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Inside: All the dos and don’ts of parenting a strong-willed child. We have 10 positive parenting strategies that actually work!
When you envision having a baby, you might have imagined a beautiful sparkly-eyed child holding their chubby arms out to you, saying “MAMA” for the first time.
What you might not have envisioned is your adorable child fiercely arguing about why the exact positioning of every single piece of food you put on their dinner plate is placed so catastrophically wrong.
This is my life.
My child is what you would call a strong-willed child.
And so I try to find comfort in what those with more experience say, “A strong-willed child is a good thing, they won’t be peer pressured into trouble later.” Sometimes remembering that helps, and sometimes it goes straight out the window as I face off against this 3-foot future professional debater who fights against everything logical, including wearing mitts, the rules of a game, heck even why drinking water is essential.
Parenting a strong-willed child is like a wild rollercoaster. It can be very up and down, emotional, frustrating, and beautiful all at the same time.
Your strong-willed little warrior may answer every single question with “no,” they might have tantrums that blow the roof off the house, and they might seek control in everything they do.
They want to know they are the boss, and they will exert every tactic within them to make sure you know it too!
Yes, strong-willed children can be challenging (especially when they are young).
But here’s the thing:
These kids can grow up to be the most incredible, strong-minded, ambitious teens and young adults and with the proper parenting techniques, we can steer them in the right direction.
So let’s get right into our best tips for parenting a strong-willed child.
(Read more here on why I love my strong-willed child.)
Signs of a Strong-Willed Child
You might be parenting a strong-willed child if your child is:
- Prone to intense outbursts (excessive tantrums)
- Always asking “why”
- Constantly arguing (they love power struggles)
- Always fighting for control, bossy, and says NO a lot!
These are all strong-willed child characteristics.
A strong-willed child is also self-motivated, determined, and confident.
They believe in themselves and go after what they want (almost at any cost), and are almost immune to extreme pressure.
Often, teachers, relatives, even parents call them “difficult” or “challenging.”
But really they are brilliant, passionate, children who simply believe in what they think or want.
They are not easily persuaded to change their mind and beliefs. And news flash, this is an excellent quality to have!
Strong-willed kids are courageous and spirited.
Often, you may see them on the playground supervising their friends on how to play a sport properly.
These kids test limits. They want to learn new things all by themselves without YOUR help!
You might hear them say, “I do it,” while they slap your helping hands away.
Emotionally, these kids usually have deep and extreme feelings. They feel all their emotions wholly and authentically (more on that below).
Strategies for Parenting a Strong-Willed Child
Parenting a strong-willed child is not for the faint of heart.
Get ready for the ride of your life.
Parenting a strong-willed child will require a lot of deep thinking, deep breathing, control over your emotions, avoidance of negative reinforcement, and intentional parenting.
We need to parent these strong-willed kids in a way that doesn’t break their spirits. (This is crucial to their success later in life).
Did you know that kids actually want your approval? (Despite what it may sometimes seem like) The more you believe in them (the more accepted they feel) the better they will behave.
Fun Fact: According to Time Magazine, “A study conducted, which tracked students from their late primary years until well into adulthood, found that kids who frequently break the rules or otherwise defy their parents often go on to become educational over-achievers and high-earning adults.”
If this true, my son might one day be the richest person in the world!
It’s funny, but most parents find that their child’s traits that give them the most frustration (especially between years 3 to 5) are the EXACT same traits they want their kids to have when they are grown-ups.
In the end, the goal isn’t to break down your child or remove these personality traits. After all, these are the traits that make them, well them.
So maybe what everyone says is right, maybe I should just cherish these fierce traits, take a deep breath and learn how to work with my son, instead of against him.
By figuring out a way to work through the challenges associated with these traits we can support healthy growth and development.
And to do that we need some positive parenting strategies.
Quick Tips on parenting a strong-willed child
1. Create and communicate family rules and boundaries
Children need to know what is expected of them in order to succeed. And they also need to know that there are consequences for certain behaviors. Allow your kids to be involved in setting the family plan and ensure that they understand the rules and the consequences of breaking the rules.
2. Make the expectations clear and explain consequences.
For example, if you want your kids clean up their toys make sure they understand that they need to clean up before they will get their chosen treat. You can delay the gratification until you get full cooperation.
3. Always listen
I suggest rephrasing what your child says to show that you understand. Authoritative parenting is the most favored parenting style and you can learn all about that here.
Above are 3 quick tips I’d suggest implementing into your family routine. Below we have 8 more strategies you can start to sprinkle throughout your days.
8 Tips on Parenting a Strong-Willed Child
1. Allow independence
One of the best tips on parenting a strong-willed child that I can give you is to allow them to do things by themselves.
I know, I know, it’s so much easier (and faster) if you just do it yourself.
No matter how hard it is to sit back while your baby boy tries to unsuccessfully zip their zippers and button their buttons, allowing them to try will help your child feel confident and capable.
Try to work extra time in your daily routine to allow your child to do basic things independently. (You can supervise)
Your child will appreciate the space to feel self-assured and grow their confidence.
2. Learn & teach coping strategies
Strong-willed children often go through strong emotional phases.
Your kiddo might struggle to find effective ways to deal with their feelings or let them out.
We have a lot of resources here at Mindfulmazing to help kids process big feelings.
- 55 Anger Management Tips for Kids
- The Ultimate Guide to Anxiety in Kids
- How to Deal With Tantrums Like a Pro
I recommend our Anger Rescue Kit for Kids. This kit has 60+ pages of anger management strategies, which include helping your child verbalize difficult feelings and emotions, to creating a calming plan, to drawing a picture of what their anger looks like.
Does your child ever get angry?
If your kiddo suffers from BIG emotions, you’ve just gotta check out this life-saving tool, the Anger Rescue Kit for Kids. With over 60 pages this will quickly become your new go-to for helping your child develop appropriate coping strategies.
Try talking to your children. Let them know how your day was, what difficulties you faced, and how you feel now.
Show your child how to express their feelings by sharing your own emotions.
Another great way to teach your child how to deal with intense feelings is by labeling them out and talking through them.
For example: “I am feeling so frustrated that I can’t find my favorite shirt. Do you know how I know I’m angry? Well, because my forehead is hot, my hands are clenched into fists, and I want to yell! But I’m going to calm down with deep breathing, then think of all the possible places I could have put it. In the future, I’ll make sure I put it away right after it’s been cleaned.
When you do this in front of your child, they learn that it is okay to feel angry and frustrated. They also learn that strategies can be implemented to calm down (like breathing and problem-solving.)
3. Dive into difficult behavior
There might be times when your child acts utterly horrible.
Am I right?
But you should never run away from this. This is the exact moment where your child needs you the most.
Big emotions are swirling like a sand storm inside your strong-willed child’s head. There is no logical pattern or a proper direction for these big feelings.
And young kids don’t have the skill set to appropriately let these feelings out (that part of their brains doesn’t develop until early adulthood)
Instead of banishing your overwhelmed child to their room, or even worse, yelling and screaming back at them, why not dive into this behavior and try empathizing with your child’s situation.
Let them know you’ve felt the same way at times, that you understand, or you get it. Talk with them about how they are feeling.
Having said that, this is not to say an overwhelmed child shouldn’t ever spend some time alone in their room’s cooling off, it’s simply suggesting alternatives that might surprise you.
(We’ve got a fantastic article here on things to say to an upset child – and things you shouldn’t say).
Mindfulmazing’s best tip for calming an upset child
My favorite empathizing technique, that will change your life, is what I call the because, because, because technique.
This is a technique where you will say (out loud) what is bothering your child and state three because reasons to show you understand how that event would be upsetting.
It goes something like this:
Your child throws a tantrum because they don’t want to go to bed.
Instead of saying, “Get to bed because I said so.”
Try saying, “I understand why you are so upset about going to bed, because going to bed is boring, and because you don’t like to be separated from mommy or daddy and all the fun we could be having, and because sometimes I know you get scared in your room all alone.”
This works wonders. Trust me. (And always use three because statements).
Try this before you move onto the problem-solving step.
Strong-willed children need you to recognize and understand their side of the story more than anything.
Have you ever considered creating a calming corner? This is a safe, positive place for upset children to go to calm down. It’s free from blame, shame, or pain.
4. Offer choices
Kids often feel like they have no control.
They must wear shoes to school, put on sunscreen before they go outside, and go to bed at a reasonable time.
This lack of control (over anything) can result in kids acting out, especially the strong-willed ones.
Whenever possible, let your kids feel like they have some control by offering choices.
For example: “Would you like a grilled cheese or a turkey sandwich for lunch today?” “Do you want me to put sunscreen on your arms or legs first?” “Do you wanna wear your black or white shoes today?”
Giving your children choices can help them feel in control of a situation and maybe prevent a meltdown.
5. Refashion Your Mindset
One of the most challenging parts of parenting can be learning to change your own mindset.
You must learn to control your own emotions and model appropriate behavior. (And give up a little control as well).
Try to think and talk about your child’s “difficult” personality traits in a positive way.
When you start thinking about your child’s behavior positively, it can make parenting less frustrating and stop your child from feeling like the “bad” kid. (Because they will pick up on what you think about them)
Instead of warning the teacher at the beginning of the school year that little Johnny is stubborn, tell the teacher they are passionate. Instead of thinking your child is bossy, remind yourself they are assertive and possess leadership qualities. Instead of yelling at them for doing things differently, understand that they think out-of-the-box.
When you reform your mindset about how you think and talk about your child, it will help them learn new things, explore themselves, feel supported, and do great things in life.
6. Circle Back
If you believe the most helpful teaching happens in the heat of the moment, you are wrong.
If you are having a particular struggle with your child, don’t wait until they erupt to tackle the subject. Sit down when they are calm and talk about the struggle.
Perhaps role-play how they could have behaved differently. Talk about what’s upsetting them. Talk about what might help them feel better or steps you could take as a family to improve the situation.
It is your responsibility to teach your children gently and with all your love.
This has been a life-changing parenting book for my family. It’s the perfect strong-willed child parenting book, It’s all about helping parents understand “difficult” children, and provide them with the appropriate tools to create a happy home.
Screaming, swearing, crying, hitting, kicking, spitting, biting...these are some of the challenging behaviors we see in kids who are having difficulty meeting our expectations. These behaviors often leave parents feeling frustrated, angry, overwhelmed, and desperate for answers. In this fully revised and updated book, Dr. Ross Greene helps you understand why and when your child does these things and how to respond in ways that are nonpunitive, nonadversarial, humane, and effective.
7. Create routines and predictability
Goodbye single spontaneous days, hello routine charts and predictability.
Kids thrive on routines. And despite how dysregulated they may seem at times, they need routines.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s what the collaborative study, led by University at Albany psychologist Jennifer Weil Malatras, found that individuals who grow up with predictable, daily routines are less likely to have time management or attention problems as adults.
When you create routines you lessen the likihood that a child will feel like they’ve lost control, which will lead to them struggling to get control back.
And the bonus is: you won’t be the bossy guy bossing your kids around. It’s just what the rules say. I like to use routine charts, so I can say, “hey, it’s on the chart, I didn’t make the rules.”
Little chart, BIG possibilities. Still searching for a fun and helpful
If you are looking to streamline routines with your kids, this might help:
Final Thoughts on Parenting a Strong-Willed Child
In the end, parenting a strong-willed child is all about teamwork.
Work together instead of against each other.
Communicate positively, avoid yelling and negativity.
Parenting a strong-willed child can be challenging but also beautiful.
And you can rest easy knowing you are raising a tiny human who will carve their own path in the world and won’t let anyone or anything stand in their way.
By following these ten steps to parenting a strong-willed child, you’ll be on your way to a straight route of success for your child.
I’d love to hear your strong-willed child stories below. Leave a comment.
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