Why Does My Child Do the Opposite of What I Say? [7 Reasons]
As a parent, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of your child seeming to deliberately do the opposite of what you say.
Whether it’s refusing to eat their veggies, staying up past bedtime, or interrupting you when you’re on the phone, this behavior can be exasperating.
But before you give up hope of ever getting your kid to listen to you, it’s important to understand why they’re acting this way.
Why Does My Child Do the Opposite of What I Say?
Children do the opposite of what you say because they are testing limits and boundaries.
Doing the opposite of what you say is a way to explore different outcomes, whether it is intended by your child or not.
Wherever you may fall on the parenting spectrum and however “good” your kid may be, sooner or later, they’re bound to disobey.
Once they start, it can be hard to stop them from doing the opposite of what you say.
Tell them to stay put, they off running everywhere. Tell them to eat something, and they refuse.
You tell them to be quiet, and they’ll scream even louder than before.
Why does this happen and, more importantly, what should you do about it?
As a former Yelling Mom, I know how the cycle goes. First, you ask your kids nicely.
Then you remind. And you repeat …and remind. After all that nagging, you finally EXPLODE.
If you’re stuck in this never-ending cycle, you’re not alone. I know how easy it is to resort to YELLING when nothing else works to get your kids to listen.
I felt so GUILTY and helpless. So, when I learned there were BETTER, guilt-free ways to get my kids to listen, my life CHANGED.
After spending many months in frustration, I discovered a NEW parenting strategy that WORKS with no yelling!
It was created by Amy McCready, and she has a FREE class where she teaches about this NO-yelling formula for consequences, and so much more!
7 Things That cause a child to be disrespectful
Your child does the opposite of what you say for 7 reasons.
Curiosity, confusion, lack of clear bond, moodiness, attention-seeking, oppositional defiant disorder, or simply a power play.
Below, we’ll look at these reasons in detail and give you tips on how to deal with them so that your child will start obeying you again.
Part of what makes kids who do the opposite of what they’re told hard to deal with is that you don’t want to squelch their natural curiosity.
Their curiosity is a vital asset that can serve them well as they develop into intelligent, imaginative children and adults.
Sometimes coloring outside the lines or thinking outside the box is what’s needed to break ground and achieve one’s full potential.
On the other hand, a total lack of boundaries can make it hard for your child to focus their creative or intellectual energies.
How to address curiosity:
One of the most effective ways to teach and enforce boundaries is with warmth and empathy.
The key is to be firm without being too strict or too harsh.
Rather than saying, “No,” try something like, “I know you want to, but we don’t do that.”
Or, if it’s a rule violation, say something like this: “It’s not okay for you to do X now because Y.”
Offer a logical reason behind the reasoning to further help them understand.
For very young children, everything is new, including objections to their actions.
While an adult or even a child a few years younger may “know better,” they may still be figuring everything out.
This confusion can also be helped by the fact that very young children often lack the same ability to associate words with actions as fully as adults.
For example, if you tell a very young child “Don’t eat that,” they may not have a full idea of “Don’t” yet, while they almost certainly have a clearer idea of what “eating” is.
Eating is a lot more visceral and instinctual than being told not to do something, let alone the clarity of why eating something might be “bad.”
It is easier for young children to imagine and respond to visual things than abstract concepts, including being told not to do things.
In addition, the pleasure principle is strong in children, and learning not to satiate immediate desires is something that takes time to learn.
Children don’t know about calories, rotting teeth, or diabetes, so being told “Don’t eat chocolate” may prove confusing to them.
All they mentally understand of chocolate so far is that it tastes delicious and is good to eat.
So, why not eat it? For children, such commands are a mystery, and it takes time to learn that kind of thinking.
What to do to solve confusion:
Be patient with them, but be firm as well.
When possible, try to acknowledge the fact that they’re probably wondering why they can’t do something “immediately” and thus want to do the opposite of your command.
Why can’t they eat chocolate now? Because you’re busy doing something else but maybe when you finish some tasks, they can have more chocolate.
In any case, giving clear explanations and trying to address their confusion is more constructive than yelling at children.
Children can recognize an angry or threatening tone on an emotional level long before they understand verbal commands and abstract ideas.
They may not know why you’re angry at them or what they can or should do, but they’ll definitely know that you’re angry and threatening them.
This will not only heighten their confusion but could cause them to defy you even more.
3. Lack of a Clear Bond.
“You’re Not My Real Mother/Father!” is a common cry among stepchildren who are challenging their new stepparents.
Such a situation is understandably tense, in part because such a new relationship in the place of an older, established bond with a previous parent can be tenuous.
Even if you do not have to deal with stepparents or children, they might not follow your orders or commands if the connection you have with them is not strong enough.
If you aren’t around regularly, for example, your child may feel distant from you.
If you don’t talk to them very often, they may not care when you do decide to speak.
The opposite is also true: if you’re constantly around and always talking, your child may tune you out.
How to solve a lack of clear bonds:
Try to be there for them as frequently as possible and try to have meaningful conversations with them.
Ask them about their day, what they like, and what they don’t like.
Be a listening ear, not just a person who barks orders. Let them know that you trust them and that you believe in them.
Respect is a two-way street, and it’s hard to respect someone who doesn’t seem to respect you in return.
4. Moodiness and Mood Swings.
It should come as no surprise to any parent that children can experience severe mood swings.
This is something that all children go through in some form or another and can last well into their teenage years.
In both cases, these are often just growing pains and changes in hormones as the body grows and adapts to the changes it is undergoing.
There are certainly cases where those mood swings are less benign.
There’s a big difference between hormonal moody behavior and an “I Want It Now” moody tantrum.
How to address moodiness and mood swings:
Giving in to these demands can spoil them. It is important to be empathetic with your child.
But it is just as indispensable for you to make sure that they are safe and to let them know that you are in charge.
If you can, try to find the cause of their mood swings. Is it something that they’re seeing or experiencing at school?
Are they not getting enough sleep?
If you can identify the root cause, then you can work on a solution together.
But in any case, be consistent with your expectations and how you deal with their tantrums.
5. Attention-Seeking Behavior.
The same holds true with attention-seeking behavior.
The more you give into screaming, the more your child will learn its effectiveness and repeat it.
As hard as it may be, you have to ignore this kind of behavior.
Let your child embarrass and tire themselves out, and they’ll learn it’s not worth it.
How to deal with attention-seeking behavior:
This is a challenging one, as it’s often difficult not to cave in and give them the attention they want.
But if you can, try to remain calm and unresponsive to their outbursts.
If they see that they aren’t getting the reaction they want, they’ll eventually stop.
But be prepared for a long and hard battle, as this behavior is frequently habitual and deeply entrenched.
6. Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
One of the ways children learn and explore the world around them is by testing limits and boundaries. This can manifest in a variety of ways.
Some children are so oppositional that it affects their development and lives.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder is one of several disorders that may be diagnosed when a child has frequent, severe outbursts in the form of crying or screaming.
They are recognized by their sheer number and severity of outbursts, which are typical tantrums and stubborn behavior.
How to address oppositional defiant disorder:
In these cases, therapy and professional help may be beneficial for you and your child.
You may also want to try reward systems, which allow you to give your child what they want after a long day of good behavior.
This will teach them that doing the right thing can pay off in the end.
7. Power Plays.
“No” is one of the earliest words that children learn, which means that one reason why they employ it so often is simply that they think they can.
It’s a simple, easy word that they know and understand, and it gives them a sense of power to say “No” when they can’t comprehend more complex concepts.
What can you do as a parent do in such a situation?
One approach is to avoid places where choices may be simple “Yes” or “No” options.
This allows you to avoid the aggravation of a child merely replying “No” and doing the opposite of what you ask, as well as providing an opportunity for a conversation.
You may not want to “have a talk” with your child, but it is worth trying. Don’t shout for them to do something.
Try talking calmly and rationally to them, telling them what you expect and why.
You might give your child choices where one “choice” is clearly skewed towards the way you want them to answer.
You could also try positioning them as your “helper.” Children are new to ideas of power and control (that’s one reason why “No” is so easy and fun for them to use).
Making them your “helper” can make them feel important while stopping them from doing the opposite of everything you say.
How do you deal with a contrary child?
Every so often, the best strategy is simply to let your child make and learn from their mistakes.
There are only so many times you can ask them to eat their vegetables and have them do the opposite by refusing.
If they do this enough times, simply wait them out and, if necessary, end mealtime.
Once they see that you aren’t going to cave in, they may feel more inclined to actually listen and appreciate the food they have.
On the other hand, if you constantly cave to their demands and replace the food they have with treats, why wouldn’t they do the opposite of what you ask in this and other situations?
You’ve shown them that their stubbornness will get them what they want, so why wouldn’t they follow that pattern in the future?
While no parent likes having to deal with a child’s oppositional and obstinate behavior, it’s often an inevitable part of a child’s development.
It doesn’t make them a “bad kid,” but simply a kid.
Learning how to respond to this behavior can help your child move through it and ensure that they develop more positively in the future.