How Can I Teach My Stubborn Child?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My daughter is very bright and intelligent, but she is so stubborn. She knows some of her letters and numbers, and she knows how to spell her first name, but I've been trying to get her to sit down with me and learn other things that she will learn about in school. For instance, her address, phone number, spelling her last name and learning how to write her first name straight and not having the letters spread out all over the paper.

I tell her "You're going to need to practice things like this because your teacher is going to ask you to do these things." The answer I get is "I'll do it for my teacher; I just don't want to do it for you." Am I being unreasonable here? Do I need to just respect that answer? Am I expecting too much from her? I was a kindergarten teacher for about five years, and while I was teaching half of the class would know their letters and half wouldn't. My thinking was if the parents could spend more time teaching their children, then they might do better. I guess I don't want her teacher thinking that I'm a slacker parent. I'm very involved in what she does and what she learns. I want her to excel in school and not be perfect but I do want her to try and not be so stubborn.


As a former kindergarten teacher, you realize that there is a wide range of readiness that can influence how a child begins to view school. By preparing her, you hope to make her first school year easier and positive. That is not unreasonable. However, I believe if we examine the questions you put forth and your daughter's subsequent reactions, we might find that there is an over emphasis on what "people might think." You state, "...I guess I don't want her teacher thinking that I'm a slacker parent." This concern puts undue pressure on you as a parent and a teacher. Telling your daughter, "You're going to need to practice things… because your teacher is going to…," may be too future-directed. It doesn't allow your daughter to form her own relationship with the teacher as it occurs.

Her response, "I'll do it for my teacher, I just won't do it for you," may not be about her being stubborn. It could be a clue that she is expressing the anxiety that both of you are feeling about her starting kindergarten.

You have the advantage of knowing how to make learning fun and interesting. Relax into that knowledge. Activities such as playing school together and asking her to be the teacher, may also give you ideas on how she may be feeling. Create a list together of her strengths and what she already knows. Model your enthusiasm for learning, rather than performance and outcome and she will be more likely to learn the skills she needs and lessen her power struggle with you.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.