Q&A: How do I deal with my stubborn toddler?!

One Many readers ask,

How do I deal with my toddler or young child that won’t keep their mittens on during winter adventures?


Or won’t wear a bike helmet when I ask them to, especially when so many of their friends aren’t made to wear them? How do you convince a stubborn child to put on safety gear while other kids don’t?

Ah. The issue of stubborn children. I am no stranger to this. Sure, we comfort ourselves by telling each other that our child’s stubborn demeanor and strong opinions will serve them well when they are older. But it doesn’t help us an ounce when we have to leave the climbing gym during an epic melt down, stop them from biking with neighborhood friends cause they refuse to wear a helmet, or go inside because they won’t wear mittens or a hat.

Know that you are not alone. Your child isn’t abnormal. They most likely do not have some sort of emotional delinquency.

Skiing with kids at Snowbasin

A fellow outdoor writer has this to say:

This age (22 months) and season (Winter) is SO challenging for getting outdoors! I seriously can’t do anything right now without [my daughter] complaining; taking off mitts, hats, boots; not wanting to sit on sled or in Chariot…etc. I can’t even walk to the play room 4 blocks away. Trying to be so patient and make things fun.

I agree. The toddler years are SO hard, outdoor adventures or not.

And honestly I wish had some magic pill I could give you or three-step plan that would take all the struggle away. But I don’t.

What I do want you to know? This is a battle worth fighting.

Let me elaborate:

As a parent, we need to decide which battles we are going to fight. Often we get caught up in our kids wearing jackets outdoors, eating enough vegetables, and cleaning between their toes, but we don’t address behavior issues such as obedience, respectful speech, and understanding the word “no”.

As parents we should be deliberate about when to draw a line (or make a hard and fast rule) and when not to. Honestly, I don’t care much about whether my kids can or cannot jump on the couch. I don’t have strict anti-toy gun rules. All those “grey areas” of parenting are up to you. But certainly once you decide something (like wearing helmets while biking) then you should not let your kids get away with something other than what was stated, especially if it is because other kids are doing something different.

“They may, you may not.”

We tell our kids this all. the. time. “They may, you may not.” They may ride their bikes without helmets and barefooted. You may not.” And yes, our kids have fought us. They have been pulled inside because they refused to. They have had bikes taken away or time with friends because they refuse to listen to the wisdom of their parents. In the end, they have eventually come around.

Ultimately, our kids learning to submit to the wisdom of others that are more experienced is MORE important than getting to socialize for an afternoon. It is more important than spending time outdoors for a day or even a month.

A ruined afternoon of fun now is better than a ruined life later. 

Have I gone a bit far? I am not so sure. “But my son is only two and a half and just learning to say complete sentences?!” Yes, but if you cave to his two-year old tantrums, what will you do when he can argue convincingly, throw emotions at you or threaten? The patterns you sow now will set the course for the future.

In my parenting I am working on embracing a long view of things. If I teach my kids “they may, you may not” now, when the issues are seemingly trivial, hopefully they will follow this course when friends choose to drink and drive, shoot cocaine, or assuage their boredom by stealing.

And I believe the battle of the wills is much easier at the young ages (not easy, just easier) than when they are teenagers. I am bigger, stronger, and wiser. They are still young enough that I can scoop them up and walk them away from whatever danger they are insisting upon. My arms can still protect them now.

Kids standing strong, hiking with Dad

Aside from setting boundaries, I also want my kids to be curious, take risks, push limits, have opinions and test them. How do we balance this?!

I don’t have all the answers. However, when an issue isn’t a serious safety concern, I will let them walk according to their own decisions. Yes, this has meant I let my daughter wear a coat that was not warm enough for skiing. I let her march forward on her own belief, but packed an alternative for when she was willing to admit she was wrong.

And always there is much conversation. Sometimes the same conversation over. And over. And over.

I want my kids to be fierce. To know when to stand for something and when not to. And I do think that strong wills and a dash of stubbornness will serve them when they are older.

The key is not to break our kids of their wills, but to mold it.

Keep pressing on friends. Stay the course. The summit is far, but it is within sight.

molding character of our kids, boy hiking


2 comments on “Q&A: How do I deal with my stubborn toddler?!
  1. I totally agree you have to choose your battles and be consistent. My kids struggled with helmets for a short time, but now are the helmet police! When we go sledding, they tell the other kids on the hill to put on a helmet and then their parents are so ashamed. LOL.

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