A parent’s guide: How to cope with a stubborn toddler

A parent’s guide: How to cope with a stubborn toddler

Every child is different and unique – just like adults. Children go through phases where their behaviour or mood changes; this is part of growing up. 

Sometimes it’s just a bad day, sometimes it’s a bad week or month, and sometimes it’s a few years. No matter how long it lasts, dealing with a toddler who is being stubborn can be really draining and exhausting, it can make you question your parenting or make you feel trapped. So, here is some advice and tips to make this time a bit easier for you (and your child).

–  Don’t compare your child to their siblings, cousins or friends – every child is different and has the right to be treated as an individual. Life would be boring if every toddler was identical!

–  Often being stubborn is a child try to get attention, so instead of reacting to the stubborn behaviours lookout for things they are doing well or times when they are listening. Spot the good times and praise them. Encouraging and focusing on good behaviour and giving your toddler attention at these times will help to reinforce good choices. They will learn that they get positive attention and praise when they are doing the right thing.

–  Be kind to yourself. You can only do so much, and when your exhausted and over it all, you won’t be the best parent you can be. Step back, take a breath, refocus and if possible, go to another space until you can communicate calmly. Toddlers pick up on our emotions, and if they sense you are frustrated and stressed – they will copy and do the same. 

–  Look for the cause of the problem or stubbornness – are they refusing to get ready and go out? Perhaps you have interrupted a task that they were doing or they didn’t have enough notice. If this sounds similar to your little person, try to give them warning in advance before expecting them to do something, e.g. in 10 minutes we need to go out, we have 5 minutes left before we go so you might want to pack away or finish what you are doing.

–  Pick your battles – is it really going to be a big issue if they wear dress-ups to the supermarket? Is it worth the standoff? 

–  It can help to offer options, ‘would you like ____ or _____? You need to pick one’ this will help to give your child some more control over the situation, while it still being within your parameter. 

–  Set clear boundaries and stick to them. You are the adult in the situation and there are some things that are non-negotiable. Make these rules (boundaries) clear and don’t budge on them. Toddlers like to test adults to see what they can get away with, if you keep your limits the same and don’t give them leeway, they will get bored and eventually stop. If you change your boundaries all the time, they will keep testing you to see what they can do next.

–  Avoid saying ‘no’ too much. Saying no too often can cause your child to tune it out or start to defy it. Instead, look for positive ways to phrase your concerns without the word no. For example, if you child is running around while eating, instead of saying ‘no running’, you could say ‘let’s sit down while we eat and we can run after’ or ‘please walk inside’.

If the stubbornness doesn’t seem to be easing at all or is becoming worse over a long period of time, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local family doctor for further advice. Sometimes there is an underlying condition or cause; a good medical professional will be able to support and guide you through this if needed. 

Never forget to trust your instincts as a parent, you know your toddler better than anyone else. Be kind to yourself, parenting is hard, and you are doing your best.

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