Are you looking at the other children that seem to be so easygoing and easy to parent, and you wish you would know how to deal with your strong-willed child more effectively? Or you are a parent of more than one child, and your kids are so different. One is easy to parent, and the other is making you question yourself as it feels so hard to parent this difficult child.
Your child leaves you exhausted, challenged, and frustrated. Parenting can be an exhausting job on the best of days and can truly feel grueling on the hard days. When you have the additional responsibility of raising a strong-willed child, you will feel the limits of your patience being tested a lot.
“A strong-willed child, more than anyone else, needs to learn to use emotion and discussion to resolve issues. That’s the last child in the whole world you want to hit. ”
— SEAN HANNITY
Strong-willed children are often misunderstood.
Your child may be perceived as explosive, disobedient, disrespectful, or ungrateful. As a parent of a strong-willed and spirited child, it’s helpful to understand that they are not doing these things on purpose. They rather have a different perspective than the people around them. They are often misunderstood by adults who don’t know how to handle them.
Your parenting methods may don’t feel effective for this child, or you feel guilty after punishing your child or yelling at them. This can be unsustainable and frustrating for everyone. It may leave you feeling burned out and confused at the idea of guiding a child so set in their own ideas into adulthood.
In order to parent your child in a way that feels positive, supportive, and healthy for everyone, it can help to take a step back and assess what makes a strong-willed child tick and what they are communicating when it feels like they are testing you.
So let’s explore what a strong-willed child is and how to deal with a strong-willed child effectively that doesn’t leave you exhausted.
Characteristics of a strong-willed child
As a mom of a strong-willed child, I know it’s easy to get lost in the thoughts that they are often very loud, stubborn, explosive, and such a challenge to raise. However, these children also have many positive character traits that should not be overlooked.
As adults, we value them as great leaders, they are usually very creative and intelligent, and they know what they want and don’t want. They also have a strong sense of justice which makes them excellent at taking care of things before adults realize it.
Strong-willed kids are spirited, determined, and courageous. However, as a parent, some of your child’s traits are a hard pill to swallow on some days, and on other days they may plainly drive you crazy! Let’s look at their common characteristics when you deal with a strong-willed child.
Irrational and intense outburst
You may find that your strong-willed child is prone to irrational and intense outbursts of anger. Their frustration tolerance is very low, and they can blow over the tiniest things in a way that feels like a freight train running over you.
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Strong-willed kids can have their own strong opinion, and when they have made up their minds, they stand their ground. However, due to their stubbornness, you may find yourself regularly in power struggles because you can’t find common ground.
You might find your strong-willed child has the desire that the world should revolve solely around their ideas and how things should be. If they have made up their mind on how something should work, they stand up for it and don’t shy away to voice it vigilantly.
We all know how hard waiting can be, and we get easily impatient when our kids don’t leave the house as quickly we want them. We all know how frustrating waiting can be. As your strong-willed child is easily frustrated, impatience can become their middle name.
Independent Thinker that doesn’t want to comply
They test your boundaries and limits a lot because your child may need to experience things for themselves. Strong-willed children want to make their own mistakes rather than take the word of others. That’s why it’s hard for your to get them to comply with logic, rewards, or even harsh discipline.
The first that says no and the last one who says yes
These children are usually the first to say no and the last to say yes as they have a strong sense of independence. Their defiance is often seen as a challenge by other children, making it hard for them to make friends or play with others their age. However, you need to understand that this trait can indicate a healthy sense of self in your child. A person with a strong sense of self will not be easily swayed by others but instead, rely on their own strengths to get what they want.
Having a strong-willed child is a gift (even when it doesn’t feel this way)! When we shift our view of these frustrating traits, we begin to see that
Bossiness is actually developing leadership skills.
Stubbornness translates to perseverance and determination to achieve their goals.
Asking endless questions while sometimes frustrating, is maybe what they need to better understand the rules and the boundaries that exist to keep them safe and happy.
If these behaviors sound anything like your child, rest assured your child can be wonderfully parented and guided. Having the right tools in your belt to handle these things can see a big improvement in getting your child to cooperate while still helping them feel that they have some autonomy over what is happening in their environment.
Coping strategies for staying calm with your strong-willed child
“If your children fear you, they cannot trust you. If they do not trust you, they cannot learn from you.”
— LORI PETRO
Parenting a strong-willed child peacefully isn’t always easy. Which Parenting style is always easy anyway? However, over time, you will begin to see the positive effect this will have on your relationship with your child and your home. You have the incredible ability to be your child’s safe space. Although this may be frustrating at times, your child feels comfortable expressing their difficult emotions with you in a way that they cannot with others.
Role model patience
Instead of seeing this as a burden, you can choose to look at this as a beautiful gift! Every day of our parenting journey, we have a choice. When you feel yourself beginning to lose control of your emotions, you have the choice to blow up and lash out at your child, or you can choose peace (not permissiveness). Your child has less ability to control their emotions yet, but you can show them how!
Push your pause button
There are some simple ways to begin practicing your conscious parenting when you feel stretched thin. For example, counting back from ten before speaking can give you a moment to process the situation without impulsively saying something hurtful to your child that you may regret.
You can notice why you are feeling angry now, and you may find that this has nothing to do with your child! Instead, you may feel overwhelmed trying to do household tasks while your child requires a tremendous amount of your attention. Paying attention to what you feel can help you take some space from the situation to address the problem more appropriately.
Read more on how to stay patient with your kids here!
Voice your needs and feelings to build emotional literacy and emotional intelligence
A great idea, especially for younger children, is to speak out loud about how you are feeling. For example, if you are feeling touched-out and your child(ren) continues to want to be near you or climbing on you, you can speak out into the room, “I do not want to be touched right now. I need some space!” By doing this, you are modeling that it is okay to set a boundary while also avoiding directing any negative energy at your child. Eventually, your child may even learn to model this behavior for themselves, making it easier for you to understand what exactly it is that your child needs.
Breathe through your emotions
Finally, focus on breathing. Taking several deep breaths with a longer exhale can help diffuse some of your strong emotions. This gives you a moment to reflect on the best step to take moving forward and bring you some inner peace at the same time.
Conscious Parenting Tips for a strong-willed child
“Parents who pay attention can avoid power struggles, even with strong-willed kids, by empathizing as they set limits, give choices, and understand that respect goes both ways.”
— DR. LAURA MARKHAM
Conscious & Peaceful parenting is a great place to start with any child, especially those we may deem as “difficult.” There is no particular rulebook to follow when it comes to conscious parenting because families have different needs (read more on conscious parenting here).
This is more an approach focused on you as a parent who adapts to the situation and the child as needed. The goal of this parenting style is to guide your child to take action based on their own willingness to do something, rather than feeling that they are forced to. This can set your child up for lifelong success as they learn to become intrinsically motivated.
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Give them authority over their own body.
Strong-willed children have a high need for independence and want to decide for themselves. Allowing them to choose what they want to wear, where to brush their teeth, or when and where they do their homework gives them some control over their lives.
Of course, it might feel scary and silly for you to hand over this kind of control. Still, you will experience a child that pushes less back and becomes more cooperative on things that matter.
A tip from me as a certified conscious parenting and trauma coach, don’t force your child to be hugged or kissed, even by you. Instead, ask your child if it’s okay for them to be hugged or kissed, and accept the no. This teaches them about body safety, boundaries, and consent to prevent abuse.
Support your child with routines and rules to avoid power struggles.
Many strong-willed kids are inflexible and struggle with transitions. These children thrive in predictability and structure because they feel safe when they know what is coming.
Bedtime, for example, can be so much easier with a strong-willed child when you have a consistent and predictable routine. It can strengthen your relationship and fill their cup of connection with them. Don’t shy away from sticking to this routine even when your child gets upset. However, be empathetic and validating, “I know you want to hear another story, and it feels unfair. Tomorrow we will read again together.”
Visual boards can be helpful where the child can see what is coming next. Have your morning or a whole day set on a whiteboard, for example, with magnets so your child can always come back and see what is happening next.
Give your strong-willed child choices.
Giving your child choices can go a long way to bridging the gap between helping them conquer their feelings and still getting what you need as a parent. For example, if you need your child to get buckled in their car seat, you can say, “Would you like to buckle yourself in, or would you like me to do it for you?” If they don’t choose, let them know that you choose for them.
Another idea to try is offering a smaller choice that may lead naturally to the action you need them to take. For example, try “We will get in the car. Would you like to hop on one foot to get there, or would you like to race?” This still gives them the feeling that they are in charge of something while still helping you accomplish what needs to be done and avoiding a tantrum!
Don’t ask a questions or ask for permission, if you can’t handle a no
A huge mistake parents often make is asking their children a question, when they expect a certain answer. When the child doesn’t answer it the way we expect them, we get angry and force them to do it our way. This leads right away into a power struggle.
When you want your child to do something, avoid asking questions and make a statement. However, when you deal with a strong-willed child you can still offer a choice on how to get to your desired outcome.
Don’t use rewards or punishments.
Rewards may be a helpful tool to get your child to do what you want in the short run, but ultimately this can undermine them later in life (which is true for any child).
Again, this goes back to intrinsic motivation, making a task something your child inherently wants to do, rather than just doing something because they get a reward. Having your child feel motivated because they feel good doing it is much better than doing it just to get something out of it!
By using punishment to get your child’s obedience, you teach them to feel bad about themselves rather than their actions. Discipline is different from punishment. Punishment makes a child suffer for having a problem or lacking skill, while discipline is a constructive way to help your child do better next time.
You may be wondering how to get your child motivated then? By being a role model and living the values you want them to inherit.
Furthermore, a child always wants to please the parent. Therefore, by strengthening your relationship with them, they get more willing to cooperate and collaborate with you.
Offer them respect
The best way to get respect is to give it. When our child sees us modeling respectful behavior despite their tantrum or stubbornness, they will eventually realize that this is the appropriate way to communicate and behave with others.
Many of us were raised by our parents with the idea that adults don’t apologize to children, which may come up in our own parenting without realizing it. Saying you are sorry to your child when you make a mistake can go a long way in showing that it is okay to not be perfect, as long as we show integrity when we mess up. You will eventually begin to see your child use it with others and with you by modeling this! Call that a parenting win!
What to do when your strong-willed child has a tantrum or meltdown?
“When a child is upset, logic often won’t work until we have responded to the right brain’s emotional needs.”
— DR. DANIEL SIEGEL
Stop, Drop, Zero Talk
One of the core needs of humans is to be heard and understood. So when we struggle with our feelings, it feels good when we can vent, and someone gets us.
The same is true for our children. However, as parents, we are often annoyed by the intensity of our child’s feelings, get angry, or want to reduce them. As a result, we often end up in power struggles, yelling, and frustration on all sides in these moments.
A great strategy to get out of the emotional mess and my go to tip on how to deal with your strong-willed child during a meltdown or tantrum is with the stop, drop and zero talk strategy followed by showing empathy for them.
Stop – Stop what you’re doing-especially when it adds to their frustration
Drop – Drop on their eye level. It feels scary when a giant is lingering over you. By being on eye level, you make them feel interested and build rapport.
Zero Talk: Speaking to a child who has an emotional release, a tantrum, or meltdown does little to no good. Our words are often just impediments, even when trying to soothe.
Offer empathic listening
After the Storm has settled, try to be this person you would go to vent to and step into empathy. Empathy is the ability to imagine what someone else might think or feel. Imagine how validating and loved you feel when someone totally understands what you feel.
Be this person for your child. Practically, this means taking yourself out of your judgmental brain, listening to your children, and mirroring back feelings behind their words.
You don’t agree or disagree
You don’t worry about facts or logic
You do not try to change the person’s feelings, and you do not try to make the person feel better
You encourage the other person to talk. You quiet your own reactions and accept their feelings as real and valid.
This is so powerful in the long run with your child because strong-willed children are often very strong in their opinions and can be pretty vocal about them. If you are not willing to listen, they will shut down and not want to talk about it anymore about anything. When you are not willing to listen to their “little kids’ problems,” how can they trust you later with the big problems.
Overall, your strong-willed child is not a “bad kid.” They may be spirited or lively, but we know that they are not bad for this! They have a gift in the way that they do not let the world change them. They are resilient and won’t quit until they succeed.
These are some of the best traits you can have as an adult, so why would we ever want to break them of that strong will as children? By nurturing your child’s innate strengths with peaceful and conscious parenting, you will begin to see a transformative shift in the relationship and how your child interacts with their world.
Don’t forget to remind yourself every once in a while that you are doing an excellent job. Parenting is difficult, especially when you deal with a strong-willed child, but you will be so proud of the person your child has grown into.
Does this sound like permissive parenting to you?
Rest assured, peaceful and conscious parenting is anything else than permissive but is built on firm boundaries and limits to support the wellbeing of the whole family. Read my Blog Post Conscious Parenting Explained and how it differs from strict and permissive parenting.