Are you involved in a battle of wills with a strong-willed child? You may think it’s a nightmare now, but when these strong-willed young ones are sensitively parented, they can become the most amazing teenagers and young adults.
Being strong-willed at that age is a surefire sign of self-motivation and a strong inner direction. They are no-holds-barred when it comes to the things they want – they go after them with all they’ve got. And they can be completely impervious to that horror for every parent – peer pressure!
As a result, these kids often turn into great leaders!
What Exactly Is This Strong-Willed Little Monster?
You can call them stubborn or difficult. But really, they’re little people of enormous integrity that are simply not easily moved from their viewpoints.
They’re courageous, and they’re spirited. Sometimes in the extreme! They love learning new things for themselves – often through experience. They prefer that over simply accepting what others tell them. And they will test the limits. Not once, not twice, but over and over again.
What Happens in That Little Mind?
These types of kids have a strong desire to be in charge of themselves, and they often place their need to be right above everything else.
When they set their heart on something, their brain kicks into gear, and getting them off full throttle often seems impossible. Their feelings are always passionate and big.
Now you can see where the power struggles are born from. But remember, a struggle takes two – not one. The kid will always invite you to an argument, but whether you participate or not is your choice.
Breathe when your buttons are pushed. The aim here is to get what you want while allowing your child to at least save some face. Sidestepping the power struggles is a learning curve, not a switch.
Nothing is more fun for a four-year-old than to make a parent act like a four-year-old!
I Can’t Get the Child to Do What I Want!
Look, nobody, not any of us, regardless of our age, likes to be told what to do. For a strong-willed little one, this is unbearable.
As soon as they feel understood, the power struggle can be averted. And they’ll even allow you to set limits and adhere to the limits you set!
Empathy is always great – it wins over the strongest little minds. And a win-win solution instead of putting your foot down will prevent those nasty explosions.
It’s all about teaching them about compromise and negotiation for what they want.
Are Strong-Willed Kids Just Being Difficult?
Absolutely not! They really feel, deep down, that their integrity is being compromised as soon as they have to submit to someone else’s will.
When they get a choice, and the choice is put to them properly, they love to cooperate.
Obedience is important. Raising a considerate child that turns into a responsible adult is every parent’s aim. But this doesn’t necessarily imply blind obedience.
Morality has everything to with doing the right thing completely of your own volition. Obedience is about simply doing what you’re told, whether it’s right or not.
If you think about obedience for a moment – you want your child to do what you say because your child trusts you. At the same time, you want to raise a kid that takes responsibility, is considerate, and has enough discernment to know who to trust and when not to allow a person to influence them.
As soon as you break a child’s will, you leave them wide open to all kinds of people with all sorts of motives.
But, with all of that said, strong-willed kids will always be a high-energy, persistent challenge. That’s big-speak for a damn handful!
So, how do we manage? How do we do what is best for the child and the household at the same time?
Here are a few tips that will help you along the way.
Strong-Willed Kids Learn Experientially
You can tell them that the stove is hot, and they’ll believe you. But they still want to go up to it and see for themselves!
So, unless an action could result in serious injury, just let them learn through experience.
A strong-willed child will test your limits. That’s a given. But once you realize that, it will be easier to handle.
Mastery Is A Strong-Willed Child’s Most Important Ambition
Letting a strong-willed child take charge of as many activities as they want to is a fantastic approach. Ask instead of instructing. Questions like “What else is on your list to do before we leave this morning?” will get them to brush their teeth a whole lot sooner than simply telling them to do it.
As soon as a strong-willed child feels in charge of themselves, their opposition will dissolve nine times out of every ten.
Give Them Choices
Orders will make them bristle every time. But a choice is a different story. When they get to choose, they are the masters of their own destiny, and that’s exactly what they want most. But don’t give away your power.
If you need to go to the store and they want to play, ask the child: “Do you want to go to the store now, or in ten minutes.” And then add: “It’s probably going to be difficult to stop playing in ten minutes, so how can I help you to make it easier?”
Authority Over Their Own Body Is Essential
This can be achieved with a small negotiation and prompt every time.
“You don’t want to wear a jacket? That’s fine. It’s your body. But I’m going to wear a jacket. And I think you’re going to be cold once we get outside, and I don’t want to come into the house again once we leave. Shall we put a jacket in your backpack? Then you have it for if you change your mind. And then I can put my jacket in your backpack if I change my mind.”
This way, the child won’t lose face when she does change her mind. And you don’t undermine self-confidence either.
Routines and Rules Avoid Power Struggles
There’s a schedule and a rule for brushing teeth or lights out. So, if we’re quick with one thing, we make time for something else. If you hurry with brushing your teeth, we might have time for two stories tonight. And remember, in our house, we do homework before we get to watch television.
Don’t Push or Invite Opposition
It’s a simple law of nature. Force invites an opposite force of equal strength. I know, I’ve just paraphrased Newton and an entire physics course, but it really is so!
Always remain flexible in your approach, even if the outcome is cast in stone and non-negotiable.
Ancient wisdom tells us water resists nothing; it flows and gathers and releases without any resistance. But, in the end, nothing can resist the water!
Let the Child Save Face
You don’t have to prove you’re right. You know that already. You also don’t have to prove you know better. You know that already too!
Set reasonable expectations, for sure, and enforce them when you have to. But don’t ever try to break the child’s will or insist that they conform to your views. They have to do what you want, but they’re completely entitled to their own feelings and opinions about any matter.
Listen, Listen, And Then Listen Some More
Remember, your strong-willed child has a deep sense of integrity. There’s a little viewpoint there, even though the vocabulary hasn’t developed sufficiently to express it fully yet. Listen, and do so calmly, and you’ll begin to understand where the opposition is coming from.
And try to be completely non-judgmental all the time.
Switch to Their Point of View Once in A While
Oh, gosh! You promised to put the Superman cape in the wash. And then you went and forgot. You may think he’s being stubborn because he’s not cutting you any slack. But, in his view, he’s legitimately upset, and you’re a giant old hypocrite. He’s now allowed to break his promises, and now you do it.
A sincere apology goes a long way to clearing this up. Tell the kid you try very, very hard not to make your promises lightly and to always keep them. But sometimes things happen that are out of your control.
Then offer to teach him how to wash the cape himself!
Think about how you want to be treated, and treat the strong-willed child accordingly.
Discipline, Not Punishment
Nobody learns anything when they’re fighting. Not kids, and not adults. Period. As soon as the adrenaline starts pumping, learning takes a hike.
Kids like to please us. That’s why they behave well when they do. If you punish, and fight, and punish again, that undermines the desire to please you, and the whole situation becomes downright counterproductive.
And always remember their vocabulary is not nearly as complex as their inner feelings. They have no way yet to express what they feel. And they’re frustrated by that.
Empathy and Respect, Always
Respect is enormously important for a strong-willed child. If you give it freely, they don’t have to wrestle for it. And it helps them to feel understood.
A Bit More Help, If You Need It
There’s a fantastic book that was written on the subject by Rex Forehand, Ph.D., and Nicholas Long Ph.D. They’ve helped thousands of parents with discipline, and above all, positive reinforcement without the screaming matches and other things that may be harmful to the child’s self-esteem.
They’ve put together a five-week program to give you an effective toolkit with which to manage your child’s behavior.
Their program has been clinically proven to be highly effective and relatively seamless, and if you have a strong-willed child, the word “seamless” should be music to your ears!
The toolkit includes ways to develop a better atmosphere in your home and family, specific strategies to apply when trying to manage specific behaviors, the things that contribute to the disruptive behavior, and a whole lot more.
Their work is completely based on extensive research into the temperament of difficult children and the most effective way to strengthen the parent-child relationship. They work with concepts such as collaborative disciplining and even touch on things like ADHD and the variety of available treatments.
The topics they cover include (among others):
- How strong-willed behavior begins
- Why does it increase
- Will it take a whole lot more than just effective parenting?
- Maybe my child has ADHD?
- How to address the different ways in which a strong will manifests
- The specific skills you’ll need to make it all work
If you have a strong-willed child and you feel you’ve reached the end of your tether, consider paging through this book on Amazon.
It’s a deeply valuable read – guaranteed.
We have SO many responsibilities, so many things we have to control every day to just keep the wheels on. A strong-willed child seems like an enormously disrupting force, someone that throws the delicate balancing act out of kilter time and time again!
But although it may seem difficult now, the fruits of your labor may just be the sweetest you’ve ever tasted! Stick to your guns. Read the book. Find out what others are saying.
That little person may just turn out to be the best thing in your life as the years go by.