What To Do About Your Strong-willed Child

Like most parents, the moment I became one was when my life totally changed. I became responsible for this little person and love instantly developed in my heart for them. As a father of three, I can tell you that every child is different. They are different in personality, in demeanor, in interests, in their reasoning, and just about any other way you can think of. First time parents think, “Oh so this is how this is going to go,” only to be thrown a curve ball when the next one comes. 

Our eldest son is laser focused on his interests, has what I call “selective patience” meaning he has patience for things that interest him, acts a bit goofy at times but is mature beyond his years. Our middle son is introverted, tender hearted, and is a free spirit. He wants to live in an RV when he grows up and clean swimming pools.

My daughter, on the other hand, changed the game. She is sweet, playful and friendly. She’s definitely a daddy’s girl. She’s my heart, my joy, and… our greatest sense of frustration. She is our strong-willed child. 

Anyone with a strong-willed child can relate to our experience. She does what she wants when she wants. If she doesn’t like it or is simply disinterested, she won’t be cooperative. And her mind could change on a dime so you never know what she will be strong-willed about. Her mood and opinion change continually. 

Navigating parenting with a strong-willed child is an adventure because you never know where the day is going to take you. Simple tasks like eating dinner, getting into the car, or going to bed can be a horn locked battle between parent and child. If you’re like me, naturally compliant, but have a strong-willed child, you may be tempted too often to let them have their way. Thankfully, my wife is more stubborn than our daughter and together we make the perfect blend of strength and gentleness. 

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way in raising a strong-willed child:

1. They are fighting for control so give them the power of choice.

It is much easier to get my child dressed in the morning if rather than picking something out and telling her to get dressed, I offer her two options. This gives her the sense of control and she gets to wear what she wants to wear. If I need her to turn off the video game and clean her room, I can tell her that she has the option of turning it off and coming back to it once she’s done with her chores or I could turn it off for her and not turn it back on after the room is clean. While these aren’t equal choices like two different outfits, it does give her the power to choose while directing behavior in the way I want it while also enforcing consequences for negative behavior. 

Sometimes choice is not an option, like when her safety or the safety of others is involved, but more often than not, we give her the power of choice. It is in her nature to want control over things and take charge. This could be a leadership quality developing for her, so we don’t want to stifle that, but we do want to reign it in. Give your child the power of choice. It builds confidence and develops their ability to make good decisions.

2. Pick Your Battles, but Be Consistent

Around 6:00pm every evening, the dinner table becomes a war zone. Battle lines are drawn and neither party wants to surrender. However, we feel it is important to have dinner together as a family. This is a battle we chose early on, and we’ve been consistent with it. 

So when our child who claimed they were starving ten minutes before dinner was ready is now no longer willing to come eat with us, we reinforce that this is the dinner they will eat and the dinner table is the place they will eat it. As time has gone by, she has been more willing to come when called because we chose to be consistent. 

Not everything will be worth fighting over, but be consistent with the things that are. Otherwise, they will learn that your will is a thing to be conquered and if they persist, you will relent. Don’t give them the upper hand. Consistency tells them you mean what you say.

3. Give them as much grace as you give them discipline.

This is a big one. We want our child to respect us but we also want them to trust us. If all we ever do is scold, nag, or discipline then they will believe they should take their problems to someone else who will listen to them and care for their needs.

Not everything is worth a fight with your child. Decide what you will need to waver on and where you will stand firm. Your child, though it may seem like it at times, is not against you. They are simply a different person than you with their own mind, their own thoughts and feelings, and their own way of interacting with the world. When we begin to see that, the tension begins to settle when they aren’t bending to our will. Our children are not extensions of us, but separate people created in God’s image.

Show them grace. If you received grace from your Heavenly Father, they should receive the same grace from you. We love accepting grace, but it is much harder to give it than receive it. Show your child what it looks like to give and receive grace.

4. Love them unconditionally.

This is pretty straight forward. No matter their behavior, love them. If they throw a tantrum, love them. If they are belligerent and refuse to listen, love them. If they completely ignore you, love them. 

Don’t just feel love towards them, as any parent should. Find ways to show them love. Tell them you love them regularly. My general rule is if I can count the number of times I say “I love you” in a day then I haven’t said it enough. Your strong-willed child needs to hear it.

Our daughter is going to grow up a leader. She will eventually learn to use her superpower of stubbornness for good, and not just for selfish gain. As parents, it is our duty to teach her to harness that superpower now.

How do you parent your strong-willed child? Leave a comment below to share your parenting tips.

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