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5 Ways to Thrive While Parenting a Strong-Willed Child

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My parents told me that when I was five years old, they couldn’t get babysitters to come back twice. I pushed boundaries and did things I shouldn’t have behind their backs. After raising a couple of strong-willed kids myself, and having a strong-willed granddaughter, I’ve recognized what I was missing as that five-year-old. I needed to be understood and for my strong will to be channeled in healthy ways.

That’s easier said than done. I still struggled to balance nurturing their indomitable spirits with teaching them to be respectful and responsible human beings. Now I get to watch one of my daughters parent her own strong-willed child with better tools than I had, and I see that it’s possible to thrive instead of just survive. If you’re parenting a strong-willed child, here are 5 things you can do to thrive too.

1. Give daily choices.

Regardless of what your personality is like, we all want to have the power of choice. Strong-willed children need it even more. Giving them choices in things that don’t matter as much will help them feel like they have some control. These choices can be what fruit to buy for snacks, which color bowl to use for cereal, whether to brush their teeth before or after storytime, or which day to do their chores. From toddlers to teens, having more choices in everyday things will lessen your child’s need to demand it when you can’t give him or her a choice.

Here are a few ideas for how to give kids the power of choice while not completely relinquishing control: Would you like to do A or B? When would you like to do___? I’ll be happy to take you to your friend’s house when your chore is completed. I’d be happy to give you the game controller as soon as your homework is completed.

2. Be consistent.

One of the ways strong-willed children get their way is through relentlessness. They are resilient, persistent, and determined. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that they aren’t trying to be bad kids. They are simply following their God-given nature to overcome obstacles. Childhood is the practice ground for when to push and when to comply with rules, boundaries, and limitations. While they need to be given choices, they also need absolute consistency with boundaries. No matter how dogged they are at trying to wear you down into relaxing these boundaries, it’s important to be firm.

When my middle daughter was a teenager, she would argue and cajole me to do what she wanted. One thing that worked for me was to say, “I will argue with you for $1 but I won’t do it for free. I also won’t change my mind. Would you like to continue this conversation?” She would then walk away. It worked every time.

3. Don’t blame yourself.

It’s so easy to feel like a failure as a parent when parenting a strong-willed child. The tantrums, disrespectful behavior, and rebellious choices aren’t an indication that you’re a bad parent. When you get your self-image out of the way, you will have more energy and creativity in handling your child.

Every parent of a strong-willed child will be embarrassed in public by him or her. It’s inevitable. Don’t take it personally. Keep your focus on the best way to navigate what is happening instead of how it is making you feel.

4. Channel it for good.

Discover some creative ways to celebrate your child’s boundary-breaking tendencies. Based on your individual child’s passions and interests, enroll him or her in activities that require overcoming. When you notice how a strong-willed child approaches obstacles, you can begin to see this personality trait as a gift. {TWEET THIS}

Sports, math and science camps, artistic endeavors, and competitions are all ways to foster a natural need to challenge. Encourage and celebrate your strong-willed kids as they maneuver through the complexities of their own limitations.

5. Look at the positive.

Strong-willed people are leaders, influencers, and innovators. They are the ones who find cures, build companies, create change, and lead nations. Being able to push against the status quo is why we have technology, air travel, laser surgery, and every other human advancement.

We also have a need for policies, laws, restrictions, and boundaries in order to have a healthy society. Learning when and how to balance between pushing against a limitation and complying with one is best learned in childhood. When you feel worn down and overwhelmed by your little firecracker, remember that your sacrifices are paving the way for a leader to emerge.

What are some ways you’ve found to thrive while parenting a strong-willed child?


When do you feel misunderstood by grown-ups?

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