Every parent knows that raising a strong willed child can be a real challenge. “But why can’t we go to the cinema right now?” “Why can’t I play longer?”
If you have a strong-willed child, questions such as these are a part of your everyday life. While all this can be challenging when they’re little, if thoughtfully parented, strong willed children become brilliant young adults and great leaders!
What is a strong-willed child?
Dr. Laura Markham, in her article entitled ‘Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child’ (2018), explains the personality of strong-willed children in the following way:
“Some parents call them ‘difficult’ or ‘stubborn’, but we could also see strong-willed kids as people of integrity who aren’t easily swayed from their own viewpoints. Strong-willed kids are spirited and courageous. They want to learn things for themselves rather than accepting what others say, so they test the limits over and over.
They want desperately to be ‘in charge’ of themselves, and will sometimes put their desire to ‘be right’ above everything else. When their heart is set on something, their brains seem to have a hard time switching gears. Strong-willed kids have big, passionate feelings and live at full throttle.”
Just because they have a strong will, doesn’t mean it needs to be tamed or destroyed. It just needs to be redirected.
Here are all the things you need to pay attention to in order to protect their will and help your “rebellious” child reach their full potential:
1. Keep in mind that strong-willed children learn through experience
No matter how many times you repeat something to a child with a strong will, they will not give up until they get the opportunity to test it or try it for themselves.
Children with a strong will are experiential learners.
Learning through experience is closely connected to a strong-willed child’s intelligence. In other words, the more they test your limits, the more they’re learning.
Questioning authority is one of the predictors of occupational success, so no matter how weird it sounds, one day you’ll be happy for all those moments when your child tested your patience during their childhood.
2. Instead of giving orders, give your child choices
One of the biggest mistakes every parent makes is the tendency to give orders instead of choices to their children. On that note, one of the best parenting tips you’ll ever stumble upon is: Give your child the opportunity to choose!
Being able to choose boosts their self-esteem and it makes them feel in control of their own destiny.
So, instead of ordering your little one to momentarily stop playing because you need to go to the store, try something like: Do you want to go to the store now or in five minutes?
When you offer him/her a choice, they won’t feel pressured that they HAVE TO (external obligation) do something.
Instead, they will feel as though they decided that they will go in five minutes, so they MUST (internal obligation) follow the rules they set for themselves.
3. Let your child be in charge of their activities
I remember when I had a hard time obeying my parents’ instructions. I hated it when they told me: It’s time to brush your teeth. You need to go to sleep.
It made me feel as though I wasn’t in a position to choose whether I wanted to or not or decide when I wanted to brush my teeth or go to sleep. I felt as though my parents were superior to me.
So, when they changed their parenting strategy and started asking me questions like: What do we need to do before we go to sleep? I felt like a little adult for the first time.
I had the feeling that I was in charge of my activities and they were just there to remind me of that instead of commanding me. This simple technique helps boost a child’s self-discipline which will reflect in every aspect of their adult life as well.
4. Provide rewards
Many parents forget to reward their child for something good they’ve done. The reason why you should reward your child for their good behavior is to motivate him/her to keep up the good work in the future.
This doesn’t mean you should buy them a toy every time you want to reward them for something. Sometimes, verbal approval/awards are everything your child needs and wants to hear.
Simply saying: Good job! will make them feel great about themselves and give them a feeling of accomplishment. The more you provide rewards, the harder they will try to impress you.
5. Involve your child in the decision-making process
Dealing with a strong willed child is a real challenge in itself, but not all hope is lost! One surefire way to successfully deal with children’s stubbornness is by involving them in the decision-making process.
If your child refuses to wear a hat because they are convinced that it is not cold outside, you need to give them an opportunity to choose what to do. Say something like: Okay, I’ll take your hat with me and if you’re cold once we are outside, you can decide to wear it then.
In a child’s mind, they don’t need a hat because right at that moment they don’t feel cold given that they’re still in the house. But, once they get outside, chances are they will be cold and they will want to wear a hat.
Again, it will be their decision to do so because you’ve given them an option to wear it later if they want to and that’s exactly the goal you want to achieve.
6. Avoid power struggles and battles by focusing on rules
Wondering how to discipline a strong willed child? Do yourself a favor and forget about dominance. The best way to avoid power struggles is to set limits and rules for every activity.
For example, rules such as going to sleep at 9 o’clock, brushing teeth before going to sleep, using potty after every meal, etc. are great!
Once you do that, your child won’t see you as a bad guy because the reason why they need to do something is because of the rules and not your direct command.
So, when they insist that you keep reading stories for kids to them even though they should be sleeping, just remind them of the rule.
Note: Not sticking to your rules is the biggest trap of an indulgent parenting style. If a child sees that your rules are not firm but flexible, they will start using it to their advantage.
7. Don’t force them into contradicting you
Before feeling tempted to contradict them and play the game called “power struggle”, take a deep breath and remember that parenting is not about winning or losing.
If you lose your temper, they will push back and be determined to contradict you even harder. Stubbornness is definitely one of the most dominant characteristics of a strong-willed child.
So, forcing them to contradict you shouldn’t be on your list of parenting goals. Your primary goal is to maintain gentle parenting. Needless to say, this is impossible to achieve in a negative environment.
8. Give your child space to express their own opinions and feelings
Let’s say that your child states something like: I don’t want to wear that T-shirt. What would your reply be? You have to wear it! or Why?
By insisting that he/she must wear it, you will unwittingly downplay their opinions and feelings. On the contrary, by asking them why they don’t want to wear it, you’ll show them that you value their opinion and that they are being listened to.
That’s one of the biggest differences between modern parenting and how it used to be done. Past parenting accentuates obedience as the most important aspect of parenting, whereas modern parenting supports and encourages expressing and validating a child’s opinion.
If you give your child some space to express themselves, they will be really good at problem-solving and tasks that require creative thinking. More importantly, they will deal better with peer pressure.
9. Listen to them and show understanding
Even if you think that you know better than your child, they still deserve to be listened to and shown understanding. Also, they can still teach you something new.
To show understanding for a child’s behavior means to avoid judging them or imposing your own opinion on them as the only right one.
Parenting a strong-willed child is all about listening to them, acknowledging their efforts, and making them feel as though they are in control of their own life.
10. Put yourself in your child’s shoes
Imagine your little one throwing a temper tantrum in a store because you fail to deliver on a promise to buy them one specific toy.
If you start scolding your child, he/she will be even more confused because you have broken your promise and actually, you’re the one in the wrong.
In this case, it is wise to apologize to your child and explain why you didn’t buy him/her the toy and that you will do it next time. When it comes to meltdowns and tantrums, always try first to see things from his/her point of view and then act accordingly.
11. Teach your child discipline by implementing positive parenting techniques
Don’t use punishment as a tool to teach your child discipline. Instead, always use parenting strategies for peaceful parenting.
One of the most effective positive parenting techniques is role modeling. We all know that children mimic their parent’s behavior. They learn more from what you do than from what you say. Always keep that in mind.
Another interesting technique is time-ins. Giving your child a traditional time-out means sending them to face the wall (or something similar) for a few minutes to think about their behavior.
A time-in is a different concept. It’s when you tell your child to sit next to you and express himself/herself after they have done something they shouldn’t have.
This approach helps you target the real problem and it also helps you connect with your child.
12. Show respect and empathy
Respect is an essential part of popular Montessori parenting. If a child doesn’t feel respected and validated, they will keep finding new ways to provoke you only to “earn” the desired respect.
To parent a child in a positive way means to show respect and empathy to your child instead of ignoring them.
Let’s say that your child asks you something about cats. The worst thing you could do is reply to them with: I don’t have time for that at the moment. I’m too busy.
It is okay if you don’t have time, but you need to let them know that you’re willing to talk to them about it later.
You want them to feel like what they have to say is important and not that it is something trivial that is not worthy of your time. This is a great self-confidence booster for every child out there.
How to parent a strong-willed child? One of the best tips for happy parenting is: Connect with your child. If they see you as an enemy who is only giving commands, they will not be able to establish a connection with you or accept your authority.
But, if they feel as though you understand them and you’re willing to listen to them, they will see you as someone who is playing on their team and not against them.
At the end of the day, always remember to remind your child of your unconditional love for them. Just because they did something wrong or refused to obey, doesn’t mean that they are bad children and that they don’t deserve to be showered with love and affection.
5 Inspiring Strong-Willed Child Quotes
1. “Instant obedience and mindless compliance are poor goals, indeed, when raising children. A thoughtfully questioning, passionately curious, and humorously resourceful child who wants to know why, who delights in inventing ‘compromises’, and who endlessly pushes the boundaries tends to grow into a thoughtful, passionate, resourceful adult who will change the world rather than being changed by the world.” – L.R. Knost
2. “Speak to your children as if they are the wisest, the kindest, most beautiful and magical humans on earth. For what they believe is what they will become.” – Brooke Hampton
3. “Strong-willed children often grow into strong-willed adults who become world leaders, world shapers, and world changers. Parenting them peacefully is not only possible, it’s imperative because sowing peace in their hearts now while they’re in our care will grow a future of peace later when the world is in their care.” – L.R. Knost
4. “‘No’ is not a complete thought. It is an imperative. A command. It doesn’t teach. It tells. If you want your children to learn to think like an adult, take the time to explain your adult thinking.” – L.R. Knost
5. “Teaching our children to control themselves is far more effective than trying to control our children.
• Model, don’t manipulate.
• Lead, don’t intimidate.
• Support, don’t shame.
• Encourage, don’t threaten.
• Guide, don’t punish.
• Listen, don’t lecture.” – L.R. Knost
Remember to nourish your child’s strong will!
No matter how challenging their behavior is, don’t break their will or spirit. Nourish their curiosity, creative minds, and persistence.
These are the qualities that will help them develop a strong character and become self-confident grownups who establish their own trends instead of following the crowd.
If you need extra help with raising your strong willed child, I recommend reading The New Strong-Willed Child by James C. Dobson. This book will teach you how to protect your child’s spirit and avoid making some of the biggest parenting mistakes.
Another great idea is to take parenting classes. Whichever method you choose, I wish you the best of luck, plenty of fun, and patience with your special little one!
FAQs about parenting a strong-willed child
1. How do I parent a strong-willed child?
Strong-willed children require sensitive parenting. They might be perceived as rebellious sometimes, but this doesn’t mean they should be punished for it.
All you need to do is push the right buttons in a caring and sensitive way. Instead of giving them time-outs, you need to talk to them about a situation and show them that you understand how they’re feeling.
An authoritarian parenting style will make strong-willed children even more determined to push their parents’ boundaries. The goal is to find a balance and let the children know that you are their friend and adviser instead of an enemy.
2. How do you get a strong-willed child’s attention?
You will get a strong-willed child’s attention by implementing positive parenting techniques and rules. Given that such children don’t automatically respect authority, giving them commands will only make things worse.
Therefore, you need to give instructions in a positive way. Instead of saying to your little one Brush your teeth! Try asking him/her: What do we do before we go to bed?
The latter option doesn’t sound like an order, but rather something that you do as a rule in the house. If your child asks you: Why do I need to go to sleep now? tell them that it’s because of the rules.
If you do so, they will not get mad at you or see you as a commander-in-chief. They will accept it as something neutral and non-negotiable and that’s every parent’s primary goal.
3. How do you discipline a strong-willed child?
Two words: Avoid punishment. Punishing a strong-willed child will only make them more furious and confused. You need to redirect their strong will and help them reach their full potential.
You shouldn’t perceive their misbehaviour and tantrums as something negative, but rather as an opportunity to guide and teach your child. Understanding and compassion are two main components when it comes to parenting a child with a strong will.
You discipline a strong-willed child by giving them choices and letting them know that they are understood. They need to think that they are the one in control of their activities and not you or anyone else.
Because they are sensitive to authority, they need to feel as though they are doing something because they want to and not because you forced them to do so. And that’s exactly your role as a parent.
4. What is the main thing you should pay special attention to when raising a strong-willed child?
If you have a strong willed child, the main thing you should pay attention to is nourishing their strong will and spirit. An aggressive parenting style can break their will, decrease self-confidence, and prevent them from developing a strong character as adults.
You need to actively listen to your child, offer him/her choices (instead of giving commands) and be empathetic. They might seem tough at moments, but remember that their spirit is as fragile as a flower.
Instead of cutting their spirit at the root, you need to let them bloom by watering them with warmth, smiles, and positive words and they will grow into beautiful flowers full of self-confidence and self-love.
References: Dr. Laura Markham, ‘Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child’ (2018).
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