It is not uncommon for an elderly parent to dig their heels in and refuse help from an adult child, even in times of desperate need. There are several reasons for stubborn behavior and it is important to discover the root of the issue. Even though each family relationship is unique, there are usually commonalities when it comes to the parent-child role reversal dynamic.

If you feel like you are at your wits end from your parent refusing help regarding driving, diet, health, caregiving, medication management, safety or other important issues, know that you are not alone.  According to research out of Penn State University, the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging and the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, approximately 77% of grown children think their parents are stubborn when it comes to taking their advice or getting help with daily problems.


1. Find their motivation.- Motivation behind stubborn behavior can be rooted in ways. Common reasons include the following:

  • Habit
  • To assert independence
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Denial
  • Confusion*

*If your parent is exhibiting signs of dementia, consult a doctor or geriatric professional as soon as possible. Stubborn behavior as a result of dementia must be handled differently then in scenarios of those with healthy brain function.

2. Determine the level of importance.- In certain situations you may have to choose your battles. Determine what is worth continually fighting for and what you can let go. Asking too much of your parent all at once can push them even further away heightening resistance. While safety is always priority, ask yourself if more minor issues can take a backseat for the time being.

3. Shift the blame.- Sometimes stubbornness is a simple case of denial. While it may be clear to you that your parent needs help, it may not be so obvious to them. Other times a parent may know they need help but have given up on helping themselves finding it pointless. In instances such as these, it can be helpful to shift the blame onto yourself or the grandchildren by using phrases such as, “Please do it for me Mom, it would ease my worry and lessen my stress.”

4. Don’t Spin your wheels.- If your tactics for helping mom are just not working, it may be time to take an alternate approach. Consider bringing in a professional such as a geriatric care manager or another family member or friend to speak to your parent. Sometimes parents have an easier time accepting that they need help when it comes from someone other than the adult child.

5. Refrain from treating them like a child- Even though you may feel like you have become your parents’ parent at this stage in life, it is important to remember that they are not your child and shouldn’t be treated as such. Even if your parent is exhibiting child-like “bad behavior”, continue to treat them as you would any other adult. This is easier said then done when it comes to familiar relationships. If you find yourself in scolding mode, take time to regroup and begin the conversation again once you have had time to collect your thoughts and move forward in an encouraging manner.

6. Find an outlet for your frustration.- At times you may feel angry, sad, frustrated or even resentful. Find healthy ways to vent, strategize, or release some of these emotions. Confiding in a friend, therapist, geriatric care manager, family member or support group can all be helpful in situations like these.

7. Your best is all you can do.- Try and accept the situation for what it is. After all, your parent is an adult who has the right make his or her own decisions, even poor ones. In the end you cannot force someone to make good decisions, all you can do is offer help, give advice and be there for them when and if they decide to accept it.


  1. Jannette

    Hey Kristin!
    I totally agree with the tips you have mentioned in this article. If confusion caused by dementia is the motivation for stubborn behavior, consider finding out symptoms of dementia to progress prevention. If your become helpless when dealing with your parent’s stubborn behavior, consider consulting a reputable home care provider to seek professional help and advice. Thanks for sharing Kristin.

  2. Anna

    Great tips! It can be really difficult not to get down when dealing with a stubborn elderly relative but it’s so important to keep calm and figure out why they’re acting the way they are. Thanks for including the tip about dementia, most people probably wouldn’t recognise the symptoms, especially when it’s early days. If you are dealing with a relative with early on-set dementia/alzheimers and they are stubborn in their refusal to go to a care home it may be a good idea to look into personal alarms so they can live independently in their own home whilst also leaving you with peace of mind in the knowledge that help is always at hand. I will link you to Helpline’s range of discreet and customisable pendants below!

    • Kristin Angulo

      Thank you for the kind comment Anna, I’m so glad you enjoyed the tips!


    Some parents are really stubborn especially if they are aging already. And children must understand these things because it’s just part of their aging process. Sometimes, they don’t want to go to doctors but that shouldn’t be the case. You have to make sure that they have a regular checkup and as their children, you are the one responsible for it.

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