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What Do I Do About My Stubborn Child?



What Do I Do About My Stubborn Child?

Q My three-year-old daughter is very stubborn. For example, if she decides that she doesn’t want to eat, she might refuse to eat for two days. When I am teaching her the alphabet, she insists on saying “b” before “a”, even though I tell her the right order. She doesn’t want to go to nursery and the teachers there complain about her stubbornness. How can I handle this?”

A Stubbornness is a trait that three and four-year-olds indulge in, especially if it causes their parents to despair! It is the children’s way of proving that they are independent beings who are capable of frustrating their parents. They are testing your limits, authority, decision-making skills and self-confidence. Meals, getting dressed, going to preschool and getting ready on time are the most typical struggles, but there are plenty more. The child wins the battle every time if you, as a parent, actually allow yourself to participate in the first place.

You need to choose between three approaches:

  • Either ignore the (mis)behavior altogether by refusing to take part in some of the standoffs–the more difficult choice which entails nerves of steel—and go on to the next task. But you need to do so consistently so that your daughter realizes that this is a conscious strategy on your part and not a coincidence. She may then get bored with her stubborn attitude, since you have cancelled the idea that she is competing with you for power.
  • Your other choice would be to clearly show, with every small battle, that you are the boss; you decide, you are in control. This way, your child will not try to control you by refusing to do things or by opposing you. You need to stay calm when firmly asserting your position. Be playful when you want her to do something: if you want her to eat but she is refusing, give her choices of things that aren’t edible (“Would you rather eat the plate, your socks or your vegetables?”) or offer a reward, such as, “If you eat your vegetables, we can play a game after lunch.”
  • Another option would be to take a firmer approach by having her do “time-out,” which means removing her from the situation and having her sit by herself quietly for three or four minutes until she is ready to cooperate. Or you can insist that certain things will have to be done regardless of what she wants, explaining that it would be better for her to do these things nicely. But please choose your battles wisely!

Try to disregard things that are not essential. For example, don’t insist that she take a bath every day if she hates baths. Allow her to decide on as many issues as possible (choosing what to wear, arranging her room, etc). This will give her the satisfaction of decision-making and will give you the room to get her to obey you on other issues: “You get to do 1,2,3 and now I get to tell you to do 4,5 and 6.”

Do not force her to eat. Children never starve. Do not encourage her to use meals as a battleground or a field of manipulation, as she will associate food and eating with negative emotions and you will have created a bigger problem that you will have to cope with in the future.

Concerning learning, children learn best when entertained. So teach her in a playful manner and correct mistakes casually without fighting or yelling.

The worst thing you can do is give in to your child’s misbehavior or seem undecided after you have said a firm “no,” for, in this way, you are teaching her that by persisting in her stubbornness, she will eventually get her way. You will have to be willing to bear the consequences, most likely temper tantrums and more extreme misbehavior, but slowly your child will realize that stubbornness is just not worth it.

Lastly, it helps to be a little theatrical: that is, make faces, laugh, and take the negative emotions out of your routine as much as you can in order to encourage her to comply with your requests.




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Alyaa Montasser

Dr. Alyaa Montasser is a Clinical Psychologist practicing family therapy in Cairo for the past 17 years. Currently, at Flo Chi Wellness, an integrative medicine clinic in Maadi, helping families in need of counseling and therapy. When not doing therapy, she pursues her passion which is Malak’s Honey, a not for profit project which produces and sells Egyptian honey for health. Proceeds go directly to helping people in medical need who would, otherwise, go untreated. Currently, Malak’s Honey has developed a call for action to stand up to breast cancer by enabling breast and female cancer surgeries in Egypt with the sale of Bee Bracelets for Breast Cancer.

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