If you’re a parent of a stubborn child, let’s face it, your daily life probably resembles a rollercoaster ride – exhilarating at times, but mostly, it’s just topsy-turvy!
Your house probably often looks like a tornado just passed through. It’s like a circus show every morning and night, with your child stubbornly playing the lead role.
You’re pretty much always running on fumes, barely finding the energy to get through the day’s chores, let alone catch a breather for yourself.
Sounds familiar? Well, it’s exhausting, right?
Trust me, I get it. That’s why I’ve put together three, straight-to-the-point tips that will bring a breath of fresh air into your home. These might just be your ticket to transforming your house from a battleground to a more peaceful, cooperative space – even if your kid is as bull-headed as they come.
You may have heard a few tips and tricks before, but I’m here to give you a fresh take. Think of it as a recipe.
You’ve got all the right ingredients, but you need to know how to mix them just right. We’re going to break it down into simple, doable steps, so you can start seeing the change right away.
Stick around till the end because I’ll be dropping one of the most powerful, life-saving parenting tips that’ll feel like finding an oasis in the desert.
We’ll be diving into:
Home structure: Think of it like a roadmap that’ll guide your strong-willed child to calmer territories.
Avoiding fuel to the fire: Ever tried putting out a fire with gasoline? That’s what reacting wrong to stubbornness is like. Let’s find a way around it.
Channelling stubbornness: Imagine if you could channel all that stubborn energy into something productive. Let’s turn that heavy rock into a helpful tool.
So, let’s get the ball rolling, from the very beginning!
1. The Secret Sauce to a Peaceful Home
What’s the first piece of advice I give to parents wrestling with stubborn kids? Three words: Structure, structure, structure.
I know, you’ve heard this one before. Yes, you can set a structure, but what if your child is as stubborn as a mule and couldn’t care less about your well-intentioned structure?
Here’s the reality check: your child is already pushing back. You’re going to feel that same level of resistance when you start introducing changes, improvements, routines, and rituals.
But, and here’s the magic, with these concrete changes and the introduction of order and structure, you’ll notice that over time, the resistance starts to dwindle.
Once the habit is cemented, once your child embraces the routine, it’ll fit like a glove.
But the journey to that point can be a winding road.
Think about it like this: it’s a classic with strong-willed kids that you can barely convince them to attend something like a “nature school”.
The whole time you’re persuading them, ‘pushing’ them, while they insist they don’t want to go, you know deep down that they’re going to have an absolute blast.
You know they’ll enjoy it. You know they’ll come back grinning from ear to ear.
And when you pick them up from nature school and ask:
“How was it?”
“Awesome! We saw a lake, I found a worm and threw it into Lucy’s hood!”
“Great! Well, not the worm part… So, you’ll go again next year, right?”
The answer is no, because deep down, they know next year won’t be the same.
Maybe the teacher will be different. Maybe it won’t be by the lake. Maybe there will be a drought, and there won’t be a worm in sight.
They would go next year, only if they could turn back time and do it all over again.
Now, if you want to really rile up a stubborn child, I have a tip for you. Works like a charm every single time.
Tell them you’ve made their favourite sandwich. But then, secretly swap one ingredient. Just one, that’s all it takes!
Different cheese than usual, different spread, different cold cuts, even the same pate but a different brand – bam!
System meltdown, guaranteed.
If that sounds crazy, let me give you an example from your own life.
Imagine your partner tells you to get dressed up because they’re taking you somewhere nice, something good to eat.
You shower, put on makeup, dress in that special outfit that’s been waiting in the closet for a special occasion, maybe even high heels.
You’re excited, happy, but when you arrive at the location, you’re in for a shock.
They’ve taken you to a street market.
Among the stalls, you wade through the crowd and long lines, your lovely shoes slipping on the greasy floors.
How do you feel?
At best, you’re disappointed.
But why? You went out to eat, just as they said.
Because the events didn’t match your expectations. Just as the child expected their favourite sandwich, you were expecting a lovely, romantic dinner by candlelight.
And just as you’re disappointed with the “street” dinner, a stubborn child is disappointed with any change they didn’t expect.
The only difference between you two is that they have a much harder time regulating and processing strong emotions.
That’s why routines, habits, rituals, and avoiding changes are some of the best strategies to turn the tide and live a more peaceful life with your strong-willed kid.
This sense of stability in your child’s home life will have ripple effects everywhere else – in your relationships, at school, during playtime, and social interactions.
With routines, you’ll manage to get through the basic daily tasks faster, easier, and with less stress. And guess what that means? More time and energy for fun, play, and relaxation.
So, investing a little more time and energy upfront truly pays off. Give it 3-4 weeks and you’ll be breathing easier. It’s like climbing a steep hill – tough at first, but once you reach the top, the view is worth every step.
Start Your Day Right: Kick off with the Morning Routine
When it comes to setting up structure, you have to nail three things – when, what, and who.
Let’s start with the morning routine. Write down everything you need to do together, what your child needs to do alone, determine the order, and the timing.
Then, like a captain setting sail, follow this plan the next day. And the day after. And the day after that. Step by step, each time, no exceptions. The more consistent you are, the quicker it’ll become a habit.
On average, it takes about four weeks for a child to adopt a new habit. For things they enjoy or are motivated to do, it often takes less.
Four weeks might sound like a marathon, but remember, grit your teeth for these four weeks and you’ll never have to again! It’s like pulling off a band-aid – a little pain at the start, but oh, the relief afterward!
Keep Upgrading and Perfecting Your Structure
If you’ve got the basics down and have mastered the sleep and morning routines for school and work, it’s time to enrich your system.
There’s bound to be something you do fairly regularly that could run smoother if carried out routinely. This could be the drive to soccer practice or music school, a dinner prep routine, or a home clean-up drill.
In addition to routines, rituals can be incredibly beneficial, especially if you have older kids.
Establish a ‘tea time’ ritual where you chat about the day or week.
Create a ‘gardening hour’ where you and your child can bond while caring for the flowers and plants around the house.
You could also have a weekly manicure or pedicure, bike maintenance, or a hike. These can turn into fantastic opportunities to express warmth, love and make your child smile.
Structure might sound stiff, but once you dive in, you’ll find it’s the only way to carve out time, space, and energy for all the sweet, rewarding parts of parenting.
It’s like creating your own recipe – a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and voila, you’ve got yourself a secret sauce for smooth parenting!
2. Don’t Add Fuel to the Fire
One of the most critical pieces of advice I give to parents of stubborn kids revolves around prevention. It’s the least harmful, noisy, and exhausting solution when it comes to children’s meltdowns.
A vital part of this is preventing an escalation of poor behaviour by not adding fuel to the fire and allowing it to rage out of control.
If your child sees they’re not getting a reaction from you, that you’re not getting angry, raising your voice, or getting dragged into an argument, they’ll eventually run out of steam and energy.
The fire will burn itself out. The tantrum will pass. Your child will find something else to engage with.
But if you feed energy into the tantrum, it will only grow, getting worse minute by minute.
So, when you’re getting impatient and are on the verge of losing it, follow the instructions on an aspirin box:
‘Keep in a cool, dry place, out of reach of children and pets.’
When your brain stops seeking a solution and starts seething with anger, step away.
Ensure your child is safe, then leave before you cause more damage.
Remember, even if you were to yell and get upset because you’ve probably explained the same thing countless times, it won’t change your child’s behaviour and won’t prevent a recurrence.
Yes, you might have to administer discipline, but effective, educational discipline is clear and respectful; it shouldn’t be delivered in anger.
When a tantrum happens in public, things are a bit different as you can’t leave your child.
But the advice about not adding fuel to the fire still applies – you can’t reason with a child in the throes of a tantrum.
If they’re shouting, kicking, and in a fit of rage, they won’t hear or understand you, regardless of your tone, what you say, or when you say it.
You have no option but to remove your child from the situation and allow them to calm down before taking further steps.
Trust me, once you engage in a shouting match with an angry stubborn child, you’ll quickly become frustrated, raise your voice, and lose your cool.
And then, in the middle of the store, the city centre, or the park, both the child and the parent will end up screaming.
This Too Shall Pass
I’ve never been a fan of affirmations and mantras.
The advice that follows might sound like one, but I assure you, it’s not.
In a stressful moment, when you feel the pressure building up inside you, remember and tell yourself:
“This too shall pass.”
It might sound trite, but let me explain.
“This too shall pass” is not a repeated affirmation that you’re trying to manifest.
It’s a literal, irrefutable fact. And precisely because of that, it’s incredibly powerful.
This tantrum, like all others, will end sooner or later, and you know this well. It’s probably not the first, and it likely won’t be the last.
And every time until now, it has eventually ended.
You’ve come home and the house was still standing. Nobody died, the roof was intact, the earth didn’t open up. And I bet that the next day was just like all the previous days.
So, if it has always passed until now, it will always pass in the future. You have no reason to think otherwise.
If you remember this, internalise it, and understand it, you’ll realise that you’re not trapped in this moment forever. It will be much easier for you to remain calm and wait for it to pass.
If your partner is with you, the power of this phrase is doubled.
Your partner stands by your side, connected to you, and also understands that this is just a temporary stressful situation that won’t last long.
They can offer you a sense of calm if they’re able to remain composed themselves.
Exchange supportive looks and repeat the calming phrase: “This too shall pass.” And it will.
3. Channel Stubbornness into Something Useful
Children indeed have immense amounts of energy, but it is not infinite. The more they use it for useful things, the less they will have for stubborn outbursts and insistence on “silly” things.
After all, stubbornness and perseverance are two sides of the same coin – psychologically, they are completely identical traits. We label it stubbornness because it’s persistence in things we don’t appreciate and that bother us.
We value perseverance, even expect and demand it. We strive in every possible way to instil it because we realise how beneficial it is for the success and happiness of both the child and the adult.
In a stubborn child, however, this is not necessary. The willpower is already there, you just need to flip the coin.
Such a strategy will be much easier for you and much more beneficial for the child than if you try to override or suppress their strong will.
So how do we get the child to choose perseverance in useful things, like schoolwork, more often and to give in more frequently to “silly” things, such as being picky about food or dressing?
There are several ways.
The first is to give them more opportunities to persist in good things. To encourage their hobbies, support their interests, and invest in them to show your support.
Usually, the best way to do this is to discover their mastery. One activity, skill, or hobby that genuinely interests them, fuels their inner motivation, and demonstrates that perseverance pays off.
The second way is to start using self-check messages.
Self-check messages are a great tool for reinforcing good personality traits. For example, you’ve probably told them several times that they’re stubborn.
Maybe even so many times that they are now convinced they are and will always be stubborn, as there is no other option.
Every time you repeat that word, you further affirm that they are stubborn.
With your words, however, you can instead give weight to traits and actions that are positive and that you want and support in your child.
It’s about telling the child what they actually are and what their current qualities are. Importantly, we say them when we notice them.
And it’s not about praising and rewarding. Especially careful not to do this in front of other people. They are personal messages, just between you and your child.
For example, when you see that the child had trouble with homework, but went to look in the book and workbook, where they figured out how to solve it, and managed on their own.
“Did you check the book yourself? You did? And you solved it? All on your own! What a fantastic idea to go and look it up, to try to figure it out. That’s really smart. So resourceful!”
Notice resourcefulness and use it. You found out that the child managed and you call that resourcefulness. You said it and then you don’t explain anymore.
This is the end of the first chapter of this scenario, but continue with such messages every time you notice this trait.
I know that your child is resourceful, as stubborn children are usually quite resourceful. The next time he goes to the yard to tidy up something and decides to bring a snow shovel because he can’t ride a bike on the snow-covered driveway, do the same.
When you see him working with a shovel, you say, “Well, look at you! You managed again!”
What then happens with the child?
They get the same information again: “Aha, I managed.” What does that mean? If they get this information several times, even if there are a few days of a time gap in between, the child will remember that you use words like resourceful, you manage, and you are adept at this.
The key here is consistency in the words you use: “figure it out”, “resourcefulness”, “you figured it out”, “you managed.”
Over time, you’ll notice them in a situation where they’ve managed to figure things out again. Just give a thumbs up as a sign of “well done.” A simple thumbs up and they’ll know they’ve done well. Just like that, you’ve acknowledged their resourcefulness. Repeat this four or five times, without exaggeration.
After you’ve been doing this for a while, you can take it a step further. A great way to do this is to ask your child for advice.
Suppose you have to tackle cleaning the attic or garage. Some larger, more laborious, and complicated tasks.
“You are the resourceful one in the family, how would you tackle this?”
Of course, they will find a solution. You are there just to guide them.
Praise your kids for their perseverance, too.
Perhaps your daughter has a penchant for taking care of others, or for looking after pets. Don’t miss the opportunity to acknowledge her compassionate nature.
Imagine her coming home from school and noticing the flowers wilting in the scorching sun, then taking the time to water them.
“You are incredibly caring!”
And what’s the result of this approach? You nurture a caring individual. Over time, she starts taking care of her homework too, not because you’re pressuring her, but because she’s beginning to recognize herself as a caring person, a caring young girl.
And you achieved all this without shouting, threats, punishments, long family meetings, and preaching.
And this is exactly how good, quality upbringing works. I know, not only because I have been working with children for over 40 years, but also because stubborn children have a very special place in my heart.
They are all exceptionally promising, full of potential, and extremely intelligent.
And that is why I like to help parents of such children.
Wishing you all the best on this parenting journey,