How to discipline a stubborn child

How to discipline a stubborn child

Parenting a strong willed child can be challenging. Kids with a strong will refuse to respond to any of your “go to” discipline tricks. Take a toy away? They’re on to the next one. Sit them on a chair for time out? They refuse to sit down. Try to redirect them to a different activity? They throw a temper tantrum that just won’t quit. While their stubbornness will serve them well in the future when they won’t let anything stand in the way of their dreams, it does present quite a challenge when you’re trying to teach them not to draw on the walls. Here are five discipline strategies that actually work to help teach your strong willed child right from wrong.

1. Use Positive Reinforcement

How to discipline a stubborn child

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You already know that negative reinforcement (like time outs, etc.) doesn’t work. Instead, try positive reinforcement and reward your child for good behavior. Whenever they do what they’re supposed to do, give them some heartfelt praise or place a sticker on a behavior chart so they can see their progress. One helpful tool is the cotton ball method, which is especially effective with strong willed kids. Whenever you notice your little one doing the right thing even if it’s the smallest thing, pop a cotton ball into a glass jar. Then give a prize once the jar is filled to the top.

2. Pick Your Battles

Strong willed kids have strong opinions about everything – what to wear, what to eat, what to do – and you quickly learn that you can’t argue about everything. So, pick your battles. It’s perfectly okay to let your little one wear snow boots in the middle of July and be a little more rigid when it comes to not hitting their brother.

3. Walk the Walk

Kids learn best not by listening to the things we say, but by observing our behavior and emulating it. If you want to get your child to listen, learn to walk the walk and practice what you preach. If you want your little one to be kind, let them see you being kind to others, especially when you don’t have a reason to. If you want them to stop yelling, watch your own tone.

4. Give Choices

Kids can sometimes feel like everything is out of their control – they go to school at this time, come home at that time, and can’t eat mac and cheese for every meal – and this feeling can cause them to act out, especially when it comes to strong willed kids. Let your little one feel like they have a little more control by offering two choices that you would be happy with, such as, “Do you want broccoli or peas with dinner?” or “Do you want to wear the blue dress or the green one?”

5. Drop the Rope

How to discipline a stubborn child

Photo source: Flickr

Sometimes, you’ll find yourself knee deep in a battle of wills arguing with a strong willed child, especially if you’re strong willed yourself. The best thing you can do in this situation is drop the rope and walk away. When you’re both calm, you can start up the conversation again with a fresh outlook.

Parenting the strong willed child? Check out more discipline strategies to get you on the right path.

How to discipline a stubborn child

Knowing how to discipline a difficult child isn’t something parents are born with. No one teaches these skills to expectant parents, nor is it something most parents anticipate needn’t to know how to do. And yet, most parents are tasked with disciplining emotional children, and it isn’t hard to feel alone. Even the easiest kids can be difficult from time to time.

One never knows when a tantrum or fit could strike, and knowing how to handle, and discipline, them is seldom any easier. Whether your child is begging for candy in the checkout, refusing to brush their teeth, or biting their sibling, children’s misbehavior is a given.

Children push boundaries to learn them.

Our job as parents is to teach our kids where they are and how to behave within them.

But when you have an emotional child, this is often easier said than done when every boundary push can escalate into an emotional storm that is exhausting for each of you, and threatens to derail all the good work you’ve both accomplished so far. These emotional power struggles can be hard to navigate on a good day, and seemingly impossible on a bad day. Not just tantrums, misbehaviors require limits, and knowing what to do isn’t easy.

And yet this battleground is where we have the most opportunity to help our child build the skills she needs to regulate her emotions and her behavior.

Here are five key strategies to discipline and de-escalate your emotional child’s misbehavior.

  1. Take, and keep, control: Your child is out of control, but you can’t afford to be. No matter how exhausted you are, if you relinquish control, check out, give in, you show her she can use these storms to manipulate you, and this will fuel more tantrums, and make them harder to navigate, not easier. The two goals of a tantrum are consequences and de-escalation. She may not show her vulnerability to you – instead opting to demonstrate anger and defiance – but tuning into how out of control she feels can help you find the control you need to manage the situation, and stay consistent.
  1. Express empathy to share control: Tantrums are emotional storms, where your child feels out of control, and believe it or not, scared. Tuning into her feelings, and naming them for her, is powerful, both for her as she learns to articulate, rather than act out her feelings, and for you, as you work to stay as calm as possible. I know you really wanted that candy, and are frustrated you can’t have it right now. I know you are tired and don’t want to get in the shower now. Naming her experience helps her feel understood, and offers her control over experience through naming her experience.
  1. Choose and administer appropriate consequences: Your child’s feelings may not be controllable, but her behavior has to be. When our children break important rules like hurting people or refusing certain things that are nonnegotiable (i.e. safety, hygiene, school attendance) it is our responsibility to instill consequences to deter them from repeating the behavior. Choosing appropriate consequences under pressure isn’t easy, and having some go-to consequences that work for your family can help. Know in advance what works – time out, sit-ups, dessert, screen-time privileges – and work to stick to those.
  1. If you yell, do so with love: If staying calm feels impossible, and you feel your temper and voice raising despite your best attempts to stay calm, make sure to control what you say. Name calling, labeling, or accusations are not productive, and during anger can quickly escalate to hurtful, even abusive words that can harm your child for years to come, according to science.

Aim to focus on your feelings: I care about you and your sister too much to let you hurt each other. I love you too much to let you hurt yourself by not taking care of your teeth. Your choices have really upset me and I’m angry.

Labeling your feelings helps your child understand your experience, and importantly gives you an outlet to get control as well. Communicating love to your child, even with a raised voice, will help redirect your negative emotions toward the positive which will help you both.

  1. Be consistent: Among the most powerful behavioral reinforcements is periodically being rewarded. Intermittent reinforcement (technically called “variable interval positive reinforcement”) is a powerful behavioral motivator that is tough to undo. Think slot machines, lottery, etc. The promise of a potential reward has been shown to be a powerful reinforcer, especially once it happens. Scream until you get your way is unfortunately the message we teach when we hold firm but then give in in the end. As hard as it may be to be consistent, the trick is to pick a consequence you can live with and execute.

Parenting, and disciplining, an emotional child isn’t easy. We know we need to set limits, but we don’t want to hurt our child. Staying focussed on empathy along side of limit-setting can help strike the balance you are looking for.

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How to discipline a stubborn child

Disciplining your child doesn’t necessarily mean beating them. All it takes is a little reverse psychology to get an obstinate kid to see things your way.

In our part of the world, we’ve embraced “the rod” as the symbol of discipline. Our idea of discipline is a few strokes of the rod now and then. But it shouldn’t be so. Stubbornness is a global phenomenon. You can take comfort in the fact that there plenty of parents who are in a similar situation. The way you handle your stubborn child will make all the difference in the kind of adult they turn out to be. The toddler phase and the teenager phase are considered the toughest to handle. We’ve curated some really creative ideas on how to discipline your stubborn child. But first, who really is a stubborn child?

How To Discipline Your Stubborn Child: Is Your Child Stubborn or Strong-Willed?

How to discipline a stubborn child

Not every kid that exercises free will is stubborn. It is important to fathom if your child is stubborn or determined, before taking any strong action. Strong-willed children can be highly intelligent and creative. They ask a lot of questions, which may come across as rebellion. They have opinions and are “doers”.

A few other characteristics that stubborn children may display are:

  • They have a strong need to be acknowledged and heard. So they may seek your attention often.
  • They can be fiercely independent.
  • They are committed to doing what they like.
  • All kids throw tantrums, but stubborn ones may do so more often.
  • They have strong leadership qualities – they can be “bossy” at times.
  • They like to do things at their pace.

If your child displays most of the traits above, congrats, you have a strong-willed child. He has the tendency to be stubborn, so like all children, he will need discipline.

This Is How To Discipline Your Stubborn Child Without Beating Them

It is important to understand that stubbornness is a part of the personality of some children. In others, it is their way of nudging the boundaries and asserting their will. So, it falls to you to teach your child the various ways in which they can handle stress and express their feelings. Here are some tips that you can rely on to curb stubborn behaviour.

1. Listen, don’t argue

Communication is a two-way street. If you want your kid to listen to you, you have to be willing to listen to them first. Strong-willed children may have strong opinions and tend to argue.В So how do you teach a five-year-old stubborn child to listen to you? You approach him or her sideways, in a calm and practical manner and not head-on.

2. Connect with them, don’t force them

How to discipline a stubborn child

3. Give them options

How to discipline a stubborn child

Kids have a mind of their own and don’t always like being told what to do. Give your kids options instead of directives. Instead of telling him to go to bed, ask him if she would want to read bedtime story A or B.

Your kid could continue to be defiant and say, “I am not going to bed!”. When that happens, stay calm and tell them matter-of-factly, “well, that was not one of the choices”. You can repeat the same thing as many times as needed, and as calmly as possible. When you sound like a broken record, your child is likely to give in.

That said, too many options aren’t good either. Minimize the options to two or three, and ask your stubborn kid to pick from those.

4. Stay calm

Yelling at a defiant, screaming kid will turn an ordinary conversation between a parent and a child into a shouting match. Your child might take your response as an invitation to a verbal combat. This will only make things worse. It is up to you to steer the conversation to a practical conclusion as you are the adult. Help your child understand the need to do something or behave in a specific manner.

Do what it takes to stay calm – meditate, exercise, or listen to music. Once in a while, play your kid’s favorite music. That way, you can gain their ‘vote’ and also enable them to unwind.

Respect them

How to discipline a stubborn child

If you want your children to respect you and your decisions, you need to respect them. Your child will not accept authority if you force it on him. Here are a few ways you can model respect in your relationship:

  • Seek cooperation, don’t insist on adherence to directives.
  • Have consistent rules for all your children and do not be lax just because you find it convenient.
  • Empathize with them – never dismiss their feelings or ideas.
  • Let your children do what they can for themselves, avoid the temptation to do everything for them, to reduce their burden. This also tells them that you trust them.
  • Say what you mean and do what you say.

Lead by example is the mantra you should follow here because your kids are observing you all the time.

Adah Chung is a fact checker, writer, researcher, and occupational therapist.

How to discipline a stubborn child

Claudia Dewald / Getty Images

The question of how to handle defiant children is something most parents have struggled with at one point or another. Defiance in children is a common problem, especially in toddlers and adolescents. It’s a normal part of a child’s development and can be expressed in behaviors such as talking back to or disobeying parents, teachers, and other adults.

Among school-age children, defiance will more likely take the form of arguing or not doing something you asked—or doing it very, very slowly—rather than a full-out tantrum (which is more likely to occur in younger children). Your child may be trying to exert control over a situation or declare their independence. They may be testing limits. Or they may be expressing dislike for a task like doing their chores.

When Defiance Isn’t What It Seems

In some cases, what appears to be defiance may simply be a child who’s dawdling because they are so focused on an activity. Understanding what’s behind your child’s behavior is an important part of addressing the problem.

Defiant behavior that persists for a prolonged period of time and interferes with a child’s performance at school and their relationships with family and friends can be a sign of something called oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD.  

In children who have ODD, defiance is characterized by behaviors, such as temper tantrums or aggression, that often seem inappropriate for a child’s age. Children who have ODD may also exhibit other problems such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD.   If you suspect that your child may have ODD, consult your child’s doctor or school counselor to get help and information.

How to Manage Defiance in Children

If your child’s defiance is not at the level of ODD, nor affected by some other underlying concern, there are ways to work on improving the behavior.

Set Expectations

Make sure that you’ve been clear enough about the rules and chores of the house, and that they are age-appropriate. A five- or six-year-old may find it overwhelming to be told to clean their room, and therefore refuse to do it. They may be able to do the job better if you break it down into smaller tasks, such as picking up toys off the floor and helping you put them away.

Get to the Root of the Behavior

Look for causes and triggers and try to keep track of your child’s defiance. Is there a pattern? Are there certain specific things they don’t like or want to do? Are they defiant when things are hectic or hurried? Once you investigate the cause, you can take steps to adjust situations so your child is less apt to oppose you.

Set your Child Up for Good Behavior

Try to avoid situations in which a child may be more likely to be defiant or exhibit other bad behavior. For instance, if you know your child tends to get cranky if he has too much on his plate, try not to schedule too many things after school or on the weekends. If your kid hates abrupt transitions, try to allow a bit of extra time when you go from one thing to another.

Treat Your Child As You’d Want to Be Treated

Just as grown-ups do, your normally well-behaved child can have an off day. They may be in a bad mood, or feeling overwhelmed and needing some downtime. Be firm about what your child must do, but speak to them in a loving and understanding manner. When you set a good example of how to express an opinion or disagree in a loving and respectful manner, your children will follow.

Take Advantage of Your Child’s Verbal Skills

Parents of school-age children have a distinct advantage over parents of toddlers when it comes to dealing with behavior such as defiance: They can talk it out. Calmly discuss with your child what they want, and then try to work out a solution that works for both of you.

Establish Absolute Ground Rules

Make sure your child knows your family rules. For instance, if talking in a disrespectful manner is an absolute no-no in your house, make it clear that there will be consequences for it—no compromises or second chances. Be sure to choose a consequence you’re willing to enforce, such as no TV for the rest of the day or doing an extra chore, so your child doesn’t ignore your requests and undermine your authority.

Compromise When You Can

Is your daughter insisting on wearing her pretty summery skirt on a cold fall day? Rather than engaging in a battle, try to come up with a compromise, such as asking her to wear tights or leggings with the skirt. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to give in when your child wants to exert control over something minor so that you can stay firm when it comes to the bigger stuff.

Discuss Options

Sometimes, a child may exhibit defiant behavior because they want more say in when or how they do things. One way to help children feel like they have more control is to give them choices.   For example, once you set up the parameters—“The toys must be put away”—work out with your child when they will do the task. For instance, toys can be put away any time before bed.

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC.

How to discipline a stubborn child

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

If your children roll their eyes and say, “Whatever, Mom!” when you tell them to start her homework or pretend they can’t hear you when you tell them to turn off electronics, they are on the mild end of the disrespect spectrum. On the more serious end of the spectrum are behaviors such as name-calling, disregarding rules, and physical aggression.

No matter where your child falls on the spectrum, it’s important to address disrespect before it gets worse. A 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia found that disrespectful children are likely to become rude adults.  

While you might be tempted to excuse disrespect by saying things like “Kids will be kids,” brushing it off won’t do your child any favors. Kids need to learn how to treat others with respect so they can develop healthy relationships with peers, authority figures, and family members. Effective consequences can help.

Your child’s disrespect may be a sign that they need help learning socially appropriate ways to manage anger, deal with frustration, and communicate effectively.

Ignore Attention-Seeking Behavior

It may seem like ignoring minor disrespect is the same as allowing your child to get away with it. But selective ignoring can be one of the most effective negative consequences.

Ignoring is about refusing to let your child’s disrespect derail you from the task at hand. If you tell your child to clean their room and they roll their eyes, don’t engage in a lengthy argument over the disrespectful behavior. Each minute you spend in a power struggle is 60 seconds they’ll put off cleaning. Give a warning about what will happen if they don’t get to work.

If eye-rolling is a common problem, address the issue at a later time when both of you are calm. Say something like, “Earlier today when I told you to clean your room, you rolled your eyes. Are you aware that you do that when you’re mad?”

Talk about the potential consequences of disrespect. Ask, “Do you think that you roll your eyes when your friend says something you don’t like?” Engage in a discussion about how other people feel when they witness rude behavior. Explain the natural consequences for disrespectful behavior such as, “Disrespectful children often have trouble making friends.”

A significant amount of parent-teen conflict occurs due to a lack of meaningful connection. Connect with your teen, decrease the conflict.

Grandma’s Rule of Discipline

Grandma’s rule of discipline is a simple but effective way to get your child to comply. Instead of telling your children what they can’t do, tell them how they can earn a privilege.

Rather than saying, “If you don’t pick up right now, you won’t be able to play outside,” say, “You can play outside as soon as you are finished picking up your toys.” Then, walk away and leave it up to your child to respond.

You also might try saying things like, “When you lower your voice and talk calmly, I’ll answer you,” or “I’ll play with you when you stop being bossy.” Teach your child that polite and kind behavior yields positive results.

Use a When/Then Notification

Frame requests in a positive way. Use “when. then” statements to notify your child what will happen after they choose to change their behavior. Say, “When you wait your turn while I’m on the phone, then I can take the time to answer you.”

This gives your child an opportunity to change their behavior. Just make sure you’re fully prepared to follow through with a negative consequence. Avoid repeating your warnings over and over again. Otherwise, you’ll be training your child not to listen.

Provide an Immediate Consequence

Most disrespectful behaviors should result in an immediate consequence. Take your child’s age and the seriousness of the offense into consideration when determining the consequence.

A calm-down corner can be an effective consequence for young children. If a 6-year-old screams in your face when they are angry, for example, immediately explain to them why this behavior is inappropriate and provide them an opportunity to correct it.

if your teen walks out the door after you’ve told them they can’t leave, or your child calls you a name, set the boundary: “I will not let you disrespect me” or “I won’t allow hurtful language in this home” or “I trust you will find a different way to deal with your frustration.”

Many actions that are labeled “misbehaviors” can often be corrected when a child is given the skills and attention they need to make those changes. The aim is not to dish out more punishments. The goal is to remain connected, teach them valuable skills, and maintain a healthy parent-child relationship.

Use Restitution

If your child or teen behaves in a disrespectful manner, restitution may be necessary to discourage it from happening again. Restitution is about doing something kind for the victim or doing something to make reparations for the damage that has been done.

If your child hits their sibling, have them do their sibling’s chores for the day. Or if your teen breaks something out of anger, they can fix it or pay to get it fixed.

Teach your child that saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t always fix things. Restitution helps them take responsibility for disrespectful behavior while also working to repair the relationship.

A Word From Verywell

When you’re addressing disrespectful behavior, it’s normal for your child to take two steps forward and one step back. So while they may be polite and kind one day, they may struggle the next. Consistent discipline is the key to helping them make progress over the long term. Point out good behavior when you see it. And on bad days, consider disrespect a sign that they need more practice.

Most importantly, be a good role model. Whether you’re frustrated with the service you receive at a restaurant or you’re angry at the telemarketer who interrupted your dinner, treat others with respect and your child will follow suit.

If the kid doesn’t care about a punishment, it’s the wrong punishment. But more severe does not necessarily mean more effective.


How to discipline a stubborn child

So, you tried to punish your child and they simply shrugged it off. Some children don’t respond to traditional punishment for kids. Some parents might be tempted to call such a kid a stubborn child, or just plain bad. They react to timeouts with indifference. They practically yawn at a raised voice. When that kind of stubbornness occurs, parents become frustrated and retaliate with more a severe punishment out of anger or spite, which isn’t very fair or, frankly, effective . And according to Christi Campbell, a board-certified behavior analyst, getting a kid to react remorsefully to a harsh punishment isn’t what’s needed at all.

“When a child doesn’t seem to care about discipline, it means there is a mismatch between the reason the child is being punished and the punishment that was given,” says Campbell. “Often, parents think that isolating the child by sending them to their room will be effective. However, there are times when sending a child to his or her room only serves as a retreat from the chaos of the household, which is not always a punishment.”

Parents would do better to realize why the unwanted, discipline-worthy behavior occurred in the first place if they want to find an appropriate punishment for kids. It also turns out that finding out why a kid misbehaves in a situation helps avoid that behavior in the future.

“Proactively, laying out expectations in a concrete way can be effective to avoid the need for punishment on occasion,” suggest Campbell. “This also eliminates the parent as the ‘bad guy’ since the expectations are in black-and-white and the child is now in charge of choosing to do the correct thing, not just because the parent is ‘policing’ them.”

How to Discipline Kids Who Don’t Respond to Punishment

  • Try something different: If punishment doesn’t work at discouraging bad behavior, there’s no reason to keep doing it.
  • Be clear about expectations: Give kids a chance to succeed by reminding them what is expected of them.
  • Embrace natural consequences: When the punishment is specific to the offense and logical, kids have a better chance of modifying their behavior.
  • Praise the right actions: Don’t just punish the wrong behaviors. Make a habit of praising good decisions.
  • Avoid the power struggle: Holding it over your kids’ head will undermine team mentality in your family.

Trying to minimize parent-child conflicts and taking a child’s concerns seriously isn’t babying them. It’s the foundation of many ‘ zero discipline ’ strategies, and what is parenthood but trying to teach children to make good decisions? But sometimes patterns of unacceptable behavior persist, and kids need to be disciplined . The key to finding an effective course of action is to ground it in consequences that naturally derive from their actions.

“The punishment should be related to what the child did and why they did it and needs to be immediate so they connect it with the ‘crime,’ especially so, the younger they are,” advises Campbell. “Did the child not clean up their room? Maybe they can clean their room and the living room for the next week. Did they come home late without calling? They need to call once an hour the next time they go out.”

If the child’s behavior hasn’t improved, the new punishment isn’t really getting to the core of the issue either, and parents should try another tack. If the behavior does improve, good. The punishment is effective, and parents should remember to praise kids for their improved behavior.

Importantly, there’s no shame in trying new things or trying to meet a kid on their level to avoid butting heads. It’s probably less of a threat to parental authority than irrational punishments are.

“Avoid the power struggle. You know you’re in charge,” says Campbell. “Beating them over the head with it will not help your cause. It will only undermine the team mentality of your family.”

Parenting a strong-willed child can be challenging at times. But here’s what experts recommend to help your relationship with your kid thrive.

My toddler’s voice ricochets off the walls of the mudroom—mama can’t do it; mama can’t do it she repeats over and over. She’s insistent on putting her yellow rain boots on herself even though they keep ending up on the wrong feet. In moments like these, a thousand images rush through my head as I imagine all the scenarios I’ll encounter with my strong-willed child as she grows.

She lives every moment fiercely determined, and I love her for it even if I wanted to leave the house 10 minutes ago.

Parenting a stubborn child like mine requires patience, calmness, and stability. Here are five tips to teaching compromise and finding balance when parenting stubborn children.

  • RELATED:6 Little Ways to Help Kids Be More Emotionally Intelligent

Give Choices

Kids with a stubborn nature like to be in charge of themselves. Give them plenty of opportunities to have authority over their own lives. “Let them make choices that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, like what to wear, which color of cup to use, or which swing to use at the park,” says Holly Nordenberg, a parenting coach based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Parenting expert Lorie Anderson agrees. “You can’t just, ‘lay down the law’ as it’ll only cause them to get angry and more defiant,” says Anderson, founder of Mom Informed, a website providing guidance and resources to parents from the newborn phase up to teens.

But keep in mind, you can provide options that will lead to good decisions either way. For instance, when it’s cold outside, I ask my daughter if she wants to wear a pink sweater or a blue sweater, so whatever she decides, she’s going to end up wearing something that will keep her warm. I do the same thing when I ask her whether she wants blueberries or an orange as a snack—either way, she’s eating fruit.

Slow Down

Sometimes “stubbornness” isn’t really stubbornness. For example, maybe your child is being asked to do something they don’t have the skills to do yet. Or perhaps they’re overwhelmed by the environment and haven’t yet learned how to cope with those emotions.

Take a deep breath, ask questions, and listen to what your child has to say. It may be the key to finding out what is hiding underneath their behavior.

  • RELATED:My Daughter’s Tantrums Weren’t Stubbornness, They Were Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder

Set Expectations

While you want to let your kids be themselves and make individual choices on their own, you also have to set some rules. “The easiest way to enforce rules is by having a set routine—do homework right after school, bedtime at the same time every night,” says Anderson. “They’ll learn to go through the motions on their own and won’t have you hovering over them, so they’ll feel more independent.”

Simply put, rules are a part of life and learning about them at home will help your child understand how to live within a community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rules help create structure and while kids will break rules from time to time, it’s important to be consistent with consequences when they are broken.

As your child gets older, you can involve them more in the discussions of rules and limits, again giving them some authority over their own life and setting expectations so they will understand the reasoning behind them.

Lead by Example

Ask yourself if you are practicing the skills and behavior you want your child to have and exhibit. If you respond with stubbornness during a frustrating situation, your child will likely only dig in their heels.

Instead, acknowledge their feelings, make sure they know their feelings are important and valid, help them find solutions, and practice calming techniques for when things don’t go their way. “It takes patience and consistency, but these skills are invaluable, even at very young ages,” says Nordenberg.

You want to practice calming techniques before your child is actually upset so they have a foundation to go back to. Ask your child to give you examples of times when they feel stressed and then what they can do help calm their body and mind down. You can offer suggestions like taking a walk together outside, or taking deep, slow breaths. It’s helpful to have your child practice taking those deep, slow breaths so they know how to return to that when they are upset.

For younger kids, like my toddler, who are still learning about feelings I often ask how she is feeling at various times of the day. Are you happy? Are you excited? Are you mad? Are you jealous? Are you sad? Then when she is upset, I ask if she wants to talk about it. Sometimes she doesn’t—that’s OK—and I give her a few minutes but other times she’s ready to talk about her feelings and then I can encourage her to find some solutions.

Remember, positive reinforcements, such as praise or a hug, can go a long way.

  • RELATED:8 Little Ways to Encourage Your Child to Speak Their Mind

Pick Your Battles

Some kids have to learn through experience. So, as much as you try to stop your strong-willed child from doing something, they might just go do it anyway.

“As a parent, it’s your job to make sure they don’t get too hurt, but you can still let them learn by doing instead of listening. They’ll test the limits, but they’ll also learn what happens when they do certain things, and that’s good,” says Anderson.

She suggests giving warnings instead of directions. For instance, if you tell your kid to put up their hood because it’s raining but they don’t do it and get it wet, they’ll begin to realize it’s important to take your words into account.

“It’s better to let them go through this process early on before they can put themselves into real danger,” says Anderson.

The Bottom Line

Stubborn kids are decisive, passionate, and determined—beautiful traits. Their firm attitude can be challenging at times, but with patience and consistency, you can help your stubborn child grow into a resilient, independent, and free-thinking being. Don’t be surprised when that stubbornness ends up being one of their best character traits.

Getting your 3-year-old to behave can be a challenge. The trick is consistency and learning to pick your battles.

Acting authoritative — without becoming authoritarian — isn’t easy to do, especially in the heat of the moment. These techniques can help:

Pick your fights. Battle your 3-year-old over every bad behavior and you’ll be at war all day. Instead, list the top few behaviors that really bother you — because they’re dangerous, uncivil, or annoying. For those you deem forbidden — riding a tricycle in the street or leaving the house without an adult, for example — set clear, specific rules and logical consequences. Biting back, for example, is not a logical consequence for a child who bites because it simply teaches that the bigger person gets to bite. A reminder of why it’s not nice to bite and a brief time-out in a boring place make more sense. Always follow through on whatever discipline you decide on. Lack of consistency confuses kids and promotes rebellion.

For less-serious misconduct — lying, not sharing, swearing — develop an overall policy, but deal with each case as it arises. When your child is feeling tired, sick, or hungry or is facing stress (from a move or a divorce, for example), you need to be flexible.

Practice prevention. Use your knowledge of your child to head off needless blowups. If he likes to clean out the kitchen cupboards while you’re cooking breakfast every morning-and it drives you crazy-buy cabinet locks; if he can’t keep his hands off the VCR, put it far out of reach. Childproofing works wonders in reducing family feuds.

Also, plan ahead. If your child tends to be happy and energetic in the morning but is tired and grumpy after lunch, schedule trips to the store and visits to the doctor for when she’s at her best. Prepare her for any new experiences, and explain how you expect her to act. To stave off boredom, pack a bag of toys or snacks. Also prepare her for shifting activities: “In a few minutes we’ll need to pick up the toys and get ready to go home.” The better prepared a child feels, the less likely she is to make a fuss.

Stay calm. If you cannot avoid bad behavior, then face it calmly. Try to use a quiet, unruffled tone of voice and words that are neutral and positive. And keep in mind that suggestions (“Why don’t you wash your hands now so you’ll be all set to eat when supper’s on the table?”) promote far more cooperation than commands (“Go wash your hands at once!”) or criticism (“Your hands and face are really dirty!”).

It also helps to turn “you” statements into “I” messages. Instead of saying, “You’re so selfish that you won’t even share your toys with your best friend,” try “I like it better when I see kids sharing their toys.” Another good technique is to focus on do’s rather than don’ts. If you tell a 3-year-old that he can’t leave his trike in the hallway, he may want to argue. A better approach: “If you move your trike out to the porch, it won’t get kicked and scratched so much.”

Finally, make sure your tone and words do not imply that you no longer love your child. “I really can’t stand it when you act like that” sounds final; “I don’t like it when you try to pull cans from the store shelves,” however, shows your child that it’s one specific behavior — not the whole person — that you dislike.

Listen carefully. Kids feel better when they know they have been heard, so whenever possible, repeat your child’s concerns. If she’s whining in the grocery store because you won’t let her open the cookies, say something like: “It sounds like you’re mad at me because I won’t let you open the cookies until we get home. I’m sorry you feel that way, but the store won’t let us open things until they’re paid for. That’s its policy.” This won’t satisfy her urge, but it will reduce her anger and defuse the conflict.

Explain your rules. It is rarely obvious to a 3-year-old why he should stop doing something he finds fun — like biting, hitting, or grabbing toys from other children. Teach him empathy instead: “When you bite or hit people, it hurts them”; “When you grab toys away from other kids, they feel sad because they still want to play with those toys.” This helps your child see that his behavior directly affects other people and trains him to think about consequences first.

Offer choices. When a child refuses to do — or stop doing — something, the real issue is usually control: You’ve got it; she wants it. So, whenever possible, give your preschooler some control by offering a limited set of choices. Rather than commanding her to clean up her room, ask her, “Which would you like to pick up first, your books or your blocks?” Be sure the choices are limited, specific, and acceptable to you, however. “Where do you want to start?” may be overwhelming to your child, and a choice that’s not acceptable to you will only amplify the conflict.

Provide alternatives. When you want your child to stop doing something, offer alternative ways for him to express his feelings: say, hitting a pillow or banging with a toy hammer. He needs to learn that while his emotions and impulses are acceptable, certain ways of expressing them are not. Also, encourage your child to think up his own options. For instance, you could ask: “What do you think you could do to get Tiffany to share that toy with you?” Even 3-year-olds can learn to solve problems themselves. The trick is to listen to their ideas with an open mind. Don’t shoot down anything, but do talk about the consequences before a decision is made.

Use time-out. For moments when reasoning, alternatives, and calmness have no impact, use time-outs: Send your child to a dull place to sit for a brief period and pull herself together. This gives you both a chance to cool down and sends the message that negative behavior will not get your attention. The less you reward any negative behavior with attention, the less your child will use that behavior to get her way.

Admit your mistakes. Be sure you let your child know when you’ve goofed by apologizing and explaining why you acted the way you did. This will teach him that it’s okay to be imperfect.

Bestow rewards. It’s highly unlikely that your child will always do whatever you say. If that happened, you’d have to think about what might be wrong with her! Normal kids resist control, and they know when you are asking them to do something they don’t want to do. They then feel justified in resisting you. In cases in which they do behave appropriately, a prize is like a spoonful of sugar: It helps the medicine go down.

Judicious use of special treats and prizes is just one more way to show your child you’re aware and respectful of his feelings. This, more than anything, gives credibility to your discipline demands.