You often hear people describe their strong willed child as stubborn or difficult. There is a difference between a stubborn child and a strong-willed one, a stubborn child is immature and doesn’t want to listen simply because they enjoy frustrating their parents or teachers. A strong willed child likes to succeed and be strong and doesn’t like to give up on what they believe to be right, they are determined individuals and have a lot of drive.
You can see strong will in a child from baby stage. You can have a baby who is trying to stand and although they might keep falling over, they keep getting back up over and over again until they are standing firm whereas another child might try a few times and give up and go back to crawling.
Another example of a strong-willed child is a beginner reader. They will come across a word they don’t know and keep trying to sound it out until they can make sense of it. It might take a while, but they persist and more often than not, don’t want your help. Other kids may just give up and skip the word altogether.
How do you even begin to parent a strong-willed child without losing your mind? We need to remember every child is different and what might work for one might not work for another. Some are strong willed in certain areas and less so in other areas. As much as your children are learning about themselves and the world, you are learning about your child so you can best guide them through their younger years.
Here are eight ideas for raising strong willed children.
Tame the bossiness
Strong-willed children know what they want and aren’t afraid to make it happen, even if it means unknowingly hurting their friends’ feelings by telling them what to do and when to do it in play based situations. They can sound rude or bossy by saying things like “Do this” or “Give me that” or “I want this now”. As a parent we can stop them in that moment, if we can, and teach them to be more respectful and kind to others. It will take commitment and patience but as long as you are consistent, your child will start to take it all on board.
Teach emotions to overcome frustrations
A strong-willed child can lash out and have angry outbursts simply because they have become annoyed or frustrated. This is usually presented as yelling, throwing a tantrum or clenching their fists and stomping their feet. There will be times when you won’t know what has set them off and as hard as it can be you need to help them recognise the emotions they are feeling and validate them by letting them know you understand. This simple form of acknowledgement can let your child know they are being heard and understood. By teaching your child to recognise their emotions, you’re setting them up to recognise them right away and work on dealing with them. This will take time and patience because young children are still learning what emotions are and how they present.
Wanting a reason for everything
A strong-willed child will not be satisfied with an answer such as “because I said so” or “I don’t know” or “just because”. They question everything around them and by providing a simple explanation, you can help put their mind at ease. Their mind is naturally curious and they want to know how things work and or why they aren’t allowed to do something. There will be times you don’t know the answer but it may be helpful to let your child know you can find out together.
Avoiding power struggles
A strong-willed child enjoys arguing, getting in the last word and not agreeing an answer to a question they have asked even if it’s correct. If you let them, they can go on and on so it’s up to you while they’re young to know when to put the brakes on a conversation or argument. Let your child know you can both revisit the conversation when you are both calmer. Remember, pick your battles, not everything is worth a long, drawn-out argument. It can be time consuming as well as energy consuming. As your child gets older, they will learn they can’t argue about everything and at times, things just are what they are.
Strong-willed children need clear boundaries at home. They need to know there are rules and the rules are there to protect them and give them a clear understanding of what is expected of them. They need to know what they can do and what they can’t do. Boundaries also create a sense of belonging. They will try and push these boundaries at times and you will need to revisit particular situations but if you stay firm and be consistent, your child will respect the boundaries and you.
Time outs and consequences don’t work
A strong-willed child won’t respond to punishment, consequences or time outs. They will become further frustrated or angry and won’t know why their being reprimanded for being themselves. When they have crossed a boundary or broken a rule, you need to let them know what they have done wrong and help them understand that they need to think about their actions and what they could do different next time. Have a space which feels less like a punishment and more like a ‘thinking space’, this way you are not taking away their self-confidence yet giving them time alone to think about their actions.
Nurture their independence by giving them responsibility
Strong willed children love feeling independent and responsible for things around them. We can help by giving them responsibility at home such as making their bed, unpacking the dishwasher, letting them help decided what to have for dinner, setting the table, folding the washing, the list is endless.
Keep jobs age appropriate and understand they might not do them perfectly to begin with but with time and lots of practice, they will get better. A strong-willed child needs to feel significant so when they do jobs, give them gentle praise, letting them know you see the effort they are putting in.
Give them attention
A strong-willed child wants to be heard and listened to. They have so many ideas and so much to talk about, and could feel unworthy or unloved if you don’t take time out to connect and be present with them. We all lead busy lives and at times are on the go all day, but you can connect with your child in many way – while you’re in the car, grocery shopping, making dinner or even at bedtime when everyone is winding down. You will notice how satisfied your child is simply by having your attention for a few minutes.
The biggest influence on strong-willed children is their parents. They want your reassurance. They want your acknowledgement and most importantly they need to know they are loved. With your patience and guidance, you can create responsible, engaged and independent adults.
Originally published 26 October 2018 on Kids on the Coast magazine