Dealing With a Strong-Willed Child

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I like your ideas. I use them at home most of the time. Can you give me some ideas for a very stubborn child. She is so intense in playing and singing and dancing that I can hardly get her to stop long enough to dress or eat or listen to me. She is a sweet child and intelligent. I don't want to spank her or yell at her to get her to do what she needs to do on time. Any ideas would be much appreciated.


Stubborn children are usually very intelligent children with a strong sense of self. These children do not respond well to any kind of punishment. Spanking or yelling may gain temporary compliance, but will increase power struggles. This invites children to use all their intelligence to defeat you instead of to cooperate. An important element of all positive discipline methods is that they help children use their intelligence to learn important life skills and positive characteristics such as self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem-solving skills.

I have several suggestions that may invite cooperation from your child. First stop telling and start asking what and how questions. "What are we supposed to be doing now? What problems will we have if we don't dress or eat? What ideas do you have to solve the problem?" If these questions are asked in a friendly manner, the child is often motivated to work with you instead of against you.

Another suggestion is to have regular family meetings. Put any problem you are having on the agenda. During the family meeting have fun brainstorming for solutions. You didn't mention the age of your child, but children are very good at finding solutions from the time they reach the age of four. Let your child help you create routines and posters that show the order of things that need to be done. For younger children, the poster can include pictures.Include times when things need to be done. Then the poster becomes the boss. When your child is dawdling, ask, "What are we supposed to be doing now? Will you please check our poster?" For your child, be sure to include a special time for playing, singing and dancing. Then you can say, "I can hardly wait for our playing time. What do we need to do first?" The point is that anything you do is more effective if you involve the child in ways that are respectful.

Choices is another example. "Do you want to eat first or dress first?" Many parents think these suggestions take too much time. They don't take nearly as much time as power struggles. Even if they did take more time, they are important ways to teach children the skills they need for success in life. How much time is that worth?

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