Essentials for Parenting Stubborn and Determined Children

Essentials for Parenting Stubborn and Determined Children

At the dinner table, my two year old asked for water. I poured some into the glass that was at her place setting and she started protesting. The glass in front of her was not the purple fairy cup she wanted. She said “I don’t want that one…no no no…I not eating or drink until the fairy cup [is] on the table.”

While I think it’s wonderful that my daughter has an opinion and a wish for a different cup, dinner was already underway. I paused to think for a moment…
Would you fetch a new cup to avoid a meltdown?
Stand your ground and refuse to get a new cup?

Is there an alternative to either giving in or standing your ground?

Some parents may say that water is water in any cup and if a child is thirsty will they just drink eventually anyways. Other parents may get up immediately and fetch the purple fairy cup to avoid tears or a meltdown that could throw off the entire evening routine.

There is a way to meet in the middle that encourages problem solving and cooperation.

My two, soon to be three year old, like her brothers before her and most children her age, is very determined. She knows what she wants and likes to have things done a certain way, but, she is also learning to be flexible and we are learning to work together instead of against each other. Here are some ideas that have been helpful along the way:

Your child knows what they WANTS and you know what they NEED

Meeting our children’s needs for food, comfort, attention and affection is vital to their well being   so, If you feel like your child is being really “needy” or “demanding” try to notice if your child’s needs are truly being met.  Sometimes what comes across as demanding may really just your child’s way of letting you know something is missing or some need is not being met.

It’s Alright to say NO especially if you do it nicely

Children that experience limits that are set with kindness and that feel a sense of belonging and are encouraged to cooperate naturally tend to become flexible, responsible, happy and well adjusted. It’s alright to say no to certain requests, but do so with kindness and empathy. When possible add a choice that is reasonable as an alternative too.

  • “I know you want to stay home and play AND it’s time to climb into the car seat. Let’s go together, do you want to help me unlock the car?” or “It’s time to go. Do you need help getting into the car seat or will you do it alone?”
  • “I know you want to do it your way AND I worry it will break. Let’s both stop and think it through. What’s your idea?”

Expect and Support Disappointment

Once you set a limit, tears may be inevitable, especially when a child is very determined to do something that is not acceptable or safe.  Tears happen because it’s the child’s way of expressing disappointment and frustration and these tears don’t need to be shushed away or pacified with a distraction. We can be a supportive presence and allow the disappointment to unfold and be authentically felt – this is how a child will learn about flexibility and how to move forward.

Turn Labels into Positives

It’s tiring sometimes to deal with all the stubbornness or demands, but I’ve found that transforming the labels we give to our children and their behavior makes a huge difference in how we approach them.  These are some of the words I try to transform to be more positive:

  • Stubborn or strong willed = determined, courageous
  • demanding = decisive, daring, confident
  • wild = creative, energetic, spunky, enthusiastic

When we look at our children with positive lenses and see that we can love them, just the way they are, the labels actually don’t matter so much anymore because we see a whole child.  A whole being that needs love and acceptance all the time, not just when they are being “good” or  following directions or when we are getting along conflict free.

positive parenting ideas stubborn kids


Understand the developmental stage

Expectations and understanding of our child’s developmental abilities are sometimes a bit, and sometimes lot off track and end up causing a lot of conflict.Two and three year old children naturally resist parental commands, it’s their way of letting us know they are becoming an individual, with ideas and thoughts all of their own! If what we expect and what our children can really do simply do not match then we all feel frustrated. 

Keep Things Predictable

Routines are fantastic for young children, and with really determined children one thing that works well is to have some flexibility and enough time built into the routine to allow for some of that negotiation that will naturally start to take place. Start transitioning between activities  sooner than you think you should and avoid rushing as much as possible.    Children like the predictability and assertive children like to keep some control over their own decisions.

Focus on Encouragement and Cooperation 

Power struggles often happen when parents expect compliance and forget to involve their child in the process. Children on the other hand have ideas of their own but aren’t always able to express them!  When children feel involved, capable, connected to their parents and still able to maintain a certain amount of control over their own destiny children naturally tend to cooperate.   Instead of demanding that your determined child comply or follow orders:

  • try inviting your child to suggest a solution
  • ask for her help
  • listen to her ideas
  •  work together
  • Ask questions instead of giving commands
  • encourage and support your child’s independence
  • Explain what CAN be done instead of listing everything that is NOT allowed.

Many parents are hesitant to do this as they think they are giving in to demands – try to find a balance and to introduce cooperation well ahead of the power struggle so that you can strike a win-win situation for everyone.

Build Connection

Make time to be together doing things that are fun at least once a day for at least 10 minutes. Let your child direct the play and choose how the game unfolds, go outside for fresh air, dance to some silly music, connect and connect some more. The more connection the more cooperation follows.

Yes some children are more determined, feisty or alright let’s say demanding just for the sake of explanation – but often we feel this way because we are worn down. So along with these things, take time to refuel and re-charge your own batteries!!

Back to that Purple cup…

I asked my daughter a question “Does the water taste different in this cup?” “I don’t know. I not trying it! Not the glass I want!” was her answer.  “Ok, it’s not the one you want.  Well I’m super hungry so I want to stay here and eat. What’s your idea?” I asked her.  “I [am] hungry, so I eat some dinner then I use the stool and get cup myself. Deal?” “Yes, it’s a deal!”

Crisis averted. Giant sigh of relief!!

Positive parenting is not about keeping our children happy 100% of the time.

You don’t have to give in to every demand or bend the earth to suit your child’s desires. It is important that you pay attention and strike a balance between the needs of your child, your family and your own.

When everyone’s needs and feelings are being considered, and cooperation and communication are aimed at solutions you will very likely find much more harmony at home.

Bonus:  Download “Essentials for Parenting Stubborn Kids” plus weekly coaching tips in your inbox Click here to get it

So is your child determined, energetic, creative, daring or confident? What situations are most challenging for you to work together? 

Peace & Be Well,


Some resources for learning more about developmental stages:

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

27 Responses to Essentials for Parenting Stubborn and Determined Children

  1. Yelling, for me, has become so ingrained (I wasn’t a huge yeller before kids, but I do have a short fuse). How do I stop the knee-jerk reaction in myself?

  2. Jennifer,
    That is a great question. Recognizing you have a short fuse and wanting to change is already a huge step forward. It is hard at times to stop those automatic reactions but it is possible. Some things that help a lot is understanding what kinds of things your child is and isn’t ready to do, so the age appropriate expectations help us respond instead of react. Taking care of yourself is a big one as well, making time to get breaks, doing things that you love to do to re-fuel your energy. Find positive tools that work for you for example, giving choices, involving your child in solutions, having the children help around the house and so on…Working with a parent coach for a few sessions could be helpful as well, just to help you organize your goals and learn those tools! Some books that may be helpful are Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr.Markham and Parenting From The Inside Out from Daniel Siegel. I hope that helps a bit.

  3. Thanks so much for writing this post. This my life 24/7!!! Time to start practicing these techniques.

  4. My daughter is 15 months old, and we have 2 behaviors that cause conflict: 1) Any time I have a cup or water bottle, she comes over and takes it from me. If I do not surrender it, or if I take it back (which I do with communication and offering of her own cup), she gets really mad and upset and shrieks at me, and will sometimes hit (though we’re working hard on that, and seeing improvement. 2) She climbs EVERYTHING. We allow her to take calculated risks with this, but we do not allow her to climb on the couch except to sit on the seat part, because she climbs over one end onto the piano, and over the other end onto a bookshelf, and it is extremely unsafe. She throws HUGE tantrums when we prevent her from doing this, though. Any thoughts? She is a very sweet girl who responds very well to our positive parenting approach, but she has a very strong will and it sometimes disrupts the peace around here.

  5. Hi Alena, at 15 months your daughter is really starting to find out what things she can and cannot control/choose to do. It’s alright to hold limits at this age as you do with the cup but know that it may often come with that out pour of feelings. Empathizing, but staying calm, although sometimes difficult, is often a great way to demonstrate faith in a child’s ability to cope with disappointment. Another great way to handle these situations is from a place of curiosity and playfulness instead of “limiting or fixing” so for example “MY CUP; not for you, put it back, don’t touch” becomes “this is my cup, you like it? Do you also need a cup? Ok, let’s hop over to the kitchen to get yours! here you go, a cup just for you!” the same for any situations “climbing is so much fun, but this here is not safe, how about we pile some cushions to climb on over here?” You may also like this post I wrote about responding to tantrums! wishing you all the best in your parenting journey!

  6. Hi, thanks for the great article. I have a 3yo son and 18mos daughter who are both strong-willed and determined to get their way. I tend to use positive and gentle parenting method, which is slightly different from the way my parents thought us. However, staying with my parents and my 2siblings sometimes makes it a bit difficult, as somebody tend to interrupt and can make the situation worse. But we’re doing ok so far, I think. :). Anyways, thanks for the insight, will try the different techniques here with my kids 🙂

  7. Great post. You described our daughter very well (just about 3). Sometimes a simple explanation is all we need as well- ‘that cup is dirty, is this cup okay?’ usually will solve that problem. The biggest issue we have is the ‘determined’ personality leads to incessant whining. We are very good about responding to her needs and wants, but the whining definitely shortens our fuse! She is getting a little better about using ‘a big girl voice’ but I wish I had more patience to deal with her inconvenient immediate wants with more grace. It is usually worse with my husband because he tends to be a little more permissive. We are all working on it together. 🙂

  8. THANK you for giving me WORDS to use. I am trying to learn to change my parenting style, but am finding it very difficult to change the automatic tapes in my head. I find that if I use someone else’s words for a while it helps me change the tapes and leads to me finding my own new parenting voice. This is a terrific article.

  9. yo, stay at home DAD here, here’s my advice based from my experience with a nut job of an 18 month old boy….

    pre emptive strike!!
    take away all the things you don’t want your kid getting into – i sealed off the kitchen entirely, keep all the doors to the rooms he’s not good in closed and opened up the house for free ranging play- this way I am assured that there’s no chance of a tumble off a book shelf or whatever.. I keep the stereo up high and out of reach and the boy has his own ‘remote control’ for it and his own ‘phone’ etc… after he became obsessed with the above mentioned. I mean, what I found was happening was like this; I’d leave my phone out, he’d see it, grab it and then freak when I took it back. who’s to blame? me. shoulda put it out of sight. same deal with everything…I’d get frustrated that he was into, onto, under and over all the things I didn’t think were appropriate or safe…so instead of trying to talk hi out of it (fail) or pick him up/off etc (also fail) I realized that I was being daft- remove the dangers, REPLACE them with safe toys, keep crayon and pen fun in the high chair, not on the floor, make the biggest, safest are possible and fill it with fun and BOOM, he can run amok till his hearts content and I get to keep all the stuff I want unbroken, in my room or in the spare room behind closed doors. work smart, don’t work hard. now it’s a breeze to be a stay at home dad, I know hes fully safe and if he does end up in tears, it’s usually cause he’s hungry or tired, not fallen off the piano stool. also, I recommend pulling the couch and chairs away from the walls and putting a duvet or some extra cushions around them- just turn a room, or a few rooms into a giant play pen and then you can relax and join in the fun.

    sorry for the long winded write.

    peace out!!

  10. Thank you!! Exactly what I needed today – it has been so difficult today and the past several that I keep thinking my darling son MUST be coming down with something..! So I have spent extra time cuddling (in between struggles), and ensuring he is getting plenty of fluids and oranges (in between pulling my hair out)!

    Then he ‘comes around’ for 10 minutes or so with his adorable, charming smile and I melt again…

    Thanks again!

  11. Oh my goodness I LOVE this article… Literally. My 4 yr old is very strong willed and I’ve been working on approaching him and his demands in similar ways I just read above but I could get better. Working on it. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Thank you Amy. I think you are on to something there, trying to change our inner tape can be tough but it can work – stay strong and believe it’s possible!!

  13. Christina, what a great approach to make time for those extra cuddles – amazing how our little ones can melt our hearts in a second isn’t it? Thanks for reading and sharing your story.

  14. When my daughter was 15 months, she began climbing on EVERYTHING! We decided that she needed her own place to climb. We bought a slide and put it in the living room (where she mostly plays). Whenever she started to climb on something she shouldn’t, we told her that she wasn’t allowed to climb on the coffee table, but could climb on her slide. She got the hint pretty quickly. She’s 2 1/2 now and is pretty good at not climbing on everything she sees.

  15. Thanks for the great ideas…. however, what happens when it’s not that easily solved? Your daughter agreed pretty quickly it seems. For example, just this morning, my 3.5 year old asked for 3 things for breakfast. I prepared all 3. She didn’t like that I used a piece of bread that in her mind was “old”. She wanted a different piece and a bigger banana (hers was already opened) She refuses to eat unless I change all her items. We have gymnastics in like an hour. I explain about “wasting” food, etc. (she does this a lot) and we problem solve through options, but she isn’t compromising- what would you have done? Basically, she threw such a fit, said she didn’t like me and proceeded to throw a fit until I finally thought, we aren’t going to gymnastics. I pretended to call her teacher and say that she wasn’t coming and we’d make it up another week and pretended to have her teacher say she was going to miss her- well that got her to stop crying and want to go, but then she was screaming about not wanting to wear shoes and socks…. needless to say, we didn’t make it to gymnastics. How do I work through this? It’s becoming more and more frequent. If I give in, she constantly gets her way and I’m worried to send the wrong message. If I don’t, an event like this occurs. Thanks in advance for your help. By the way, I do try several of your techniques already, I just didn’t want this post to be that much longer going through everything I had already said and tried.

  16. thank you so much for the great insights… I have three kids aged 14, 7.5, 4.5 and it’s a wild house. We’ve had huge issues with my middle son with defiant behaviour resulting in a change of school. The new school has been amazing and have been well equipped to deal with his angry episodes. It’s been a year since the first episode and we’re a much happier family. A lot of the points you raised is how we’ve managed to work with him and at the same time tried to work boundaries into his over assertion. One thing I would really like to take out of our daily routine is sweets. The amount of lollies in particular is ridiculous… I know you might think ‘well you’re the parent just stop buying them?’…. well it;s not that easy. I’m dont want that conflict especially after the year that we’ve had. I do put limits on how many etc… Could you please suggest some tactics for slowly weening my tribe off of them… thank you

  17. Wanted to make sure I got notified when you responded, so I had to say something again because I forgot to click that box! THANKS!

  18. Laura,
    Children around three-years-old often use what we tend to think of as demanding behavior to test their limits. This is a great opportunity (although often challenging!) for parents to set boundaries with kindness. For example, I wonder what would happen if, based on your example, instead of cooking the 3 things your daughter asked for, only to end up with complaints anyways, if you were to let your daughter know what is available for breakfast and give her some limited choices.

    Likewise, what would happen if instead of pretending to call the teacher, if you explained firmly but kindly to your daughter that she could choose to get ready or miss gym “I know how much you love gym class (if she does!) and we either work together to get ready or I cannot take you to class.” Often with the intent to be kind we may fall into a position where we give up on our boundaries and then feel stressed and frustrated. It’s ok not to cook a hundred options and it is ok to listen to those tears of frustration because as the parent you have realized that getting to gym class is just not happening that morning so now you stick to that decision so your daughter can feel her upset, and work her way through it. From what you share I have a sense there was a lot of back and forth “we go, we don’t go” that can be overwhelming and confusing? What do you think?

    It also helps a lot to turn inwards and figure out what we can be doing differently to be able to listen to those tears, remember that we can’t avoid all emotional upsets or frustrations but we can listen, empathize and create safe boundaries. This post links to dealing with tantrums gently and effectively

    Thank you for sharing a piece of your journey, I hope this is helpful to you.

  19. Where do you look into getting a “parent coach”?? Love that idea. I’ve turned into a yeller also and hate it. My kids deserve better.

  20. Hi Wendy,
    Yelling is tiring for the whole family isn’t it! Parent coaching can really help with that quite a lot.
    I am not taking on any new parents right now (I will have opening in september/october) so here are three coaches I know are great:
    Alice Hanscam who also writes here at the positive parenting connection is a wonderful coach.
    This is her website: and her email

    Kassandra Brown is very lovely you can find her at

    And Casey O’Roarty you can find here

    Best wishes to you!

  21. Thanks for your words of experience. Do you have any suggestions for more enlightened approaches with my 3 year old? About 80% of the time, she rejects every proposal I make for outings… Whether to go to the park, the shops, her weekly circus class, her day at kindergarten… Never wants to go. When I can, I give her limited choices, to which she often says, I just want to do nothing’, or requests to watch peppa pig (screen time is max 30min per day). Of course, I inevitably have to insist on a decision but getting her to move with me is like dragging a dead horse. it’s maddening and I know I’m responding inappropriately. Suggestions??
    She just loves staying at home but as we live in an old style apartment we can’t really run around and we have no garden. Our pattern is to go out in the morning and afternoon for a few hours as I like her to have a nap after lunch.
    Any tips greatly appreciated

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