Raising a strong-willed child can be both a rewarding and challenging experience.
They can be a handful and push you to wonder whether you are strong enough to raise them till adulthood because the force of friction you feel from them can be really strong and can drive you to your wits’ end.
Sometimes, when I feel tired after the struggles, I try to remind myself how these qualities that drive me crazy now, can be a blessing for them in the future.
Well, what’s parenting without these struggles right?
The struggles and the tears you shed somehow make it worthwhile, because you are getting stronger in the process. Nobody loves it, but it is what it is.
But that doesn’t mean you have to deal with their need to dominate the power struggles in silence. There are ways to draw the line and meet them there.
It’s not a battle by any means, but as a parent, you are the leader and you have the power to lead them and discipline the strong-willed children with the right strategies.
The strong-willed kids may look like they can do everything on their own.
But the truth is, a strong-willed child also needs a parent’s guidance to help them develop important social and emotional skills, such as empathy, self-control, and problem-solving.
Without clear expectations and consequences, these children may struggle to regulate their behavior and make responsible decisions.
As a parent, it’s essential to understand that these spirited children possess unique traits, such as determination, perseverance, and an unwavering sense of self.
To effectively discipline a strong-willed child, and if you want to practice positive parenting, you must learn to cultivate a balanced approach that fosters mutual respect, promotes clear boundaries, and encourages positive behavior.
The key is to remember that discipline is a way to guide your child and not a means to punish or control them.
By learning and implementing effective discipline strategies, you can create a strong foundation for a successful parent-child relationship and set your strong-willed child on the path to future growth and development.
Understanding Strong-Willed Children
Reasons Behind Their Behavior
A strong-willed child often displays behavior that can be challenging for parents. To discipline them effectively, it’s essential to understand the reasons behind their behavior.
Their temperament plays a significant role in their actions.
Strong-willed kids usually have intense emotional reactions when things don’t go their way.
Strong-willed children typically require more guidance and discipline, as their natural inclination is to learn differently and experience the consequences of their choices and behavior. They don’t want to do something just because you told them to.
They just happen to crave more personal autonomy and want the freedom to decide the matters concerning them, and unlike compliant kids, they are more curious to know what would happen if they follow their own likes and dislikes. They are not gonna listen to you “talking” about the consequences, they want to “experience” it in their own way.
But if you build the right connection with them, you can learn to communicate with them effectively, build their trust and as a result, gain more cooperation.
Keep in mind that strong-willed children are highly passionate, independent, and motivated individuals.
Their desire to push boundaries and challenge authority can be a source of frustration for you, but it is vital to remember that it also means they have the potential to be resourceful, creative problem-solvers if nurtured correctly.
If you want to know more about the traits of strong-willed kids, here are 11 characteristics of strong-willed kids and how each trait will help to build a positive future for them.
Strategies for Disciplining Strong-Willed Children
The most important thing you can learn to discipline a strong-willed child is to learn to be solution-oriented rather than trying to control the situation or even worse, the child itself.
Strong-willed kids absolutely hate being told what to do, and will try to push the limits you set because they want to be in control.
But as a parent, you are responsible to feed them, clothing them, taking care of their academics, and a ton of other things. And the biggest struggle with strong-willed kids can be to make them do these things when they don’t want to.
But don’t be in despair! Let’s take parenting a strong-willed child as a challenge and learn the following techniques that will not only help you to discipline them effectively but also improve your relationship with them.
The following are some techniques you can use to discipline a strong-willed child:
1. Connect with Them
Establish a strong emotional connection with your strong-willed child. Make sure you spend time with them, understand their feelings, and connect on a deeper level. Connection is important for all kids, not only strong-willed ones.
Only when their love buckets are filled, they can listen to you effectively because kids have the need to feel belonging and significant. When they have unmet needs, they try to get them by misbehaving. That’s true for all kids.
Spend one on one time with your child for at least 10 minutes a day. and doing that consistently will help to improve your connection with them. This will help them feel secure and more likely to listen to your guidance.
Consider connection as the foundation for your relationship with them. Whenever I feel like my relationship with kids is not going as I expect, I like to double down on connection time because that’s where the magic lies.
2. Be respectful
Strong-willed kids are highly opinionated and have a strong sense of self. Hence they want to feel respected for their opinions.
If they want to wear a yellow frock instead of the blue one, they want that decision to be respected.
Respecting strong-willed children means acknowledging their autonomy and allowing them to have a say in their own lives.
It’s important to understand that strong-willed kids are not being difficult on purpose. They are not trying to defy you or make your life harder. They simply have a different way of looking at the world, and they need to be approached in a way that respects their unique perspective.
Respecting strong-willed kids mean respecting their individuality and not shaming them for not being obedient or submissive.
If you have other kids who are more compliant, it can only do more harm when you say,
“She listens to me when I ask her, why can’t you do the same?”
Well, they don’t want to because they have a different opinion.
And also, try to respect their choices as much as you can.
In addition to honoring personal choices, it is also important to value the opinions of strong-willed kids. They often have unique perspectives and ideas that should be taken into consideration. By listening to and respecting their opinions, they will feel heard and validated.
For example, if a strong-willed child has an idea for a project or activity, it is important to take their input into consideration. By doing so, they will feel valued and respected, which will encourage them to continue to share their thoughts and ideas in the future.
But there can be times when you can’t agree with them no matter what.
Like, I can’t agree with my kids if they ask to use the tablet every day. Our household has certain limits on screen time and I expect them to respect those rules.
So, if you are respectful to them in other matters whenever it’s possible, you can demand it back too, because respect is a two-way street.
But as said earlier, if you connect with them deeply and respect their choices as much as you can, you can expect your child to learn that too.
And there are times you can strike a deal with them when you both want different things.
For eg, if they want to have screen time now and if they haven’t studied for their test, you can say,
“I am sorry. As much as I want to give the iPad to you, I want to make sure you study for your test first. And then you can have your screen time.
Even if they throw tantrums, stick with what you said and don’t give in. When you do that enough times, you build credibility in your own boundaries and they learn that too.
3. Pick the battles carefully
Not all battles are worth fighting for and it can’t be truer than in a strong-willed child’s case.
Try to learn that not every issue is worth fighting over. Be consistent with the rules that truly matter, but also learn to let go of the less important issues. This will save your energy for more important aspects of parenting and improve your relationship with your strong-willed child.
Once you engage in a power struggle, it’s hard to pause and think and since you don’t want to lose, you might want to win the battle at any cost.
You might be able to win because you have more authority and power, but that will be the result of exercising control over them which they absolutely can’t stand.
And in the course of time, the most important thing – your relationship with them – can be damaged, which no parent wants to imagine, right?
So let go as much as you can even if you don’t agree with their choices. If it’s not a matter of life and death and if no important values are compromised, let go. Or strike a deal that you both can live with.
4. Give choices and Ask for opinions
A strong-willed child has a high need for respect. When they engage in power struggles with you, it’s probably because they want to be respected.
Empower your child by providing options and involving them in decision-making processes. Asking for their opinions and preferences will make them feel valued and give them a sense of control.
For eg, you can ask them what they want for dinner before preparing it, or what chore they wanna choose to do, etc
And give choices that you can live with so that it doesn’t lead to another fight.
Another example: Instead of saying “It’s time for bed,” you could say “Someone looks sleepy here. Do you want to read a story before bedtime or pick out your pajamas first?” This flexibility allows your child to feel a sense of autonomy and reduces the likelihood of resistance.
Avoiding rigid decision-making can be particularly helpful when dealing with power struggles that are related to routine tasks, such as getting dressed or doing chores. Presenting your child with options provides an opportunity for them to assert their independence in a way that still respects your guidance and authority.
5. Give outcomes and be flexible
One strategy that is highly useful for parenting a strong-willed child is, giving outcomes and being flexible with the how and when. This works with tasks that are not time-sensitive.
For example, if you want your child to declutter and organize their room, you can tell them you expect to do it when they are free and give them full control over when they can do it or how they want to do it.
This gives them a lot of control over the task and can expect lesser power struggles than in the scenario if you tell them you want to do it now.
6. Keep the communication channels open
Maintain open and honest communication with your child. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings, and be receptive to their input. This will help build trust and lead to better overall communication within the family.
One of the most important things you can do to maintain a good communication channel is to listen. As we know, strong-willed kids are highly opinionated and it truly matters to them that we listen to what they think about the matter at hand, even if you agree with them or not.
Listen fully and acknowledge their feelings. You will get to know how their mind works and why they feel the way they do. And you will get much better cooperation from them.
7. Set limits and boundaries on unnegotiable things
Establish clear limits and boundaries for your strong-willed child, especially regarding non-negotiable rules. Stick to these rules and explain the consequences of not following them. This will help teach your child the importance of respecting rules and boundaries.
When parents remain calm yet firm in holding limits with their children, it helps the children learn to respect boundaries and develop emotional regulation skills.
Setting boundaries is a good way to discipline a strong-willed child because by setting boundaries and giving your child clear expectations, you can help them feel more in control of their lives.
When you set boundaries, you’re not trying to control your child. You’re simply giving them a framework to work within. This framework helps them understand what’s expected of them and gives them the freedom to make choices within those expectations.
8. Be consistent
Be consistent in enforcing rules and consequences. This will help your child understand the expectations and create a sense of stability.
Kids will always try to push the boundaries, especially the spirited ones. But as a parent, when you stay firm and consistent they know that the boundaries you set are not to be messed with.
When you set limits and enforce consequences after listening to their needs and wants and enforcing connection time, they will be more compliant and respectful towards your decisions.
If you don’t enforce the boundaries consistently, your child will not take them seriously.
Here are some tips to help you be consistent:
- Be clear and firm when enforcing boundaries.
- Be consistent in the consequences you have set.
- Don’t give in to your child’s tantrums or negotiations.
- Be a good role model by following the same boundaries you have set for your child.
And also, be consistent in correction if they repeat the same behaviors. If you are not following up consistently, they will know when to push the buttons and engage with you in a power struggle.
9. Stop threatening
Avoid using threats as a way of disciplining your child. Instead, focus on effective discipline strategies, such as positive reinforcement, to encourage desired behavior.
Threatening may work with many kids, but it can raise resistance from a strong-willed child.
They may see threats as a challenge to their autonomy. Hence, threats can create a negative and stressful environment that may make the child more resistant to cooperation.
Instead, strong-willed kids may respond better to clear and consistent expectations, positive reinforcement, and opportunities to make choices and have input in decision-making.
Building a strong relationship based on mutual respect and trust can also help foster cooperation and reduce the need for threats.
10. Say the Magic Word
This is a tip I got from the book ‘You Can’t make me’ by Cynthia Tobias, which is a good book to read on parenting strong-willed kids.
Whenever you ask your strong-willed child to do something, add “okay?” in the end.
Adding “okay” at the end of a sentence can foster a sense of mutual respect and understanding. And if they don’t agree with you, ask them why they don’t want to do it.
Giving the space to explain gives them some control over the matter. But ultimately some tasks are non-negotiable and have to be done. So you can explain to them using the other positive discipline strategies you learn here and reach a compromise.
When speaking to your child, show them respect by acknowledging their thoughts and feelings.
11. Show them affection
I think this is something we forget to do in the hustle-bustle of our busy lives. We sometimes forget to hit the ‘pause’ button and show kids the affection they need.
When we are all about ordering and running behind them to feed them, bathe them or make them do homework, they miss out on the essential display of love.
This, in fact, can make them feel like we only talk to them to make them do something and nothing else.
So make sure you keep your screens away for some time regularly when they talk to you and show affection at random times by giving them a hug or a kiss or just a random tap on their shoulders.
Regularly express your love and affection for your child. This will help maintain a strong connection and create a safe environment where your child feels secure and loved.
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12. Let them learn through experiences
Strong-willed kids are experiential learners. They don’t want to listen to your blabbering about consequences but rather would learn those by themselves.
Let your strong-willed child learn from their own choices and behavior. Give them the opportunity to experience the consequences of their actions in order to learn valuable life lessons whenever possible.
If they don’t get natural consequences for their actions, implement logical consequences through which they can learn the after-effects of their actions.
13. Stay away from punishments and avoid fighting with them
When addressing misbehavior, focus on correcting the behavior in a positive manner. This can include offering alternative solutions, discussing why the behavior is unacceptable, and providing encouragement for better choices in the future.
Stay away from punishments that only help to aggravate anger.
Use gentle correction methods that don’t threaten their sense of self-respect. If you are afraid to correct, you will find it hard to set any proper limit with your child and it will get harder not only for you but for them to control themselves.
Even if they have misbehaved and you are in opposition to what they have done, try to listen to them and offer support in the areas they struggle with.
If they want to accept your help, this will help them become less defiant and let them make you their teammate. It’s a simple shift of mind but works beautifully.
For example, when they misbehave, ask the following question,
Did you really mean to do it?
This will give them an opportunity to explain themselves. (Maybe they did it in the spur of the moment).
Did you really mean to talk back to your grandma? You hurt her feelings. How do you want to correct that?
Asking questions is a really effective way to make them think and help them take responsibility and control over the situation. And taking control is what a strong-willed child wants too.
14. Teach empathy and humility
Teaching empathy is important for such kids because they are often focused too much on their self.
Strong-willed kids may have a tendency to be assertive and focused on their own needs, but learning empathy can help them consider other people’s feelings and perspectives, and make decisions that take others into account.
Humility can help strong-willed kids develop a sense of modesty and openness to learning.
Humility can help them recognize that they don’t know everything and that they can benefit from listening to others and considering different viewpoints. This can be especially important for strong-willed kids who may be resistant to authority or feedback.
And also, teaching empathy and humility can help strong-willed kids develop important life skills such as communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. By learning to understand and respect others, they can become more effective communicators and collaborators, and be better equipped to navigate social situations and relationships.
15. Let them be in charge of themselves
Since strong-willed kids have an innate need for self-control, instead of asking them to do each thing, let them make a schedule and a list of routines that will help them be in control of their day as much as possible.
In case they need reminders, you can set alarms for each activity.
16. Conduct family meetings
Conduct regular family meetings to discuss issues, concerns, and positive moments. This will help foster open communication and involve your strong-willed child in the decision-making process.
Family meeting are truly effective in listening to everyone’s perspectives – be it yours or your kids’. And ask kids to bring up solutions for the problem in hand in a way that addresses both your needs, while ensuring that the underlying lesson or boundary is still intact. This will help them feel that they have some control over the situation and that they are not forced to do what they are told.
17. Communication is key
When dealing with a strong-willed child, it’s crucial to practice active listening. This means fully concentrating, understanding, and responding to what your child is saying. By doing so, you show empathy and validate their feelings, which can help diffuse potential conflicts.
To enhance your active listening skills, try the following:
- Make eye contact and maintain positive body language.
- Repeat or paraphrase what your child has said to clarify their message.
- Ask open-ended questions to prompt deeper conversation.
- Avoid interrupting and give your child the opportunity to express themselves fully.
Understanding their perspective is also essential when disciplining them. Recognize that they may have unique challenges and needs due to their temperament. When you understand their viewpoint, you can work collaboratively to find a solution that respects both their wants and your expectations.
18. Set expectations beforehand
To ensure effective discipline, it’s crucial to establish clear communication with your strong-willed child. If they don’t know what’s expected of them, they cannot stick with the rules or rituals at home.
Here are some strategies to avoid potential misunderstandings:
- Use simple, concise language and express your expectations directly. For eg, If you expect them to do chores over the weekend, make sure they know what their chores are and the time frame to finish them.
- Set consistent boundaries and explain the reasons behind them. Giving a reason always helps kids to understand why you set the boundaries and how it will benefit them (even though they might not like it).
- Define and discuss the consequences of certain behaviors beforehand, so your child knows what to expect.
When you set expectations clearly, implement active listening, and conduct family meetings, a positive environment for discipline is created at home and there will be less and less power struggles.
Possible pitfalls in disciplining strong-willed children
If you have been failing at discipline your strong-willed child and there are constant power struggles at home, the following could be the reasons.
Inconsistency in disciplinary actions
Inconsistency is a common pitfall when disciplining strong-willed children. When you don’t follow through with consequences or change your approach frequently, it can lead to confusion and a lack of respect for your authority. Make sure to establish clear expectations and consequences, and consistently apply them.
Using negative reinforcement as the primary method
Reliance on negative reinforcement, such as punishment and threats, can be counterproductive when disciplining strong-willed children. Instead, shift your focus to positive reinforcement techniques, like praise and rewards for good behavior. This way, you encourage cooperation and foster a healthy parent-child relationship.
Undermining their self-esteem
Avoid using language that belittles or insults your strong-willed child, as it may damage their self-esteem. Focus on addressing the specific behavior problem, rather than attacking their character. Remember to communicate your love and support, even when disciplining them.
Overburdening with too many responsibilities
When setting expectations, be mindful not to overburden your child with too many responsibilities. Strong-willed kids are often highly sensitive too, and having too much to do can cause overwhelm for them, resulting in defiance and resistance to your authority.
Focus on the most important rules and give them enough time for rest and relaxation too.
Neglecting their need for independence
Strong-willed children have a high need for autonomy and independence. Be cautious not to micromanage or exert too much control over their actions. Instead, provide them with choices and opportunities to make their own decisions, within appropriate boundaries.
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The importance of consistency when disciplining strong willed kids
Recognize that your strong-willed child may possess qualities like determination and resilience that will likely contribute to their future success.
Stay confident and knowledgeable in your discipline approach, and keep a neutral, clear tone of voice when interacting with your stubborn child.
Remember that your ultimate goal is to help them grow into emotionally and socially mature adults. By consistently employing these strategies and maintaining a patient, empathetic, and understanding demeanor, you’ll be well on your way to successfully disciplining your strong-willed child.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can parents set boundaries with strong-willed children?
To set boundaries with strong-willed children, it’s essential to be clear, consistent, and firm. Clearly communicate your expectations and the consequences of breaking the rules.
Remember to always follow through with consequences and praise when they follow the rules. It can also be helpful to give choices within the set boundaries, which allows for a sense of autonomy and control for the child.
What are some age-appropriate consequences for strong-willed toddlers?
Toddlers may not understand consequences well as their brains are not matured enough to relate their action with the consequence. They are at the early stages of cognitive and emotional development.
At this age, they are beginning to understand cause and effect relationships and basic consequences. However, their comprehension is limited compared to older children and adults. So with toddlers, instead of setting complex or long term consequences, set immediate and simple consequences that are directly related to their behavior.
- If a toddler throws a toy, the toy may be taken away for a short time as a consequence of their action.
- If a toddler refuses to eat, they may experience hunger until the next mealtime. This is not done as a punishment, but is rather done as honoring his body’s hunger cues. When you force feed them, they don’t get to experience the effects of not eating a meal and will end up only create a power struggle.
Keep in mind that discipline and consequences for toddlers should focus on teaching, guiding, and encouraging positive behavior rather than punishing.
How can parents foster cooperation instead of power struggles with strong-willed kids?
To foster cooperation with your strong-willed child, try to involve them in decision-making and problem-solving.
Offer choices within the boundaries you’ve set and encourage them to express their feelings and opinions. Stay calm and composed when conflicts arise and avoid engaging in a power struggle.
You can emphasize the importance of teamwork and cooperation in family life to discourage power struggles.
What are the common characteristics of strong-willed children?
Strong-willed children often exhibit characteristics such as determination, independence, persistence, and assertiveness. They are usually highly creative and prefer to learn by experience, which can sometimes lead to defiance when asked to follow directions.
They also tend to be more sensitive, perceptive, and intense in their reactions to situations, driving them to push boundaries and resist authority.
How can parents maintain their sanity while raising a strong-willed child?
Maintaining your sanity while raising strong-willed children involves focusing on self-care, setting realistic expectations, and seeking support from others who understand your situation.
Remember to pick your battles wisely and celebrate small victories.
Stay consistent with boundaries and consequences, but also be flexible in adapting your parenting approach as needed. Sometimes letting go is the best option to stay sane.
Most importantly, maintain a sense of humor and perspective and appreciate the unique qualities your strong-willed child brings to your family. I have felt bringing humor in a situation is a quick way to diffuse a situation that can otherwise escalate into “trouble”.
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