All children are resistive at times. That is healthy as it is a way to differentiate from one’s parent. And some children are more resistive than most. But the “resistive child” is one that initially resists virtually every suggestion or request of the parent, often cooperating in the end, after a long verbal battle or fit of stubborness. I am, of course, excluding the child of 2, or perhaps 3, who is going through the “terrible twos.” However, the resistive child is usually noticed by the parent at age 4 or 5 and continues until at least age 7. If left alone, that is uncorrected, this resistive behavior, in my experience, subsides to some degree but the child tends to remain rather negative, frequently offering initial resistance to any new or different idea.
When the parent feels the brunt of this, at age 4 to 7, it is a major headache. Whether or not the child ever outgrows this, and I really can’t say if this type of child becomes some type of sour adult, it is worth eliminating just for the sake of the parent. It also is to the young child’s social advantage to be rid of this, as peers and adults can view the resistive child negatively.
But first let’s look at what seems to cause this negativism in a child. There are three main factors in my opinion that lead a child to be always resistive to every suggestion or request. All three result from the parent who is trying to be too nice to the child. That’s right, as parents we can be too nice. This is the parent who believes that their loving, caring relationship alone will raise the child to be a mature, happy adult. And for that reason they are overly concerned that the child like them and their ways.
The most important cause is the “nice” parent habitually trying to gain the child’s cooperation with reasoning and understanding. If with every request the parent is trying to gain the child’s cooperation by convincing the child to agree that it is time to go home from day care or come to the table to eat, the child will become habitually resistive. This resistance occurs because the child enjoys road-blocking the powerful parent by simply ignoring the parent’s reasoning or just plain refusing. In other words, it is a power trip for the child. It also leads the child to developing equally good reasons, in their mind, for not putting their coat on or coming to the table. In other words, the child “reasons back.” Eventually this evolves into a habitual response and ,thus, the resistive child.
The second most powerful cause of habitual resistance is the “nice” parent habitually giving the child choices. “Do you want to come and eat now,” or “Do you want to go and get your pajamas now,” or “Do you want to come in, get out of the pool, take off your coat, etc.” over and over in many situations a day leads to chronic resistance. When we constantly give all these choices, the child finds it much more entertaining to say “No” or dawdle or ignore the parent rather than saying yes or cooperating. We have all given our children choices, and we should at times. But to make the majority of expectations into choices leads to habitual resistance by virtue of the sheer number of opportunities to say “no.”
The third factor is less powerful but can also play a role, especially for children age 5 or older. That is the failure to expect enough of our children. This not only applies to the importance of household chores starting at the age of 5 or 6, but also the more frequent expectations of picking up after themselves, washing their hands before a meal, carrying in a loaf of bread when mother needs a spare hand to unlock the door, and so on. The more a parent requires of a child in the way of regular chores and helping out, the more cooperative the child. This is just human nature. Among us adults, who complains the most about how much work they have to do? Isn’t it the person with the least responsibilities? Who is the best committee worker? It is the busiest person. So it is with children. If your child grumbles about every task or expectation, you probably are not expecting enough of them in the way of help and assistance.
So what should a parent do if they have a resistive child? The answer, obviously, is to stop making the above mistakes. One way is to change your request to more of an announcement. “It is time to put your coat on,” or; “It is time to come to the table, get out of the pool, come inside, etc.” are better ways than, “Do you want to?” Even more important is to give up this habit of trying to gain the child’s understanding or agreement. When the child says they don’t want to do something you have asked, agree with them by saying something like, “I am sure you don’t want to” or, “I can see why you don’t want to,” and proceed to put their coat on or lead them by the hand to the table.
Children don’t really believe that strongly in their own words. They are more interested in what you will do, rather than actually defeating your authority. But if you start to reason with them, then their argument begins to take on more firmness in their mind and they begin to actually feel more strongly about something that simply started out as amusing. And if the resistive child is five or older, start requiring chores, or more chores.