Raising a stubborn child is one of the more difficult challenges of parenting. When I was in college, one of my part-time jobs was babysitting a stubborn child.
During the interview with her mother, I was told that J. was strong-willed. Mom was frustrated and didn’t have any suggestions for how to deal with her stubbornness. With all of the confidence that a nineteen-year-old woman could possibly possess, I was sure that, with all of my years of childcare experience, I would be able to help.
Boy, did J. prove me wrong.
At every opportunity, J. would argue with me. At four-years-old, she could debate me about the color of the sky for an hour. I would walk into the kitchen to put lunch together, and step back into the living room five minutes later to find a crayon masterpiece on the walls.
When nap time rolled around, she would lay in her bed and scream like she was being beaten. Once, I had to run to the store for what I hoped would be a quick trip, with J. in tow. I ended up carrying her out of the store, surfboard style, as she called me names for not buying her a cupcake at the bakery.
What I didn’t Understand then Was that all behavior is communication.
When J. was fiercely defending her right to color on the walls, she was trying to tell me that she needed a creative outlet. When she debated the color of the sky, she just wanted to be right. When she didn’t get what she wanted at the store, she needed some control over her life.
Neither I, nor J’s mom, were being bad caregivers; we just failed to realize that J’s personality was strong and that she needed to be in a leadership position. Kids may also seem stubborn because they are overwhelmed or simply because they are having a bad day.
Today, being blessed with 3 stubborn children of my own, I have learned some ways that I can help my kids get the outcome they need, while I still get the results I need.
Here are five ways I’ve found to help your stubborn child.
Instead of asking your stubborn child to get dressed, which can overwhelm someone to the point of non-compliance, lay out two clothing choices. “Please choose an outfit to wear,” gives those with strong personalities the feeling that they are in control, and helps those who may feel overwhelmed by narrowing their choices down to just two.
You as the parent are happy because kiddo isn’t dressed in purple pants with a yellow top and mismatched socks.
Help the communication
Many times, a child may seem stubborn because they can’t communicate what’s wrong. A child who refuses to eat dinner may have sensory issues, or may merely have a bit of tummy trouble and not feel like eating tonight.
Asking questions can help to narrow down these issues to get to the heart of the matter. However, because young children don’t have all of the tools to effectively communicate more complex needs, you may need to guide them. Keep the questions light, with a conversational tone, so that kiddo doesn’t feel like she is in trouble; if she does, she will get defensive or stop talking altogether.
When I grew up, “because I said so,” was the answer I always received when I asked why. I wasn’t overly stubborn, so this response usually just made me mad. However, with a stubborn child, hearing “because I said so,” is a guarantee of a quick trip to temper tantrum island.
In this case, your child isn’t being stubborn because they don’t like you or they are trying to be difficult; they simply want a deeper understanding of why something has to be done.
A friend of mine has an autistic son who refuses to do anything if the only reason to do so is that it’s socially acceptable. To him, that’s not a valid reason. If she said “because I said so,” he would just not comply with her request.
In that situation, she needs to explain to him why she’s asking him to do a particular task. It’s just the way his brain works.
Keep It Simple
Kids need everything in small doses. When you are trying to find out what triggers your child’s stubbornness, start small. Don’t ask questions for thirty minutes if they refuse to put on their shoes. If you don’t have the answer after a few questions, you have to realize that you are not going to find the solution today, and hope for better results tomorrow. Keeping things simple helps keep your child from feeling overwhelmed or interrogated.
Also make sure that as you make changes to help adjust behavior, you remember the need for small doses. Making accommodations does not mean that stubbornness will end tomorrow. There may be a long road ahead of you.
Get Help When You Need It
Sometimes, parents are not great at communicating with their kids. That’s not a fault in the parent; childhood behavior and communication is something that people study for years, and still don’t consider themselves experts.
There wasn’t a Parenting Fairy who gifted you with the right tools for parenting upon the birth of your child. You are going to stumble occasionally.
When that happens, you may need help. A behavioral therapist that specializes in children may be able to help you and your child communicate better. Seeking help does not make you a failure, or label your child “difficult.”
It merely means that you have reached the point where you realize there is an issue that you alone cannot solve. It happens to all parents at some point.
When you take the time to help a stubborn child, you will find genuinely unexpected rewards.
A child who tested your patience can become loving and compliant when you understand what is triggering the stubbornness. Helping them learn how to communicate better will ease the journey you will be taking together, and will surely make things more comfortable as you navigate the messy teen years, which will happen sooner than you think!
I really hope this helps and good luck 🙂
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