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 stron-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 his behavior for good.

You may have a stubborn child who refuses to stay in her crib or brushes aside her cereal spoon every time you try to feed her. Or you may have a bullheaded six-year-old who insists on wearing the same clothes every day and stomps his foot to defy every rule or instruction you give him. 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 obstinate kid to listen to you, you have to be willing to listen to him 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 her 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 his wardrobe could leave him 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.


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