How to Deal with a Stubborn Child - Tips for Parents

How to Deal with a Stubborn Child – Tips for Parents

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Dr. Rashmi Prakash (Psychologist/Psychotherapist)
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Temperament is something that we are born with. If your child has a stubborn temperament, you must understand you are not the only parent who has a stubborn child. Many parents have stubborn children and it’s alright when the children are too young. But the way in which you handle your stubborn child will make all the difference in the kind of adult they turn out to be. The toddler phase and the teenager phase are considered the toughest to handle. It may drive you up the wall, if your child refuses to listen to you. So, what can you do if you have a stubborn child? Read this article and find out how to deal with your child’s stubborn nature.


It is important to understand that stubbornness is a part of the personality of some children, while in others, it is their way of nudging the boundaries and asserting their will. So, it falls to your lot to teach your child the various ways in which they can handle stress and express their feelings.

Reasons For Stubborn Behaviour In Your Child

If your child often exhibits stubborn behaviour, you might wonder what causes them to do so. Is it simply due to their personality or is there more to it? Here are some common reasons for stubbornness in children.

1. Immaturity

Your child might not fully understand why something may not be allowed. Maturity develops with age, and if your child sees their friends doing something that is generally not allowed by you, it may cause stubborn behaviour. No amount of logic will help in this case.

2. Miscommunication

As a parent, you may constantly feel overwhelmed, which may get projected to your child in the form of anger. If you constantly yell at your child or try to discipline them, they may develop a knack for being stubborn and getting their way out of being hurt. It is always advisable to talk to your child instead of shouting at them.

3. Constant Comparison

Some kids are constantly compared to their friends or siblings, which can be hurtful over time. When compared, some children exhibit stubborn behaviour as a way to deal with their frustration.

4. Absence of a Role Model

Children observe the behaviour of those around them. If you, your partner, or any other family member often exhibit stubborn behaviour at home, your child may mirror the same. Additionally, if they see their friends being stubborn and getting away with it, they might think they can do the same.

5. Need for Freedom

As a child gets older, so does his need to be independent. If your child often feels controlled by you, they might be stubborn as a way to assert their independence. Let your child explore things for themselves, as long as it is not dangerous.

Characteristics of Stubborn Kids

Just because your child is particular about exercising their will does not make them stubborn. There is a fine line between being determined and being stubborn. Here are some stubborn behaviour characteristics to look out for:

Characteristics of Stubborn Kids

  • Stubborn kids tend to question everything which can be mistaken for rebellion
  • They want to be heard and expect to be acknowledged, which makes them want your attention frequently
  • They tend to be independent and fussy
  • It can be difficult to get them into a routine as they are free-willed
  • They may have frequent temper tantrums
  • They display leadership traits and can even appear bossy
  • They tend to do everything at their own pace

Psychology of Stubborn Children

To deal with your stubborn child, the right way, it is important first to understand why they are this way and what makes them this way. It is one thing for your child to be determined and another to be stubborn. Determination is defined as ‘firmness of purpose’ while being stubborn is ‘the refusal to change thought, behaviour, or action under any external pressure.’ Stubbornness can be genetic and also acquired behaviour that is learned by observing others. But this behaviour can be channelled to prove productive and mild your child into a well-rounded individual.

How to Handle Stubborn Kids?

Infants, toddlers, teens – stubbornness can surface at any age and then continue into adulthood. As a parent, it is important that you find ways of handling your stubborn child in such a way that you can limit their behaviour without stressing out either of you. Here are some techniques for handling a stubborn child:

How to Handle Stubborn Kids

1. Don’t Argue

Stubborn children are always ready to face an argument head-on. So, don’t give them that opportunity. Instead, lend a listening ear to whatever your child has to say and turn it into a conversation instead of an argument. When you show that you are ready to listen to their side of the story, it makes them more likely to listen to what you have to say as well.

2. Establish a Connection

Do not force your child to do something that they do not want to. This will only make them more rebellious and they will be bent on doing exactly what they are not supposed to do. So, if you want your child to stop watching television, and do homework instead, try watching television with them for a while. This will bring in some camaraderie, and after a short while, you can ask your child if they’d like to do homework as you read your book or do some work sitting close by.

3. Offer Some Choices

Telling a stubborn child what to do is a sure-fire way of igniting their rebellious streak. Instead, offer them options to choose from as this makes them feel as if they have control over their lives and can independently decide what they would like to do. Keep the choices limited to avoid confusing your child and offer only two or three options. For instance, if they is to clean up their room, ask them if they would like to start with the bed or the closet first instead of saying, “where do you want to start?”

4. Step Into Your Child’s Shoes

Look at the issue at hand from your child’s point of view and try to understand why they are behaving in this manner. If you promised to take them to the park but have refused as the weather has turned bad, then you will need to explain to them why it is not possible to keep your promise. Your child will only see it as a broken promise, but by outlining why you cannot go out and by setting a later date for the outing, you can salvage the situation.

5. Maintain Peace At Home

Make sure that your home is a place where your child feels happy, comfortable, and secure at all times. Be polite to everyone at home, especially your spouse, as children learn from observation. They are likely to imitate what they see, so it is essential that you keep the peace and avoid arguments as well as trading insults in front of the child.

6. Brush Up On Your Negotiating Skills

Stubborn children find it difficult to absorb an outright refusal when they ask for something. So, instead, try to negotiate with them instead of laying down the law. For instance, if your child insists on listening to two bedtime stories, talk them out of it by reaching an agreement where they can pick a story for tonight and another one for tomorrow.

7. Encourage Positive Behaviour

Lead by example and present a positive attitude at all times. If you use the words ‘no’, ‘cannot’, or ‘will not’ a lot, then your child is also likely to do the same. Look at your child’s stubbornness with a positive outlook rather than being negative about it. Try to make a game out of it by asking your child questions that elicit a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. Frame your questions such that the answer is ‘yes’ most of the time. This sends the message that your child is being heard and appreciated.

8. Develop Routines

Sticking to daily routines as well as weekly ones can help improve your child’s behaviour as well as performance in school. Bedtime needs to be defined and should be such that it provides for plenty of rest for your child. Lack of sleep and being tired can lead to behavioural problems in children between the ages of three and twelve.

9. Lay Down Rules And Consequences

Stubborn children need rules and regulations to thrive. So, set the boundaries and make your expectations clear at a family meeting. Ask your child for inputs on what the consequences are to be as well as their views on each of these. Consistency is important, but that does not translate into rigidity. It is important to be flexible at times, like when you are on holiday or on occasions when your child displays exemplary behaviour. This conveys to them that following rules can be rewarding too and is not intended to be stifling.

10. Let Your Child Explore

The world is a wondrous place, and all your child wants to do is explore it. Hence, let them explore things for themselves within limits. If you’re at a park, don’t constantly tail your child. Instead, let them run free and explore the nature and things around them. This will make them feel independent and lead to lesser stubborn behaviour, which is essential to learn how to deal with stubborn kids.

Problems With a Stubborn Child

Parenting a stubborn child is not an easy task. Every little thing can turn into a struggle each day if you do not find a solution fast. You may have come across plenty of information on how to control stubborn child behaviour, but every day is a new challenge. Disciplining a stubborn child might not be the best solution in all instances and finding a workaround might be more effective.

Problems With a Stubborn Child

1. Fussy Eaters

Most children can be fussy when it comes to food and meals and more so if the child has a stubborn streak. Being sneaky can be helpful here and try serving small portions of different food to your child and let them choose what they want to eat more of. You can also try to make food interesting by coming up with creative recipes with healthy ingredients. Also, try to involve your kid in mealtime chores such as setting the table. Rewarding them such as a favourite dessert for finishing their meals can also smooth things faster.

2. Homework Blues

See if your child has difficulty completing the assigned homework or is overwhelmed by the amount to be written or learned. If that seems to be the case, you could break it down into shorter pieces to be completed in phases. Taking short breaks in between might get it done quicker than in one sitting. Another option is to combine it with another activity. For instance, learning spellings can be done while you are watering the garden with your child helping you out.

3. Wardrobe Battles

A popular cause of discord, this occurs every time your child wants to wear something that is not appropriate for the occasion or weather outside. One way of reducing friction is to sort out your child’s clothes and alternate them every couple of weeks. Also, put away the outfits that are season inappropriate, so there is one less reason for conflict. Anytime you want your child to change clothes, lay out two or three different outfits and ask them to choose. This way, they are happy about making the decision, and you are not pulling out your hair!

4. Bedtime Struggles

As bedtime approaches, your child starts running around and attempts to pump up the adrenaline, so they don’t fall asleep easily. So, around 30 minutes before it is lights out turn on some soothing music and dim the lights. Switch off the television and get your child to change into their pyjamas. Avoid a fight here by giving your child the option of choosing the nightdress and wearing it or taking your help. Just before setting them towards the bedroom, take a few minutes to connect with your child by asking them if they had anything to share about their day or just a simple question of whether it was a good day or a bad one.

5. Difficulty Socialising

Stubborn kids might have trouble socialising and making friends, as they often need things to go their way. As they get acquainted with more people, they might see that not everyone wants to do things their way, which causes arguments. The best way to deal with such a situation is to show your child that asserting independence goes both ways and they may often have to go by what their friends want too.

Is It Normal For Your Child to Behave Stubborn?

Stubbornness is a sure-shot way to test any parent’s patience, and you and your child are no different from such a situation. But this defiance is completely normal as your child is growing up and testing boundaries. With so many developmental and social changes, kids might often act stubborn, which is completely normal. Just make sure you establish boundaries and tackle stubbornness as early as possible.

Having a stubborn child is not a bad thing. In fact, it has been seen that children who have these characteristics often turn out to be achievers in academics as well as in their work life. They are less susceptible to give in to peer pressure which helps them steer clear of wrong things that their friends might be into. Practising effective discipline and making an effort to understand your child can go a long way in helping them turn into responsible adults albeit strong-willed.

Disclaimer: The information given in this article is a generic guide and not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional advice or treatment. 

Also Read:

Tips to Deal With a Defiant Child
Why Do Kids Tattle and How to Deal With It?
Bad habits in Children and Ways to Deal with Them

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