How To Survive Having The World's Most Stubborn Child

by Wendy Wisner
CebotariN / Shutterstock

I know it’s not a contest or anything, but I’m pretty sure I have the world’s most stubborn child. The kid is not willing to be wrong, won’t take no for an answer, and will argue his point-of-view — whether he even thinks it makes sense or not — till the death. Death meaning he will keep going until he breaks you, and you aren’t even sure what you are arguing about and decide he might be right after all.

Just to give you a sense, here’s a snippet of my conversation with him this morning:

Me: It’s time to get off the computer and eat breakfast.

Him: Well, why didn’t you tell me?

Me: I did tell, like five times.

Him: I didn’t hear you! You need to speak up.

Me: But you know what time we need to go, and there’s a clock on your computer.

Him: The clock is wrong, and you were supposed to fix it!

Me: There’s a clock on the DVD player too.

Him: Yeah, but it’s on the dimmest setting, and I can’t see it.

By now, he’s starting to fume inside. I can see it. He knows I’m right, and that he really ought to be able to get himself together and sit his butt down at the table for breakfast without endless reminders. But he will. not. let. it. go. He has a million arguments (i.e., excuses), and he’s willing to spew them until kingdom come. He doesn’t want to admit I’m right, and he sure as hell won’t leave the conversation as the “loser.”

You might ask what would happen if I put my foot down, if I told him that my word is law. Maybe you think that he shouldn’t even have permission to argue with me like this, that I have never disciplined him, or that I have somehow created a situation where my child will not listen to my authority.

Well, if you are already thinking all that, then you have never dealt with a truly strong-willed child.

I know from years of parenting this child that sometimes I just need to drop the argument, and there are some things worth fighting over and others that are not worth the struggle. That doesn’t mean I don’t discipline my child, or that I always let him win, or that I entertain his arguments about everything.

On the contrary, I do all I can to mold him into a child who knows that the world doesn’t revolve around him and is flexible (well, as flexible as someone like him can be). Believe me: I’m not willing to raise a spoiled brat. But I’m also unwilling to make him into someone he is not, and in fact, it would be virtually impossible to eradicate his stubborn streak. It’s part of who he is. It ain’t going nowhere.

If you have a stubborn AF child, you know that normal forms of discipline, bargaining, and teaching simply don’t work for your kid. Arguing back only incites them further. Trying to change the subject or distract? That’s a joke to them.

They just will not let up.

But you also know another secret, which is that behind all the arguing and willfulness is a bright, engaged, thoughtful, brilliant child. Yup, being strong-willed often correlates with certain gifts like high cognitive function (hence, their ability to argue like lawyers at 3 years old), and more often than not, a highly attuned sensitivity to the world around them.

Sometimes these gifts can morph into defiance, but if you look more closely, there is a vulnerability buried beneath the layers of fist-shaking, brow-furrowing disobedience. The fear of losing or being rejected runs deep in these kids, and while they need to learn that it’s OK to be wrong sometimes, their hearts also need to be handled with care.

It can be a slippery slope for sure — creating the boundaries strong-willed children need while also taking care not to squash their spiritedness or break their hearts.

But there is a silver lining, which is that almost all stubborn children have the potential to be pretty amazing adults. I can see it slowly evolving in my son, especially as he gets older. I mean, the kid’s got leadership skills for sure. And research backs this sort of thing up too. A 2015 study referenced in Time magazine found that strong-willed kids frequently end up being “educational over-achievers and high-earning adults.”

So I suppose it’s all going to pay off, maybe quite literally. But until then, we parents of stubborn-ass kids are gritting our teeth, picking our battles, and trying our best to shower these crazy, special kids will all the love we can muster.

If you, too, are parenting the most stubborn child in the world, know that there are other parents right there with you, banging their heads against the wall one minute and staring in awe at their child’s beautiful brilliance the next.

Please know that you haven’t done anything wrong — some kids are just born with the most stubborn streak imaginable. And most of all, know that you are not alone, and the kid will be all right.