what treat your child wants when the Joy-Jar is full. This is a reward system, don’t remove marbles for bad behaviour.

THE CALMING-JAR: Put half a teaspoon of glitter and a drop of food colouring in a jar. Fill with water. Smear clear glue on the inside of the screw lid, seal tightly. When your child throws a tantrum, put them on a chair with the Calming-Jar. They can shake it until their frustration has subsided. Remind them to calm down. They can call you once ALL the glitter has settled.

SMILEY CHART: Make a chart with days of the week. Each evening, let your child draw a happy face (no defiant behaviour) or a sad face on the chart. Each week, count and see which face won. Reward them with a marble for their Joy-Jar if happy faces win. When you can see a tantrum coming, remind your child they want a happy face for that day.

Children need to know they are heard and that their feelings count. Remember these three tips about discipline:

Explain the consequences of defiant behaviour. Take time to discuss what you will do in response to unwanted behaviour. Your child must be able to predict the consequences – and you must do it.

Praise good behaviour constantly. Positive reinforcement builds confidence and a positive self-concept. Reacting only to your child’s defiant behaviour teaches them it’s the way to get attention.

Children need boundaries in order to feel safe. Both parents must deal with defiant behaviour consistently – even if you live in separate households.

Positive and creative parenting takes energy, but routine wins!