Discovery Point Blog

September 24, 2021
mom talks to strong willed child

Living with a Strong-Willed Child

Most children will assert their will at certain points throughout their childhood, and sometimes in aggressive ways. However, if your child does this consistently, they may be what is often referred to as a “strong-willed” child. 

Strong-willed children can, without a doubt, be difficult to parent. At times, you may even wonder who is calling the shots in the relationship. However, with the right attitude and a flexible but strategic approach toward parenting, you can help your child direct their intense energy in positive ways.

Understanding Strong-Willed Children

Strong-willed children aren’t just stubborn or assertive. They are self-motivated thinkers who are willing to take action for what they believe in. These ambitious individuals go after what they want without succumbing to peer pressure or the pressures of society. 

In adulthood, these can be exceptional leadership qualities. In childhood, they may lead to power struggles with parents, teachers, coaches, and other authority figures.

Something that is difficult but important to keep in mind as a parent is that a power struggle can’t occur without two parties. In other words, you don’t have to participate in every argument your child wants to have. 

Sidestepping power struggles is a skill that can only be developed over time, but is well worth the effort. Not only will it prevent stressful arguments, but it will also help your child save face about not getting their way while allowing you to provide the guidance they need in these early years.

Here are a few tips you can use to better understand where your strong-willed child is coming from and flip those power struggles on its head.

Remember that for strong-willed children, experiential learning is a necessity. 

Some children simply need to experience the consequences of their actions to make the right decisions in the future. By learning from experience, your child may not necessarily take the easy route to knowledge. Yet, this path ensures they know why they are doing something, which can be incredibly important to their sense of integrity. 

Knowing that your child isn’t making the best decisions in the moment and choosing to avoid an argument over it can be tough. The important thing here is to reframe the situation and consider it as a learning experience, the lesson of which can follow your child throughout their life.

Allow your child to maintain authority over their own body.

It can be particularly confusing and challenging for strong-willed children to be told what to do when those instructions contradict the natural signals their body is sending them. For example, you may want your child to be sure to finish their lunch because dinner is several hours away. However, if they aren’t hungry at the time, chances are they’re going to put up a fight to defend what they know their body is telling them.

You’re not wrong in this situation. You know your child will get hungry in between meals, and you want them to avoid that discomfort. However, nothing good will come from having an argument over the issue. 

In this case, it’s best to let your child learn through experiential learning, as described above. Once they understand that although they aren’t hungry in the moment, eating a bit can prevent discomfort later, they’ll be more likely to make better decisions for their own body in the future.

Offer choices rather than giving orders.

Strong-willed children simply don’t like being told what to do. That’s understandable, considering most adults also bristle at being given orders. Consider this characteristic to be something that makes your child more mature, and take a different approach to getting the job of parenting done.

When you offer your child options, they can feel a bit more in control over their own lives. The trick here is to offer two options that both allow you to set the agenda. For example, if your child needs to clean their room, you could say, “Do you want to clean up by racing to beat your last record of 60 seconds or do you want to see how many toys you can toss in the basket from the doorway?” Either way, your child will be cleaning their room without feeling like they’ve lost the argument.

As much as possible, see things from their point of view.

As much as many adults like to romanticize childhood, being a kid isn’t always easy. When strong-willed children act out, they are often fighting for respect or struggling to be heard. 

Understanding that your child may simply want to be listened to–and need to be empathized with–is a huge step that can help take the tension out of power struggles and enable you to find a solution that works for you both.

Strong-willed children are often labeled as difficult, but the truth is more complex. These young individuals are passionate about preserving their autonomy and testing both their own limits and those of the world around them. 

As the parent of a strong-willed child, you have a journey ahead of you that can either be a struggle or an adventure. Know that by helping your child learn to use their intense ambition and integrity to stand up for themselves and what’s right, you can help transform their “difficult” qualities into assets.