How to manage stubborn child? – Dr Krishna Mahathi

Krishna Mahathi

As a parent and professional I admit it’s a very difficult time when a child presents with challenging behaviours. For a parent hearing your child called wilful, spoilt, attention seeking or manipulative hurts. Stubborn kids on the surface appear to have a skill for testing limits, pushing buttons and seem to be determined to get their way. We parents get criticised for being too lenient or being incapable of giving them quality time. It’s not always true. To add to the confusion the usual recommendations for discipline like time outs, yelling, reward-punishment strategies and even spanking will not change the behaviour. In fact it will increase it. For some these are a part of a developmental condition like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory processing disorder, Asperger’s syndrome or oppositional defiant disorder. I can tell you that these conditions were made diagnostic labels and created only to identify areas where the child needs help. Unfortunately today they have become an excuse to isolate the child and make parents also withdraw into a shell.

All of us whose career involves working with children will agree on one fact. Kids will behave well if they can. The truth is that challenging behaviour happens because a child is lacking a certain skill and there are unsolved problems with the child. Every child would be an angel if he or she knew how to be flexible, how to handle frustration using adapting skills and possess problem solving skills. Some are gifted with the naturally and some have to be nurtured to develop them.

Commonly difficult behaviour occurs due to

  • Disorganised thinking where they cannot consider potential solutions and work them out
  • Impulsivity where they will do the first thing that comes to their mind

without reflection

  • Communication problems where they cannot express needs or thoughts in words, when they cannot muster the words they will scream or spit instead
  • Anxiety in new and unpredictable situations which holds back clear thinking
  • Sensory overload where the inputs from the environment overwhelm the child


For instance, if a child has a tendency to hit his friend while playing and this persists after you have taught the child beating is wrong. He or she knows it’s wrong but what is happening here? Perhaps he didn’t know how to get his own way with his friend and just showed his frustration. Unless he learns group play and turn taking punishment will hurt him and not help him.

Stubborn kids are not manipulative. In fact manipulation is a higher cognitive skill which requires forethought, impulse control and organised thinking. These children actually need to learn those things. These children don’t have bad attitude. Trust me they are not enjoying their bad behaviour. They are craving for connection. Bad attitude will develop only from years of being misunderstood by family and friends, being over directed and over punished without recognising what the real problem is. Hitting, screaming are not the real problems. They are the result of unsolved problems.

Fortunately with the right help from good professionals we can proactively and collaboratively help our kids and watch them transform slowly and steadily.

Irrespective of what skills a child lacks it’s not solved by concluding that only our child needs to be fixed. It takes two to tango. Only a calm mind can calm another’s mind. We must make changes in ourselves, our schedule to meet them with empathy. Once we start taking it all less personally and respond with compassion we bond with our children once more and enjoy parenting.

Suggested reading

  1. The Explosive Child: A New approach For Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated And Chronically Inflexible children by Ross W.Greene,Phd.
  2. Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child is more Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurchinia.

3.Helping The Child Who Doesn’t Fit In by Stephen Nowicki.

Dr Krishna Mahathi

is a paediatrician with post graduate diploma in developmental neurology. Being an artist she believes that art has a powerful role in children’s mental health and therefore obtained a degree in Expressive art therapy. She knows that education plays the most important role in shaping child’s future so is a special educator too. While she’s still figuring out how

to apply all this for a good purpose she’s a mom to an energetic preschooler who inspires her to think out of the box.


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