Parenting the Strong-Willed Child

President or Prison Gang?

Mothers, have you ever looked at your child and wondered, “he’s going to either be President of the United States or leader of his prison gang”. I myself am hoping for the former. If you’ve thought this then you are probably the mother of a strong -willed child. A no nonsense, my way or the highway, digging my heels into the ground child who has budding leadership skills rivaling the best CEOs in America.  These kids can leave you feeling completely exhausted, flummoxed, and coughing up dust as they leave you in their tracks.

Feisty, spirited, and bossy are some of the words used to describe strong willed children. But what really constitutes a strong-willed child? Most toddlers and preschoolers are stubborn and head strong so what makes a strong-willed child different from the normal developmental stages that most children experience?

Buckle Up Buttercup

Strong-willed children are usually evident from the day they are born. It’s not an every- once- in- a -while characteristic. It is their personality. Hold on for the ride, because it’s a life long deal. Strong-willed kids are the kids who experience intense anger outbursts and will not hesitate to take it to the next level. They have difficulty tolerating stress and frustration and soon you will find them on the floor flailing, screaming, and pissed off at the world. But before you find yourself in complete despair over the fact that your kid is a pit bull on steroids, know that strong-willed children become some of the most successful adults the world has to offer. Allow me to explain.

World Changers

Strong-willed children, if you can buckle down through the stubborn and defiance and not be tempted to tame or discipline the spirit out of them, are leaders, not followers. This means that they will be less likely to follow peers down self-destructive paths; and hold on to their own values and morals without fear. They have a sense of integrity and will not be forced and persuaded into compliance over something they don’t believe in. They will not follow the status quo like sheep; but will question everything, even authority. Especially authority. This is a good thing because it creates an atmosphere of independent thinking and reasoning skills. They won’t be satisfied with simply being told to do something just for the sake of doing something. They will hold their own because they are also fiercely independent. This is a kid, once grown, you will not have to worry about if they have managed to channel all their strong will into a positive direction. Strong-willed children love to make their own rules and will eventually become adults who become pioneers, trail blazers and path makers. Their stubborn streak becomes tenacity. Their defiance becomes courage and they will fight for what they believe in. They learn to argue, hopefully, no longer with you, but for their beliefs. They are world changers.

So What Do I Do Until Then?

If you’ve ever heard of Aikido you know that it’s a martial arts technique that focuses on using your opponent’s momentum against them. Instead of meeting force with force, “you instead blend with your attacker and redirect the energy back to the attacker”

Avoid power struggles by not attending them every time your child invites you to one. Give them choices to help them channel that autonomy and fierce independence they desperately crave. Allow natural consequences to happen, within reason, because strong-willed children need to learn through experiences and their environment. Give them as much independence as you can over their own choices. PICK YOUR BATTLES should be the mantra of every parent of a strong-willed child. Personally, if my kid wants to pick out his own clothes, so be it.  If he wants to wear his jacket in the middle of August, then go ahead. Every parent decides just what battles they are willing to fight and what battles they aren’t touching with a 39 ½ foot pole. The point is to allow your child as much independence over himself as possible. I’m not talking about free range parenting. I’m talking about creating an atmosphere of safety and nurture to allow your child to discover his boundaries safely.  Listen to them, get down on their level and make eye contact with them. Hear their point of view even if it’s not yours. They want to be heard. They want to be able to save face when they know they’re wrong. Discipline through connection instead of attempting to force them to your will. They will fight you to the death and will not give in to you no matter what. At least not without some collateral damage. Remember, they are fighting for what they believe in even if it’s painting a marker mural on your wall or demanding M&Ms for dinner.

Little Dictator

My 4 year old son, Noah, has been affectionately nicknamed “boss baby.” He is my little general, issuing orders to his parents and older brother left and right. He laughs in the face of corporal punishment, but will lose his Sugar. Honey. Iced. Tea. if you put him in a time out. I’m considering calling a small country to see if they have an opening for the position of dictator. “Hello? Lichtenstein? I have a 4 year old boy who would love to take control of your country.” Giving him choices usually works unless he’s in a “I want nothing” mood to which I just step back and let him mull it over for a while. I tell him to let me know when he decides between the choices I’ve given him. I strive to understand him, to relate to him, and to appreciate the fact that if I can give him some direction, he will be an awesome adult one day. He is a no nonsense, I know what I want, I know when I want it, I want you to do this right now, little boy. We are working on “please”, “thank you”, “yes ma’am” and asking instead of ordering. It’s a process. Sometimes I lose my own Sugar. Honey. Iced. Tea. But we are a house big on forgiveness and chances. When he tells me that he’s upset with me and that if I do it again he’s putting me in time out, I say “Great! Mommy needs a time out! When can I start?” He’s not afraid to tell me anything and I hope to keep it that way. Hang in there, mamas. You’re raising world changers.

Kelli Hood

Kelli has been married to her husband Paul for the past 7 years. She is a mother of two boys- Gabe, 11 and Noah, 4. She's a full time working mother and a licensed professional counselor. Currently Kelli works as the addictions counselor for Born Free/ New Beginnings, an A&D program for addicted pregnant mothers and mothers with children ages 0-4. She has a true passion for what she does and has been counseling for 13 years. Recently, her 4 year old was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder which has taken them on a special needs parenting journey. Kelli now has a new understanding and respect for special needs parents. Kelli proclaims that she is first and foremost a child of God, then a wife, a mother, an advocate and now a writer.

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