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How to Help a Defiant Child at School and Home


My 5-year-old niece is struggling in school. She's defiant, pitches fits and has been told by her teachers that she will need to wait another year before starting kindergarten. She acts up at home as well. How can my sister improve her daughter's behavior?



Teaching our children social skills is one of the earliest and most important jobs we have as parents. Social skills can be taught at home differently from how they’re taught at school. Consistency is the key. Your sister should teach her daughter the behavior she wants her to display and practice that behavior every day. Games like “Mother May I” and “Simon Says” are fun for young children to play and help them learn social skills like “Asking Permission” and “Following Instructions.” 

For example, your sister can use “Simon Says” to teach your niece the skill of “Following Instructions” by telling her there are three rules:

  1. Look – Stop what you are doing and look at the person who’s talking
  2. Say – Say “Okay” so the person knows you are listening
  3. Do – Do what you are asked immediately and in the best way you can

As adults, we have to show the child what we want her to do so​ she understands what is expected of her and sees that she can do it. This means prompting her throughout the game to do what is being practiced. 

Your sister can incorporate play throughout the day to reinforce the skill she is teaching. For example, before telling the child to come to the table, she can hold up three fingers and prompt the child to review the three steps required for the skill of “Following Instructions” (Look, Say, Do). Your sister also can give praise like high-fives, claps and encouraging words to reinforce positive behavior when the child does what she is asked to do. If your sister is consistent with her teaching and expectations, she should see positive results.