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Child Caring

Strategies for stubbornness

Hi Barbara,

What are some tried and true ways to manage kids who seem to be quite stubborn, while also keeping as cool a head as possible? Kids who consistently do exactly what you asked them not to. This behavior is not constant 24/7, yet almost 80-90 percent of the time, I can count on some type of battle. I.e. please stop abusing your sibling; no, you can't use the computer when it's time to read before bed; no, you can't eat because it's time to go to bed; no, sorry it's time to turn off the TV . The list goes on. It is also difficult when one parent is going at it alone (husband works late at night.) Finally, not to be defeatist, but I have a somewhat stubborn streak for certain things and my husband absolutely does as well. Perhaps it's inherited and we just have to live with it?

Any suggestions?? Thank you!!
From: MamiaMia, North of Boston


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Hi MamaMia,

Maybe what you call "stubbornness" is really just a way to test you to see where the limits really are. Kids of all ages (and you don't say your kids' ages but I'm guessing school-age) (a) like to have a sense of power; but (b) really feel safest when they know we are in charge. Often they will push the envelop as a way to find out, "When will mom say no and mean it?" Why do they do that? Because knowing the answer makes them feel more secure: "Phew. Mom really is in charge. I'm safe."

Tried and true strategy #1: Offer choices.
This sounds simple and you're probably thinking, "But I do that!" Are you sure? Most of us tend to let this drift into negotiation, which just creates more anxiety: What will mom say if I do this? What about this? But there are rules for offering choices:
Offer genuine choices: "Do you want to have computer time before dinner or after dinner?"
Only offer choices you can live with, so that no matter what they choose, you can say: "Deal!"
Don't offer more than three. Some would say to offer only two.
When he starts to negotiate, say simply, "That wasn't one of the choices." Then repeat the choices.
Tried and true strategy #2: Pick your battles.

I know, you're heard this before, too. But how literally do you take it?
Battles not worth fighting almost always involve clothing. Do you really need to fight over whether he wears gloves? Or would natural consequences work just as well? One day of having cold hands may mean that tomorrow, he'll tell you he wants the gloves.
Only safety issues are worth a battle. If it's a bike helmet he's refusing rather than gloves (or if it's -10-degrees), it's a matter of safety. Tell him once: "My job is to keep you safe. You can't ride your bike without the helmet."
Stay calm and matter-of-fact. Sounds like that may be the hardest for you. Try not to repeat yourself. State the facts, the choices, or the limit. Getting calmer and whispering instead of getting excited and raising your voice may work wonders.
Tried and true #3: Consistency counts, BUT it's OK to change your mind once in a while, and it's OK to have exceptions.

Why is consistency in limit-setting so important? Because kids are more likely to thrive when there is predictability. If the rule is, "No food before bedtime," that's the rule on Monday and Tuesday and every day. Once that gets established -- and it only gets established through repetition -- it's OK to change your mind, or make an exception.
This isn't the same as caving. If you can see pretty quickly that the issue about to escalate is not worth a battle, for whatever reason, say, "You know? I changed my mind. Let's try it this time." That way, you're not locking yourself into anything. If it's Thanksgiving and that dessert was so yummy and there isn't school tomorrow, "You know what? Let's make an exception tonight! Let's all a second dessert!"

Lastly, since you see traits in your kids that you don't like in yourself, talk about it with them in a collaborative way: "One of the things I don't like about myself is how I can be stubborn. Even when I know I'm wrong, sometimes I pretend I'm right." Give an easy example. Even if they don't enter the conversation, they will have heard you. If you still have their attention, offer a coping skill. "When that happens, I try to remind myself that it's not important to be right all the time."
Readers, what are some of your strategies?