My youngest daughter has always had a stubborn streak. As she's got older (now 7), it's got worse. While most children will eventually cave to some combination of carrot and stick, once she's in this mode nothing will shift her opinions: she really will cut off her nose to spite her face, as the saying goes.

For example, recently we headed out on a family trip for a little treat: a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter day. We asked her to put her coat and hat on and she refused, saying she was warm enough. We insisted and said she wouldn't be able to go out and have chocolate if she didn't. At which point she said - and this is what often happens - that she didn't want the chocolate, and appeared to mean it.

The end result is that she went out - with her coat and hat because we insisted - and sat with a face like thunder while her big sister and everyone else enjoyed their chocolate. Nothing we could say or do would make her have the chocolate, even when we pointed out that because she had worn her coat, as asked, she was okay to have it.

This seems to be to represent quite astonishing self-restraint for a 7 year old. And while she's very well behaved and good tempered most of the time when this kicks off - maybe once a week - there is just no bringing her round. She misses out of treats, trips and things she wants to do because she backs herself into a corner and will not come out. Sometimes it rises to a tantrum and she's banished to her room for a half hour and still she cannot be reasoned with, and sticks to her insistance that she doesn't really want whatever it is. There seems to be no unifying factor in what causes it: sometimes it's just like she wants to assert herself and have a fight.

I do not understand this behaviour at all. In my experience of parenting, children generally have poor reactions either because of miscommunication or because they find it an effective way of getting attention. Neither is the case her: she understands what's on offer and what she needs to do to get it. When the stubborness starts, we just make our "final offer", then back off. If she escalates and we're not going out, she's sent to her room. If she doesn't we stick to our guns and just ignore the resulting sulk.

It's such a shame, and it worries me this is going to effect her very negatively later in life, impacting work and relationships. Since it's got worse as she's got older she seems unlikely to "grow out of it". What we can do to try and change her behaviour and get her to see reason?

EDIT: I seem to have phrased this question badly. I'm prepared to deal with the stubborn decisions (like not taking the coat). What I'm struggling to deal with is the aftermath: in my example she eventually complied with the request, but still refused to have the reward for doing so.

In another example she wanted to take a medal she'd won to school for show and tell because she was - deservedly - proud of it. We asked she put a sticker on the back of it with her name, in case it was mislaid. She initially refused, then - sulkily - complied. However when she got home she said she hadn't shown it to the class because she "wasn't proud of it any more" and stuck to her guns through the week.

It's such a shame that she keeps missing out on things through her own behaviour. At first we thought she'd learn by the missing out, but she sticks to it.

  • 1
    Bill Gates' parents took him to a child psychologist who finally recommended that they give in because they weren't going to win the argument. Once he had set a course of action, there was no changing direction or redirecting that would work. – pojo-guy Nov 25 '17 at 4:28
  • Related: parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/24345/… – Remco Nov 27 '17 at 12:24
  • You will need to avoid the "I want you to ...." situations. Perhaps delegate the decision - "You might loose your medal at school and it will be hard for the finder to tell it is yours - is this something we should try to help him/her with?". – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Nov 27 '17 at 15:25

From your description of the scenario, what is at stake is not so much reason as control. As children grow older, they work to practice increasingly more control over their environment and what may seem like a reasonable request: "It's cold out, put your coat on." Is interpreted as an unreasonable request against her control - that can leave you both thinking "If only they could see reason..."

Being on the younger side of my family myself, it is hard growing up having everyone in the family "telling me what to do." And I lashed out and threw tantrums when I felt I had no control over the choices that were affecting me. I'd encourage you to allow her to make some choices (within parental reason, of course) and help her process the consequence as she lives it.

Your Hot Cocoa scenario could look something like:

You: "Okay, it's cold out, please put your coat on before we go."

Daughter: "No, I'm not cold, I don't want to."

You: "You don't have to wear your coat, but it may be wise to bring it with you just in case."

Daughter: "No, I'm leaving it here."

You: "If you say so." (You bring it anyways and provide it when she says she's cold, because it's going to happen).

Keep in mind that we all do what your daughter is expressing in one way or another. If things are happening in our life that we have no control over we can try to dig our heels in and resist. In parenting, we tend to be the more authoritative party so when our children do/say/want something we don't, we have the temptation to dig our heels in and say "NO!...Because I say so." Giving your daughter the freedom to choose what happens may mean recognizing your need to relinquish some of your control over her choices.

Your daughter doesn't respond well to things that appear to her to be ultimatums.

You would like to protect your daughter from things like getting sick.

Here are some things that have helped me live with a bit less drama with my headstrong child:

a) pick your battles;

b) (only for things that are truly of vital importance) experiment with offering choices ("Do you want your blue coat or your red windbreaker?"), appealing to her expertise ("Molly, could you check the thermometer [step outside and see how cold it is] and come and tell me whether I'll be warm enough in my gray jacket, or whether I'm going to need my winter coat?", and making solutions available without facing off with her (quietly taking along something that would fit her and provide a reasonable amount of protection from the weather);

c) get really good at communicating I-messages ("I'm so looking forward to your concert on Wednesday, and I want us all to stay healthy before your big day");

d) find ways of coping with your own anxiety (e.g. remind yourself that a strong-willed girl is going to have an easier time resisting peer pressure to do self-destructive things in her teen years);

e) let go of the tug-of-war rope as much as possible;

f) create many opportunities for her to make decisions and orchestrate things;

g) focus as much as possible on the joy your daughter brings you.

I've learned these things from reading about Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and through trial and error. I'm not saying your daughter has Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I'm just saying that if you google that topic, there will be lots of articles that could be helpful for you. Here's an example: http://www.aacap.org/aacap/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Children_With_Oppositional_Defiant_Disorder_72.aspx

  • Always build on the positives, give the child praise and positive reinforcement when he shows flexibility or cooperation.
  • Take a time-out or break if you are about to make the conflict with your child worse, not better. This is good modeling for your child. Support your child if he decides to take a time-out to prevent overreacting.
  • Pick your battles. Since the child with ODD has trouble avoiding power struggles, prioritize the things you want your child to do. If you give your child a time-out in his room for misbehavior, don’t add time for arguing. Say “your time will start when you go to your room.”
  • Set up reasonable, age appropriate limits with consequences that can be enforced consistently.

  • Maintain interests other than your child with ODD, so that managing your child doesn’t take all your time and energy. Try to work with and obtain support from the other adults (teachers, coaches, and spouse) dealing with your child.

  • Manage your own stress with healthy life choices such as exercise and relaxation. Use respite care and other breaks as needed.

Edit after question expanded:

There's a wonderful book about child development, The Magic Years by Selma Fraiberg, that I want to quote from (starting on p. 57):

I once watched an eight-month-old girl for three weeks as she subdued an obstinate tea-cart. She could climb on to the lower shelf of the cart, but the cart perversely moved when she did. After days of futile trials, she finally learned to tackle the tea cart from the back which rested on wooden gliders instead of from the front which rested on wooden gliders instread of from the front which rested on wheels. Now she was on it. But how to get out? It was too large a drop to climb out of the cart and her pride was hurt if she was helped out of the cart. She usually fell on her face through any of her own methods of debarkation. But several times a day she set out for the cart, solemn and determined. As she started to climb on to the lower shelf she whimpered very softly, already anticipating, we felt, the danger of getting out and the inevitable fall on her face. Her parents tried to discourage her, to distract her to other activities. It was too painful for grown-ups to watch. But if anyone interfered she protested loudly. She had to do it. And finally at the end of three weeks she discovered a technique for backing out of the cart, reversing the getting-in method. When she achieved this, she crowed with delight and then for days practiced getting in and getting out unil she had mastered it expertly. From this point she moved on to more daring ascents, climbing a few steps of the staircase, then a few more, and a few more, till the staircase became a bore. She tackled chairs, any kind of chair, undismayed by those that teetered and collapsed on her....

At this point Fraiberg talks about the urge to be upright and the rejection of adult attempts to assist. Then:

The baby resists these interferences with his own investigations and creative interests. This earns him the reputation of being "negative" and permits us to speak of the second year as "a negativistic phase." [...] But in the second year the child who has gained a large degree of physical independence from his mother and who is increasingly aware of his own separate body and personality is a child who can no longer be a passive partner. He has his own rhythm, his own style, and often he seems to value his difference from his mother, his off-beat steps, as if they themselves were the signs of his individuality and uniqueness. To do just the opposite of what mother wants strikes him as being the very essence of his individuality. It's as if he establishes his independence, his separateness from his mother, by being opposite. (Many years later, in adolescence, he will do the same thing. He will declare his adolescent independence by opposing, on principle, any views upheld by his parents or members of their generation.) [...]

But let's not get the impression that this toddler spends the better part of his day being negative. The trouble with a term like "negativistic phase" is that it distorts the whole picture of development. The chief characteristic of the second year is not negativism but a powerful striving to become a person to establish permanent bonds with the world of reality. [...] It's a kind of declaration of independence, but there is no intention to unseat the government.

We can run into serious trouble in the second year if we look upon this behavior as a nursery revolution and march in with full power for quelling a major revolt. If we turn every instance of pants changing, treasure hunting, napping, puddle wading and garbage distribution into a governmental crisis we can easily bring on fierce defiance, tantrums, and all the fireworks of revolt in the nursery. But the fireworks are not necessarily part of the picture of the second year. These are not the inevitable accompaniments of negativism in the second year. A full-scale rebellion of this sort is a reaction to too much pressure or forceful methods of control from the outside. [...]

So we do not squash the new found spirit of independence, but we direct its pursuit along other lines, encouraging it where it can be useful in personality growth and exercising reasonable restraint and prohibition where it is not.

You've taken the first step -- awareness and wondering. You've noticed that your daughter has tremendous strength of character! Now, out of respect for that strength of character, you need to learn how to use velvet gloves with providing direction. Of course, if she puts herself in danger, you'll have to step in immediately. But if she risks losing her medal, take your time. Weigh the possible consequences of taking away her control of the situation.

Sometimes you'll be able to offer choices, or ask her questions to get the gears turning in her own head ("I'm concerned about the medal getting lost at school; is there some way you could mark it to make it easier to recover, if something were to happen to it?"). Sometimes you'll need to just take a step back and let her muddle through things on her own. And the medal might get lost.

But what a doozy of a strong young woman who knows her own mind your daughter is on the way of becoming.

  • My advice would be that if you even suspect ODD, you should start investing in a good therapist to learn how to deal with it effectively early on. From your source: "A child presenting with ODD symptoms should have a comprehensive evaluation. It is important to look for other disorders which may be present; such as, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder) and anxiety disorders. It may be difficult to improve the symptoms of ODD without treating the coexisting disorder..." – anongoodnurse Nov 26 '17 at 18:19
  • @anongoodnurse - That's good advice! Was it for me (who wrote the answer) or for the OP (who wrote the question)? I wasn't sure. If it's for me -- my child doesn't have an ODD diagnosis, but does have some others, the primary one of which is Tourette Syndrome. (Also ADHD and OCD.) But because my son shows some oppositional features, I've found articles about ODD helpful in figuring out management techniques that don't reliably make things worse! – aparente001 Nov 27 '17 at 12:35
  • Oh, sorry I wasn't clearer! It's for the OP. – anongoodnurse Nov 27 '17 at 15:40

Some kids are stubborn and with them, we really need to choose the best way out to preserve our sanity. Would giving in to their wish be that bad ?

Many a time, we want the kids to obey us because we think we know what's best for them (or) because we are worried that giving in would spoil the child and make their lives difficult as they grow up. Unless their health or safety is at stake, or they are demanding something very expensive, I feel it's quite okay to let them have their way.

My daughter is very stubborn. When she was 5, she used to question why she should wear a sweater when it's me, her mom who is feeling cold. Even if I convince her to wear it, she would remove it as soon as she gets on her school bus. I then started sending a jacket/sweater with her just in case. She had the freedom to wear/remove it and we were both fine with that.

I do similar adjustments with her TV time, try to take her food preferences into account and let her decide if she wants to come somewhere with me or not. Basically, I give in a lot of times so we don't have too many rigid rules.

However, there are some cases where this freedom just can't be allowed. Like health reasons or something to do with her safety. In those cases, she has to follow her parent's decision. Even if she's sulking (or) if she misses out things she likes (or) if she skips her dinner because of anger, I don't give in as it's non negotiable. Again, in these cases, we need to keep checking how far they are taking this. If they show tendency to hurt themselves physically, it's time for a doctor visit.

Bribery clearly isn't working any more, so stop using it. You should not have offered her a choice (coat, or chocolate) when you really didn't intend for her to freely choose. You either should have said "You can't go out without your coat", and been willing to cancel the outing if she insisted, or let her deal with the 'natural consequences' of not having a coat.

Same with the medal. I would have reminded her beforehand the likely natural consequence of not putting her name on it, then let things happen as they happen. She should be old enough to understand that when things get lost, they usually stay lost.

I was a stubborn kid myself too, and I honestly recommend letting her learn the consequences a little bit, but being her safety net.

So like Calvin Smythe said, let her go without the jacket, but bring it anyway. And make sure that you don't insult her decision with a later "I told you so." because that will just make her even more stubborn to you and your requests. IE "I'm not going to wear the jacket no matter how cold I am, even if you bring it, because mom/dad's just going rub it in my face that I was wrong, so I'm not going to let them see that" (what would have gone through my head)

Just make sure she knows you're doing it because you care about her, and not because you don't respect how she feels.

"Ok, you don't have to bring it, but I'll hold on to it and if you get cold, let me know, because I'm worried you'll catch a cold."

For the medal, if you have any pictures of her with her medal, honestly, that's more than enough proof that she did well in whatever activity and accomplished something. If she accidentally loses it, it's two lessons.

1.) You asked her to put her name on it because you're worried she'll lose it. You asked her to do it because you cared, not because you thought she was a completely irresponsible child that you can never trust to take care of things. 2.) It's not the medal that's important, it was her accomplishment on whatever activity it was. A medal doesn't mean even half as much as her actions.

Just give her some control to make her own mistakes and learn and be there for her when she messes up. At least that's how I wish my parents would have done it, so I could have appreciated how much they cared when I was younger.

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