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"Even the Sparrow Knows:
Trusting your Savior with a Troubled Heart"

How to Overcome Toddler Defiance

How to Keep Christ at the Center when Dealing with Toddler Defiance

Whoever came up with the idea of terrible twos was so terribly wrong.  I mean, did they even have children?  Let’s talk about the threes.  The totally awful-horrible-am-I-going-to-survive-this threes…

I have a strong willed child, but he comes from two very strong willed parents.  His strong will began to shine through when he turned 3.  And oh boy, it shined so bright that the entire world was its witness!

There were days when I was pretty sure neither of us would survive the day.  There were days that I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry.  As a first time mom, I didn’t know what to do.  How do I reach this defiant little person?  This little person that I love with every fiber of my being.  This little person that I love and adore with my entire heart.  Am I a terrible mother?  Does his defiance define the kind of mother I am?  Am I messing up my kid?!?!

No, no and no.  I’m sure we have all asked these questions on the days we stumble around in survival mode. 

There is a character issue that needs to be addressed within the heart of my child.  And kids are supposed to have character issues that need to be addressed.  That’s why God gave them parents.  That’s why God gave me this specific child.  God sees within me the ability to be the one He’s perfectly designed to raise up this strong little person. –Lysa Terkeurst

[Tweet “Parenting often leads me to my knees. #christianparenting”]

We cannot do this parenting thing alone.  I cannot shepherd, discipline, show grace, model and mold my children without the very presence of God. I just can’t.

Last summer, I was struggling with my child’s defiance as he had discovered this new independence that the threes bring.  Strong willed defiance.  Now don’t get me wrong.  He’s a sweet little boy and so very loving, but he is also strong willed and determined.  Just like his Momma.   Discipline is tough because you have to balance the right amount of discipline with love.  One of the most important things to me in the discipline of my child is to be consistent.  Even my consistency wasn’t working!  He was going to do what he wants when he wants.  At least, he thought so!  I prayed so hard for God to give me a way to reach my 3 year old’s heart, and God answered. 

This is what He answered with:

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” –John 8:12

This verse popped in my head after a tiring day at VBS last summer.  I wasn’t in my son’s class, but I was called to his class a few times, as his defiance shined through.  This was one of those moments that I was letting his actions define me as a mother.  After VBS, I walked down to my best friend’s house and just cried.  I told her what happen and how I must be the worst mother ever.  She reassured me that I indeed was not the worst mother ever.  She reassured me, that just as Lysa Terkeurst says, it’s a character issue that we have to help our children work through!  Such wisdom my sweet friend has!  It was then that this bible verse popped in my head and I knew God had answered my prayer.

 Here is how we overcame that defiant stage of toddlerhood:

We read the story in Genesis about the fall of man.  I explained that the snake was once an angel that worked with God, but he fell from Heaven and became a “bad guy” (little boys totally understand that concept!) and that Satan the snake is always trying to make us sin.  A sin is when we disobey God and make bad choices.  Satan wants us to disobey God.    Satan wants us to make bad choices.  Satan is like the darkness.  When we make bad choices, he makes our hearts dark.

When we make good choices, our heart is bright and shiny.  When it is bright and shiny, others can see that we have Jesus’ light in our hearts.

 Examples I gave to my child: 

  • When you obey mommy and daddy, you’re heart is bright and shiny. It says in the bible in Ephesians 6:1 “Obey your parents in the Lord.” God tells you to obey and when you listen to God, it makes your heart so bright and shiny! 
  • When your friend is not nice to you, you forgive them. You do not be mean back.  Being mean is something you do with a dark heart.  But we don’t want dark hearts because we have Jesus’ light in our hearts! Instead, we forgive our friend just like Jesus forgave us.  That makes our hearts bright and shiny.

We then discussed how Jesus is the light of the world.  Jesus died on the cross to take our sin away.  That means He died to take that darkness out of our hearts.   That is why we pray to Jesus after we make bad choices.  We seek His forgiveness.  Every time I discipline my child, we pray together after the consequence.   I explained to him that when we make a bad choice, our heart has sin in it and is dark.  But Jesus can take that darkness out and make it bright again.  All we have to do is pray and ask Jesus to forgive us.  Once we pray and genuinely ask for forgiveness, He takes that darkness out and our hearts are bright again.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much this concept has helped my strong willed 3 year old.  He went from king of defiance to “mommy, I made a bad choice.  Can we pray so my heart is bright again?”  Oh, it makes my heart soar when he asks that because it reassures me that as a mom, I am planting that seed in his little heart, and that one day, that seed will make his own decision to follow Jesus.

What tools have you used to help your child understand sin and forgiveness?  What advice can you give to other moms with strong willed toddlers?  Share in the comments!

Reader Interactions


    • Our children’s behavior always comes down to a heart issue. We have to train and teach them to correct the behavior. Parenting is so hard, but so rewarding!!


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