Inside: The strong-willed child is more complicated to understand and parent, these guidelines provide a framework for doing it the emotionally healthy way.
When you’re raising the strong-willed child, you just know.
Simple requests are rebuked daily. Commands are questioned hourly, and you’re presented with a 4 part dissertation by 6 am on why it’s ‘perfectly fine to wear the same leggings to school 3 days in a row mom!’.
This is not exactly what most of us expected when we had kids.
I mean, our child is supposed to make us look like a great parent, right? They’re supposed to heed our thoughtful loving guidance without question because that’s what good kids do.
After talking to many parents of strong willed kids a few years down the road (and a few more kids and temperaments the wiser) it appeared something BIG had been missed in all the chaos.
By nature, some good kids listen right away and some good kids don’t.
It’s much harder to raise a kid in the second category.
All kids are good kids, but there’s no getting around the fact that some children are simply more complex and take more time, patience and understanding to raise and discipline.
You know this well enough though.
You know the journey of parenting a strong-willed child is exhausting and defeating, and that some days you feel like you’re hanging by the last thread of your yoga pants, at the mercy of your child’s intense emotions and whatever is left of your patience.
The good news (yes, there’s good news!) is when you engage with your feisty kid using intentionality and respect, the strong-willed child can end up being the best gift that never made it on your wish-list.
These 10 do’s and don’ts help put things in perspective and keep your focus on what really matters, understanding your unique child and how to help them thrive out in the world someday with their emotional health in tact.
Raising the strong-willed child: do’s and don’ts
Do: Recognize what a challenging role you have.
Don’t: Let your child eat you.
This world needs all kinds of personalities and you have a mover and a shaker. You have a kid that will stand up and speak up to make a difference if you teach them to use that fire inside of them wisely and respectfully.
The strong-willed child needs to feel safe both physically and emotionally. Show them you’ll be there for emotional ups and downs without it unraveling you and setting boundaries and holding limits with confidence.
Cry and rant to your partner after the kids are in bed. Not in front of them.
Do: Embrace the strong willed child’s strengths
Don’t: Continuously resent their personality traits and temperament
For the first few years of raising a strong willed kid you may wish they’d just listen, put on their dang pajamas the first time asked and stop asking questions about everything.
Over time, you might come to realize your child has many strong willed characteristics and personality traits that will serve them well out in the world someday starting with determination, passion and leadership skills.
When you start to change your perspective on your child’s temperament you will unlock their full potential and emotional well-being through the power of genuinely accepting them for who they are, not for who you’d like them to be.
Do: Practice what you preach
Don’t: Play the ‘do as I say and not as I do’ card
Your child is smart as a whip and they’re going to call you on your bullcrap. You know, like when you repeatedly communicate to your child to stop yelling at their little brother, in a manner that could easily be construed by a fly on the wall as YELLING.
When it comes to the strong willed child, effectively disciplining a child is all about walking the walk.
Related read >> Get Your Child to Listen Without Yelling
Smart, spirited kids are primarily experiential learners so it’s time to reflect on whether or not you’re actually living out the qualities you’re expecting from your child.
Do: Embrace personal growth
Don’t: Remain closed off to new ways of doing things with your child
“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” This quote from Christine Caine speaks volumes about raising the strong willed child.
What differentiates humans from other life forms? The capacity for higher thinking and the potential for human growth.
Strong willed kids are great at holding up a big ol’ metaphorical mirror to your weaknesses and emotional wounds.
Humans thrive to the fullest extent when they embrace a continuous journey of self-growth. An Emotionally intense and highly opinionated child who challenges the status quo forces parents to realize that although you’d like to feel you knew it all, you don’t.
It’s ok to question what you thought you knew about parenting and to open yourself up to the courage and vulnerability that comes with raising a complex human being.
Do: Have an open mind when it comes to discipline
Don’t: Remain stuck in what’s not working with your child
You had the best intentions (as most of us do before we actually have the children) when it came to how to discipline a child but are realizing now that constantly dragging your child to time-out and making their life as miserable as possible by taking their possessions away is not doing anything but causing more chaos.
It’s easy to reach this ‘discipline dead end’ with the strong willed child because well-meaning approaches like time out’s are aggressively rebuked due to your highly emotional child’s sense of shame and abandonment when disciplined in isolation.
Not only do negative tactics not work to improve a child’s behavior, but you can feel a disconnect in your relationship and notice parenting feels like a black hole of negativity.
The black hole almost always disappears when you shift gears and explore other research (and neuroscience) backed ways to practice discipline with the strong-willed child because the healthiest way to discipline (teach) any child, is by building them up not breaking them.
Do: Remember you know your kid better than anyone
Don’t: Let the judgments of others get to you
One of the hardest aspects of raising a strong willed child is dealing with judgment and criticism from others.
Nobody knows your unique child and what they need better than you do.
Remind yourself not to fall victim to snap judgments from others when it comes to your child’s behaviors or the way you’re disciplining (aka teaching) them.
Do: Realize your child is their own person with their own identity
Don’t: Take your child’s behaviors personally
When you’re Parenting a strong-willed child you may as well just throw your ego right into a blender.
Science clearly indicates that kids are born with a unique temperament and personality, but when it comes to a certain kind of temperament parents tend to forget about nature and start obsessing about nurture.
You can fall victim to the mistaken belief that your child’s behaviors are a reflection of who you are as a person and as a parent.
You did not cause your child’s strong willed behaviors (although oppositionality can be increased with misguided approaches) and you are certainly not a bad parent because your child never leaves the park after the first time asked.
Your child is learning and making their own way through this world on the path they know best, challenging, questioning and experimenting.
Do: Collaborate and be creative
Don’t: Forget you’re on the same team
Spoiler alert, many parents raising a strong willed child are fairly strong willed themselves.
I remember having such a strong sense of conviction and pride as a child that I’d rather sit grounded in my room for days than admit I may have been wrong. This is the essence of the strong willed child.
The only way to get out of a power struggle is to not have one.
When you work with your stubborn kid instead of against them, holy smokes life gets easier.
Realizing when to set aside the need for control, and starting to see yourself on the same team as your child, opens the door to collaboration and creative problem-solving that builds a bridge to peace (and your child’s heart).
With the right guidance, the strong willed child has a bright future
Raising the strong-willed child is not easy, but we sure could use some kids in the world who have the will, determination and strong voice to stand for kindness, fairness and doing what’s right.
By doing your best to show up in a way that protects your child’s heart and guides their strong character traits, chances are good you’re raising a little person who is ready to take on the world someday.
If you can hold on through the chaos your strong willed child brings to your living room today, you’ll get to see them bring good to the world tomorrow.