5 Tips for Raising A Strong Willed Child
“Every family has one strong willed person. Some families have two. And we’re praying for you if you have more than that.”
I heard this on a podcast many years ago, and I have never forgotten it. My boys were still small and we hadn’t even had our baby girl yet. My husband and I are both pretty stubborn and strong willed ourselves, and it was pretty clear that our oldest was as well.
There were our “more than two” strong willed people in our family! I felt like we were already doomed and didn’t even know about the personalities of our younger two kids yet!
But hey…at least people were praying for us!
Turns out, our second son and even our daughter are also strong willed. Now, some of us are a little less so and give in more than others, but we all have some varying degree of being strong-willed!
Strong willed people are great people! They are our CEO’s, entrepreneurs, inventors, and world changers! But they are also difficult children to raise!
Raising strong willed children takes perseverance and strength to grow them into those world influencers. It also takes a great deal of patience, humility, and gentleness on our part as parents to not repress the amazing characteristics of the strong willed child.
And yes, those characteristics that will one day make fierce leaders, will also drive you mad as a parent, but they are still great qualities. So be careful because it can be easy to crush those attributes in our frustration.
Raising a strong willed child can be so rewarding!
But it can also be frustrating and a definite challenge.
So here are 5 tips and some encouragement in your journey of raising a strong willed child:
1. Be consistent, set clear boundaries, and listen
This is important for all children, but especially for the strong willed ones. Setting clear boundaries helps them to know how far they can go and gives them what feels like freedom.
Be aware though that with a strong willed child, they will consistently push those boundaries, so it’s important for you to also be consistent in letting them know they are pushing and what consequence there is for going pass the boundary. And then consistently following through with that consequence.
It’s a lot of work, especially when they’re young, but the hope is that it gets a little easier because they know you will follow through. And be assured they will not like you for this, especially at first, but they will learn to appreciate boundaries as they get older.
For example, we tell our kids they can say anything to us. They can tell us they’re frustrated, don’t agree with us, whatever it is. However, they must do it respectfully. And the consequence for not saying it respectfully, is repeating it until it comes out as respectful.
For us, this creates a clear boundary and the consequence is directly tied to the consequence for reinforcement. This is also two-fold for us because this also allows us to have an open dialogue about situations rather than them feeling like we’re always dictating.
Now, don’t mistake that as manipulating us to change our minds. Rather we can keep an open dialogue to help them understand our decision and reasons for our answers and take the time to clearly explain things to them. This makes them feel more included (everyone likes to be included). And sometimes, if they can make a good enough argument, (listen and let them know you hear them) we also gain understanding and in that case may be able to change our decision depending on the situation. This is where great strength and discernment come in.
2. Allow choices where you can
Let me explain this one a little better with an example. I need my child to brush his teeth, get dressed, and feed the dogs. I go to him and say, “Landon, I need for you to brush your teeth, get dressed, and feed the dogs. Which would you like to do first?” Or another way, “Your room needs to be cleaned today, would you like to do it this morning or this afternoon?”
Now I understand that these situations aren’t always feasible, but where you can, try to turn your instruction into a choice. They feel like they have more control, and you still get what you need from them. Win-Win!
3. Ask your child for help!
In our house this looks like:
Mom: “Landon, we have to leave in 30mins and we have a lot to do in that time. Do you think you could help me this morning?”
Landon: “Yeah mom, of course. What do you need?”
Mom: “I really need you to get your teeth brushed, get dressed, and feed the dogs. Do you think you could quickly do that today? It would really help me out!”
I get so much less resistance when I phrase instructions this way. Think about it: kids, strong willed children especially, do NOT want to be told what to do. But most, want to be helpful! So if you tell them it’s helping you to get these things done, I’d say 9 times out of 10 they’re more willing. And you are, in fact, getting help with them doing what you asked without wasting time arguing about the “why’s” and “hows”. Now, I would not use this on a daily basis, but I do use this a couple times a week on days we have a lot going on and he usually knows when those days are.
4. Find their strengths and build on those
Everyone, even the littlest ones have strengths! They have a certain gravitation towards something. Figure out what that is and encourage it!
My oldest, I know I’m picking on him today, loves firemen, firetrucks, and all things first responder. We know several firemen and have often asked them to help us with a reward. If we really need help getting something through to him, we will set up a reward to go visit one of the stations. If you have a firefighting lover in your house too, you do not need to already know firemen, most fire stations are totally willing to show kids around the station if they’re not attending to a call!
In kindergarten, we were having a hard time with our oldest having a good report when we would pick him up from school. So we made a deal with him, that if he had a certain number of good reports, we would set up for him to go to the fire station. That was it! That was all it took for his strong willed tendencies to back down just a bit for his teacher! Within a couple of weeks, we were able to visit the fire station, with the red trucks of course, and they even took him for a ride around a few blocks. This excitement lasted several more weeks and I can tell you his teacher was thankful for this encouragement for him to keep getting good reports!
5. Spend time doing what they want do
This one is really for all kids again, but I think it’s especially important for strong willed kids. I feel like we, as parents, spend so much time explaining, debating, and giving directions that they really just need to know we care about them and their likes too.
For my oldest, this means taking a good 30mins, if not longer, to just sit a build legos with him. My second son, this can be drawing, coloring or doing puzzles with him. My daughter, this is playing with her babies or princesses.
This is also a great time to let them dictate for a bit. Let them show you how to build that special car from legos or tell you how to color that cartoon character or tell you how to hold the baby.
(And believe me, they will tell you how to do it!)
Even though this doesn’t seem so important, it is! It’s important that they know you’re taking an interest in their interests. That you’re taking the time to develop that relationship with them and you’re not just there to tell them what to do. It gives them a voice to make the decision on what to do or how to do it. You are giving them so much during this time! And you may even learn something new too!
Raising kids, and strong willed ones at that, is hard work! Remember though, that those kids, as stubborn and strong willed as they may be, were given to YOU!
You can not mess them up more than what God can save them from! He has given them to you because you are the mom they need!
So give yourself some grace, because none of us have this down perfectly or do all the right things all the time. We all stumble. And we all want to pull our hair out at some point or another.
But…you got this!
“Every family has one strong willed person. Some have two. And (I’m) praying for you if you have more than that” like we do!