As a mother of six children, I can tell you that I have seen the nature vs. nurture debate play out in my own home. My friends and I always asked each other, “How can children who are brought up in the same house turn out so different?” And, different they are! Some of my children are quieter, while others are more boisterous. Some were heavily invested in their schoolwork, while others worked only to ensure success. And, some are strong-willed, while others are more laid back.
What makes one child stubborn when the other children are content with what is presented to them? The research is still inconclusive as to what creates stubborn children – however – it’s clear that some babies are born knowing exactly what they want: they shoo the spoon away when being fed cereal, they insist on a certain color shirt every day for two weeks straight, and they refuse to go to bed unless they have decided that it is bedtime.
Bringing up a child who is stubborn can be very frustrating. Often, minor events like play dates or getting dressed in the morning can turn into major scenes. So, what can parents do to turn stubborn into “strong-willed” without crushing their child’s resolve?
The Upside of Stubbornness
The first thing that parents of stubborn children can do is to recognize that having a stubborn child has some benefits. Among those benefits are:
Self-confidence. Children who are stubborn are sure of themselves and the world around them. They know what they want and they believe they know how to get it. This self-esteem will only blossom as they grown.
Tenacity. Strong-willed children are not afraid to keep trying until they get what they want. They will persevere until they accomplish their goal. When focused on positive goals, perseverance is an excellent quality.
Problem-solving. When forced to solve problems on their own, stubborn children will pursue multiple avenues to achieve their goal. Later in life, these problem-solving skills will become essential.
Evidently, there are a lot of benefits to being strong-willed, but as a parent, dealing with a stubborn child can be very difficult. What can you do to make life more manageable?
- Let him be heard. Sometimes, just listening makes a huge difference. If your child feels powerless, he is more likely to put his foot down on inconsequential issues just because he feels the need to be in control. Therefore, let him decide some of the small stuff: his winter coat color, his next play date, his after school activity, or dinner menus for a week. In the long run, you will both be a lot happier because he will not feel the need to throw his weight around needlessly.
- Give and take. Life is sometimes about doing things that you don’t want to do in order to get the desired results. For instance, if your son refuses to share his toys with a friend, you might want to explain that by not sharing he might prompt the friend to not want to play in the future. Compromises are huge steps for stubborn children and the earlier they learn to accept them, the smoother their lives will be.
- Lead by example. Though you might not like to admit it – there is a chance that your child’s stubbornness is genetic. Perhaps you also like things to go a certain way and dig in until you accomplish that feat. Of course, at times this can be wonderful, but perhaps you do this with your child as well. Do you have a vision of what he should be eating, wearing, saying, and doing? If so, maybe you can teach your child to compromise through some of your own compromises! Modeling the ability to give in with grace will teach your child the same skill.
- Start small. Whatever the conflict, introduce change in a small way. If your child is an extremely picky eater, give him a tiny portion of the unwanted food along with the rest of his dinner. Be sure not to say anything like, “Just try a tiny bite,” because he might be looking for a chance to fight with you. Chances are, if a tiny portion of food shows up on his plate day after day he will be curious enough to try it.
- Give the illusion of choice. As the parent, you know what’s best and while it’s important to teach your child about compromise through your own behavior, there are times when you simply cannot compromise. In those instances, try to give your child the illusion of choice. That means, instead of telling your daughter that it is time to get out of the bath, ask her, “Would you like to drain the bath or should I?” Or, if it’s bedtime and your son wants to stay up later, tell him that he can play or read quietly in his room if he chooses, but cannot be outside of the room. This way, he makes the decision to go to sleep or stay awake, but you have a quiet home.
While it might not always feel like it, stubborn children are a blessing. As they grow, they will know exactly what they want and will work unceasingly until they achieve it. The key is teaching these children how to pick their battles. With their focus on Torah or their basheret, these qualities can take them far. It’s when they get bogged down in the small stuff that you need to help steer them in the right direction. Once in that direction, your strong-willed child will do the rest of the work – and all you will have to do is sit back and watch the world acquiesce!