Ten Ways To Deal With A Stubborn Child

Ways to deal with stubborn kids

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Dealing with stubborn children is a challenge for parents as getting them to do even basic chores like taking a bath, eating a meal or going to bed is an everyday battle. Parents inadvertently encourage adamant behavior in children, by giving in to their tantrums.

The best way to deal with a stubborn child is to show them that their behavior doesn’t work. Pay attention to their good behavior for the desired outcome. MomJunction has listed down a few tips that child psychologists and parenting experts recommend to deal with a stubborn child.

Characteristics Of A Stubborn Child

Not every kid that exercises free will is stubborn. It is important to fathom if your child is stubborn or determined, before taking any strong action. Strong-willed children can be highly intelligent and creative. They ask a lot of questions, which may come across as rebellion. They have opinions and are “doers”.

A few other characteristics that stubborn children may display are:

  • They have a strong need to be acknowledged and heard. So they may seek your attention often.
  • They can be fiercely independent.
  • They are committed and bent on doing what they like.
  • All kids throw tantrums, but stubborn ones may do so more often.
  • They have strong leadership qualities – they can be “bossy” at times.
  • They like to do things at their pace.

Managing a strong-willed child may be difficult, but it is not all bad. Research has proven that children who break the rules often and defy the norms end up as high achievers in education and their chosen field of work (1). They are less likely to follow their friends down the wrong path.

Stubborn Child Psychology: Understanding Strong-Willed Children

If determination is one of your strong suits, you’d love to see that in your kid as well. But the tricky part is to know the difference between determination and stubbornness. So how do you tell one from the other?

  • The dictionary meaning of determination is ‘firmness of purpose’.
  • Stubbornness or strong-will is defined as having an unwavering determination to do something or act in a particular way. Simply put, it is refusing to change one’s thoughts, behaviors, or actions regardless of the external pressure to do otherwise.
  • Stubbornness in children can be genetic or an acquired behavior. It is possible that you have inadvertently taught your kid to be stubborn.
    On a positive note, you can now consciously help your child unlearn or change their behavior for good.

[ Read: Understanding Child Psychology ]

Tips To Deal With Stubborn Children

You may have a stubborn toddler who refuses to stay in their crib or brushes aside their cereal spoon every time you try to feed them. Or you may have a bullheaded six-year-old who insists on wearing the same clothes every day and stomps their foot to defy every rule or instruction you give them. Here are ten tips that you can rely on to curb their stubborn behavior.

1. Listen, don’t argue

Communication is a two-way street. If you want your kid to listen to you, you have to be willing to listen to them first. Strong-willed children may have strong opinions and tend to argue.

They may become defiant if they feel that they aren’t being heard. Most of the times, when your child insists on doing or not doing something, listening to them and having an open conversation about what’s bothering them can do the trick. So how do you teach a five-year-old stubborn child to listen to you? You approach him or her sideways, in a calm and practical manner and not head-on.

2. Connect with them, don’t force them

When you force kids into something, they tend to rebel and do everything they should not. The term that best defines this behavior is counterwill, which is a common trait of stubborn children. Counterwill is instinctive and is not restricted to children alone. Connect with your children.

For example, forcing your six-year-old child, who insists on watching TV past her bedtime, will not help. Instead, sit with her and show interest in what she is watching. When you show you care, she is likely to respond. Children who connect with their parents or caregivers want to cooperate. Establishing an unshakable connection with defiant children makes it easier to deal with them, says Susan Stiffelman in her book Parenting Without Power Struggles.

Take that first step of connecting with your kid today – give them a hug! (2)

3. Give them options

Kids have a mind of their own and don’t always like being told what to do. Tell your four-year-old stubborn child that she has to be in bed by 9pm, and all you will get from her is a loud “No!”. Tell your five-year-old stubborn boy to buy a toy you chose and he will NOT want that. Give your kids options and not directives. Instead of telling her to go to bed, ask her if she would want to read bedtime story A or B.

Your kid could continue to be defiant and say, “I am not going to bed!”. When that happens, stay calm and tell them matter-of-factly, “well, that was not one of the choices”. You can repeat the same thing as many times as needed, and as calmly as possible. When you sound like a broken record, your child is likely to give in.

That said, too many options aren’t good either. For example, asking your kid to pick one outfit from the wardrobe could leave them confused. You can avoid this problem by minimizing the options to two or three outfits picked by you, and asking your stubborn kid to pick from those.

4. Stay calm

Yelling at a defiant, screaming kid will turn an ordinary conversation between a parent and a child into a shouting match. Your child might take your response as an invitation to a verbal combat. This will only make things worse. It is up to you to steer the conversation to a practical conclusion as you are the adult. Help your child understand the need to do something or behave in a specific manner.

Do what it takes to stay calm – meditate, exercise, or listen to music. Listen to soothing music, play calming or relaxing music at home so that even your kids can listen. Once in a while, play your kid’s favorite music. That way, you can gain their ‘vote’ and also enable them to unwind.

[ Read: Tips To Deal With Child Tantrums ]

5. Respect them

If you want your children to respect you and your decisions, you need to respect them. Your child will not accept authority if you force it onto him. Here are a few ways you can model respect in your relationship:

  • Seek cooperation, don’t insist on adherence to directives.
  • Have consistent rules for all your children and do not be lax just because you find it convenient.
  • Empathize with them – never dismiss their feelings or ideas.
  • Let your children do what they can for themselves, avoid the temptation to do something for them, to reduce their burden. This also tells them that you trust them.
  • Say what you mean and do what you say.

Lead by example is the mantra you should follow here because your kids are observing you all the time, according to Betsy Brown Braun, the author of You’re Not The Boss Of Me.

6. Work with them

Stubborn or strong willed children are highly sensitive to how you treat them. So be watchful of the tone, body-language, and vocabulary you use. When they become uncomfortable with your behavior, they do what they know best to protect themselves: they rebel, talk back, and display aggression.

  • Changing the way you approach a stubborn child can change how they react to you. Rather than telling them what to do, partner with them.
  • Use statements like “let’s do this…”, “how about we try that…” instead of “I want you to do … ”.
  • Use fun activities to get your kids to do something. For example, if you want your stubborn kid to put their toys away, start doing it yourself and ask them to be your “special helper”.
  • You could also time the activity and challenge the kid to put the toys away faster than you can. This is a sneaky trick that mostly works.

7. Negotiate

Sometimes, it is necessary to negotiate with your children. It is common for kids to act out when they aren’t getting what they want. If you want them to listen to you, you need to know what’s stopping them from doing so.

  • Start by asking a few questions like “What is bothering you?”, “ Is something the matter?”, or “Do you want anything?” to get them to talk about it. This tells them that you respect their wishes and are willing to consider them.
  • Negotiation need not necessarily mean that you always give in to their demands. It’s all about being considerate and practical.
  • For example, your child may not be willing to go to bed at the set hour. Rather than insisting, try and negotiate a bedtime that suits both of you.

8. Create a congenial environment at home

Children learn through observation and experience (3). If they see their parents arguing all the time, they will learn to imitate that. Marital discord between parents can lead to a stressful environment in the house, affecting the mood and behavior of the kids. According to a study, marital discord may lead to social withdrawal and even aggression in children (4).

[ Read: How To Control Your Anger With Kids ]

9. Understand the child’s perspective

To better understand your stubborn kid’s behavior, try to look at the situation from their perspective. Put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to imagine what they must be going through to behave in such a way. The more you know your kid, the better you can deal with their stubborn streak.

Empathize with the child even while not giving in to their demands. You can understand their disappointment, anger or frustration and support them whilst being firm.

For example, if your child is not willing to do their homework, it is possible that he or she is overwhelmed by the task. If there is too much to do or if your child is not able to focus, you can help by breaking the homework into smaller tasks that can be completed in short time. You could include short, one or two-minute breaks between the tasks to make the activity less stressful for them.

10. Reinforce positive behavior

There will be times when you would not know what to do with stubborn children, to control their anger and aggressive behavior. But if you react without thought, you may develop a negative attitude towards the problem and even reinforce their negative behavior unwittingly.

For example, your kid may be saying “No!” to almost everything you say. Think about it – do you say “No” a lot? If yes, you are reinforcing negative behavior by example.

One way to change your stubborn kid’s negative responses is the “Yes” game, a clever strategy recommended by marriage and family therapist Susan Stiffelman.

When playing this game, your kid has to say “yes” or “no” to everything. Questions like “You love ice cream, don’t you?”, “Do you love playing with your toys?”, or “Do you want to see if your dinosaur floats in the bath tub tomorrow?” are likely to get a “Yes” from your child. The more your kid responds positively, the more they are likely to feel like they are being heard and appreciated.

Common Problems With A Stubborn Child

1. How to potty train a stubborn child?

Potty training is difficult as it is, but when you are dealing with a stubborn child, it can become a pain. You can potty train your three-year-old stubborn and aggressive child by:

  • Talking about it.
  • Explaining him how it is done.
  • Making it fun – don’t get serious if your kid refuses to use the toilet.

Remember that a stubborn child may take longer to learn to use the toilet than an obedient one. It is important that you remain patient and work with your kid to help them reach the goal, rather than push them towards it.

2. How to get a stubborn child to eat?

Children tend to be very fussy when it comes to food. That said, you cannot always feed your kid what he or she wants. The best way to make sure your stubborn kids get what is good for them is to make dinner time fun.

  • Use creative ways to present the food to your little one.
  • Get them involved at the dinner table (ask them to set the table up, serve, etc.).
  • Encourage them to try the food (just one bite) before rejecting it. Serve them small portions of everything and let them choose.
  • Reward them with a dessert or treat if they finish their meal.

[ Read: Environmental Influences On Child Development ]

3. How to punish a stubborn child?

Children need rules and discipline. Your kids should know that there will be consequences, good or bad, for their actions.

Make sure that they are fully aware of the consequences of breaking the rules.

Consequences should be immediate, especially when you are dealing with kids so that they can connect their actions to the result. Time-outs, cutting down playtime, or TV time and assigning little chores can be a few ways to discipline the kid. You could also get creative with consequences, based on the problem.

Remember that the idea is not to punish the child, but make them realize that their behavior is wrong.

If you have other tips on how to handle a stubborn child and want to share your story with other mommies, feel free to use our comments section. We’d love to hear from you!

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Sagari Gongala

Sagari is a math graduate and studied counseling psychology in postgraduate college, which she uses to understand people better. This skill also helps her write better articles about kids and their behavior. She is meticulous in her research and gives you information that could be the ultimate help you’ll need in times of need. An animal lover, vegan, and coffee addict, Sagari puts her mind and soul into whatever she does. During her free time, you'll find her either rescuing a sick/injured animal with a friend, or glued to her couch watching Sons Of Anarchy on Netflix.
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