9 Tips to Manage Stubborn behavior in Children with Delays

9 Tips to Manage Stubborn behavior in Children with Delays
Manage Stubborn behavior in Children

Stubborn behavior in Children with Delays, Parenting has a learning curve, where the father and mother learn how to manage different skills and behaviors of a child. For a child with delays, behaviors of stubbornness, can at times be puzzling to manage for the parent(s).


For difficult and stubborn behaviors, the most crucial aspect is to understand the reason behind it.

Why is your child being stubborn?

Stubborn behavior in Children with Delays

Let’s look at a scenario:

A child has picked up a juice packet from the counter. The mother, who is accompanying the child for groceries, sees the child pick the packet. She says, ‘I need to bill it, give the packet to me’. She moves to take the packet from the hand, but the child refuses to. He remains stubborn about holding the packet in his hand.

Possible reasons

1. Lack of (expressive) communication skills:

A child may seem defiant or stubborn since s/he is not able to communicate his / her needs effectively.

In the above scenario, the child may not be able to communicate that he wants to drink the juice right away. He could be thirsty and hence does not want his mom to take the juice away.

Such breakdown in communication can be grossly misunderstood at defiance. A caregiver or therapist must be able to understand the child’s communication better.


2. Inability to understand (the words or his environment)

Children with delays may struggle with poor understanding or receptive skills. This is yet another form of breakdown of communication skills. Receptive skills are crucial for overall communication.

 The child may not have understood completely what the mother had told him and therefore continued to hold on to the juice packet.


3. Sensory differences / issues

Some children with delays may have specific sensory needs that they are seeking out.

In the above scenario, the child may have liked the squishy texture of the juice packet and it may have calmed him.


 4. Wanting independence

As children acquire skills, they slowly enjoy freedom and independence.

 The child in the scenario may have enjoyed independently getting the juice from the rack and hence didn’t want to let go of the packet that he successfully picked out by himself.


Few possible other reasons for a child to be stubborn may include:

  • Not wanting to end a task (may be due to sensory issues, an obsession or not being prepared to end the task)
  • Misunderstanding social cues and situations (stubbornness is seen because the child is not able to read into social cues that require the child to be flexible, change a behavior or task).
  • Finding a task too difficult (leading to frustration which can be seen as a child giving up the task at hand and being stubborn about it)
  • May not have the patience/attention to complete a task (therefore is frustrated and may show defiance or stubbornness)


Once an understanding of the reason – the ‘why’ – is made, one needs to handle the behavior in a specific manner.

Here are nine Tips to help deal with stubbornness or difficult behavior:

1. Give choices:

An important aspect, which also helps to build communication skills.

Read more about giving choices to a child here.


2. Prepare (for the culmination of a task)

Preparation can reduce a lot of stubbornness and difficult behavior in your child.

Read more how (here and here)


3. Give opportunities

To allow for some freedom and independence throughout the day (during the day to day activities).

This can be quite difficult for a busy parent, however, chalking out activities the child can do by him/herself or with least assistance should be planned in between activities where the child needs to be adult directed.

You can also use pauses in between the day, to allow the child to do an activity as s/he desires with minimum adult direction or guidance. It can be a favorite puzzle or block or just a quick motor activity such as cycling.

Talk to the child (beforehand) about tasks or activities that will be guided versus those that will not be guided.


4. Reinforce

This should be done when they follow through with an activity. Following through and completion of a task should be given importance. This will allow the child to learn the expectation of the parent/adult for tasks. It would also slowly build attention to tasks.

Caution must be taken about the length of the task that is to be completed by the child. This needs to be individually looked at.


5. Reinforce / Praise often

A child, who is finding tasks difficult or is ineffective in communication – yet is learning new skills slowly – it becomes crucial to praise and reinforcement often. Even the smallest of successes should not go unnoticed. This mean, the adult should be cued into the child’s skills and be aware as often as possible when a child is trying.

For children with more advanced skills, praise must be given on a timely basis and for a group of good behaviors (not after each small task or a portion of a task).


6. Keep expectations realistic

Expecting far beyond a child’s skill can increase frustration and stubbornness or difficult behavior in the child.

Learn about the child’s current skill and allow the child to pace his / her learning.

Be clear with these expectations. Use visuals when needed to show the expectation of behaviors or even tasks.


7. Rules:

Lay down some simple rules –  what comes first (vs. later), what task needs completion (vs. can be done as per the child’s wish), what s/he can do independently (vs. needs adult assistance or supervision).

These can help guide the child better.


8. Be consistent

Consistency in rules, expectation, praise is crucial for a child learning skills, testing limits of own and others’ skills.


9. Follow a routine

A routine through the day or tasks can help children with sensory issues or those who are learning receptive skills.

Read more about routines, here.



With these nine tips, followed diligently, a child with delays can better understand and deal with the surroundings. However, specific individual needs must be looked into and catered to for each child. This is essential to discuss with the practicing therapist(s) working with your child.



Do you follow any of these rules? Leave us a comment, if you do. Write to us – if you use other effective ways to deal with stubbornness.


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Stubborn behavior in Children with Delays

Tanushree Chandhok
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