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Understanding the Stubborn Child


Most of you may have come across a child who is naughty and stubborn, who tends to be insistent on getting his way, so much that people have to give in to what he wants much of the time. Some of you may even live with one such child in your family. This article is an attempt to unravel what such a child thinks, feels and needs. There is a further article here that elaborates on how parents and caregivers can better understand and deal with these children.

Stubborn children get noticed in most places – at home for sure, also at school, at play, even in public places and restaurants at times, much to their parents’ despair. It is easy to notice them; however, is it as easy to understand them?

Stubbornness and difficult behavior have their own way of functioning. They exist in the child for a reason. Until this reason is understood, children cannot be helped completely to change these behaviors. What’s more, if these reasons are not understood and appreciated, well meaning parents and teachers can do more harm than good to the child.

I invite you here to-

Take a Peek into the Stubborn Child

Let’s get to understand what really he is all about.

To begin with, let me ask you – what do such children usually get known as? What are some words you would use to describe such a child’s nature?

Some common words I have seen are dominating, powerful, self-centered, a bully. Some others are short-temperedness because he gets upset and angry when things don’t go his way; Insensitivity, since he rarely worries about how his demands will affect the other person.

What do you feel this child thinks of himself?

In all probability, you’d feel that he thinks well of himself, since he is afraid of no one. He can get people much older than him to listen to him, including parents and teachers. He must be happy or even gleeful because he’s almost always having his way in most situations. He should feel confident and almost like a ‘star’!


This is our natural thought process right?

If you find yourself thinking in the manner described above, then this is the right article for you. Not because your perceptions or thought processes are incorrect, but because children who have behavior problems are often terribly misunderstood.

The descriptions and emotions mentioned above are not wrong – however; they are incomplete. Most of these perceptions arise because the child’s behavior is equated with him as a person – he behaves insensitively, therefore he is an insensitive person inside. This is where most of us go terribly wrong. We mistake the surface as the core, the covering as the inside. The insensitivity, dominance, happiness at getting one’s way and feeling of power are all there; however, they form but a mask, or a layer of the child’s mind.

Seeing this layer is not a problem; but stopping at this layer is. In some cases, stopping at this layer is a grave problem, since it can have grave consequences for the child and hence, for the parents.

The inner layers of the child’s feelings, thoughts and view about himself are hard to see because the stubbornness masks these inner feelings very well. However, they exist. And they are far more vulnerable than the demanding, dominating behavior suggests.

Low Self Esteem – A Hidden Root of Behavior Problems

Most children who have behavioral problems think poorly of themselves. They feel they are inadequate, and cannot be loved as they are. Why they feel like this is a different chapter by itself, and there exist different reasons for different children . Through experiences beginning from infancy, to later experiences at home and at school, they sub-consciously internalize that they are not ‘good enough’.

Imagine a child who feels inadequate within. If as adults it is difficult to cope with this feeling, imagine just how difficult it would be for a child. What do you think such a child would do? Naturally, he wants to feel better; he doesn’t want to feel weak and insignificant. So, he tries to compensate. He makes conscious attempts to exert more authority, be more in command and see to it that he ‘wins’.” If I am good enough, I need to ‘win’. If I don’t win, it returns me to a feeling of weakness and vulnerability” is the unspoken, unexpressed rule in their minds.

This is why children with behavior problems get terribly upset when they hear ‘no ‘ – for them, ‘no’ doesn’t mean that they are rejected a thing. For them, ‘no’ means that they are rejected as people.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t say no to a child, or that saying no is unhealthy. Saying no is often necessary. But, this definitely means that such children need to be understood with a lot of compassion and care. Their behavior makes them seem ruthless and mean. But beneath this meanness, there exists a whole lot of vulnerability. And understanding this vulnerability is perhaps the first step to heal the meanness.

In a separate article, I have explained in detail the connection between behavior problems and low self esteem:-


Do communicate your thoughts about what one can do to help children with behavioral problems through your comments. Also, if you know anybody who would benefit by reading this post, do share it with them.

Image Credit:

Post contributed by: Malini Krishnan

Malini is a Clinical Psychologist and she works with children, adolescents as well as with adults at Inner Space. 


  1. Dear Pravina,
    Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us. We understand that you must be concerned about your son. Age 6-11 is usually the time when children are actively trying to learn and master new skills. These skills could be academic or social in nature. They are trying to discover how “good” they are. If they feel they are not doing well enough, they may feel insecure and inferior, which upsets them and leads to crankiness and low frustration tolerance. We suggest you visit a counselor who works with children. A counselor will be able to provide more perspective about the same, gain a detailed understanding of your child’s needs and work with you and your child to address the difficulties and build a secure sense of self esteem. We are linking you to an article that might help – Nurturing Your Child’s Self Esteem
    If you wish to know more about the process and the fees of counseling at Inner Space, kindly write in to or call us on 9833985538
    Thanks and Regards

  2. hello mam my son is 7 yr old good at school very much mature loving but we have observed that suddenly for no reason gets angry, he will start shouting, throwing the things, literally becomes uncontrollable mostly while playing if somebody does better than him. or when he feels that he cannot do something. even while studying if he does a mistake and u try to correct him he will react same way. we are really upset and worried for his behavior pl help.
    thank u.

  3. Dear Inderbir,
    Thank you for writing in and sharing your concerns with us. We understand that this must be stressful for everybody involved. It would help to understand the underlying reasons for her stubborn behaviour. If you feel that this behaviour stems from her low self esteem, you will have to handle the situation with care. You would need to be compassionate towards her emotional needs. At the same time, try and create a space where you both can be open to expressing and accepting the differences that exist.
    We do understand that this could be difficult to manage. You could seek help from a counselor who would facilitate this process. A counselor will help you gain more clarity about the situation and work through it.

    If you wish to know more about the process and fee structure of counseling at our center, you can call us on 9833985538. Our timings for telephone enquiries are 11am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday.
    Warm Regards

  4. My 26 Year old Daughter in Law behaves like Stubborn Child. I also feel that it is because of low self esteem.We are tired of handling her behaviour problem. How to handle her so that she behaves as normal adult. It has become a big headache for us.

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