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Working With a Stubborn Child

working with a stubborn child
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to help a number of parents find different approaches to working with their kids. When they are stressed out or at the end of their rope, it’s so fulfilling to see them turn things around. Using some simple (but not always easy) ideas that I share with them, they are usually able to make a significant difference in their families.

In this letter I had a parent asking for help with their very young child.
The little one was arguing over brushing their teeth and changing their diapers.
It was becoming a daily drama.

Mom was getting frustrated and trying very hard not to spank and yell.
Not always being successful, but really trying.

She asked for any help to bring more peace to their home.
She saw that if she’s already yelling and so stressed this often
The trend would likely continue if she didn’t do something.

This is how I responded:


My dear friend I feel your pain
I applaud your restraint
and I admire your determination to be a peaceful parent.

Clearly your desire is to be a peaceful parent and
I would like to offer you some suggestions that might help in this regard.

The things I will suggest may seem quite radical to you,
but I encourage you to think about them and maybe even give them a try.

Look for the Cause

I would like to first start by encouraging you to be thinking about why your child acts out like they do. Usually when a child gets distressed on a regular basis they are seeking energy and attention. This isn’t a bad thing. Many people will tell you that this attention seeking is something to nip in the bud, to control, that they are trying to manipulate you and you have to put your foot down. This isn’t the case.

Children come into the world needing our love and attention and I believe that they know we’re supposed to give it to them unconditionally. When they’re not receiving unconditional love from us they can immediately feel it and they will begin to compensate for that lack by acting out in many different ways.

Fill the Lack

These actions always have their source in trying to fill a lack.
Realizing this, the solution is to fill the lack.

Any strategy that focuses on the behaviour does not address the cause, only the effect.
And while one may get a temporary change,
the cause will remain and the problem will express itself somewhere else soon enough.

There are times when we must deal with behaviours, but when things become consistently difficult it’s important to deal with the situation a bit deeper and more pro-actively.

So here are some suggestions for you:
(and I warned you that some of them may seem radical, but the non-radical hasn’t worked!!)

1) Let Her Have Her Way.

I start with this one because it is the hardest to comprehend how it will result in anything good!
It is a very yin yang concept in fact.
The idea that letting her have her way will actually result in a higher degree of cooperation
is intuitively very difficult to grasp, but I assure you it is true.

When you say it is time to brush your teeth and she says no,
instead of trying to get her to comply try saying something like this
“Well if that’s what you want I respect your decision. I know you know your body best and I also know that you want to take care of your teeth and if you feel this is what you want to do I will accept it.” and then give her a big hug and play with her favourite toy!

Positive Reinforcement isn’t about the Behaviour
It’s about the Connection

It might seem unreasonable to offer positive reinforcement for refusing to obey you.
The common thought is that this will make her think it is okay to disobey you
and she will do more of it. In fact the opposite is what happens.

Remember that she is behaving this way because she is seeking a higher level of love and attention. If she receives an abundance of positive attention at that moment two things will happen:

Give Them a Shock

The first is that she will be a bit in shock because it is different from the normal pattern she is used to. She will not know quite how to react. This shock will open her mind and heart to you. She will be more willing to receive your wisdom.

The other is that over time she will not have anything to rebel against
and the urge, the desire to be defiant will simply disappear.

Patience and Consistency

This will not happen the very first time you do this, it will require some consistency on your part. I am usually annoyed when I hear people suggest that parents must be consistent; because I know what they usually mean is be consistent with punishments and consequences, to be consistently in control.

However I do agree that a certain kind of consistency is very useful,
the consistency of love!

I encourage you to give this very difficult approach a try.
The peace and joy that comes from it will be mighty worth the effort.

2) Say an Unreasonable Yes

Or perhaps a lot of unreasonable yeses!

The unreasonable yes is a great method for increasing how much our children feel loved and understood. When we say yes to things that it seems totally reasonable to say no to, especially when our children fully expect to hear a No, it alters something in their brains! The moment of an unreasonable yes is something they do not forget.

My general principle has always been 10 yeses for every no.

Try and decrease the number of times you say no throughout the day.
The more a child hears yes the more their general level of positivity will increase.
It is amazing to witness that as it occurs.
The need for resistance and
The impulse for defiance decreases and eventually disappears!

3) Explain the reasons for things WITHOUT expecting compliance.

Kids are really smart. They are much smarter than we often give them credit for. When we take the time to explain things to them they really do understand. With repeated explanations the understanding of why we want them to do certain things gets into their head.

The problem comes when we expect them to obey because we have explained the reason to them. When we have that expectation the explanation becomes a form of manipulation rather than communication. Kids can sense this and react very differently to it than to pure communication.

When we explain without expectation we are saying “I trust that you’re smart enough to take this information and use it well.” Wow! What a wonderful message of support and belief we give our kids by doing this!

4) Employ Empathy to Connect

When my kid has difficulty with something in their lives I usually try and relate to it personally. This way she feels like I understand or at least make an attempt to understand what she is going through.

For example if I am encouraging her to do her homework and she just doesn’t feel like it, instead of pushing her to do so I will often say something like

“I know exactly how that feels kiddo. I often don’t want to do my work either and just simply want a break.”

Allow Empathy to Exist On Its Own

I don’t follow it up with a lesson on why she should do it anyway;
I just allow the empathy to exist on its own.
This moment of connected feeling has a profound effect upon our little ones.
They feel supported and heard.

These are such basic emotional needs.
They truly feel like they’ve been given a gift
when they receive non-judgemental empathy,
empathy without a hidden agenda.

Try a Different Approach

So when your kid doesn’t want their diapers to be changed and they want to draw, it might be a different approach to say something like

“I often don’t want to get changed either. Sometimes I’d rather play instead of getting changed too. Why don’t we go draw TOGETHER instead?”

And leave the dirty diaper on and go draw.

Sounds gross perhaps, but the emotional payoff is huge
and will bring many positive returns.

5) Choose Your Timing Carefully

The time for a lesson on the importance of brushing teeth isn’t while the conflict over brushing is in full swing.
It’s better to talk about it in a fun and totally unrelated moment.

At the moment of the struggle, that is when to connect with your little one.
To hold them and love them and make them feel special.

When we pick good, relaxed moments to talk things over the message is much easier to absorb.

Sometimes I’ll wait a week or two before mentioning an event to my daughter so that the emotional vibration has some time to calm down.
Hers and Mine!

There is no rule about when to talk about what.
We must investigate the timing that seems to give our kids the most positive experience.
The key is to investigate how THEY feel and to work our timing around that.

Choose your timing carefully and the messages are easier to digest.


Well I could go on, but I’ll leave it there for now.
I admire any parent for wanting to parent consciously and peacefully
even though (or perhaps because) they were not raised that way.

We all have deeply set programs and wounds inside of us
that we have to fight daily in order to do things differently.
But isn’t that how evolution occurs?

If we don’t raise our kids differently progress will come to a halt.
We will repeat the errors of our predecessors and really the world will be doomed!!

I feel inspired by courageous people who are making a difference in their parenting
Making this effort our kids will reach heights we could only dream of!!

Take care,

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