How to Parent a Stubborn Child

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Parenting a strong-willed child can be a real challenge. You can find yourself sucked into power struggles faster than you can say, “Because I said so!” Over the years as a pediatrician and a mom, I have learned some tricks of the trade to share.

Children need firm boundaries in order to thrive. Ever wonder why little Amy is such an angel at preschool but raises a ruckus at home? It may be because the rules at school are very firm. Consider developing a list of family rules or a daily schedule to help your child identify boundaries at home.

Children need to feel that they have some control. Within the framework of clear boundaries, children should have the opportunity to make choices. Instead of “What do you want to wear today?” — which leaves the door open for a bathing suit and cowboy boots — try, “Which shirt today, kiddo; red or blue?”

Learn to pick your battles wisely. Before engaging in a struggle with your child, try asking yourself if it really matters. Safety concerns, such as not running away in a parking lot are always worth the battle, but fighting with your child about clothing or food may not be. The trick is to make the decision before you open your mouth to correct your child. Once you’ve told little Noah to put that toy back on the store shelf, you must follow through or risk ending up back in the land of no boundaries. 

Avoid using labels to describe your child. Remember that your child is listening very closely to your opinions. Comments about how “difficult” or “stubborn” little Charlie is can really shape his self-perception and, therefore, behavior. 

Never let them see you sweat. When your little one has pushed you to your breaking point, you must keep your poker face on. Little Sally would love to know that she has found another button to push, but your job is to keep calm and be matter-of-fact as you explain boundaries and specific consequences.

Always remember to notice what your child is doing right. Try to praise for specific behaviors, such as “I like the way you asked nicely for more milk,” as opposed to “You’re such a good girl!” Give praise that really means something.

Find ways to keep some perspective. Remember that your tough-to-handle, exhausting little one is likely to grow into a tenacious, industrious adult. Take a deep breath, find the humor and enjoy your child.

Dr. Katherine Addison is a pediatrician at Novant Health Dilworth Pediatrics. She lives in Charlotte with her husband and three children.