The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines stubbornness as ‘determination not to change your opinion or attitude’. One of the biggest challenges parents face is dealing with stubborn behaviour in toddlers. Most toddlers are strong-willed, defiant, and refuse to yield to their parents’ wishes. Their behaviour is essentially the manifestation of a conflict between their rapidly developing intellect and the authority exercised by their parents. Stubborn behaviour in toddlers is, on most occasions, internally motivated.
Some examples of stubborn behaviour in toddlers are the tendency to talk back, defy, refuse, rebel or show anger and aggression. These behavioural patterns come to the fore when they feel that they are being forced to do something they don’t want to do. Stubborn behaviour in toddlers is also triggered by the tone or pitch of the voice in which they are spoken to and parental attitude.
Although stubbornness is a part of a toddler’s normal behaviour, it should be corrected early on instead of being ignored or condoned. Disregarding or giving in to a toddler’s difficult behaviour can encourage him to think that he can get away with such behaviour. But most parents don’t know how to handle stubborn toddlers. Here are a few tips to guide you on how to help your child overcome stubborn behaviour and channelise her strong will in a positive direction.
1. Connect with your child: When you tend to coerce your child into doing something against his wish, he immediately feels the need to defy or rebel. Instead, try to connect with him and involve him in what you want him to do. For example, instead of saying, “Put away your toys now,” you could say, “How about us putting away these toys now?” or “Let’s try and put away these toys.” With such an approach, your child will be willing to listen to what you say and cooperate with you.
2. Offer a choice: Toddlerhood is a time when a child’s personality is still developing, and she is going through the process of trying to understand herself and the world around her. Being in the early stages of cognitive development makes a toddler think differently from older children. So, when you want your child to do something, offer her an opportunity to make a choice. This would make her feel important and eager to complete the task. For example, while getting her ready for bed, you can ask her to choose the pyjamas she would like to wear.
3. Learn to compromise: Sometimes, it is okay to reach a compromise when your child is stiffly opposing you. Try to understand why he is being unreasonable and work towards an acceptable solution through negotiation. However, do remember to control the negotiating process. Also, it is important for you to make your child understand that strong will does not always win.
4. Stay calm: It is imperative to stay calm and not lose temper while facing stubborn behaviour. During times when your child is displaying difficult behaviour, don’t try to argue or explain things to him. And don’t walk away either, as this would leave her in control of the situation. Remember to not let your feelings and emotions be influenced by your child’s behaviour to be able to take charge of the situation.
5. Ensure there’s no power struggle: When your child is acting defiant or rebellious, empathise with him. Try to understand his perspective and why he is acting so. Refrain from using phrases like, “Do it now” or “Do as I say”. Alternatively, you could say, “Let’s try”, “How about us trying?” or “Can you try?” Enforce clear, appropriate and reasonable rules. For, once your child understands that you are on his side, he will be more cooperative.
Stubborn children are highly capable and intelligent. Evidence from research shows that stubborn toddlers are less likely to give in to peer pressure during their teenage years and are more likely to grow up into confident adults with superior leadership skills. Parents need to understand and respect their little one’s intelligence and creatively channelise their stubbornness in productive ways, while continuing to nurture and support them.