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Defiance? Or something else?

Updated: Jun 9

Most adults are socialized to think that kids should be generally compliant and obedient. They’re just these little blank slates ready to be programmed however we like, right?

Which means anything kids do that is anything less than “yes sir, right away sir” is NON-compliance, and DISobedience.


Or if you’re feeling fancy, demand avoidance.

However, sometimes a kid is actually trying to work with you even when it looks like they’re not.

Things like negotiation and compromise are frowned upon in circles where blind obedience is expected of children, and they get lumped in with “challenging behavior.” But it’s really a sign that the child WANTS to make you happy and WANTS to find a way to do what you’re asking them to do. There’s just something in their way and they’re asking you to help them work around it.

Maybe they didn’t hear or understand what you said, so they’re asking questions first.

Maybe writing is hard for some reason and they need a different writing utensil or a scribe.

Maybe they need a body double to get them going or keep them on track.

Or maybe they need to get back a bit of control over the situation in order to proceed.

It could literally be anything, especially if we’re talking about neurodivergent kids.

So, the next time a kid is hesitating or even refusing to start on something “unless <insert condition>,” try to see it for what it is: an opening bid. They WANT to work with you!

I mean, what’s really important in the long run? That they do it in the exact way you think they should, or that they do it at all?

Don’t miss the opportunity in the name of “consistency” or “showing them who’s in charge.” If they were really intent on not doing it, they’d just say no, right? (Which should still put you into detective mode, but…that’s a different post.)

And so, here are some possible signs that the non-compliant/challenging/defiant/demand avoidant person in your life is actually trying to work with you, not against you.

NOTE: These are indeed all pretty typical of PDA kids and adults. However, I purposely didn’t put PDA in the title because they are not *exclusive* to PDAers, and there could be more reasons behind them than “needing control." So please don’t think your kid must be PDA if they do these things, and please don’t assume the reasons behind them without attempting to get more information from the person in question, even if they *are* diagnosed as PDA.

[Image description: Infographic by Autball. White text on orange to red gradient background reads, “Signs Your ‘Demand Avoidant’ Person is Actually Trying to Work With You.”

Ten white boxes with black text read as follows:

Wants you to do the assignment/chore with them.

Insists on doing it a different way.

Would like to use “non-standard” writing utensils.

Wants to do it while no one is looking.

Outright tells you, “I can do it if <insert condition/need>.”

Insists on incorporating special interest into the task.

Asks for more information or why it’s necessary.

Tries to turn everything into a game or competition.

Wants to do it as someone/something else.

Wants YOU to pretend to be someone/something else.

White text at the bottom reads, “None of these are ‘defiance.’ They are ‘I’d like to, but I’m gonna need some help with that.’ Go with it! Work with them right back. (Yes, even if it takes longer.)”]

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