Part 2 of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child: The Role of Rules and Structure

By Dr. Randy Cale

In Part 1, we discussed three of the key lessons to master with the strong-willed or defiant child. These first three lessons covered were:

* Lesson 1: Your Words Are ALMOST Worthless With The Defiant Child… So Stop Using Them Right Now.

* Lesson 2: You Can’t Control Un-Controllable Kids… So Stop Trying!

* Lesson 3: Tantrums, Whining, Drama, Screaming, Arguing, and Resistance Are NOT WORTHY Of Your Attention!

Each of these three lessons are fundamentally about what you must stop doing or saying. It’s about surrendering the constant battles (you lose anyway), and pulling back.

In doing so, we establish a new baseline or foundation from which to begin the steps we review today. Warning: You can’t skip the lessons above, and get success with these more rule-based components of the program.

Lesson 4: The Defiant Child Needs a Few Essential Rules

While lots of rules may seem like what is needed when dealing with such defiance and negative attitudes, it is not. The more rules you have in your home, the more violations of the rules that will occur – ESPECIALLY with the more defiant child. The more violations, the more frequently you have to end up managing your children’s behavior.

This equals constant conflict with the defiant child, and quite literally, it’s TOO MUCH WORK! Rule overload leads to constant intervention, and decisions-making about consequences. With the strong willed child, this will mean you are frequently adding consequence upon consequence, and the environment begins to feel very punitive and negative.

Rather than dozens of rules, focus on the critical rules that will maintain structure and routine. In fact, these are your most important rules to maintain.

Thus, it is easier to manage your home, and to maintain order and sanity with just a few decisive rules—that both you and the children can follow.

Lesson 5: Rules Are Wishes, Unless Consequences Are Attached

While this lesson is true for all children, it is extremely important for the more defiant child. We can create a nice chart, with very well written rules…and those will be of virtually no value UNLESS a clear consequence is attached.

So leave the word of pretend, and make sure you create a consequence that is consistent and reasonable—that goes with breaking any of the rules. In that way, the rules will have meaning.

It is essential to pair any meaningful rule, with a clear consequence. This includes the formal or more informal rules, which we create.

These consequences need to be stated, and made clear. But not every day. State it once, and perhaps write it down.

Then, let the consequences do the teaching.


Because threatening consequences is how we end up using WAY too many words (Remember Lesson 1). Likewise, negotiating or arguing over the rule or the consequences leads to a very negative outcome, especially with the more defiant or strong-willed child.

This leads to the real power of the consequence!

Lesson 6: Use Consequences Instead of Words to Teach Limits.

The reason for the rules is to establish limits in your home. With the more defiant child, these limits are essential! And if you use your voice to set limits… you will end up in constant battles and struggles to get things done, or to get cooperation. Over time, it gets very ugly.

Thus, we must turn to using consequences to set limits, and trust that those consequences will teach what needs to be taught. We know your words will not teach those limits. We know begging and pleading will not work. We know that constant threats will not work. We know that fighting and arguing will not work.

So here, we abandon all that. We are choosing a few select rules, and making sure those become meaningful to the defiant child through the use of a consistent consequence.

For example, one simple rule might be this: when it’s time for dinner, you will stop playing, cut off the TV or video, and come to dinner. If you don’t come, I will come to you, turn off the TV/video/take the toy, and you will lose it for 48 hours.

With such a simple rule, and clear consequence attached, you will find the defiant child will test you. They will not come because you threaten this.

You will actually have to remove the toy, cut off the game/Ipad/video, and then lock it down for 48 hours. You might have to do these three or four times, but soon… you will see much more cooperation when dinner is ready.

Simple? Yes!

Instantly effective? No

Predictably effective over a few weeks? YES!

Critical Point: Such consequences will only work IF you have honored the first three lessons for several weeks! Otherwise, you will just make a more hostile defiant child.

However, if you have stopped using your words, and ended your battles with the defiance, the tantrums and the negativity, you can then focus on setting up a few, important rules. If you then enforce these consistently with consequences, things will get ugly.

Did I say ugly? YES! Initially, things will get very ugly. This is not a sign of being on the wrong track. This is a sign that you are on the right path!

Because if you keep honoring the system, the defiance will fade and cooperation will improve. That’s my promise to you. It’s not easy, but the system will work with your defiant child.

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About Dr Cale

During the past 23 years, in working with hundreds of families, I began to realize that many parents, just like you, were showing up in my office well-educated—but getting poor results. They had been to therapy, they had read the books and even attended other training programs—yet their children were still not listening, not doing homework and not cooperating.

I discovered that many of these parents were parenting with false ideas about how to predictable and reliably shape and change their children’s behavior. As a result, I began to develop ideas about the core behavior change principles…and how to turn each of these into specific parenting solutions. As long as I was able to stay true to these principles, the most challenging problems quickly faded away.

My purpose with this program is to give you access to the strategies that come from these core principles. By practicing and following through with the techniques in this program, you will be able to transform any set of negative behavior patterns in your home. Your kids will be happier and more responsible. They will quickly learn to be respectful, cooperative and helpful around the house. Tantrums, whining, complaining and negativity will be a thing of the past.