A strong-willed child, in my opinion, is just another name for “child.” All children will go through a certain phase, whether they’re a toddler, teenager, boy, or girl — they will test the boundaries their parents have put in place.
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Why strong-willed kids need a different way of parenting
My first son was calm, threw ONE tantrum in a grocery store his entire toddlerhood, and adapted well to just about anything that changed from one moment to the next.
My second child is different. Not worse, just different. But it does make my parenting journey more challenging, I’ll be honest. All the more reason to remember how I can avoid mom burnout.
He struggles to transition from one activity to the next. He throws fits left and right, sometimes brought on by something as little as not being able to have the freedom to touch a hot stove.
You know, things like that.
It’s tempting to compare the two, but I strive to acknowledge that they will both have their strengths and weaknesses, that, on many occasions, require me to be conscious of how he needs to be parented differently.
Isn’t that the beauty of parenting, though? That we get to witness individuality and the uniqueness of how God created each and every one of us differently?
A strong-willed child needs to know he has a choice
One of my good friends and I were talking the other day. She has FIVE boys, and one of her littlest is strong-willed but a few years older than mine. I asked her if she had any words of wisdom for me.
It’s ALWAYS okay to ask for help and guidance when it comes to parenting, especially from someone who has a similar child.
So, she gave me some excellent advice that, so far, has proven to work wonders.
She said, “You have to give them a choice. Strong-willed kids always need the freedom to choose.”
The example she gave:
Ask them, “Do you want to drink this glass of water WITH ice, or WITHOUT ice?” Instead of “Come drink this glass of water, so you don’t get dehydrated.”
When we give them a choice, they are less likely to push back, since being told what to do is not something that comes easy to them.
How do you discipline a strong-willed child?
That being said, they will still need boundaries and discipline. We can’t let them live under the illusions that they can always get what they want, or ALWAYS have a choice, especially when it comes to their safety. We are trying to find a balance of giving our children a right and a choice, while at the same time not letting them think they rule the roost.
You and I both know this life will not always adhere to our choices or go the way we want, so our children must also understand boundaries and that life won’t always look how we want.
What do I do when my child has a meltdown?
When your child is struggling to self-regulate, the first helpful thing a parent can do is to remain calm. We cannot expect our kids to manage their own emotions when we can’t model that for them first. If that means you need to take some deep breaths or pray and ask how you can respond in love, then do that. Make sure you’re calm.
Secondly, accept that they will not always respond how you like. Toddlers are not adults and are in the beginning stages of trying to figure out their boundaries. Remember that this pushback is normal and a part of their journey — it’s not personal.
Third, use your words wisely so as to not fuel the fire or react in anger towards them. You can try something like, “When you’re ready to be calm with me, we can figure this out together.” Check out this article about some gentle parenting phrases that teach your child patience.
If they still can’t calm down, hold them close if they allow you. Let them know you are there and won’t leave them alone to figure out their BIG feelings. If they start hitting and things escalate, put them down and say, “Hitting is never okay. I cannot let you be unkind.” Place them somewhere they can’t hurt themselves or anyone else. Remind them that you’re there, and you’re ready to solve the problem when they can be calm with you.
Depending on the location of the tantrum, wait until they are done. If it’s out and about, I would suggest going to your car so you can better address it.
Be patient and explain to them that it’s okay to be angry, but nothing will get figured out until they can be calm.
Show them that something needs to be done about their anger and that taking deep breaths can relax them. You can also ask them what they think should be done to help the situation.
“How can I help you solve this problem? I love you and I want the best for you. That’s why we have this boundary.“
Why you shouldn’t give in to your strong-willed child when they are throwing a fit
In the midst of the most epic of meltdowns, it often doesn’t solve the problem when you give in to what they want. At this point, the issue is not only hinged on what they aren’t getting, it’s escalated by their emotions. And when you give in to what they want, you teach them that their screaming and hitting will solve their problems.
The balance is this: Allow them to express their emotions while letting them know you’re there to help when they’re ready, but also let them know that when their anger turns into hurting others or being unkind (aka, sinning) you cannot accept this and a consequence is necessary. Consequences look different for every family, but I would steer clear of making it about “punishing” them, but rather about disciplining (teaching) them.
Another common handling of tantrums that I’ve witnessed on a few occasions, is the classic, “ignore your child, and hope it goes away” tactic.
Now, I imagine there are moments you might need to do this, but ignoring them for extended amounts of time, especially in public, might not be the best idea.
It’s always best to acknowledge your child, but also be firm in the fact that you will not give in to what they want.
The difference between a strong-willed child and a defiant child
There is a considerable difference between a child who is continually defiant, acting out in anger, hitting, or being unkind, and a child who is strong-willed and a bit stubborn. If after they were being unkind there is no internal remorse at how they hurt you or someone else, then there might be a deeper issue at hand. I would consider you get to the source and make sure that their behavior is not a result of something you need to change in your parenting.
Here is an article about a child who is emotionally reaching out.
With all of that in mind, let’s settle on something that a strong-willed child needs, but in the most gracious and considerate way—discipline.
I want you to think about people you know who are strong-willed or even considered the “black sheep” of the family. They are usually incredibly brilliant or creative in a way that directs them to such occupations as artistry, music, or poetry—anything that allows them to express themselves. Because they lived most of their lives feeling different and misunderstood, they seek out something or someone that will make them feel acknowledged.
Now, in your experience, were those people more likely to rebel against their parents? In my experience, absolutely. And one thing I have witnessed the majority of them doing is pushing back harder the more they were pushed.
They don’t usually cave.
Their rebellion actually grows stronger with every push.
I am not speaking generally, here. Everyone is different, and each circumstance is unique.
BUT there is a common denominator with strong-willed kids becoming the black sheep of the family. As parents, we need to acknowledge this and learn what to do with it. In my experience, pushing back harder on a kid who’s rebelling has never ended well.
What a strong-willed child needs MOST
So what do we do? Well, first, we understand that no matter how good or bad of a parent we may be, our kids will always make their own choices in life. Ultimately, the choices our kids make in life are between them and God.
But we also want to be aware of the influence we have on their lives as parents. We will affect them with our good and bad parenting. Keeping that balance in mind, when it comes to disciplining strong-willed kids, I have already witnessed a lot who ended up pushing back even harder in the face of harsher punishment. So hard that they broke off any relationship they had with their family.
And even though we can’t always control those situations, we can do our best to give our kids what they need on their journey in life. Parents, your strong-willed child needs YOU more than any stronger or harsher punishment that you give them.
They need to be accepted for who they are, mistakes, and all. They need grace. And when all we can offer them is frustration with their behavior and shortcomings, they will begin to feel defeated and incapable of pleasing you.
All that to say, our kids still need discipline. But be careful not to push too hard or expect perfection from them.
Positive parenting tools for every parent
Struggling to find creative and fun things to do with your kids? Check out this new game/keepsake book that everyone is talking about — The Adventure Challenge Family Edition. Scratch off a new challenge whenever you decide to play and get the most innovative ideas of things to do with your kids. Document your memories in your book and keep it forever. They will LOVE IT. So will you.
Connecting on a deeper level emotionally with your child is CRUCIAL, and sometimes more difficult. We play THIS GAME often in our family to create a safe space for our kids to feel free to share their questions and emotions, all without judgment.
We even offer an “Exemption Time” for the duration of this game, where anything he tells us is off the table for consequences.
Screen Time Protection and Teaching Moderation
Pinwheel Phone for Kids – A safer smartphone option for kids with no internet or social media. Certain therapist-approved apps are allowed and controlled by the parent.
Bark – a software to supervise, monitor, and protect your child’s device use on the go. Use the code WORDBIRD at checkout to get an additional 1-month free trial after your first initial 7-day trial!
Screen Time Checklist Printable for Kids – FREE if you sign up for our weekly newsletter. Just fill out your info below.
Book List for Kids and Parents
Check out my recommended books for parenting.
Journaling for Kids
When a child is old enough to start drawing, coloring, or writing, journaling is an incredible way to help your kids better express themselves in a free and comfortable way. Check out our Kid’s Printable Journals — created specifically to help children better express their feelings, encourage gratitude, and spark the imagination.
Chores for Kids
Magnetized Chalk Chart for Fridge
Implementing chores and structure in your child’s daily life is a VERY helpful tool to teach them follow through, discipline, and respect. We use this chore chart in our family to help our kids keep track of their own progress, and keep you from having to constantly remind them of their daily tasks.
If you’re looking for something a bit more simple, this is also a good option.
Chore Chart Printable – Get it NOW from the convenience of your own printer
If you’re looking for something you can print out immediately and start implementing chores in your home today, check out this CHORE CHART PRINTABLE. A Mandalorian theme makes for a lighthearted and fun way to encourage kids to do their daily and weekly “missions.”
Emotional Connectivity with Your Kids
Check out these other posts on emotional connectivity on the blog!
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