How to Raise a Strong-Willed Child

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Parent Educator and Family Coach, Kim DeMarchi gave tips on how to raise a strong-willed child. Click here for more information about Kim.

Q. What does a strong willed child look like? What characteristics do they have?

A. Stubborn, persistent, never backs down, demanding, bossy, relentless, challenging, wants to be in charge, locks in, difficult, and high energy .

Q. Fortunately, you say there is an upside to being strong willed! What are some of the positive characteristics of being strong willed?

A. Self motivated, KNOW what they want and go after it, inner directed, strong moral compass , less influenced by peer pressure, leadership qualities, integrity, big passionate feelings, and lives life fully.

Q. Why are strong willed kids so difficult all of the time???

A. No one likes being told what to do, but strong-willed kids find it unbearable. Strong-willed kids aren't just being difficult. They actually feel their integrity is compromised if they're forced to submit to another person's will. IF they're allowed to choose, they love to cooperate.

Q. So, how do parents protect those fabulous qualities of their strong willed child AND at the same time, encourage their cooperation?

A. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Having said that, there are some general parenting principles to keep in mind on a daily basis with your strong willed child. The first two we hear about a lot for all children, but use them especially for strong willed children. They are:

Instill routines and limits

Invite cooperation by creating routines together; they'll have more buy in. Let the routine do the talking. It takes the parent out of the equation. You must pick your battles. Perhaps, "In our

family, phones stay away from the meal table." OR "In our home, we do homework before

screen time."

Offer lots of choices

Give appropriate choices that you can live with and you find acceptable. It's kind to the strong willed child. "Do you want to leave now or in ten minutes? Okay, ten minutes with no fuss? Let's shake on it. Since it could be hard to stop playing in ten minutes, how can I help you ? Would you like a verbal reminder or a reminder with an egg timer?"

Q. What are some other things parents can do specifically with strong willed children?


Know that strong willed children are experiential learners

It is far more effective to let them learn through experience, instead of trying to control them.

They want to learn things for themselves, rather than accepting what others tell them. So, that means they will test limits over and over and over. They can't do something just because their

parent said so; that would compromise their integrity. They have to choose to cooperate.

Honor their desire for mastery

Let them take charge of as many of their own activities as possible. Let them dress themselves. Let them fold their own clothes. Let them roast their own marshmallow. Many strong willed kids become quite competent through their persistence on figuring something out. Allow him to do as much as he is willing or able to do. Kids who feel independent and in charge themselves, will have less need to be oppositional.

Give them authority over own body

“I hear that you don’t want to wear your jacket today. I think it's cold and I am definitely wearing a jacket. Of course, you are in charge of your own body, as long as you stay safe and healthy, so you get to decide whether to wear a jacket. But I’m afraid that you will be cold once we are outside, and I won’t want to come back to the house. Would you like to put your jacket in the backpack, and then we’ll have it if you change your mind. Or do you want to skip it?" It’s just hard for her to imagine feeling cold when she’s so warm right now in the house, and a jacket seems like such a hassle. She's sure she's right -- her own body is telling her so -- so naturally she resists you. You don't want to undermine that self-confidence; just teach her that there's no shame in letting new information change her mind.

Q. Is it important to try and find out the reasons they are being oppositional?

A. Yes!


Listen for the need that underlies the behavior. There is a viewpoint that is making your child hold fast to her position, and she is trying to protect something that seems important to her. Only by listening calmly to her and reflecting her words will you come to understand what’s making her oppose you. A non-judgmental: “I hear that you don’t want to take a bath. Can you tell me more about why?”might just elicit the information that she’s afraid she’ll go down the drain, like Alice in the song. It may not seem like a good reason to you, but she has a reason. And you won’t find it out if you get into a clash and order her into the tub.


Offer respect and empathy

Most strong-willed children are fighting for respect. If you offer it to them, they don’t need to fight to protect their position. And, like the rest of us, it helps a lot if they feel understood. If you see his point of view and think he's wrong -- for instance, he wants to wear the superman cape to church and you think that's inappropriate -- you can still offer him empathy and meet him part way while you set the limit. "You love this cape and wish you could wear it, don't you? But when we go to services, we dress up in our nice clothes to show respect. I know you'll miss wearing the cape. Would you like to take it with us so you can wear it on our way home, or do you want to wait until we get home?"

Q. Is it okay to force our strong willed kids to do things?

A. Know that winning a battle with your child always sets you up to lose what’s most important: the relationship.

Just remember, Strong willed children are special. Try not to take their non-compliance as a personal insult. They are very much their own unique person with their own agenda. Focus on gaining their cooperation by using the strategies above, not demanding their obedience. As long as parents can resist the impulse to "break their will", strong willed children often become terrific teens and adults.