upset kidCall it stubborn, obstinate, hard-headed or a pain in the neck, the strong-willed child is difficult.

Pitying glances from passersby and the ubiquitous suggestion to “spank the stubborn right out” don’t help. What do you do? Easy!

Understand a stubborn child. There is a world of difference between a defiant child and one who is stubborn. In his book A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, James Webb, Ph.D. explains that among the multiple intelligences defining children is one he refers to as intrapersonal intelligence. In this context the child experiences a very strong awareness of self and self-reflection. This naturally translates into a strong will born from this awareness. Do not discipline a child for the way s/he is wired; help move them into acceptable expressions.

Identify triggers.

  • Is the child stubborn in a school setting?
  • At church?
  • At home?
  • When asked to do a certain task?
  • When asked to do a certain task and having been given minute instructions on how to do it?
  • How about transitions?
  • Do you see where I am going with this?

As a parent, you define the speed at which the family runs. If you are disorganized or thrive on change, your child may not share your enthusiasm. As a result, a mostly linear-thinking child will balk at having to change gears at the drop of a hat.

Conversely, if you are highly organized to the point of micro-managing numerous tasks and interactions, a free-spirited child may chafe at the yoke of rules. Find out what sets off bouts of stubbornness.

Define and stick to boundaries.

If you know that your young child tends to get an obstinate streak if he does not have his nap, make nap time non-negotiable. In other words, do not schedule outings, errands, play dates or meetings “where he must be quiet” for this time frame.

Conversely, do not lord your rules and regs over an older child. Work together to define acceptable behaviors and boundaries. Then, enforce them consistently. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to ineffective parenting is paved with inconsistencies.

Give it a name.

One of the most damaging aspects of parenting within a Christian environment is the speed with which labels are affixed. A child labeled as stubborn or obstinate is treated differently from other children in the Sunday school setting.

Be careful with quick labels! They sell your child short. For example, when you see that pouting lip come out and the stubborn look enter your child’s eye, ask her what she is feeling.

Help her sort out and label her feelings and emotions. Is she hungry? Tired? Thirsty? Exhausted from having spent time in a small room with loud kids? Bored? Frustrated over a disagreement with another child? Unsure of herself because of a comment made? Once you ferret out what is going on in your child’s heart and mind, work with that info instead.

Never threaten.

There is a lot of peer pressure on parents to show that they have their kids firmly in hand and are dealing with things. This is a common mistake made worse by the pitying glances of others.

Resist the temptation to show your parenting prowess. First of all, remember that only praise is given in public; discipline is dispensed in private. Secondly, just like cooking takes a bit of time, parenting also takes a little time, prep work and application of gentle heat to get the desired results. Parenting on the spot is rarely the answer to a stubborn child.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 (NLT)

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Sylvia Cochran

Sylvia is a seasoned freelance writer, born and raised in Germany. Having been exposed to a variety of religions and traditions due to travel and study, Sylvia has been a student of the Bible for more than ten years, and has for the last four years taught in small groups about Biblical principles, practical Christianity, Christian parenting, as well as the spiritual use of money. Sylvia also provides Free Online Christian Parenting Courses at Suite 101
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