How to interact with your strong-willed child

Parents of strong-willed children often wonder, “How did we create this intense, relentlessly challenging child? Are we parenting okay? Are these really my genes, or can I blame my spouse?“

Few parents acknowledge the positive side of having a strong-willed child – at least not until the child has emerged from childhood! But when you look at our leaders, sports heroes, and people who have achieved significantly, you are usually looking at people who, as children, were indeed ‘more’. They have harnessed their strengths and directed them into causes that impact others positively.

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Good questions to ask yourself

  • What is really going on here?
  • Why is my child behaving like this?
  • Are there any unmet needs I need to focus on?

Appreciate that the behaviour we see in a child is a reflection of how they are feeling. A child who feels right acts right. Part of keeping our children on board with us is finding out how they tick.

How to interact with your strong-willed child

1. Keep anger out of your voice

A strong-willed child tends to challenge you and defend themselves. The issue gets lost as they fight with the ‘fight’ in you. Speak calmly and quietly.

2. Use ‘yes’ whenever you can, and ‘no’ sparingly

Many of our children’s requests can be given a ‘yes’, if we take the time to rephrase our response. When your child asks at 5pm, “Can I have Timothy over to play?”, the usual answer would be, “No, look at the time!” However, if we respond with something that shows we are thinking about their needs, the child feels respected but realises certain requirements are necessary for such an activity to take place. “It would be great to have Timothy around to play. Let’s plan what day would be suitable and invite him over.”

3. Give them the chance to convince you of a request

Every now and then give your child the privilege of going away and working out a convincing argument about why they should be allowed to do something. Let them spend their energy on good reasons why you should agree to their request.

If their reasons are good, and they put them politely, agree with them. It is great for them to learn that they can achieve very positive results from good request-making.

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff

There are so many potential battles, every day! Decide which ones are worth the effort. Does it really matter if your child wears mismatching clothes to kindergarten? Does he really need to pack his toys away now, or will any time before lunch be okay?

5. Remove yourself from the heat

It is a wise parent who knows when to say, “I am going for a walk around the house to cool down. We will talk about this later.” Let your child know that if they want an answer now, it is, “No”, but if they will give you a few minutes, you will give it some thought.

Strong-willed children learn to respect their parents’ boundaries, especially if they know they are more likely to consider their requests given some time and space. Develop a strategy where you let things settle before you make a final decision. As we learn to bring self-control to situations, so do our children.

6. Offer choices

Your child feels a sense of significance when given the responsibility and privilege of choices. It allows them to practise thinking for themselves. There are a number of areas where you can invite your child to have input. Parents set the limits and offer choices within those limits. They can become so absorbed with the choice, they forget to kick against the limit!

Younger children can have choices too – such as what colour shoes to put on, a banana or apple to eat, going to bed on dad’s back or dad’s feet, holding hands to cross the road or being carried. As they get older, it might be choosing how to spend their allowance, which sport to play, or whether they complete chores immediately or before a mealtime.

Now, some strong-willed children will invent a choice you have not included. When you say, “Are you going to wear your sandals or your blue shoes?”, they may say, “I want to wear my gumboots.” This is where you decide whether this falls into the ‘small stuff’ basket or whether it is a big issue. If it doesn’t really matter (except for the fact that you know their little feet are going to get hot and sweaty), then admire their choice and leave it at that.

Should they complain about the choice during the day, just empathise graciously. Next time they make that choice it may be helpful to say, “I see you are going for the hot and sweaty option.”

7. Give frameworks of time but don’t insist on things being done immediately

“I’d like the dishes done before you turn on the television.” “Afternoon tea is ready as soon as you have put your school bag away.”

8. Stand your ground on important issues

A strong-willed child wants someone who is firm, someone who they can feel safe with. It helps them to know that they do not call all the shots! Children are less likely to wear you down with constant pestering if they know that you can be counted on. Say it, mean it, do it.

9. Inspire more than correct

Strong-willed children can be inspired to do better and to harness their good thinking. Give them space to solve problems. “You were disappointed about missing out but you thought about it and got on with the next thing. Well done.”

Book a session with a Family Coach

family-coachSometimes family life is way more challenging than we had ever imagined. We would like it to be a lot more enjoyable, if only we knew how. Family coaching is designed to meet you where you are at, whatever stage you are at on your parenting and relationship journey. We want to be on the journey with you. To find out more and to book a session, click here.