A Few Fast Words Regarding “Defiance” In Children Under the Age of 6

Does this exist?

From a Waldorf perspective, children in the first seven year cycle are neither inherently good nor bad but learning.  They are not “defiant”; defiance implies a fully conscious knowing of right and wrong and choosing to do the opposite, wrong, thing.  Since in the land of Waldorf parenting we believe the first seven years are a dreamy state, a state where logical thought has not yet entered, a state where the child is one giant sense organ (an eye!) and just taking in sensory impressions without a filter, there can be no “defiance”. Many times the power struggles we create with our children are a result of our own lack of knowledge of developmental stages, not having the right tools to guide our child, our own inner issues at the moment and not as much to do with the child as we thought!

Of course a small child wants what they want when they want it.  This is part of the fact that the small child lives specifically within their bodies and within their WILL.  Remember, Waldorf is about willing, feeling, and thinking.  Thinking comes in much later.  A two-year-old  will push against forms that you create in rhythm; this is why the rhythm is for YOU if you have a child under the age of 6.  If your child does not want to participate in what is going on at the moment, you are still DOING it yourself and the child may or may not join in.  This is another reason to not “push” official “school” with a child of three or four; in the classroom environment there is a whole class with older children doing the same thing  to help hold the space but at home the child has perhaps no other age to carry them along.

As far as “not listening” which seems to be the most common compliant hooked into “defiance” (ie, I tell them something and they don’t do it) (and by the way, I hear this in the part of the country where I live starting with one-year-olds!  My one-year-old doesn’t listen!  They are so naughty!), a small child is not SUPPOSED to listen. 

Yes, re-read that for a moment.  You may think this is a very radical statement!

Read it again.  Your 2, 3, 4, and yes even 5 year old is living in their BODY,  not in their head.  When you give them a “verbal command” and they have to go up into their head to process it, this is involving thinking, which is something Waldorf educators see children using as a dominant way to respond to an environment LATER.  It is NOT that small children do not think, it is NOT that they do not have thoughts, important thoughts!!,  but that they live in the moment, they have this will to do what they want without many overriding mechanisms at this point to slow things down. They are LEARNING.

From an attachment parenting perspective, we also do not look at the small child as being “defiant” or “naughty.”  We look at what the child might be feeling underneath the behavior being displayed.  We look at what we can modify in the environment.  We look at how we can calmly guide the child in the situation. 

We look at this in Waldorf as well, it is just in Waldorf we tend not to ask as many questions of the child because we feel words may not be the best way to communicate with the small child who is living in the BODY. We try to communicate through movement, through fantasy, through song and verse.  This changes as the child grows!  It does not last forever!

With both Waldorf and attachment parenting, we strive to look at NORMAL developmental behavior.  A three, four and five ear old, even a six-year-old may throw themselves on the floor, throw an object, scream and cry.  Dressing themselves with only a reminder comes in at the AVERAGE age of five.  If you are having trouble with a specific age, please, please use the tags sidebar and click on the age that is problematic right now to you:  the three-year-old, the-four-year-old, etc etc.  Four and six seem to be ages that give parents the MOST trouble.  There are many posts specifically geared to these ages.

If you feel you are having difficulty with changing your mindset from a punitive, punishment, my –child –is –wrong –and- I –am –right- mindset with a small child, this is not going to get you going anywhere great.  Here are some posts to help you!



and my personal favorite regarding how we create battlefields where we and our children are on opposite sides:


This is about realistic expectations for toddlers and includes the different disciplinary styles of families:


If you are still saying, well, but MY child does this and i have no tools, I urge you to call your local La Leche League Chapter or Attachment Parenting Chapter.  Many times the Leaders there can help you troubleshoot discipline issues and challenges over the phone and give helpful, gentle suggestions!  They may also have special meetings geared JUST to gentle discipline.

Gentle discipline does NOT mean not setting boundaries, but we try to do it in a way that respects the child’s developmental stage, keep the child’s dignity intact and guide the child.  Here are examples of ways to set limits for toddlers in gentle ways with consideration for the child:



 THE THREE YEAR OLD:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/19/peaceful-life-with-a-three-year-old/

THE FOUR YEAR OLD:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/06/03/more-about-the-four-year-old/   and this one:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/02/07/peaceful-life-with-a-four-year-old/

THE FIVE YEAR OLD:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/02/23/peaceful-living-with-the-six-year-old/

THE SIX YEAR OLD:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/02/23/peaceful-living-with-the-six-year-old/

THE SEVEN YEAR OLD:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/04/19/peaceful-living-with-your-seven-year-old/

and for the big picture, some tools:


We set boundaries, but many times we often deal with things indirectly!  Here is an example a mom sent in, and here is how I might have handled that:

(This is a four-year-old):  The situation was this: 

This morning, she wanted to sit in our car-daddy got in & drove away to work -she pitched a fit, threw a little car she was holding. I told her she may not throw her toys. So she threw a little soft toy she was holding with her other hand. So I told her to sit down right where she was. “i will not sit down’ hmmm. So I say, you may stay put until you sit down & carried on with the skipping game with her older sister. Eventually she sat down.

What was the feeling of the little girl?  Perhaps she wanted her daddy to stay home, perhaps she just wanted to play in the car but daddy needed to go right then, perhaps she just wanted to try out pretending to go to work with daddy.  Let’s attribute positive intent!

Maybe I would have said, “You really wanted to go to work today!  Did you know that even animals go to work?  Once upon a time, there was  a frog who really wanted to go to work too, but he couldn’t jump!  (take chalk and draw two lines, I assume this situation happened in the driveway or the garage to involve a car??).  Can you be a frog and show me how to hop over these two lines?”

Perhaps I would have said, “Oh, I see cars on the floor!  Maybe they need a road! “ and get out something to draw or build a road.

Perhaps I would have said, “Wow, I really could use your help! I can’t figure out how many times in a row your sister can skip!  Maybe we could count together?”

Perhaps she needed a snack and then we put the toy cars back in the garage together!

Those are just some examples of an indirect way to approach things; distraction is a very viable tool even up through age 7 and we often forget!  Restitution is also VERY important, but we cannot force restitution in the moment of flooding emotion, we must calm down and go back to it.  Forcing the child to do “X” when they are upset and you are upset is not a productive learning tool; a sincere opportunity exists for learning when the flooded moment has passed.  But this is still through action, not so many words!

Hope these thoughts are helpful and many blessings on your day as you become the peaceful parent you want to be!

Lots of love,


39 thoughts on “A Few Fast Words Regarding “Defiance” In Children Under the Age of 6

  1. Oh, this is very helpful. But how do you start to create distractions when you’re new to this? I don’t feel like I have the creativity to come up with something like that “frog jumping” story spur of the moment like that. Do you have other examples you can share?

    How would this relate to a 3 1/2 year old who consistently pushes, kicks, hits, jumps on his younger brother (8 months?). I am resorting now to time-outs, which I know don’t work well… but I haven’t found anything else that does and I’m at my wits end.

    I’ve tried moving the baby out of the way when I see the older child coming towards him with that look in his eye… but it’s often so quick and covert (like the kicks and such) that I can’t do that all the time.

    I’ve tried giving the older brother something ELSE to hit/kick (pillow, etc.). I’ve tried modeling gentle behavior.

    Obviously telling him “Gentle!” doesn’t work because we can say that ’til we’re blue in the face.

    How does distraction and “BODY” type of guidance work in this situation? Thanks in advance for your help…

    • Actually, Christi, I think this situation is something else! This is an extreme need for getting energy out – how are you starting the morning?? A walk, a visit to the park, really at this age your son probably could stand to be outside for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. I don’t know if you use a sling or not, but the best thing would be to keep them as separate as possible at this point, because your older but still little one needs that help right now to keep his energy in check. I know how hard that is with a mobile eight month old who may not want to be in a sling!
      Sounds like you are doing a great job trying to “pre-emptively” work on things, I would encourage you to look at the physical energy your little boy is getting out. Then look at what he can do with his brother to foster good relations – can he help with anything with his brother where he can be gentle and you can praise him? Bath time, feeding time, anything? Quiet time when you all snuggle together?

      I think when he is really hurting the younger one, the thing has to be separation. Protection of the littlest member is key. You are modeling being gentle with him, you are modeling how to treat someone gently.
      I would try to pick distractions unrelated to what he is doing – maybe he needs to be a flamingo standing on one leg, maybe a wiggling worm on the floor. You can also try stories to tell at bedtime where something bigger treats something smaller in a kind way.
      Many blessings,

      As far as fantasy play, I will try to think of a few more examples and post them in a separate post. I think “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge” also has examples as well.

    • I hope this post is taken with a spirit of love, you just gave such a great concrete example it really inspired me to write! Many people have asked about this issue before, and it comes up a lot where I live geographically as well, so THANK YOU for allowing me to finally try to put those pieces together.
      Many, many blessings and peace 🙂

  2. Carrie, I am truly grateful for your post.
    I would like to echo Christi & ask if you have any more concrete examples of ways to distract little ones?
    Kind regards

  3. Thanks so much for this post. I’m having a difficult time being creative lately with my almost 5 yr old, Michael. We have a new baby- 2 1/2 mos old and I find my patience level is low right now postpartum.

    One area I find myself having a hard time with is being quiet for the baby. I don’t want to ask this of Michael but find I often do. When baby is sleeping and I have household chores to get done I want him to sleep without interruption. We live in a small place. I ask Michael to play quietly. When inevitably he gets louder I get frustrated. What’s reasonable to ask of him? How might you handle this creatively? Thanks


    • I would try setting up play scenarios, forts, etc for him before nap time. Also, with a two and a half month old, many times mine would nap in a sling so I could be on the floor playing or reading with the older one and then when the naps went down to once a day we made a bigger deal of being quiet while I nursed the baby to sleep. The amount of time your older one is getting outside in the AM and then after a nap time is also paramount. I would say two hours in the morning is not too little to be outside playing for a four year old!
      Hhhmm, guess I will have to write a post about this at some point! So much to write and so little time!

  4. Carrie, Thank you, I love you. I love what you have to say. Several months ago when I began reading about Waldorf education I really helped me. Reading your blog has helped me even more. The words you type have literally changed my life. Thank you, thank you! I wanted to reply to a few of the replies if that’s ok?

    Becca, with my older son we often have the same issue. If we ask him to be quite he does the opposite! I try and involve him with my chores. I know it makes it go slower sometimes, but it’s worth it. I also do some inside and outside chores so he plays outside a bit while my young one sleeps:)

    As for creativity, I often listen to how my son plays or what he makes up to get ideas. Also, taking something from a book you read to him lately can be helpful. It’s amazing what you can get a kid to do with some creativity! We often have ‘treasure hunts’ to find things I want him to bring to me (haha) and he plays ‘super hero’ to rescue (help) his brother:)

    Thanks again!

  5. Thanks so much for the ideas! Wow, 2hrs outside, we are only doing maybe a half an hour -on a walk. We have a very small yard. I will find ways to stay out longer.


    • Carrie,
      I’m not sure if you check comments on old posts…I realize this is from a long time ago! When you say two hours outside a day for a four year old, do you mean two hours outside with mommy, or two hours outside playing (such as by herself or with other kids)? I’m having a hard time imagining how I could spend two hours outside with my child, and still get everything done that needs to happen inside! Maybe once or twice a week, but I don’t see how I could do it everyday. Of course, every mom and family is different. Just wondering what you meant. Thank you so much for the time you dedicate to this space. There is no way to describe what a lifeline of support it is!

    • Chris,
      If you have a fenced in yard and other siblings or a lone four year old who likes being out in his or her yard, then you would not have to be there. However, for most four year olds, you would have to be there.
      No, you don’t get a lot done. About an hour or so in the morning of clean up and an hour in the afternoon. Put dinner in a crock pot. But, I think the benefits of this short phase of development where you model being outside, or are together, outweigh the negatives. This won’t last forever. At some point, you really can open the door and they will go and understand this is part of your family rhythm.
      Just think about what works for you – these are the baby steps you are laying the foundation for as they get older. It becomes important. I have a teen now, in addition to a ten year old and five year old, and my teen still enjoys being outside but most of the teens I see don’t. I firmly believe this is due to the foundation I modeled when they were younger, all the outside activities we did, the hiking we did and still do on the weekend. For children 12 and up, this foundation is crucial.
      Hope that helps.

    • Chris – PS> If you are out in your back yard, don’t forget about working there. Backyard and gardening work, bird feeder filling, whittling, knitting, chopping veggies for dinner can all be done outside. Sweeping, mending – outside. You can eat lunch outside.
      I just think children need much more outside than we think.
      So, you will find what works and resonates for you as a family!

    • Chris – and second PS, hahahahaha..when my oldest was little and we didn’t have as much on our plate with the older children, we were out about two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon and much of the time I was there…now with three, I don’t have to be as much, but I still want to model and set that tone.

    • Carrie,
      Thank you so much…your replies have been immensely helpful! I’ve increased our outside time A LOT over the past week, and it has been great! My daughter is exhausted, but in a settled, happy way. She’s been less antsy/agitated, more relaxed, even when indoors. The spring weather cooperated wonderfully, as we had a gorgeous week. I’ve re-dedicated ourselves to a looong morning walk to a nearby forest park, followed by throwing rocks into the water. And I started a garden plot…on a particularly unaccommodating patch of ground…so it’s going to take a lot of time and manual labor for mama, with my little helper at my side. Now, I just have to figure out how to get the dishes done! Things have been a little topsy-turvy with a big change in rhythm and routine, but it feels right, and it will settle out. Thank you again!

    • Dear Chris,
      I am so happy! OUtside is the key for all ages, but especially for little ones. Around 9 or 10 you see a big shift towards being able to sit, read, craft, create and 12 year olds need you to balance moving and getting outside…so again, the foundation you are laying for the little ones will shift but will still be there..

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  11. Excellent resources and information. My husband and I get into the same argument about our “spirited” four year old all the time… his expectations of the child are too high, he doesn’t choose his battles and the answer to whatever our son asks is always immediately… “No…”

    I will definately pass this on to him as he needs to see that it’s not just “our son” that has trouble listening and behaving after he’s told to do something once. 🙂

    • Glad to be of help…four is a really, really challenging age Shannymarie. Please do check out all the posts on the four year old!
      Many blesssings,

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  14. I am trying to do so much unsupported on any level with my son(s). My husband outright yells at my son who says it is high time he started sitting down and doing what he is told. My son just laughed. You could see something just curl up ready to spring inside him! We both as children were subject to mainstream corporal punishment as kids (although husband denies it) and we just did not *DO* some of the stuff that my son ‘gets away with’.

    For both of us – it is having the *words* to say when the action appears – that is hanging us up from moving forward. I do not wish to see my son’s brilliant little personality cowed and broken like ours were.

    *Any link/post you have on this would be welcome. I am trying to print them at school so I am not dependent on the tube to get my information.

    Trying to have hope…

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  17. Hi there! Is it okay if I go a bit off topic? I am trying to read your domain on my new iPad but it doesnt display properly, any suggestions? Thank you for the help I hope! Donette

    • Hi Donette,

      The theme we use for this site supposedly has an iPad specific configuration which is turned on, but since I don’t have an iPad I don’t see what it looks like. Can you tell me a bit more about what it’s doing or not doing and I’ll see if I can adjust the theme to make it work. We certainly want you to have as good of an experience as possible!

  18. I love reading the above so just wanted to read more. So, I’m clicking the 5 year old link above and it’s coming back with a 6 year old page, is there anything for a 5 year old?

  19. The link to the five year old goes to the six year old artucle. I like your site and woyld love to read your article. Thankyou for sharing your wisdom

    • Emma, yes, I answered that question below. I will email the link directly to you, but you can also go to the Development tab in the header and then hit five year old in that drop down menu.

      Thank you for being here in this space, blessings to you

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