If you feel like you are in a constant battle of wills with your child, here’s how to cope!
You are at a friend’s house for coffee and both your child and her’s are having a good time playing together. You check your watch and realize it’s time to go. When you announce this news to your child, he or she has a fit and adamantly refuses to leave, begging and pleading with you to stay longer. You give your child an extra five minutes, but when they’re over, you’re met with the same reaction.
Most of us have been in similar situations where we end up in a battle of wills with our own children, yet many of us haven’t mastered the skill of handling these situations well. We want our children to be well-behaved and know right from wrong, but this is never easy to achieve, especially when a child is stubborn and everything you say is met with the same reply: No. There’s no doubt that stubborn kids are difficult to reason with, and sometimes your patience wears out before theirs does, but there are effective ways to handle stubbornness, so that your home can be a peaceful haven for the whole family instead of a civil war zone!
Is it normal for my child to be so stubborn?
Stubbornness is perfectly normal in children. “Every child is stubborn up to a certain degree, because it’s their nature to test their environment to try to see how far they can go.
However, children don’t know their limits, and it’s the job of the parents to set the limits for them,” says Joanna Al Khayat, who holds a BA in child psychology from Boston University and is the former Head Teacher at a preschool in Boston, where she designed the curriculum and monitored the children’s academic, physical, mental and social development.
Even very young children realize that they are separate individuals with their own ability to think and decide for themselves, as well as object to anything that doesn’t appeal to them, explains Dr. Nadia Sherif, Professor of Educational Psychology and former dean of preschool teacher education at Cairo University. “It all begins when a child starts to explore his world and is very often told, ‘No, don’t do this,’ or ‘No don’t touch that,’” says Dr. Sherif. “He begins to object, and tries to do what he wants, regardless of what his parents say. It is here that the disciplining role of the parents should begin, the sooner the better,” she adds.
What’s the solution?
Both experts agree that effective discipline is the best way to prevent and deal with stubbornness.
Rule number one in discipline is being consistent in your approach with your child, stresses Dr. Sherif. This means that you and your husband should agree beforehand on what your child is and is not allowed to do and what consequences you will enforce if your child oversteps the limits you have set. You should not say yes to something that your child does while your husband says no, or vice versa. Also, don’t overlook something today and then punish your child for doing the exact same thing tomorrow.
Rule number two is to stay calm but firm when your child is being stubborn. If these rules are applied, your child should have a clear understanding of his limits.
Mrs. Al Khayat also suggests, “Introducing a daily routine into your children’s lives will lessen the situations in which conflict arises and will help them know what is expected of them.” It’s a good idea to set meal times, bath time, bed time and other things you view as important.” Mrs. Al Khayat adds, ”You have to keep in mind that just like your kids are expected to unquestioningly follow a routine, you also should allow them space for their own decision making.” Knowing that they can form an opinion and decide for themselves is an important part of the child’s character development. Parents should decide what the negotiable and nonnegotiable issues are, advises Mrs. Al Khayat. For example, letting your child decide which cartoon he prefers to watch or which shirt he’d like to wear won’t cause any harm and will satisfy his need for choosing for himself. However, if your child insists on doing something dangerous, like playing with a knife, or wants to do something unsuitable for you, such as visiting grandma when you have things to do at home, then you have the final word in decision-making.
How strict should I be?
Dr. Sherif advises, “Parents should neither be too lenient nor too overpowering. Either extreme will yield unpleasant results. If a child is always met with a constant ‘no’ without ever being given the opportunity to decide on anything, he or she may develop an inability to make a decision or form an opinion. Constant control from the parents undermines a child’s character. On the other hand, if the child is seldom guided by his parents and always gets his way… the result will most probably be an uncontrollable child whose parents’ words have no effect.”
Mrs. Al Khayat has found through experience that the best way to handle a child who is insisting on something that you find inappropriate involves a three-step process. “First,” she says, “calmly but firmly tell your child that his or her behavior has to end, and that you don’t want it to be repeated because you don’t accept it. Second, if the behavior doesn’t stop, remind your child that you asked him to stop what he was doing before, and tell him that if he doesn’t stop at once he will be punished.” Last, Mrs. Al Khayat stresses that if the child carries on regardless of what you said, then you must put the punishment into action, even if it will upset him. “Children have to realize that you mean what you say, and that they cannot, under any circumstances, get away with any wrong doing,” says Mrs. Al Khayat. Appropriate punishment is taking away a privilege the child enjoys, like watching television or going to the club. It is not appropriate to hit a child or call him names.
It’s only natural that you and your child will get into a battle of wills sometimes. The key to dealing with children’s stubbornness, according to these experts, is to stay calm, firm and consistent while setting limits for your kids.