Let’s Stop Calling Kids ‘Stubborn,’ Even If They Are

Let’s Stop Calling Kids ‘Stubborn,’ Even If They Are
Photo: Tysovska Nina, Shutterstock

Strong-willed children are challenging to raise. They can turn even the most basic and routine of situations into a battle of the wills. They don’t just want to be right; they know they are right. They cannot stand to be told what to do all the time, so they will defy you at every turn, and the more obedience you demand, the harder they dig in their heels. They are stubborn, to be sure — but we shouldn’t call them that.

It’s easy to see a child’s stubbornness as a negative. After all, it makes your day-to-day life harder when they’re fighting you at every turn. But the very traits that make them strong-willed as a child (particularly that inward motivation and internal wisdom they so heavily rely on) are also the traits that turn them into teenagers and adults who will value integrity and shun peer pressure — if we haven’t broken their wills by then, that is. These kids become leaders.

As psychologist and author Dr. Laura Markham writes for Aha! Parenting:

Strong-willed kids are spirited and courageous. They want to learn things for themselves rather than accepting what others say, so they test the limits over and over. They want desperately to be “in charge” of themselves, and will sometimes put their desire to “be right” above everything else. When their heart is set on something, their brains seem to have a hard time switching gears. Strong-willed kids have big, passionate feelings and live at full throttle.

There are ways to embrace your child’s stubborn streak without allowing them to run the show, but it starts with the language we use to describe them. Because how we view them is likely to also be how they will view themselves. Our words become their internal dialogue, and a word like “stubborn” (with synonyms like obstinate, bullheaded, pigheaded, and uncompromising) is probably not how we want them to label themselves.

Instead, you can choose to see their “stubbornness” as an embodiment of the tenacity, determination, and perseverance that make today challenging but which will serve them well in the future.

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