Stubborn. Bossy. Intense. Frustrating. These are all words used to describe strong-willed children. But, what you don’t often hear is high-spirited, confident, passionate, and determined. These words also describe kids who are known to be strong-willed. Does that sound familiar? If you are having a hard time parenting your strong-willed child, here are 11 helpful tips to help you stay positive and maintain your ground.
11 Helpful Tips For Parents With Strong-Willed Children
Depending on your kid’s personality, they might struggle to follow the rules you have in place and won’t hesitate to stand up for themselves. With a strong-willed child, you don’t ever have to worry about them handling the big wide world independently. However, these strong characteristics prove to make parenting more challenging at times.
As these are personality traits we tend to admire in adults, we don’t want to dimmish this budding sense of self that is happening, but kids also need to know that there is a time and place and as parents, we are their protectors.
What To Do When You’re the Parent to a Strong-Willed Child
This helpful list of dos and don’ts will help you to walk that fine line of parenting strong-willed children.
1) Focus On The Good
I am a firm believer in positive parenting and approaching the situation with tools and actions to help my child be their best selves. No one reacts well to being punished or yelled at for bad behavior.
Instead, aim to notice any of their good behavior and reward them for it! A simple act of praise, a sticker to add to a chart, or even a treat can all help to make the child feel more appreciated.
Even when disciplining, try to use some positive parenting techniques. Find something they did right, commend them for it and tie in the negative behavior with how they could change their actions or language next time.
Tip: If this is something that you struggle with (trust me- we have all been there. We are human!), I recommend checking out this bundle I put together for Calm Parenting. I like to use these tips and techniques to help me stand strong, assess situations calmly, and approach my kids with kindness and empathy.
2) Teach Effective Communication
If your child is throwing a fit, chances are they are feeling frustrated and don’t know how to communicate those feelings. Strong-willed children will always stand up for what they believe to be correct. If you promised a bike ride but no longer have time for it, they will feel as though they have been treated unfairly. They are dedicated to ethics, after all!
Avoid any kind of controlling language and instead learn to collaborate. Try to guide them through how they’re feeling and teach them to identify it. Learning to communicate big emotions will make everyone understand the situation better.
Tip: Check out the emotions identification toolkit to help kids dive deep into their feelings and emotions and uncover what’s going on under the surface and feel confident to communicate these revelations.
3) Teach Regulation Skills To Strong-Willed Children
Strong-willed children have strong emotions, which often come in a wave – large and overpowering for both you and the child. They don’t know how to handle these at times, and there most certainly will be outbursts. Kids also don’t grasp how their actions and words can affect others or even their future selves.
Teaching kids to manage emotions and impulses will lead to emotional and social maturity as they grow up. While they might have tantrums now, ideally, they learn to deal with these negative feelings in a healthy way by the time they’re an adult.
Tip: The Calm Down Toolkit helps kids develop calm down strategies and self-regulatory methods that work best for them, including mindful breathing and tracing patterns.
4) Be A Good Role Model
In regards to regulation skills, you always need to work on demonstrating the correct behavior. Kids will imitate what they see and hear, so you want to practice what you preach.
Instead of raising your voice, you close your eyes and take a couple of breaths to calm down; they mimic this behavior. Taking a breather can do wonders in any situation. When emotions run high, take a moment and return to the issue when you and your child feel calmer.
5) Get Playful With Strong-Willed Children
As determined as they are, this also leads to very passionate kids. They love getting their hands on new projects and just may become infatuated with a new activity for a whole week. This enthusiasm can get contagious, so you may as well try and match it!
In the future, this trait leads to very committed and fulfilled adults who love what they do. While they may have lots of energy as a child, embrace it and use this time to grow a stronger bond between the two of you.
6) Let Them Decide
Strong-willed children like to feel as though they have a say in their life. And, they rightfully should (to a certain extent)! Having control over your life even at a young age helps to develop problem-solving skills and independence.
Let your child be a part of the decision-making. Since making direct commands is a no-go for strong-willed children, ask them what they need to do in order to complete a task. Then together, you can come up with a plan.
It also helps to allow extra time for them to do things on their own. While some things are easier for us to do, such as clipping in a seatbelt, your child will feel accomplished about doing things on their own.
What NOT To Do When Parenting A Strong-Willed Child
1) Don’t Try To Change Them
The sooner you accept your child for who they are, the better it will be for everyone. The most significant step you need to make while parenting a strong-willed child is changing your perspective. This temperament is who they are and cannot be drilled out of them.
The characteristics of confidence, determination, independence, and passion are all traits we admire in adults. While parents want an easy-going and easy-to-control child who causes no trouble, that’s just not a reality for many.
These strong-willed characteristics are simply the child coming into their own. They don’t need any fixing. Instead, look at how they are setting themselves up for future success and how you can help them.
2) Negative Reinforcement
The benefits of focusing on the good were already mentioned, but avoiding unfair discipline practices should also be said. Trying to enforce timeouts or taking away toys will not always work out. Instead, a strong-willed child may refuse to cooperate, and then everyone will get frustrated. I can already feel the tension in the room rising!
In reality, what a child needs during these tense moments is a time to decompress and work out their feelings. This isn’t easy to do without a parent to assist them.
If you feel as though your child needs a break, take a break with them. Even a quick walk together in silence can do wonders.
3) Ultimatums Don’t & Won’t Work
If a child catches on that you REALLY want something to be done, such as packing for a trip or putting on their jacket to leave the house, you can bet they will dig their heels in. Kids will resist more when they sense an urgency to something they don’t want to do. Suddenly, they have leverage.
Instead, having rules in place ahead of time lets kids know what to expect. Since they always seek to understand, express why completing a task is important. For instance, packing ahead of time together ensures that you don’t forget anything important for the trip.
Actively discuss expectations, not just when you need to uphold them!
4) Don’t Label Strong-Willed Children
While it’s easy to throw out a label, such as bossy, stubborn, rude, etc., avoid saying any of these phrases to your kid. In the same way that no one likes to be told to calm down when they’re upset, this will only add fuel to the flame.
These phrases also tell the child to think of themselves that way, and we never want to bring down their self-esteem. Instead, aim to praise them for good moments.
If you notice “demanding” behavior in your child, think of it as good leadership skills that lead to independence. Praise them anytime they offer clear and kind communication to others and offer suggestions (lightly) on how to rephrase things for any negative communication you notice.
5) Give No Explanation
As questioners by nature, your child is much more likely to fight you on doing something if they don’t understand the reasoning behind it.
In moments of frustration or when you’re in a rush, you may offer explanations such as, “I’m the parent,” or, “Because I said so.” These explanations are not always enough and don’t really tell the child why it’s important to listen or do what they are told.
Try to explain why you want something to be done and the effect it will have. Alternatively, you can try to offer them choices and compromises, so they feel as though they are deciding too.
All in all, the key to parenting strong-willed children is more about changing our way of thinking and approach to parenting than trying to change who they are. Kids don’t exist as something for us to control. Instead, we have to let them be their own person. These skills your child already possesses are genuinely a benefit as they mature into an adult in society!
More Positive Parenting Resources:
- 9 Positive Parenting Solutions for a Yell Free Home
- Positive Parenting Strategy: The Key to Connection Can be Found in the Child Ego State
- Positive Parenting: What it is & What it isn’t
- 4 Main Parenting Styles: How Your Parenting Approach Affects Your Kids
- Teaching Feelings & 6 Steps to Help Kids Express Their Emotions