It is my firm conviction that the strong-willed child usually possesses more creative potential and strength
of character than his compliant siblings, provided his parents can help him channel his impulses and gain control of his rampaging will,” Dr. James Dobson, The Strong Willed Child.
If that caption gives you hope it should as it supports the notion that all children—all people—have a unique gift that only needs to be developed through knowledge, nurturing experiences and maturity. We have strengths and the challenge is helping our children find and nurture them instead of focusing on any apparent weaknesses.
Strong willed children tend to question more than others. They won’t accept limitations readily and they believe strongly in their opinions. These actually sound like positive traits. The challenge is that in a young person who has yet to learn and mature such traits can manifest in ways that are truly frustrating for parents. Saying “no” is often the beginning of war of wills. This describes my oldest son perfectly. He is JUST like me….strongly opinionated, energized by debate, and always wanting the last word.
I am generally a “yes” parent. We don’t have boatloads of arbitrary rules and if I possibly can I always try to say yes. But when I do have to say no my son knows how to push my buttons.
“You are not meeting my needs….and this makes me upset with you.”
“You are not treating me with respect.”
“You are not treating me the way YOU want to be treated.”
Yes, he has a tendency to be dramatic. I give him props for trying to turn my own words around on me even if they are skewed to try and change a situation he doesn’t like.
Denying a strong willed child is difficult but so important if necessary in a given situation. How a parent says no is the important part. It takes patience, control and consistency to get through to a strong-willed child. They need you to know that you’ve listened and considered their view point. They also need explanations. While time consuming, these are all valid requests. The hard part is when your decision is still the safest and the most correct decision given the circumstances and it is contrary to what your child wants to do. As a parent you have to be firm but loving in your decision but it is important they they feel heard and valued all the same. Listening and redirecting works wonders for my son.
Try to explain things in terms of outcomes—especially those outcomes that have direct impact on your child.
Let’s say your 5-year old child is screaming at the top of her lungs in the middle of the department store. She wants to go to the toy department “NOW!”
Here’s a suggested reply: “We can’t go to the toy store now Cindy because we have to go home to prepare dinner. Remember after dinner you and I are going to make strawberries topped with whip cream for desert – your favorite treat!”
Discussing options in this article is really the easy part. The difficulty is having the patience and frame of mind to explain in a calm, loving but very firm way that your decision is best for everyone, including your strong-willed child. It also means that when it isn’t best, but perhaps just something you are being a stickler about, you can and should change your mind and say yes. Don’t be afraid to say you made a mistake.
This is tough for many parents because most of us were raised that children should be “controlled”. When parents say no there is no argument or debate…mom and dad have the final word and they can’t give in even a little bit. But I have opted for connection instead of coercion in our family. It is a partnership…not a dictatorship. I always ask myself “How would I feel if someone said or did this to me?” If I am not 100% okay with someone doing or saying that to me then I know I need to change tactics.
It isn’t easy raising a strong-willed child but how gratifying for you and also your child to know that regardless of the disagreements the love is always there and unconditional. It is important to remember that we can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. They will behave better when they feel better.
If someone told me I was I was a lazy bump on a log would I feel motivated and energized to help around the house? Uh…no.
Lastly, we also need to realize that children only imitate what they see.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, buy they have never failed to imitate them. – James Baldwin
I know full well where my son gets his strong willed personality. ME! And my husband reminds me of that fact every day. ;) I just have to get creative when meeting his needs and hope that I get a break with my other two, LOL. If he has anything like my drive and ambition then look out everyone!
Some books in my own parenting library that I LOVE that you might like:
Connection Parenting – Parenting through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear by Pam Leo This is a workbook too!
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
Raising Our Children Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort
Raising Children Compassionately – Parenting the Nonviolent Communication Way by Marshall B . Rosenberg Ph.D. This is a really small book and you could read it in under and hour.
Your Child’s Strengths by Jenifer Fox
So tell me about your own struggles with strong willed children. What works or doesn’t work for you?