The Perfect Response for a Defiant Child

A perfect phrase for how to respond to your children when they cross a line and need to obey you immediately. Learn more on how to achieve obedience and get a defiant child to obey.

Defiant looking girl in black and white photo

Whenever you face a challenging situation in life that is benefitted from a quick response by you, it is helpful to think through what you would or would not do in that situation.

Discipline is one of those situations.

Correcting your child’s behavior will be much smoother if you have an idea of how you will respond in any given situation.

This can help you avoid arguing and yelling. It can also help mitigate power struggles.

A discipline phrase is an excellent way to handle defiant behavior. You have a phrase you say to your kid when a certain situation arises. This can help you avoid becoming upset and flustered.

>>>Read: 7 Phrases To Help You Avoid Losing Your Temper as a Parent

It also helps introduce consistency and set up appropriate expectations. Your child automatically knows certain behavior will not be tolerated.

Saying “That is not a request” for Defiant Behavior

Many years ago, readers asked me to share how I handled difficult situations with my kids when there was misbehavior. I noticed I used a lot of discipline phrases.

As I have paid attention to discipline phrases that I used with my children, I noticed that I often said, “That is not a request.”

If my young child did not want to listen and threw temper tantrums when asked to do things, I would respond, “That is not a request.”

As I thought about this, I realized that “That is not a request” is very similar to one of my favorite phrases: “I didn’t ask if you wanted to…

So why the two different phrases that communicate the same meaning?

Discipline Phrase for Unacceptable Behavior

I find that I use “That is not a request” when I feel my child not obeying me is basically unacceptable.

I have sympathy for my preschooler not wanting to do certain things. I know there are things that he, for whatever reason, hates to do. With those items, I use “I didn’t ask if you wanted to…”

Remember that my tone and demeanor for “I didn’t ask if you wanted too…” are very nonchalant. I am just matter of fact. These are things that he must do.

But I get that he doesn’t want to, so we aren’t going to take things too seriously. 

>>>Read: Discipline Phrases that Help You Avoid Losing Your Temper as a Parent

The perfect discipline phrase for a defiant child

When To Say “That Is Not a Request”

I use “That is not a request” when I feel like my child is simply being disobedient to be disobedient. This is defiance.

This is not a thing that he sincerely dislikes, it is a thing that he is trying to negotiate his way out of at the moment. It is a moment when he is trying to establish himself as an equal to his parents.

“That is not a request” lets him know that his behavior is unacceptable and whatever it is I have asked him to do is not up for debate. Not only that, he is close to losing some privilege.

This can happen when I have asked him to put his coat on and he isn’t ready to go yet. “That is not a request” and the coat is being put on quickly.

A quick note, as your child gets older, it is great to let your child start to make decisions and live with those consequences. With teenagers, you might suggest they wear a coat, but if they decline, you let them see what it is like without a coat. With younger children, you will require they wear a coat. With young school-age children, you might require they take a coat to school but let them make the decision while running errands.

Back to our scenarios.

Perhaps I have asked him to complete a chore and he starts to try to tell me he needs to do X first. “That is not a request” and the chore is being done.

If he is responding in an unacceptable way or just flat out breaking family rules, I give the instruction. If the instruction is not followed, I say. “That is not a request.”

>>>Read: Discipline 101: The Basics of Correcting Children

This isn’t to say that your child can never talk to you or let you know of hindrances to what you have requested. If your child is creating a masterful LEGO creation when you tell him to do something, it is reasonable for him to request a few more minutes to wrap things up first.

You should listen to these requests and concerns your child has. You need to raise a person who can think for herself and who can feel comfortable expressing legitimate concerns.

You should also show your child respect and set him up for success. For example, give him warning that something is going to happen. “In three minutes we are going to go home.” This gives your child the opportunity to talk to you about any potential pitfalls she sees with your plan before you have given a full-on instruction.

Respect your child’s time and effort. If your child is in the middle of putting together a puzzle and time allows, give him a chance to finish it before leaving or cleaning up. I know I hate to leave something unfinished, so I always try to let my children get to a good stopping point before they have to leave a project.

>>>Read: The Perfect Way to Respond to a Dramatic Child

The Vocal Tone of this Discipline Phrase

While “I didn’t ask if you wanted to…” is quite nonchalant for me, “That is not a request” is very firm. My Mommy Glare is in place and my child knows this is definitely not a time for argument. My voice is calm, but firm. I will often emphasize the word “not”. 

Picture of a girl in black and white with text overlay


This is a great idea for a phrase you can use when your child has crossed a line. It is simply here as an illustration for you to get ideas on what you can do or say when your child is non-compliant, because it does happen. You can make the phrase your own if you like the idea but want different words.

The exact words used are not important (so long as they communicate the meaning accurately). What is important is that you are consistent with your expectations and consistent with the phrase used. Do not use the “You have really crossed the line” phrase if your child didn’t really just majorly cross the line. 

And remember to praise your child for good behavior when it happens. When you give an instruction and your child obeys right away, thank your child for listening. You do not want to only ever respond and focus on unwanted behavior. Positive reinforcement is very powerful.

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Girl with long hair looking defiantly at the camera with the words 
That is not a request" on the screen

This post first appeared on this blog in May 2009

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