Bull-headed. Strong-willed. Headstrong. Pig-headed. Difficult. Stubborn. I remember thinking all of these words when my son was two years old, screaming at the top of his lungs, laying on his back, kicking the refrigerator over not getting his way. I remember thinking, why is he so stubborn?! I guess I thought innocently that over time that his stubbornness would magically disappear. I was wrong. Here are 4 tips that have been life-altering for our family.
1. Don’t Be a Control Freak
There are definitely those issues that I don’t bend on, and I am a strong believer in setting healthy boundaries, but having a stubborn child means they want to be in control of something. My 12-year-old son’s stubborn side rears its head when he is feeling forced to do something. The more control he has over his actions, the more cooperative and open-minded he is with me.
Most kids who are being stubborn are doing so because they feel that they have no control over their life. In the child’s point of view, they are always being bossed around by parents, teachers, and even their peers. If your child feels in control of something, you’ll notice a change. Your child can decide the menu for dinner, help with a project around the house, or help you plan a routine or schedule. When my 12-year-old son feels in control of something, magical things happen.
2. Think of the Win/Win
Offering two win/win choices is a great way to motivate my son to do tasks I want him to do and gives him a feeling of having input at the same time. Homework is something my son gets stubborn about completing. I don’t give him a choice about whether or not he does the homework, but I can let him choose details about it, like the time frame and subject area. He can decide to do it right after school or before dinner or to start with science or reading. Either way, it’s a win/win for both of us.
The same goes for chores and vegetables. I don’t ask if he wants to do chores but give him control in the details. Choosing the order of chores or helping him create a schedule for the chores gives him a sense of control. The same idea works for eating his vegetables. I’m not giving him the option to skip vegetables all the time, but I can offer a choice of which one he would like for dinner- peas or green beans. Choices are key when it comes to my stubborn child, and I work the choices to my advantage. It’s a win/win for both of us and involves a lot less stress.
3. Timing is Everything
Pick your battles at the right time. I have learned this one the hard way a thousand times. There are certain times a day when I know my son is going to be more stubborn than others. It is impossible to predict when your child is going to be stubborn, but timing can be a key factor. From past experience, I predict the times he is likely to be stubborn and get into a power struggle with me.
In the morning- We are both getting ready for the day, which is not the time for me to push him to eat scrambled eggs when I know without a fight, he’ll eat cereal.
Right after school- He’s hungry, tired from his classwork, and doesn’t want to be “bossed around” the minute he gets home. Believe me, I have gotten into power struggles with him too many times to count after school, and the easiest solution has been to give him some downtime.
Bedtime- even when you have a “set bedtime,” a stubborn child will challenge you on it from time to time (just to keep you on your toes). When I give him count down warnings with the number of minutes he has left until he has to be in his room, there is less struggle with getting him there. When I don’t give him the time breakdown that is where the power struggles begin, and that strong-will kicks in.
4. Reframe the Word- Stubborn
The biggest takeaway I can give you that I’ve learned over the past 12 years with my strong-willed son is to reframe your thinking about the word stubborn.
Stubborn kids are very determined people, and they don’t give up easily, which is a great quality in the long run. It may be hard in the moment to see it as a strength, but it will pay off someday.
Stubborn kids are decisive and clear about what they want. It may not be the decision we would make, but at least they are able to have clarity.
Stubborn kids are passionate. They stand for something. Even though it isn’t always what we think they should stand for, it’s still a great quality to already have mastered as a child.
No parent or child is perfect, and there are positive options to combat stubborn behavior: giving your child choices, choosing win/wins that work for your family, using good timing, and reframing thinking about stubbornness as a strength in character. Determined. Decisive. Passionate. Clear. Resilient. That is my new description for a stubborn child.