Going Somewhere When Your Child Does Not Want to -- What Are Your Strategies?

Updated on November 17, 2009
D.S. asks from Cambridge, MA
13 answers

Dear all,

our son is almost four. Lately, when we have wanted to go somewhere, he has often refused to cooperate. In general we try to hear our chilren's sides, and try to honour their needs and preferences. But we also want to honour what's best for the whole family and our relationship as the parents. So we have encountered times when we thought that he should come along, and that this is a reasonable request (after checking that he is not sick, stressed, overaroused etc). But then, what completely surprised us and leaves us pretty dumbfolded: he will just resist us. If we try to dress him he refuses with such physical strength and skill that we woud have to hurt ourselves and/or him to make him come along. We have resisted this temptation -- but we do have a lot of anger by now. We are determined not to yell or use force, but we are at wits end how to make him repect reasonable requests from the family?

Please, any help is appreciated. This is very hard for us as a couple, as a family, and as mother/father who just want to do their best.

What do you do, what did you do if you ever encountered a similar problem?

Thank you!

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answers from Boston on

I would suggest the book Magic 123. It has good and reasonable strategies for coping with this type of behavior.

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answers from Springfield on

Hi D.,

I just want to assure you that I understand what you mean. We also practice attachment parenting and gentle discipline. We avoid punitive consequences, preferring to teach, rather than punish.

Here's the deal though. By letting him make this decision? You're not being fair to him. You're giving him too much power, power he does not naturally have because he's FOUR. It's evolutionarily inappropriate for a four year old to dictate family matters, and he knows it on an innate level, and that's probably scaring him. If you can't 'make him' do what he's supposed to do, can you protect him from the nearest roaming carnivorous dinoasaur? His evolutionary sense to stay alive is kicking and screaming in protest, hoping to get a rise out of you and MAKE you make him do what he has to do.

I have three kids. When they get like this over things that are non-negotiable, I try to remove all passion or emotion from the situation. I give them a moment to collect themselves and comply willingly. If they cannot do it, I say, gently but firmly "We must go now. I am going to pick you up and buckle you into your car seat. Then we will drive away."

And then I do it. I don't wrestle or do anything scary or undignified, I just get the job done as quickly as possible and I DO NOT GIVE IN to tantrums or childish behavior.

Fortunately, if you are strong in your resolve, this phase will resolve on its own quickly.

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answers from New London on

When my son was little he used to do this to me every time we left one place to go somewhere else. That could mean home to the grocery store, home to gramy's/grammy's to home and so forth. It was so hard but every time we got to the new place he never wanted to leave there either. I think it's more of a testing thier grounds and seeing what they can control. Which is a normal part of growing up. I never gave in though. If I was going somewhere so was he. We never once gave him any control over our lives. Actually he a pre-teen now and trying again to set his freedom path.
Now my daughter (almost 4) tries to have her freedom with the phone-lol. She has no issues with going anywhere with me or the family. We'll see what #3 brings come April. Each child is different and has to find thier place in the family setting. My biggest thing is that Mom and Dad are the heads of the household, and they are in control. We still give our children lots of choices and hear out their opinions, which helps keep your idea of letting them be who they are, into the play of things. But we are ultimately the deciding factors.

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answers from Boston on

My 3.5 year old daughter does the same thing. She has become a real "home-body" and often does not want to go out. Most of the time I can get out peacefully if I let her control part of the process. If we decide we are going out -- and I agree with you, as much as I want to respect that my child has feelings and opinions and that its okay for them to differ from mine, I am the parent, and often I need to make the decision, even if she doesn't like it.

So, lets say my husband and I decide we are going out to dinner. She doesn't want to go. We get "I'll just stay here, you go" all the way to a full blown tantrum, kicking and screaming. MOST of the time if I can get to her before the tantrum, it helps. I give her choices. For instance I'll say, "We are going out to dinner. would you like to wear the pink dress or the purple dress?" Or maybe "What 2 books would you like to bring?"

Sometimes that is all that it takes. Sometimes not. Sometimes she'll shout at me "No books because I'm not going!". So then I tell her (very calmly) "We are going out to dinner. Would you like to bring 2 books or no books?".... sometimes that still doesn't work and I have to start to make the decision for her and say "Okay so no books. Lets put on your shoes."

MOST of the time at that point she will sortof cooperate. She'll choose 2 books or which dress or whatever the choice was and we'll get out the door. She will still remind me that she doesn't want to go, but its in a resigned, quieter voice. She is just reminding me that she is not going willingly -- and I respond quietly, "I know you don't want to go. Let's get in the car"

Every child is different! And none of this may work with yours! It is just what I've found success with. It took a few times to convince her I wasn't backing down. But I find if I can give her something to have control over it helps. And I let her know that its okay for her not to want to come - but that sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do. I acknowledge the way she is feeling, it helps her to know that I get it and I'm not angry that she doesn't want to go. What upsets me is when she is fresh or defiant or whatnot -- those behavoirs are not okay. But not feeling like going? Not a big deal. I think it prepares her for how the world works - we all have places we have to go to that we'd rather not! :) But my little one very much needs something to have control over (who puts on the shoes, which shoes, what to bring... ANY kind of a choice usually works)

Good luck! I hope this helps! But again, every child is so different!

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answers from Boston on

We subscribe to the philosophy that you give your kids choices when they are appropriate (do you want to wear the black shirt or the blue shirt?, do you want cereal or eggs for breakfast). On the other hand, leaving the house is not an option, so tell him you're sorry but he does not have a choice. Some kids have trouble with transitions so giving advance notice can be helpful, but kids who are totally oppositional might use this time to build up resistance. As for not getting dressed, we simply took our son out in his pajamas. What's the harm? If he got embarrassed, he got dressed in the car! We always took his clothes with us.

You can avoid raising your voice since you've said that's important to you, I agree it's a good strategy - I wasn't always so good at that! You can pick him up and put him in the car seat without dragging him - you may have to restrain him but you can do it firmly and without anger, as you would drag him from the path of a car.

Kids go through stages of not liking change, of rebelling, etc. Wait until the teen years! You just have to have rules that they understand are not negotiable.

If this continues over a long period of time or becomes excessive in tone, you could look into an evaluation. But a month of occasional opposition/defiance is more likely just a phase.

It's not easy, I know! Good luck!

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answers from Boston on

4 year olds are not "reasonable" people. The honest truth of it is that they don't have the frontal lobe functioning to hear your side and make a well reasoned decision. So your attempts to persuade him are falling on deaf ears. That's not to say that you have to yell, force, or give in to the demands of a preschooler (the last of which is a really bad idea, in my opinion). Tell him the plan, tell him he doesn't have a choice about whether or not he goes, but how you get there is up to him. He can go in his clothes and be warm comfy and happy, or he can go in his pajamas (or naked!) and be cold an embarrassed. Then follow through. You might have to pick him up and physically put him in the car, and he might be screaming, but I don't think that there's another way around that.
He is resisting you to prove that he is his own person and can do what he wants. Sometimes it's important to respect that choice (I never make my kids eat something they don't like, for instance), but sometimes the truth is that he is the low man on the totem pole, and he has to do things that he doesn't like. We all do. Good luck.

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answers from Boston on

Some good responses here! I have been dealing with 4 year old angst as well, and one thing that has been working for me is rewarding positive behavior on an interval / variable schedule (random). SO, we bought the "Don't Break the Ice" game and I put all the blocks in a large ziploc on top of the fridge, and put up another large ziploc on the front of the fridge for her to reach. Whenever I spot some great behavior (good manners, immediate compliance with a non-desired task, getting ready for bed without a parade of cheerleaders, offering to clean up her dish after dinner, anything!) she earns a block. She enjoys choosing the block and putting it into her earned bag. Once the bag is full, we allow her to have the game for the day (or 1/2 the day) and then at the end of the day, we start over by returning the blocks to their original spot. This would work with any other game or puzzle that has multiple pieces (a lego set that has multiple pieces required to build a specific item, Don't spill the beans, puzzles, etc.). Sometimes when we have power struggles about things like you are mentioning... I remind her of the blocks and that she might not be able to earn any for the rest of the day if she can't comply now. Another good thing is, you can fade out or vary when you give the reward...so in the beginning you could reward all sorts of positive behavior, but then you could give a block here and there, but not reward every little positive thing - so that way it seems random, and they never know when they'll be earning a block... thereby prompting more positive behavior in an attempt to continue earning. Just an idea - hope it helps! I completely feel your pain!!



answers from Boston on

I agree with many of the others here. Giving choices where possible is a good idea (i.e., "We're going out now - which of these outfits would you like to wear? What book do you want to bring?" etc.) and acknowledging his feelings (i.e., "It feels pretty crummy when you have to do things you don't want to do" or, "Oh, honey, I wish we could let you stay at home, but we have to go out now") is good too.

Another thing that might help motivate him to act is to make things into a competition, like telling him that if he can get dressed and be in the car within a certain amount of time (and set a timer) he'll get some kind of prize (e.g., a sticker or a small toy - we have a "treasure chest" filled with dollar store toys). Or you can try a checklist by making a simple "going out checklist" with items like: "Put on clothes," "Put on shoes," "Put on jacket," and then go through it with him one by one and let him check off items as he does them.

If my son still refuses and throws a tantrum, we give him a time-out. When the time-out is done, we offer him the same choices again. If he doesn't obey: time-out again. Pretty quickly he gets the idea that staying home isn't going to be any fun anyway, so he might as well do what we say.

We also keep a few "special toys" in the car - toys that he really likes but can only play with in the car. That way he looks forward to being in the car where he can play with them! I can say, "Let's get in the car, and you can play with your sticker book," and often he'll come along.

Also, we praise him effusively when he does what we ask! "You picked out such a nice outfit" or "Wow, you were really fast getting ready" - things like that.

Good luck!



answers from Miami on

LOL, I would not give him the choice. If he needs to go with you he needs to go with you. Make sure you are giving him 15 or 20 minute warning to finish whatever he is doing before you are ready to leave. If he resists remind him if he gives you a hard time you might have to give him a hard time next time he wants to do something.



answers from Boston on

We have a son the same age, and often experience the same reaction to an outing. I find that if I talk up the outing and think hard enough, I can usually come up with some little part that he will particularly enjoy, then use it to get him to cooperate. For instance, if it's just a trip to Walmart or BJ's, I'll tell him..."Oh well, looks like you're not going to get to see the wall of tv's today!". That's usually enough to get him to change his mind.

Oddly enough, I had an opposite situation come up last week...my son, father-in-law and I went to BJ's, and my son fell asleep in the truck. My father-in-law offered to stay in the truck with him so we wouldn't have to wake him, and when we got home and he woke up, he was furious that he missed the trip to the store! It took a few minutes, but I was finally able to calm him down with a promise to go to another store the next day.

Hope this helps!



answers from Boston on

My son is just over the age of two and has alot of opinions on what he wants to do or where he wants to go. I have the same problem that you have. I do find that if I start talking to him about where we are going to go (ie the grocery store) at least a half hour before we are gong to get ready to go it helps. I'll say lets play with trains and then pick up and to go to the store etc- reminding him every 5- 10 minutes that we WILL be going to the store. I have him pick what snack he wants to eat in the car- this helps to actually get him to the car, he picks it but doesn't get to eat it until in his car seat. I also give an incentive treat for him if he is good the whole way through for grocery shopping he gets to pick a donut at the end if he was good,(he isn't allowed sweets very often so this is a huge incentive for him) if it's a full day of errands I tell him he can watch a favorite cartoon when we get home etc. I try to make him understand the fact that no matter what we are going, if he is good it will be fun and he will have treats, if he is not good, well we are still going but it won't be much fun.
I hope this helps :)



answers from Boston on

Hi D.,
I have a boy and girl, same ages as yours. I'm sure they keep you just as busy as mine keep me! I use time outs or tell my son he'll have to go to his room to think about things. I try not to use his room to much in a negative light b/c I don't want him to have a bad association with it but when he is having a tantrum that is usually where he ends up to spare the rest of the family (luckily it's not to often).
The other thing I try is to be SUPER consistent. I try to give my kids choices whenever possible so they feel empowered. But-when I say we are doing something and it's not a choice I don't change my mind. I say," I understand you don't want to do this and I see that you are unhappy but this is something that we are doing today as a family. We can do something that you prefer tomorrow." Or something to that effect. If my son doesn't get dressed he will sit in a time out until he is ready to (may have to plan ahead if you need to be somewhere at a certain time!).
Every few months months we go through a testing phase and then after a week or so everything settles down again.

This is what works for us. Hope it helps!



answers from Boston on

This sounds familiar! I have an almost-4-year-old daughter who is so strong-willed it drives me crazy sometimes. I just finished the book "How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk" and I found lots of good strategies in there for helping to engage cooperation. I recommend checking it out. Best of luck!

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