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 of their parents.

mom yelling at child

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Why strong willed kids need a different way of parenting

With my first son, I hit the behavior jackpot when he was little. He 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.

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 different parenting.

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?

child drinking water

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.

You have to outsmart them because the strong-willed ones are usually a bit crafty.

mom yelling at child

How do you discipline a strong willed child?

That being said, they will still need boundaries and discipline. We can’t let them think they can get away with everything, 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.

mom and daughter smiling

So what should we do when our child throws a fit when the choice thing doesn’t work?

Well, simply put, we accept it. We accept that they will not always respond how we like. Toddlers are not adults and are in the beginning stages of trying to figure out their boundaries.

You can try something like, “When you’re ready to settle down and listen, we can figure out a solution together.”

If they still don’t calm down, then hold them if they allow you to. Let them know you are there and won’t leave them to figure out the BIG feelings they are having.

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 and not gain the attention of the entire store.

Be patient and explain to them that it’s okay to be mad, but nothing will get figured out until they calm down.

Show them that something needs to be done about their anger and that taking deep breaths can relax them.

strong willed child throwing a fit

Why you shouldn’t give in to what a strong willed child wants if they are throwing a fit

Usually, by the time you want it to go away, so you cave, they will be so upset that giving them what they want won’t even help.

Another common handling of tantrums that I’ve witnessed on a few occasions, is the classic, “ignore your child, and it might go 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.

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 or family you know who are strong-willed or even considered the “black sheep.” 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.

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 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 to a kid who’s rebelling has never ended well.

mom and daughter hugging

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 is 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 discipline. So hard that they broke any relationship off that 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 of life—parents. They need YOU more than they need discipline.

They need to be accepted for who they are, mistakes, and all. 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.

Check out 3 Common Parent Fails to Avoid in Parenting

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

I’ve recently partnered with Bark, a software to supervise, manage, 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. With a Mandalorian theme, it 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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Hillary Gruener is a wife, mother, writer, and musician. If she's not at her desk writing content on family life, she's adventuring the world with her husband and two boys.

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