How to handle a stubborn child

Posted on June 5th, 2018

When the “no” stage lasts beyond the toddler years, you know you’re dealing with a strong-willed child. Here’s how to get your way while ensuring your little one feels heard. By Lisa Witepski

How to handle a stubborn child

You may be tearing out your hair because your child has refused to listen – even after the tenth time you’ve requested she put on her socks. Take heart, because research shows that “strong-willed” children are natural leaders and independent. The flipside is that they tend to throw tantrums (yes, even more than usual), and they often clamour for your attention – even if it’s negative attention. These simple steps might get them to be a little more reasonable.

ALSO SEE: 3 steps to get your child to listen

Connect, don’t confront

One of the reasons parents of strong-willed children feel frustrated so often is because their children seem to ignore what they’re saying. Bear in mind that your stubborn child feels just the same way: the behaviour you perceive as “acting out” is a reaction to feeling that she hasn’t been heard. You’ll fare better if, instead of bearing down on her and trying to enforce your will, you try to get her to open up about what she’s feeling, why, and what you can do about it. Above all, this means giving her space to have a voice and making sure she knows that you’ve heard it.

ALSO SEE: 6 reasons behind toddler tantrums

Empower through options

How do you feel when your colleagues or boss blatantly pull rank? Furious, right? She may be just five years old, or even younger, but your little one feels exactly the same. And, yes, we know that as a parent it’s your job to tell her what to do, but for someone with a strong will, that’s difficult to accept. You can help her with this by giving her choices wherever you can. If you’re trying to get her to dress for school, but she wants to watch TV, you can remind her that this is not an option – but she’s welcome to choose whether she wants to wear a dress or jeans.

Don’t become a child yourself

Most of us have reached that embarrassing moment when you lose your cool (and your authority) along with your temper. No one is denying that it’s irritating, frustrating and maddening to be thwarted by a child, but if you remain calm, your request is far more likely to be heard. This is important, because children model their behaviour on that of their parents so, if you are prone to tempers, you’ll likely see this reflected back at you.


For a stubborn child, it’s all about getting her own way, so make her feel as though she is. Work with her, rather than against her. Instead of giving her instructions that she will instinctively rebel against, coax her over to your side by suggesting you do things together. Add an element of excitement to the daily chores she balks at (turn tidying up into a competition, for example), and she’ll be more likely to cooperate.


About Lisa Witepski

  In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at and, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.