It was a snowy morning at the bus stop, and the grass was wet and icy. So I told the kids to stay out of the grass and stand on the street so their shoes wouldn't get wet. For reasons I will never understand, Miles decided to take this directive as a challenge. He looked right at me and put his foot in the snow.
I gave him a dirty look, and he kind of smiled. He thought he was being funny by misbehaving. So I told him again in a more serious tone to keep his feet out of the grass. So he put the toe of his shoe right next to the snow and watched to see what I would do.
I warned him a couple of times not to go any farther until I realized he was playing a game with me. The game was called, "What Are You Gonna Do About It?" I play it with my high school students all the time. It's not a fun game because it puts you in a position where you have to either forfeit and let them win or kick some serious butt. You have to draw a line in the sand. And at 7 o'clock in the morning with wind chills in the teens, I was not in the mood for either option.
So I decided to choose another route, the path of natural consequences. I told him to go ahead and walk in the grass all he wants. But if his feet got wet, he'd have to walk around like that all day long. It made perfect sense.
So of course he stomped around in the snow until the bus arrived. And I don't think his feet ever did get wet, which told me the battle was not worth fighting in the first place. I was being a "helicopter parent," which I can be sometimes.
I could have listened to my ego and told myself that he was being disrespectful to me and should have been punished severely. But as I've learned after living with kids for the past 8 years, you have to pick your battles. And when a child is being blatantly defiant you have to stop and ask yourself if you want to throw down the gauntlet or diffuse the situation by letting the consequences play out naturally.
Sometimes kids will unknowingly call you out when you're being unreasonable. So I always try to listen to my kids when they're being defiant before I start handing out beat-downs. There's almost always a reason for bad behavior, and it makes more sense to get to the root of the problem than to just blindly hand out punishments.