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Is it okay for a child to show defiance?

My six-year-old has suddenly become sassy and disrespectful in her manner at home. She told me to “buzz off” when I asked her to pick up her toys, and she calls me names when she gets angry. I feel it is important to permit this emotional outlet, so I haven’t tried to suppress it. Do you agree?


I’m afraid I don’t. Your daughter is aware of her sudden defiance, and she’s waiting to see how far you will let her go. If you don’t discourage disrespectful behaviour now, you can expect some wild experiences during the adolescent years to come.

With regard to your concern about emotional ventilation, you are right in saying your daughter needs to express her anger. She should be free to say anything to you provided it is said in a respectful manner. It is acceptable to say, “I think you love my brother more than me,” or “You weren’t fair with me, Mommy.”
There is a thin line between what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour at this point. The child’s expression of strong frustration, even resentment and anger, should be encouraged if it exists. You certainly don’t want her to bottle it inside. On the other hand, you should not permit your daughter to resort to name-calling and open rebellion. “Mom, you hurt my feelings in front of my friends” is an acceptable statement. “You stupid idiot, why didn’t you shut up when my friends were here?!” is obviously unacceptable.
If approached rationally, as described in the first statement, it would be wise for the mother to sit down and try to understand the child’s viewpoint. She should be big enough to apologise to the child if she was wrong.
If she feels she was right, however, she should calmly explain why she reacted as she did and tell the child how he or she can avoid a collision next time. It is possible to ventilate feelings without sacrificing parental respect, and the child should be taught how to do it. This communicative tool will be very useful later in life, especially in a possible future marriage.
This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia (www.family.org.my) and the Questions and Answers are extracted from “Complete Family and Marriage Home Reference Guide” by Dr James Dobson with permission.

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