Do you have a strong-willed child? My eldest is most definitely THAT child. We always knew this. My husband and I once had to suppress our amusement when our strong-willed eldest stomped into our living room with a TV tray covered with that devilish squishy sand. I’d moved it into her room before bedtime to clean up my living room space.
She made an angry face, pounded her feet against the floor, and basically heaved the tray into the living room. We were too amused to do anything, though we knew the one thing we couldn’t do was laugh while she was there. We knew our strong-willed girl would only fight back harder.
Wondering what makes for a strong-willed child?
When kids are little, you might wonder what exactly classifies them as a strong-willed child. After all, every kid fights back at some point (such as sleep fight), defying our announcement that it’s time to clean up or go to bed or eat the broccoli for goodness’ sake.
My youngest is not strong-willed in the slightest. That’s my clingy child (and if you have one of those, you can read about it here). So it’s a bit of a blessing that only one of them is strong-willed.
If you have a strong-willed child, you might feel like it’s a setback. But it’s not. The more they grow, the better these characteristics bode for them in adulthood. So tick off your list here and see…is your child officially strong-willed?
- Strong sense of conviction
- Wants to be in charge
Sometimes, you might even call your kid stubborn. And if you do, guess what? You have the beautiful blessing of a strong-willed child. Though you’re going to have to parent them differently than your other children.
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Why You Should Embrace Having a Strong-Willed Child?
Initially, the frustration of having a strong-willed child may take over. That’s because you’re not seeing this stubborn little person’s behavior as an asset. Strong-willed children can be challenging until you look at the psychology behind what motivates them. Then you can channel that into positivity.
It’s all about shifting your thinking because nothing you do is going to change your child. And you don’t want to change them anyway! What makes them “difficult” is what makes them amazing.
I’m a big believer in the change of perception. I was once working on a project ages ago that required a lot of detailed research. Later after I’d finished, I was gabbing on the phone to my friend Marci about it, more or less complaining about how hard it was. And she said, “That’s fantastic! You got to learn something new!”
It struck me completely. She was 100% right. While it was a tough challenge, I learned something from it. And I learned from her to change my perception of things from taking a negative angle to a positive one.
Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to learn to look at that stubborn child of yours and see positives instead of negatives.
How Do I Parent My Strong-Willed Child?
So you have a strong-willed child. Now what? Understanding a few their traits and how psychology works can help you manipulate the situation in your favor while allowing your child to become the best they can be.
Think of it this way…have you ever tried to push a door that you’re supposed to pull open? You can push all day, but it won’t budge, but if you try a different technique, in this case pulling, you can open that door. Today, we’re going to apply that to stubborn children.
Tackle the Characteristics of a Difficult Child
I listed the characteristics that make a child strong-willed. Now it’s time to look at them a bit more intently.
My eldest simply MUST finish her little projects before going to bed. For her, there is no finishing it tomorrow. It’s not even school work! It’s little things she puts together – one day she wrote a book about the Earth! With her, it’s always something. She gets stuck in the cognitive trajectory of what comes next, and it’s hard for her to shift out of that. We call that a cognitive shift.
So while I want and NEED her to go to bed on time for school (or for my sanity on the weekends), I instead shift my perception and smile. This child of mine is going to let nothing stand in the way of her goals. She’s already at the top of her class and with that kind of determination, she could be anything she puts her mind to.
I have to admit; I hate the whole slime craze. If your kids are too young to play with it yet, you wait. Keep it away from your carpeted areas. My eldest though used her passion for innovation and MADE her slime. This kid has gobs of passion.
I got her a bracelet maker for her most recent birthday, something she’d begged me for. I thought it would give her something to do and boy was I right! She taught herself how to use it because even after reading the instructions, I was utterly useless. This enthusiasm drives her along with her determination.
Sometimes our stubborn kids can leave a mess behind in their pursuit of love, but believe me; this is an excellent quality you’ll brag about when your kid is an adult.
Strong sense of conviction
These kids have a strong sense of what is fair and ethical. When your child thinks she’s right, she will double-down on that. That’s why when you promise your kid that you’ll do something and then back out, she will hold you to it.
It might feel like defiance, but your child is showing she knows the difference between right and wrong and isn’t afraid to speak up for what she believes in.
Wants to be in charge
My eldest always wants to be the dominant one. When she’s playing with her little sister, she’s the mastermind. Leading is natural to her. While sometimes she can come across as bossy, she is a born leader.
I always urge her to lead with kindness, suggesting something positive rather than making it feel like a critique. In this way, she still gets to lead without pushing her sister around. At school, she’s received numerous awards for her leadership, making it on the principal’s exclusive list every month. Be proud of your take-charge child. She’s going to change the world for the better!
One day not long ago, my eldest came into my room while I was doing an afternoon meditation. I’ve always asked my daughters to leave me during this time because I need to replenish my mental cup. I tell them not to disturb me unless there’s an emergency.
My youngest took some time to understand this because she would come in to tell me her hairstyle fell. But my eldest never came in unless something was severe. My eyes flew open and the inner peace I’d been cultivating crashed down all around.
“What’s wrong?!?” I asked her.
“Mommy, could you take a look at that leadership program the school invited me to?”
She’d talked about it non-stop during the car ride home from school. I had told her I’d be happy to take a look at the paperwork after I got my meditation in and before I started cooking dinner. It took all my strength not to get upset with her. It’s her need to see things through.
Instead, I reminded her yet again that I would look after my meditation. To solidify my point, I made sure that as soon as I finished, the first thing I did was keep my promise to her so she could see through this dream of hers to be part of this special leadership team.
My girl is beyond energetic. I often joke that the reason I’m so tired is that she siphons my energy from me. She always sings a song, “I’m never tired! I’m awake!” It’s more of a chant really.
Her energy is even draining to her sister, who like me, would sleep all day if you let her (ah, what a beautiful dream!). She talks a lot and has loads of ideas, so how I handle it is, I make her channel that energy. I give her things to do that she enjoys (like the bracelet maker for example) and I use her need to do something to help me.
An example of this is when the house is a mess. I ask her (and her sister too) who wants to help me. Both of them can’t resist this, but my eldest takes it a step further and gets detailed with her cleaning. She needs to burn off the energy and to find positive ways to let her do it is always the best way.
Tips and Tricks for Positively Parenting
My baby is no longer a baby, having just turned 8. But looking back, the signs were all there that should be strong-willed even then. Knowing early on will not change them from being this way. It is part of their unique personality. You’ve got to cope with it, and you CAN use it to your advantage.
Plus, it benefits them for the future. Nourish their difficulties for it is what will make them a success in school and their careers someday. Not sure how to break through to them?
Here are some tips for navigating life with a strong-willed child:
- Allow them to have experiences
For your stubborn child to learn, you have to let them experience things. Of course, if they reach for a hot stove, stop them. But in non-dangerous situations, let them explore on their own.
- Let them do it their way
Shouting out orders to your strong-willed child will never work. Instead, you’ve got to encourage her to manage her own life. Even in younger children, you can allow them to prepare their things for school, organize their desk space, and handle their responsibilities. They were born to do this so let them thrive!
- Allow them to choose
You can’t call all the shots, especially not with a stubborn child. Instead, give her a choice of 2 things that are reasonable to you and let her pick one. This allows her to be in charge and fuels that sense of power without her having complete control over the family.
- Create solid routines
Kids, especially strong-willed ones, need routines. It makes them feel secure. Plus, they automatically know what they should be doing. If you get home from school and the habit has been created to do homework first, you’ll never have to chase after your child to get it done. She’ll likely come up to you and show you her completed work while you’re cooking dinner!
- Never, ever push
Remember my door example above? Don’t push your strong-willed child or they will completely double-down on whatever it is. Power struggles don’t help either of you. Find a way to open that door without pushing.
- Always be there to listen
One of the best things you can ever do for your strong-willed child is to listen. Don’t listen to reply. Simply attend. Let her talk it out, whether it’s an idea she has or feelings she feels. Create an encouraging and approachable environment so that whenever something’s on her mind, she’ll come to you about it.
Yes, that means listening to her tell you about how she solved a math problem by trying a different angle. But that also means when she’s bigger, she’s going to confide in you about more significant issues.
- Make a connection
Our kids always need to feel connected to us. It can be hard when you have other children too. It took time for my stubborn big girl to realize that I wasn’t intentionally giving more attention to her little sister. I was merely trying to help her sister reach a more independent state.
Part of it means making your husband take the younger child while you spend time lavishing the strong-willed one with attention. I realized some of her defiances was stemming from not getting to be with me, so I found something for us to do together, just us. Once she began to feel like I understood her, she stopped being so difficult.
The bottom line is this:
Our strong-willed kids need us to be reliable. They need us to handle them, but not disarm them of their strengths. When you choose to see their difficulties as advantages, suddenly the struggle disappears, and you’ve gained an ally. Good luck!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.