5 Highly Effective Tips for Parenting a Strong Willed Child
Parenting a strong willed child is no easy feat.
(FYI this post contains affiliate links to make shopping for my favorite resources that I personally use and love, easy!)
Parenting a strong willed child is difficult, exhausting, testing and ongoing. The good news is, having a strong willed child is definitely a positive thing and I’m going to share why that is, and some highly effective techniques that will actually help you develop a positive relationship with your child!
My children can drive me crazy (especially when they are being strong willed about different things ALL AT THE SAME TIME), but I’m actually really thankful that they are this way.
Why? Well, after reading an amazing blog post from The Military Wife and Mom, and the listening to the Audio Books You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias, and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury, I now know why this is good for their future. The advice from these resources resonated so much with me, so I wanted to share it with all of you.
As I young child, I was painfully shy. When I was in primary school I was very quiet. I had my group of friends but I wasn’t very outgoing. In high school I started to come out of my shell a bit but I got bullied in Year 9. I didn’t really know how to stand up for myself or make my own decisions. Even as an older teen and even in my early 20s I was always one to follow the crowd and just do what everyone else was doing. I didn’t know how to say no and I didn’t have the confidence to pave my own way and stick up for what I believed in.
I am so thankful that my children are the complete opposite of what I was. They definitely know how to say no and love to negotiate. They are confident, funny and set in their ways, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Firstly it’s important to know something amazing about strong willed children…
They are natural born leaders.
Strong-willed kids are the leaders of our future generation. They are the kids who go against the grain and pave the way. They are the ones who will become business owners and emergency room charge nurses and school principals and police commissioners.
Raising a leader requires extraordinary parenting. Your child doesn’t just need a normal amount of patience and guidance from you. They need extraordinary patience and guidance.
You don’t have to apologize.
Unless your child is harming another person in some way, you don’t have to look at people and apologize for your kid’s behaviour.
When your kid is laying on the floor of Target crying because he wants a toy and you’re not going to buy it, there is no need to apologize to all those people staring at you.
You don’t need to apologize for making another person’s shopping experience uncomfortable. That’s their issue because they haven’t gotten the memo: The best mums are the mums with the screaming kids.
You’re the mum doing the hard work. You’re the parent not giving in. You’re the one teaching all of the life lessons.
This is not an easy job and there will be tears. Carry on, mama. Don’t apologize for being a good mum and doing the hard work.
Strong-willed kids are amazing.
When you’re in the elevator and your kids are on the floor crying and you think you’ve failed, remember this: defiant kids are actually the best thing ever.
Your child is the one who will turn down the little blue pill at a high school party. Your child is the one who will stop a friend from drinking and driving. Your child is the one who will start a small business and grow it into a billion-dollar company. Your child is the one who will parent with patience and guidance even when she wants to hide. Your strong-willed toddler is filled with greatness. You just have to find it, draw it out, and allow it to shine.
So how do you manage your strong willed child?
It’s bedtime again and all the toys need picking up. You ask your child to help but they don’t. In the end, you do it yourself because it just seems easier.
So often in parenting, you find yourself in these battles. Battles where the solution seems pretty simple – just pick up the toys—yet your child puts on their boxing gloves. They are ready to fight you over simple things like eating dinner, going to sleep, playing peacefully.
We know from science and research that strong-willed kids are often the world changers. They’re natural born leaders, who typically pave the way when no one else will.
Basically, you’re raising a world changer, and it’s a heavy burden to carry. I know.
Which is why these five overlooked, yet highly effective tips for parenting a strong-willed child are so important.
1. Lean into (not away from) difficult behavior.
When your child is acting horrible, this is the exact moment he or she needs you the most. To guide. To teach. To coach.
Because inside your strong-willed child’s head, crazy emotions are swirling around. There’s no logical pattern or direction. The emotion kinda just spins how it pleases.
Instead of ignoring the behavior, sending kids to their rooms or escalating emotionally yourself, lean straight into difficult behavior by validating and empathizing with your child’s situation, even if it doesn’t seem logical to you.
If you aren’t sure what to say, these are 3 simple and easy to remember ideas:
“You don’t want to _______.”
“You don’t like that.”
“You wish you could ______ instead.”
More than anything, strong-willed kids want you to recognize their side of the story. You don’t need to change your boundary. Just add in the empathy and validation, and you’ll see the difference.
2. Look for the hidden messages.
As much as we wish kids could articulate what’s really going on inside their heads, the truth is that their thinking brains are not developed enough to do this (Brace yourself; full maturity of the pre-frontal cortex doesn’t happen until adulthood).
Think of yourself as a parenting investigator looking for the hidden messages. Each time your child acts out, ask yourself, “What is the underlying reason for this behavior?”
Every behavior carries a message.
To dig deeper and find the underlying message, start by looking at the three basic needs all kids have: power, experience and connection.
- Power: Does your child want to feel more control over choices and basic decisions?
- Experience: Does your child want to do more things on their own, first-hand?
- Connection: Does your child need more quality time where you wholeheartedly connect?
In the earlier example of the twins refusing to clean up their mess, I saw it as a hidden message over power. Our day was filled with errands and chores and fulfilling our adult agendas, which is part of life.
However, it can breed power struggles at the end of the day when kids don’t feel like they had any control over their day (more on how we fixed it at the end of this post).
3. Flip Your Roles
If you are really struggling with parenting a strong-willed child, focus on how you are feeling in those moments:
“Angry, frustrated, irritated, tired, fed-up, weary, at a loss for words, like you’re failing, like nothing you are doing is working, like your messages aren’t getting through, that your child doesn’t understand you very well.”
Whatever you are feeling, fill in your blank. Then flip it!
Take all those thoughts and feelings in your head and pretend it’s your child saying to you that they are…
“Angry, frustrated, irritated, tired, fed-up, weary, at a loss for words, feeling like they’re failing, like nothing they do is working, like nothing they say is getting through to you.”
Then respond to your child in a way you’d like them to respond to you. Kids do as we do.
If you aren’t sure where to start, these are two simple ideas to try:
- Reach out and hug your child
- Say, “This is hard for you. Can we start over?”
This is where parents can jump straight back to number one: leaning into difficult behavior with empathy and validation.
4. Kids will communicate until they feel heard.
Whether kids communicate directly or via hidden message, one thing is true: kids will continue to communicate until they feel heard.
Unless they are sure you received their message, they will continue trying to communicate in any way they know how. Even if it means disobeying over and over again. Or saying “Mum! Mum! Mum! MUUUUMMM!”
The easiest way to help kids feel heard is to reflect back everything your child is communicating to you both verbally and non-verbally.
5. Everything is perfect exactly as it is.
I know parenting a strong-willed child is dog-tiring. You want the never ending cycle of power struggles and temper tantrums to end. You want to discover a magic trick for how to make kids listen.
But everything is perfect exactly as it is.
This is the way it’s supposed to be. Your strong-willed child is supposed to fight you now in the younger years. And you’re supposed to help them reign in those strong-willed tendencies and develop self-control.
Because learning to cope with strong-willed behavior (learning self-control) is best learned in childhood with a parent who loves them enough to weather the storm. Rather than in adulthood when the real world will let you drift out to sea (or worse, jail).
You might be wondering…Well how will you get them to pick up the toys?
Try saying something like “You know, today was hard for you. We were running errands and doing all the things mum and dad wanted to do, but you didn’t get to do anything that you wanted to do. And now to top it all off, I’m telling you to pick up this big mess on the floor. And you don’t really feel like it. Let’s play a silly game. We can race to see who can put the toys away the fastest or we can see who can shoot the most toys in the basket. Which game would you like to play?”
When it seems like your child fights you on every request, lean into the behavior, find the hidden message, reflect those messages back to your child, and remember this:
Each act of defiance or battle of wills is another opportunity to help your child learn how to reign in their emotions and develop self-control. Everything is perfect exactly as it is.
Want some more tips? Here is my go to guide to help end power struggles with your child!
How to End Power Struggles with Your Child
Sign-up to unlock "How to End Power Struggles with Your Child."