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How do you discipline a child who doesn’t care? Getting strong-willed kids to cooperate

When we think of discipline, our thoughts often turn towards punishment. When our strong willed children defy us or refuse to cooperate, we often try to come up with ways to punish them in an attempt to make them care. However, I have found that this is the least effective way to get children to cooperate long term. In fact, unfair punitive responses to uncooperative behaviour tends to lead to cycles of power and revenge. Your child refuses to co-operate which leaves you feeling powerless. You in turn assert your power by taking away a privilege, for example. In turn, your child seeks revenge by being less cooperative when you later request something from him or her.

When a child is extremely strong willed, my goal is to determine how much of the opposition is as a result of his or her temperament versus a response to a style of parenting that may not be working well.

For example, many children dig in their heels if they feel that they are constantly being bossed around or not treated respectfully. Other children, even though raised in democratic family environments, seem to be born with a tendency to be strong willed and oppositional.

Sometimes, a lack of cooperation stems from a combination of both. If your child is diagnosed with an oppositional defiant disorder, then you will need intervention and guidance from a specialized program that works with families and children with this diagnosis.

If the lack of cooperation is more related to the power and revenge cycle, then adopting more of a democratic style of parenting, as outlined in parenting programs such as STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) and becoming familiar with a natural and logical consequence approach to discipline, will help to foster a relationship that encourages more cooperation.

How Do You Discipline a Child Who Doesn't Care | amotherworld.comSara Dimerman is a psychologist in the Toronto area who has provided counselling to individuals, couples and families for more than twenty-five years. She is the author of four books – two for parents and two for couples – the most recent of which is “Why Married Couples Don’t have Sex….at least not with each other!” and is a columnist and podcast producer/host for sites and print media across North America and internationally. She is a regular guest on radio and television and is interviewed frequently for articles online, in newspapers and magazines. Sara is married and has two daughters. Visit Sara‘s website: or follow her on Twitter @helpmesara.


Maria Lianos-Carbone is the author of “Oh Baby! A Mom’s Self-Care Survival Guide for the First Year”, and publisher of, a leading lifestyle blog for women.


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