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What if My Child Is Stubborn?

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
May 31, 2017

Tips for parents and nannies on raising a strong-willed child.



Your adorable three-year-old princess-loving daughter wants wears rain boots all day, every day. Even at the beach, your in-laws' party, and bedtime! And any attempts to have her wear something else on her feet end with a pile of furiously discarded shoes.

Why didn't anyone tell you how stubborn a little child can be?

Care.com turned to experts Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a Philadelphia pediatrician and author of "Letting Go with Love and Confidence," and Jenna Bilmes, an early childhood social and emotional development specialist and founder of Arizona-based Kids from the Inside Out, for advice on how to cope with a stubborn child.

  1. Remember That Being Stubborn Isn't Bad
    Before you commit to a life of being steamrolled by your child's behavior, remember the sage words of advice from Dr. Ginsburg. "Independence is good," he says. "You want them to ultimately be able to question authority and come up with a great solution." So this is not a bad quality to have at 30 -- but at 5, it is troublesome for parents! You want cooperation and respect.
  2. Create a Balancing Act
    Kids are supposed to test their limits, and stubborn behavior does just that. Parents have to find that fine line between too strict and too permissive. Create strict boundaries that both you and your nanny enforce, but have room for some leeway too.

    Read up on Permissive Parenting: 7 Signs Your Kid is a Brat 

  3. Choose Your Battles Wisely
    So when your stubborn child inspires conflict, step back and figure out which battles you want to fight. Kids are often stubborn because they're fighting for control -- something they have little of. Your job is to set limits and boundaries that keep your child safe, but that also make her feel somewhat independent, says Dr. Ginsburg. So let her wear the rain boots, but make her take them off to dry out. Eventually she will tire of them on her own.

  4. Pick a New Focus
    Don't let them hear you complaining about their behavior to your friends. "Whatever you say to a child, they take as truth about themselves," Bilmes says. "Everything they learn, they learn from you." Let them overhear the good stuff and vent in private. "You can help them be the best they are going to be -- give attention to the behaviors you want to see repeated," she says.

  5. Try a New Approach
    What worked yesterday may not work next week and the trick is to redirect your child in a positive way, says Dr. Ginsburg. "It is about catching them when they are good and redirecting them when they are not," he explains. For instance, too much negative attention about the boots will only make her want to wear them more because it gives her some control.

  6. Don't Negotiate on Safety
    Sometimes flexibility isn't an option. Clear consistency around safety is essential so you can react in a way that is expected and appropriate. Dr. Ginsburg also says this advice holds well for parents as their children begin to enter their preteen years. "The balancing act is one that says I love you, I trust you, and I enjoy you. I want to give you lots of wings to learn how to fly, but when it comes to safety, you do what I say."

Boundaries are about safety and respect with other human beings, says Dr. Ginsburg. You want kids to have that resilience, so they will be able to advocate for themselves when they are teens and adults. It takes practice so they can learn how to get their point across in a way that shows respect for others so they will be listened to as well.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is an award-winning freelance writer and a mom to two girls. She lives in Massachusetts and has written for local and national publications.

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