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Stubborn Behavior in Kids

By Mark Quick ; Updated June 13, 2017

Stubborn behavior by a child can be frustrating for parents.. For one, the resistance may come at a time when you are trying to get your child to do something in his own best interest, such as school work. Stubborn behavior creates added tension for already busy and stressed parents. It may also occur in settings that produce public embarrassment and discomfort to onlookers. Employ several strategies to deal with your child's stubborn behavior.


The first step in dealing with stubborn behavior is to make sure it doesn't work. Many parents inadvertently reward stubborn behavior and, thus, reinforce it. This happens when you don't follow through on threats of discipline or when you give in to bring peace or get out of a situation. For example, a child is told to put away his toys but refuses and continues playing. Frustrated, you complain verbally but after a time picks them up yourself. Your child has learned that stubborn behavior works. Psychologist Rebecca Blakeman advises, "Parents should not avoid addressing these behaviors because they believe it is a 'phase' or that it will eventually go away on it's own. If handled improperly, these behaviors will only worsen over time."

Identify Rules

Parents need to clarify expectations for a child and which behaviors will result in discipline. Blakeman recommends, "Provide a consistent, structured environment with consequences that follow naturally for appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Set rules and stick to them." A concise and simple set of written, posted rules benefits the child. The point is to clearly define the rules and values.

Create Routine

Many parents of infants, toddlers and small children learn the hard way that routine is essential for kids. Routine provides a sense of context and insures that kids know what to expect. You can also make sure proper balance is maintained between workload and ability if you write out a schedule and adapt it to meet the temperaments and needs of your youngster. You may notice that by a certain point in the day your child becomes irritable and begins to "break down." A nap or break time incorporated into the daily routine may help rejuvenate him.

Measure Ability

A child's stubborn behavior may be less about a desire to rebel and more about his feeling ill-equipped or overwhelmed. Take a step back and honestly evaluate the capabilities and temperament of the child. Make sure that you are not asking her to perform at a level beyond her ability or level of preparedness. While some challenge is beneficial, it's imperative that you make sure that your expectations are reasonable.

Reinforce Good Behavior

Quite often parents address stubborn behavior with coercive tactics. It is true that you must discipline bad behavior and that children must learn there are consequences for actions. However, even adults are more likely to be motivated by praise and the promise of reward than simply by a threat. "Catch a child being good," as the old saying goes, and praise him for what he does right. Create a chart and place stars on it when the child completes a task and provide some reward or privilege as an incentive to reinforce desired behavior.

Focus on Results

Parents should try to avoid turning strategies that deal with stubborn behavior into a win-lose proposition. It's true that parents must establish authority. However, it can also be productive to focus on the desired results; make the discipline or reward about the behavior desired. In other words, make the child a partner in the enterprise. Put a child in the driver's seat by making her understand that she can effect the outcome in a positive manner by showing cooperation.

Explore Feelings

Stubborn behavior is not always rebellion. It may be the result of some inner frustration, poor self-image or stress in the child's life. You may find it beneficial to use role-play, playtime or art to discern what a child is feeling. The stubborn behavior may be the result of displaced frustration over family tension and not rebellion.

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