8 Tips for Dealing with a Strong-Willed Child

I am the first to admit that my daughter is a strong-willed little girl. From early on in her toddler years, we noticed that she would have temper tantrums over even little things if they weren’t just so. Bedtime has been a challenge over the years. So has getting ready for school with the right clothes and her hair done. Getting her to eat her food can be challenging too. Sometimes a trip to the store can become a power struggle over a toy that she certainly doesn’t need.

Does this sound at all like your child?

On the brighter side of things, I’ve watched her create amazing stories and artwork with great determination. Becoming am amazing big sister and little sister by helping her siblings. I’ve observed her express herself and her wants and needs to our family and to her friends. Having a child with a strong voice can also be a positive thing. Having a child with who feels deeply about things lets you know that they’re connected. She’s one of the most special people I’ve ever met and I love her to the moon and back and can’t wait to see her as she grows and matures! I hope that some day she will use these natural skill in some type of leadership role.

Strong-willed children are usually secure in who they are, even it it’s only who they think they are, and they are usually kids and people who know what they want and like to feel as though they are the ones in control.

Having a strong-willed child isn’t necessarily a bad thing since you know you’re raising a child who is self-motivated, spirited and courageous, but it can be quite a challenge. If you have a strong-willed child, these tips can help you handle discipline without taking away their independence.

1. Pick Your Battles
You know the expression “don’t make mountains out of molehills?” Well, this is especially true when you’re raising a strong-will child. They’re quite independent by nature and prefer doing things a certain way. This can create tension between a parent and child when they get locked into a battle of wills. Power struggles usually end with no winners, but instead, two losers. To prevent yourself from falling into this trap, try not to make a big deal out of every issue. There are definitely times when you need to be firm, especially if your child’s behavior involves disrespect to parents or harm to your child. However, some issues are ultimately not worth arguing over. Stick to your guns, but don’t shot yourself in the foot.

2. Let Them Make Some Choices of Their Own
Your strong-willed child may resent you as an authority figure if you constantly try to have control over everything that they do. They have a tendency to buck when they feel the reigns are becoming too tight. Let loose a little by giving your child the chance to make some choices of their own from time to time. Allow your child to choose an outfit of their own as long as it’s appropriate for the outing, or choose what they want to eat at a restaurant. Letting your child have some say in what happens to them is a good way to help them feel respected by you and more willing to listen to you when larger issues occur that they have no say in.

3. Help Them Build Independence
Learning to do things for themselves is a healthy step in any child’s development. Allowing them age-appropriate freedoms can help them feel like they’re able to have some space from mom and dad and grow as individuals. Have them make their own lunch or a snack for themselves, or stay the night at a friend’s, providing you know the parents and feel comfortable. Doing things without mom and dad helps to build a child’s independence and their self-esteem as well. For a willful child, a strong sense of self is important.

4. Change Your Perspective
It can be difficult to see the future strong adult you’re raising while in the midst of a power struggle. However, it helps to realize that your child’s stubborn nature and tenacity will ultimately be quite beneficial to them later in their lives. It’s up to you though to teach them how to channel these behaviors in a productive way. The net time your child stands their ground on a subject, use this as a teaching opportunity and explain why it’s good to stand up for what you believe in. As important it is to recognize and acknowledge their strong sense of self,   you need to teach them that they have to respect your authority as a parent. It will definitely help in your day to day parenting if you see your child’s tenacity and sometimes difficult spirit as a fierce and underlying strength that will ultimately help them through the difficulties of life.

5. Create a Routine and Stick to Your Schedule
A willful child thrives on routine. One way to avoid blowups and disagreements is to have a schedule with routine activities that your child knows that they can count on. For example, they should know that every day when they get home, they have to first do their homework before they can play, etc. When your schedule and plans do change, use that as an opportunity to explain how it’s important to be able to adapt to life’s unpredictability.

6. Set Consequences and Follow Through
You may think you’re doing your child a service by going easy on them. But, in reality, a strong-willed child thrives on predictable order. If they feel that they can sometimes get away with things and their  parents won’t step in and enforce rules and consequences, that can leave them feeling insecure and unsure of their role and place in the family. You can prevent those feelings by being unwavering with your consequences and actions that you take when order isn’t maintained or when negative behaviors take place. Let your child know who the boss is by disciplining them when they behave in a way that they now that they should not. On such consequence could be the loss of privileges if they behaved badly at school. It may be hard to enforce such a consequence in the moment, but it helps your child understand that their actions have consequences, and helps them learn how to avoid those same consequences in the future. 

7. Don’t Go Power Crazy
When you have a willful child, you may have a tendency to not always feel in control. Their strong personalities and desire to have their way make it seem like there’s a constant power struggle. It’s in these moments that you have to give yourself a time out. Count to three and take a deep breath. No matter what your child says, remember that you are the parent and you have the authority. Your child needs your care, loving support and guidance. Don’t get locked into a power struggle. Don’t always rush to say no just to stay in a position of power. Occasionally, it’s okay to say yes to things that aren’t a big deal. Try to steer their strong spirit into creative pursuits and activities, rather than squashing it with your authoritative power. While you have to stay in control, you lose your power when you lose your temper.

8. Listen to them and offer them empathy
It helps a lot if your child feels understood. If you see their point of view and think they’re wrong—for instance, she wants to wear her superhero cape to church and you feel that’s inappropriate—you can offer her empathy and meet her part way. “You love this cape and wish you could wear it, don’t you? But wen we go to services, we dress up to show respect, so you can’t wear the cape. I know you’ll miss wearing it. How about we bring it with us so you can wear it on our way home?”

Parenting a strong-willed child requires a lot of hands-on effort, patience and mental toughness. It’s no easy task, but its ultimately a huge gift.

Do you have any tips for dealing with a strong-willed child? I'd love to hear them.

Hello, I’m Kelly, a regular contributor on this blog. I live in Pennsylvania with my loving husband and our five beautiful children. I have a background in early childhood education, but I am currently homeschooling my kids. From pregnancy to postpartum to toddler life, I love sharing advice with other moms who are having a challenging time with this crazy but wonderful role of motherhood.

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