Even the sweetest and most cooperative child can sometimes have stubborn moments. Every parent eventually learns how to deal with these moments. For some children, though, it’s more than a few stubborn moments and it can feel like even the most simple things turn into a war zone. Here’s a few things to think about the next time your stubborn child digs in their heels.
1. There’s usually a reason they are being stubborn
For most children, being stubborn and defiant usually comes from somewhere. A child that argues and shouts usually feels like they are not being listened to by their parents or caregivers. Even young children need to feel like they have some control over their lives. Usually if the adult sits down and talks to the child about why they need to do something they will stop being stubborn. It is important to listen to the child’s feelings, too. Are they stubborn about getting their backpack and shoes on before school? Finding out why could solve the problem. Maybe they don’t want to go to school (why not?), maybe they don’t like their shoes (are they uncomfortable?), or maybe they feel too rushed in the morning (try getting up a little earlier?).
2. Pick your battles
When you can see your child digging in their heels over something take a deep breath and ask yourself ‘is this worth fighting over?’. Not every fight is winnable and not every fight is worth the effort. Think of the times your child has gotten stubborn recently and ask yourself if the fight was impactful. Does it really matter what shoes they wear to the store? Why can’t they have a peanut butter sandwich instead of what you are making for dinner? The important thing is that they are wearing shoes and eating dinner.
3. Find a solution that avoids the fight
There is usually a way around a stubborn child. Think about what fights you and your child tend to have and how you can go about avoiding those situations while still getting them to do what you need them to do. When your child doesn’t want to finish their dinner is it worth the energy over a few green beans? The answer is probably no. Forcing a child to eat more than they want or foods that they don’t like are likely to teach them bad food habits. Rather than fight over cleaning their plate, limit foods with empty calories like candy and snacks and offer access to healthier food throughout the day. That will save you the fight at dinnertime and they will still be eating enough food to stay healthy.
4. Teach your child about compromise
Your child may be being stubborn because they feel like they do not have any control over their lives. While some things cannot be negotiated because they are related to health or safety, there are places where a middle ground can be found. Ensuring that your child feels like you are listening to them and willing to work with them teaches them how to work cooperatively with others, too. Does your child get stubborn at bedtime? Does the phrase ‘I don’t want to’ ring out when you say that it’s time to go to bed? Then try negotiating. Tell them what they have to do but also ask them if there is something they would like to do before they go to bed. Do they want to watch 15 or 20 minutes of TV? Do they want you to read a book with them? Make very specific conditions that they can feel good about. They got to stay up a little longer and they will feel more cooperative when their time is up.
5. Sometimes it’s just a phase
All children will have stubborn phases. Most parents can tell you all about the terrible twos. At certain points in a child’s development they will just be overcome with the need to push back against their parents and guardians. When it feels like there’s nothing that you can do to win, it might just be something you will have to wait out. Bunker down and count down the days until their third birthday!