How Do You Discipline Stubborn Children? (6 Practical Tactics)


Stubborn children can drive most parents crazy. If you have a stubborn child, then everyday tasks can be a nightmare. 

Kids who are strong-willed won't respond well to the majority of normal discipline techniques. Things like taking a toy away, putting them on a time out and saying, "you won't get any dessert", just doesn't work on them. 

While it's not necessarily a negative characteristic as they grow older, dealing with a toddler or young child who continually reverts to doing the opposite of the things you say can prove tiring. 

In this article, we'll break down the barriers and give 6 practical techniques any parent can adopt to reign that strong-willed temperament back into check. 

Our focus will be on positive techniques that promote wellbeing and constructive reinforcement.  

1. Positive Reinforcement Works!

You already know that negative reinforcement (time outs) may not work well with your stubborn little one. Instead, try some positive reinforcement and use a reward system to reinforce good behavior. 

Whenever they follow your instructions or listen directly to a request, give them some genuine praise and show them you appreciate their response. Things like a sticker chart or behavior chart will work wonders, especially for younger children.

This will help them to build up a visual reminder of all the times they have "listened to mummy".

2. Win the WAR! (Not every battle)

Stubborn kids have firm opinions about every little matter. What clothes they want to put on, what food they will or won't eat and what activities they want to participate in.

Although parenthood can sometimes feel like a war, it's more realistic to pick your battles carefully, especially when the outcome is not necessarily an important one. 

For example, wearing odd socks out of the house is perfectly okay, so as long as you avoid a tantrum, it's as good as a win! 

3. The illusion of Choice  

Kids can sometimes feel like life is not fair and they don't have much control. You tell them when to wake up, what to eat, how to dress etc.  

Avoid this internal conflict by giving your kids the opportunity to choose as much as possible.

The choice can as trivial as you want. Do you want to wear a red or blue dress today? Do you want cereal or porridge for breakfast etc. 

The illusion of choice is sometimes enough for your kids to abandon the idea of being so strong-willed all the time. 

4. Consistency

Learning how to deal with a stubborn child is about being consistent. Your parenting  a very smart child who will use their strong-willed nature to get their own way, as frequently as possible.  

Try to be as consistent as possible to ensure that a routine is established. This will prove to be in your favour when the stubborn 'monster' shows itself.  

Consistency is key as it helps enforce your authority and keeps your child's behaviour in check.

5. Mirror Calmness

Stubbornness is usually a personality trait that some children are just born with, but others learn it along the way. If you notice that your child has only recently started to push back a lot more than before, then take a long look at yourself to see if you can see any similarities. 

Although you may not acknowledge it, your little one could be picking up this unwanted trait from you or someone around you they spend lots of time with. 

If this proves to be true, try to mirror calmness and collectiveness much more than before. For example, If you are constantly yelling and shouting, then try to reign this type of behaviour in to reduce any chance of your child continuing to mirror you. 

6. Temperament

Every child is different and will display a unique temperament. They will be more or less sensitive to different agenda’s and this should be taken into account when dealing with strong-willed kids. 

  • Does your child get more upset in the morning, afternoon or evening?
  • Does your toddler show more aggression to you or specific people?
  • Do they act more destructive before or after a nap?


Explore different activities at different times of the day and see if it makes a difference.

If you notice a pattern of self-destructive or strong-willed behavior at a certain time of day then work retrospectively to alleviate the impact that it has on your child.

For example, if you notice extreme moodiness and stubbornness early in the morning then maybe your child isn’t getting enough sleep and the bedtime routine needs to be redefined.  

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About the Author

Mo Mulla is a work from home dad who enjoys reading and listening to music. He loves being a dad and husband to a growing family. He loves writing about his passions and hopes to change the world, 1 blog post at a time! You can find his parenting blog here:

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