Raising Girls

6 Steps to Resolving Conflict with Your Strong-Willed Daughter

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It’s the same old conflict: Parent versus child. Throughout the ages, parents are at odds with their offspring at some point in the growing up process. You might even be getting a taste of some of that right now with your own daughter.

Toddlers + adolescents are usually the biggest perpetrators of “boundary testing.” If you can survive these years, most girls grow beyond the attitudes + adopt a more mature nature.

Unfortunately, for many parents, this “phase” is anything but. They grapple with real-life destructive behavior because they deal with a defiant daughter. If you are experiencing this, rest assured that there is help for your daughter + there is help for you.

Defiance can go beyond the age-appropriate outbursts. In these situations, other conditions may be present that exacerbate overly strong-willed attitudes in your daughter.

It could even stem from a chemical imbalance of some sort in the brain or a learning disability. The point is that there are solutions. Your daughter is not a “demon seed,” as some might like to label her, but someone you love who needs your assistance.

Hang in there, Mama! We’re going to learn how to get to know life through your daughter’s eyes + get into to her head to see what she’s thinking.

Hang in for a bumpy ride as we maneuver the “thinking errors” that young girls aren’t always able to turn off. Finally, we’re going to pave the way to steps for resolving conflict with your defiant daughter + find ways to better understand her.

How a Defiant Daughter Thinks

One common myth we have to overcome is that our daughter is a mini-version of us. In reality, her way of thinking is drastically different from ours.

Let’s face it. They don’t have the experience we have. Her brain isn’t fully developed so she doesn’t connect reasoning + analyzing + numerous other actions the way we do as adults.

As she learns to sit, stand, walk, talk, reason, share + understand, she also develops self-centered feelings that might make her act defiant — as in refusing to clean her room or throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t want to put on her shoes right now.

Until she develops + learns to be in control of her actions + that she can control her emotions, she doesn’t really know any other way to react other than what she’s feeling inside so it can come across as defiance.

A defiant child, on the other hand, sees things in their own way. What you view as reasonable requests are just reasons into an argument. Here are some snippets from the book “Day in the Life of a Defiant Child.”

“I don’t want to get out of bed. School is dumb. I’ll just lay here.”

“I don’t have enough time to get ready before the bus comes. This sucks. Why do I have to go to school?”

“Why should I do my homework? I’ll never use any of this stuff. My teacher hates me anyway.”

“Can you take me to school? Otherwise I’ll be late since I missed the bus.”

“Stay off my back. I’m doing the best I can. Nothing I do is ever good enough for you guys.”

“There’s nothing wrong with watching this show. All my friends’ parents let them watch it. You just don’t want me to be cool.”

Does any of this sound familiar to you? You may have heard it so much that you just tune it out, roll your eyes + keep moving.

Or, your blood boils every time you hear it + the shouting commences.

These statements are inflammatory + meant to invoke these reactions from you. Defiant daughters have a goal + it’s to enrage you enough to give in to their demands so they can go on living as they always have.

The problem is these attitudes are not healthy + not productive for you, for your daughter or for your family as a whole. It can only lead to more trouble, as your daughter gets older.

A child who sees the world like this on a daily basis is not only defiant but might be suffering from some sort of disorder. What could be driving your child to exhibit such behavior?

  • Peer pressure and/or rejection (bullying, teasing, drugs, sex, alcohol or other)
  • Past traumatic experiences (physical or sexual abuse, for example, with or without the parent’s knowledge)
  • Conflict with parents (parental expectations, separation, divorce, or remarriage)
  • Body image issues (developing too fast or not as fast as their peers do)
  • Sibling issues (dangerous sibling rivalry, bullying, etc.)
  • Defiance is the thing that is “in” right now so it’s okay to do

This is by no means a comprehensive list.

It does bring many different kinds of situations to your attention, though. Children can set unrealistic expectations for themselves + feel too embarrassed to tell you when something is going on with them. As a result, they try to handle it themselves + it results in defiant behavior.

You’re not a mind reader as a parent (You probably already know this.) so you don’t make the connection all the time, which can further infuriate your daughter into thinking that you don’t care so they don’t tell you when they’re having problems.

Chemical imbalances + disabilities can also cause defiant behavior in girls. It is possible that she is suffering from:

  • Anxiety disorders (ADD, ADHD, ODD, panic attacks or another)
  • Depression (bipolar depression or clinical depression)
  • Learning disabilities (dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, or another)

It can create the perfect storm if your daughter is suffering from one of these disorders + has to deal with her emotions at the same time.

Whatever the reasons causing the defiance, you’re going to have to address the underlying issues to take the necessary steps to correct it.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Almost every child goes through a defiant period in their life–especially during the formative years. Sometimes, though, it’s to an extreme. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a medical condition that must be diagnosed by a professional clinician.

ODD is something different than typical acting out. It is not a phase but an ongoing set of behaviors that don’t resolve or get better, but progressively worsen, especially if not treated through training + behavior modification (for both parents + children).

A child may be suffering from ODD if they exhibit one or more of these chronic symptoms almost daily for at least six months.

Children with ODD:

  • Are prone to using bad language
  • Lose their temper easily + often
  • Argue with adults including their parents (they believe that they are equal to adults)
  • Refuse to comply with requests from their parents, teachers + other adults
  • Annoy others on purpose
  • Talk back to adults
  • Blame others for their problems + accept no responsibility for their actions
  • Are annoyed easily by other people including friends + family members
  • Show vindictive behavior over perceived slights
  • Angry all the time
  • Resentful of other people

These children believe that it is their right to do as they please. If something displeases them, they rage against it until they get their way.

For them, defiant behavior is a norm instead of an exception. The danger is these patterns can carry over into adulthood where their behavior could turn violent + lead to problems at work + with the law.

Thinking Errors in Defiant Children + Teens

We all can exhibit “thinking errors” at times in our lives. This is not unique to young or teenage girls.

Consider the alcoholic who says that they can drink + function at the same time. Or the person who wants to lose weight but doesn’t see the harm in eating half a gallon of ice cream after dinner because they will “work it off” tomorrow. It’s called “justification.” These thought patterns are used every day by someone (mostly adults) to feel better about making poor choices.

As adults, we understand what we are doing but deceive ourselves so it will be alright. Children don’t have this knowledge. They act this way to gain the upper hand, or power, over others in their lives.

When they see it works, their behavior will continue along that vein whether the outcome is good or bad. For defiant children, the outcomes tend to be negative + that’s where their power lies. When we as parents give in to their demands, we are reinforcing negative behavior + showing that their tactics work.

Here are five thinking errors that a defiant daughter may exhibit.

Victim Stance:  As a victim, everything is done “to” you so the responsibility for fixing a situation doesn’t fall on you but the person who is the aggressor.

Defiant daughters may play the “victim” role to get out of taking responsibility for situations where they are clearly at fault. There are times when our children or we may actually be a victim, but it is not healthy to live in that position in everyday life.

Blaming others seems to absolve them from trying a new task, making mistakes, or moving ahead in life when they are afraid or embarrassed. Instead of trying, they cry foul + become angry.

Uniqueness: This is when children feel that they are above everyone else. Pitfalls that would ensnare a lesser person don’t apply to them.

The alcoholic, mentioned above, is an example of this. He can drive unimpaired by a few drinks because he has a false sense of superiority + security. Clearly, alcohol compromises the system + his logic is faulty.

For kids, it could be the reason why they don’t study for a test. Hanging out with the wrong crowd won’t influence them because they are “different.”

Concrete Transactions: Defiant daughters use adults + others as a means to an end. You are only useful as long as you perform the job that they need you for. They may trade on their friendship with someone to get them to go along with something bad or illegal. Being nice to parents is only so they will do something for them even after the parent has put their foot down.

Turnaround: No matter what you say, your defiant child will turn the remark around on you. If you are not prepared for it, you’ll be caught off guard.

You end up annoyed because they are not cleaning their room. Your child retaliates by saying that you don’t love them or that you are too hard on them. They accuse you of all sorts of atrocities in order to change the subject + get out of punishment.

One-way Training: Instead of you getting your child to follow the rules, she is training you to follow her rules. When confronted with a task she doesn’t want to do or a skill that she doesn’t want to learn, she turns things around to focus on your behavior.

She may go through your belongings in your room but then bark at you when you come into her room. She may lie + say she has other things to do or too much on her plate to put off whatever you are asking her to do for later. Manipulation is not above her.


  1. Learn to understand your child – In the case of defiant children, this is almost as important as loving them. In fact, it is an expression of your love for them. Discover how she thinks + why she thinks the way does. If you need to employ the services of a psychologist or psychiatrist to assist your family with sorting through the mess + getting to the root of the issues so everyone can live a more productive life.
  2. Avoid yelling – This is hard but yelling is counterproductive. Instead, step away from the situation. Instead of giving in to what your daughter wants, leave the area. Return to the discussion when you can keep your emotions in check.
  3. Listen to your child – In between her shouting + double talk are clues to why she is acting the way she is. Actively listening is also the way to compartmentalize your emotions as you seek out the information you need to help your daughter.
  4. Positive reinforcement – Your child is looking for power + doesn’t care if the results are negative or positive. Ensure that the results are positive through positive reinforcement. Offer encouragement, praise, validation + even rewards for positive behaviors she exhibits. Reduce her negative power by refusing to give in to her demands + refusing to produce the desired negative results.
  5. Redirect her energies – Think about the last time you were mad. Your heart was racing, your muscles were tense + you had a lot of excess energy. The same goes for your child. Use productive ways to burn off that energy that doesn’t involve negative behaviors. Teach her to use exercise (playing basketball, running, biking, jumping jacks, etc.) as a stress reliever to calm down. Physical movement satisfies the urge to throw or hit something while allowing her to come back down to earth.
  6. Set boundaries + stick to them – Following through with consequences, no matter what sad story your child tells, lets her know how things work in real life.

Being defiant is a normal phase for most girls, but goes beyond normal for some. If your daughter is exhibiting defiant behavior (whether it escalates or not), nip it in the bud right now.

Understand your daughter’s way of thinking + then combat each behavior by hitting it head on. Follow through with firm consequences for negative behavior. Stress reinforcement of positive behaviors as a way to move away from those destructive patterns. Give your daughter the tools she needs to fuel her growth into adulthood + a successful life.

XOXO, Kristie
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