Parenting is scary because children along with their surroundings are a complex system. It is hard to predict the long term effects of any particular parenting technique or decision. We as parents want so badly to do the right things. Yet what is right is not clear.
Parenting fashions keep changing almost as fast as clothing and dieting fashions. Obedience was expected of children in the past and often helped keep them safe, healthy and learn self-control and discipline. Being authoritarian is now considered wrong as it will squash your child's curiosity and initiative. Bribery and trades are bad too since they send the wrong message.
Okay so how do I implement discipline and keep my child safe? Reason with them. How? Children don't often see or care about long term effects of their actions. They rely on parents as experienced care givers to guide them properly even while they fight us vehemently. So what do we do?
None of the above ideas are absolutely good or bad. They are just methods that have to be mixed and matched and applied in moderation, with a good heart.
Toddlers are often defiant and tantrums are almost an every day occurrence during the terrible twos. Telling them not to do something is useless and reasoning falls on deaf ears. Distraction often works if you want to stop them from doing something by diverting their attention elsewhere. But it is harder to get them to focus on and do something they don't want to.
Sometimes we trick them. Toddlers are often contrary and sometimes telling them to do the opposite of what you want them to do works. For example "Don't eat those grapes. I don't think they taste good" is likely to make them eat the grapes.
Other times we bribe them. If you bribe your child every time you need them to do something they don't want to, certainly, it will send the wrong message. But sometimes rewarding your child for doing something they did not want to can teach them that doing the required even if it is unpalatable can have pleasant results. Similarly sometimes we deprive them of something they want till they do what we need them to.
Tit for tat seems harsh because we love our children unconditionally. But we also need to prepare them for what they will encounter in the world so tit for tat gives them a fair picture if used in appropriate situations.
Sometimes we are stern. Being firm and authoritative when you tell your strong willed child to eat vegetables does not mean you are going to squash his curiosity and initiative.
In fact you can do just that and still encourage you child's curiosity when he/she asks why the sky is blue or why it rains or even why they should eat their vegetables You can encourage his/her initiative when he/she wants to write a story or draw or build Lego houses.
The particular action we take would depend on the individual child we are dealing with and the circumstances. There is no general solution.
Different things have to be tried out to see what works. Each time you try something evaluate the method to see if it helped your child or not. Hopefully the effect was to calm your child and put them in a more receptive frame of mind. If not try another approach. Once your child has got over the defiant moment, it may be good to explain why you wanted the particular thing done and even give him/her a hug. Remind your child that you love him/her.
These points are all very admirable in theory but in practice when we are dealing with defiance and tantrums on a daily basis and sometimes under pressure of time constraints it is very hard to keep your cool. Some of us find it hard to be calmly authoritarian and tend to loose our temper. While we know shouting and yelling at our children is wrong we sometimes loose control.
In that case, I think it is important to apologize to the child. An honest heart felt apology with a promise to make an effort to improve your self control will show your children that you respect them. There is nothing wrong with your child knowing that you are human and capable of mistakes. I believe they will respect you for admitting your mistakes. It will make them more open to seeing and admitting their own errors. It will help them see that acknowledging one's short comings is not humiliating, but an important step to fixing them. I also believe it is good to apologize to your children if you have been unfair to them. May be at that time you thought it was the right thing to do but later realized it was wrong. Then honestly tell your children exactly that.
Its easy to notice the wrong and want to correct it, but it is equally, if not more, important to notice what your children do well and praise them for it. If your children show consideration, tell them you are proud of them for that. If they have shown initiative to be helpful acknowledge that. Don't be stingy with showing your appreciation.
Finally it is good to put things in perspective and realize that parenting is something almost everyone does and most people do it well enough. Children are resilient and a few faulty parenting decisions are unlikely to ruin your child's life. While it is good to put thought in to your parenting techniques, identify your weaknesses and work on them, for most decisions just do with what feels right and act with love and your children will see that.
I would like to add that I am not an expert with degrees on the subject. These are just somethings I noticed in my role as a mommy.