When I sense a child is even thinking about heading down the path of defiance, I move forward and block. I get in their space and use my body and demeanor to communicate, “You might want to rethink that.” I am never confrontational – just calm and authoritative.
In the snack cake example (#2 above), ideally you should not let it get to the point where you have to be on defense and physically block the cabinet door. After refusing her request, I would watch the child’s body and facial cues and sense her laser focus on the snack cake.
Instead of engaging the argument (“You can’t have a snack cake right now, they’re only for dessert, blah, blah, blah. . .”) and letting her brain escalate, I would walk to the child and use power phrases or redirection to block the thought itself. We don’t want her thoughts escalating into action.
Get her focus off the cake and back on you. You could, for example, give a choice of two healthy snack items (for instance, carrots or apples) to choose from as an alternative. If those are turned down, stay matter-of-fact and say, “Sure, that’s fine.
You may go back to your card game or work on your science project.” That lets her know it’s perfectly okay if she forgoes the snack and now she has a choice of two activities. Keep the activity choices narrow because the potential snack cake fit should clue you in that she obviously needs more boundaries and limits.
When you change your thinking and approach, you can sniff out undesirable behavior before it comes to a head. Not only do you need to block the snack cake laser and keep it from turning into a ridiculous fight, you need to address the underlying issue: no boundaries or limits. So make some.
Now, let’s say it does turn into a ridiculous fight. If she argues that she wants something different than your two choices, just say, “Carrots or apples. Those are your choices.” Repeat that a maximum of twice. If she keeps coming back at you with arguments, use your calm, authoritative demeanor and take away ALL choices.
Redirect her to a task. “Because you’re arguing, you’ve lost your choice. No snack. Now go work on your science project.” Again, repeat this a maximum of twice. (You can shorten it when repeating. “You’ve lost your choice. Go work on your project.”) Do NOT give in, even if she agrees to apples or carrots at this point. If you relent and let her have apples, carrots, or anything else, you’ve just reinforced the arguing.
Next, use physical prompts to guide her to start walking toward her science project, and keep your talking to a minimum to avoid engaging the argument. Keep your cool, stay firm, and that’s it. Make it clear that the discussion is over. No more. We are done!