Why is my toddler so stubborn?

As a parent of a toddler, you’re no stranger to the word “no” – it may even be the word you hear the most often every day!

Parenting a young child who has a taste for defiant behavior can be exhausting, especially when you know that what you’re asking for is totally reasonable. But to Baby, it may feel like you’re always asking them for something, which can be draining. This feeling can lead toddlers to react with defiance sometimes, or to get especially upset about things that don’t seem like a big deal to you.

During this phase, every day can feel like a power struggle, but there are strategies for getting past this stage, or at least make the time until it passes run a bit more smoothly. The way to handle stubbornness can depend not just on a toddler’s personality, but also on what they're being stubborn about – and their underlying reasons aren’t always so clear-cut as “I want ice cream and to never be told to go to bed.”

If they are looking for control…

Imagine, for a moment, that each part of your day is dictated for you. While it may seem like a welcomed break at first, eventually, you’d probably grow pretty tired of not being able to call any shots on your own. This is often the case for toddlers, whose routines are outlined by someone else each day.

  • Solution: Offer choices. Even the smallest choice, like letting Baby decide what shirt to wear (even if they definitely have to get dressed) or what to eat for breakfast (but they still have to make it out the door in time), can help ease that feeling of having no say in their own actions. Knowing their input is valued can help cut back on defiance, whether the effect starts to show up in the moment or over time.

If they're having trouble with transitions…

Many toddlers struggle with transitioning from one activity or part of their day to another. After all, it’s no fun to have to go sit in the car, and why should they be made to clean up their toys? And can’t you see that they're in the middle of something with this block tower? When looking at it from that perspective, it’s easy to understand the backlash.

  • Solution: Offer plenty of notice before a transitioning instead of expecting Baby to stop playing unexpectedly. Some toddlers respond well to verbal cues, which can be as simple as saying, “five more minutes to play,” while others may have an easier time with wall charts that physically show the next step in their day, alarm bells, or very basic clock information.

If they're looking for independence…

As Baby begins to better understand the ways they are their own person, it only makes sense that they want to do things on your own. This can lead to major drama when you step in and dare try to help to put on their shoes.

  • Solution: Allow plenty of time in the morning and before bed to encourage Baby to do more of their routine on their own. Not only will this be great for their development, but it will also lead to less resistance when you swoop in to do the job without their help at other times.

If they're over-tired…

Toddlers need about 12 total hours of sleep each day, including bedtime and naps. Falling short of this goal by even an hour can increase irritability.

  • Solution: Whenever you can, make sure Baby is getting plenty of shut-eye, and is having quality rest. If they regularly isn’t meeting their sleep goals, it may be time to try rearranging their nap schedule, or trying an earlier bedtime. It’s also a great time to make sure they're getting restful sleep, in a bed somewhere quiet, instead of on the go in a car or stroller.

If their personality is stubborn…

Though they’re little, toddlers’ personalities are just as big and as diverse as adults’ personalities. This means that some of those personalities are going to be more stubborn than others.

  • Solution: Find what works best for you and Baby. If they are especially combative, you may have to work a bit harder to figure out what they respond best to, and implement new strategies. Maybe they respond best to challenges and races, or to reasonable explanations, or when you ask them, “Can you do me a big favor?” The good news is, once you hit your stride, they will become more agreeable to your requests. It may be a matter of needing more structure, or just phrasing requests so they sound more fun!

Every toddler has more stubborn days, and issues that they feel more strongly about, but as they get older, the two of you will get better and better at figuring out how to compromise when you need to.

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