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Early Child Development

Why It's Great to Have a Stubborn Kid

It may drive you crazy as a parent, but your child's determination can be a good thing down the road

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Parents of iron-willed toddlers, take heart: Research has shown that stubbornness can be a predictor of success later in life. That's because it's related to stick-with-it qualities that can have a positive effect on whatever life goals your kid sets his sights on. Here's what to know: 

It's part of persistence. "People need stubbornness-they need to be able to stick with something even when it's hard," says Karen Lock Klop, an educator, mother of two, and host of the We Turned Out Okay podcast. Whether it's the drive to do well on a test or fight for a promotion, persistence will help your child get there. "Stubbornness can lead to excellent determination, ambition, and stamina to make it to the finish line-those are qualities required for success," adds Dr. Fran Walfish, a California-based family and relationship psychotherapist and author of  The Self-Aware Parent .

So, support it. Lock Klop actually advocates you encourage your child's stubborn nature. She points to an example from Angela Duckworth's book Grit as a reason why. "In it, she talks about when kids first show up for training at the United States Military Academy West Point; half the kids don't make it through, but others just don't give up, and the book is about how we foster that kind of determination," she explains. 

How does that help you when your 4-year-old is demanding to go to school in her pyjamas? Lock Klop suggests letting your child win sometimes: If it's not unsafe for her to go to school in her pjs, consider letting her. Not something you're ready to do? Offer choices instead: Give your child the power to choose between two options you are completely fine with.

Set clear boundaries. With a stubborn child, it's critical to hold your ground. "You want to give him the opportunity to experience both success and failure," says Dr. Walfish. "If you let him win every time, you're setting him up for disappointment and feeding into a sense of entitlement." So pick your battles and stay firm. If you say you're going to leave the playground if he doesn't stop throwing sand, be prepared to follow through. 

Stay calm. How you react in the moment of a standoff makes a difference. "You want to go into what I call 'the gray zone'-not black, not white, but maintaining a relaxed attitude and tone," says Dr. Walfish. If you can stay calm (despite your frustration), you'll show that your child can't manipulate you with her attitude, you'll model how to work through a conflict, and you'll help her relax and loosen her stance. 

Identify her feelings. Empathy is key to supporting a stubborn child so she feels acknowledged and understood, says Dr. Walfish. "That means saying in an understanding voice: Boy, you get so mad when it's time to stop playing. It's hard to stop when you want more." Labeling her feelings will help her understand them and also help her develop coping skills and resiliency for the future.