Ten things to help with your strong willed child

Here’s the thing about strong willed children – they are wonderful, wild, and absolutely have the capacity to drive you crazy. Want to know a little more about your strong willed wee one? Check out my first article on strong willed kids.

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If you’re here, it’s likely because you’re looking for help. While I don’t have all the answers, twenty or so years of sitting with families like yours and hearing your challenges has equipped me with a few tools to help. Here are ten key things that I think make life a little easier for parents of strong willed kids –

1. Let your child learn by the mistakes they make

Strong willed children don’t like being told what they should do and what they did wrong. It takes away some of their need for power and dignity. Wherever you can, let them run with their idea and when the cake does not turn out the way you like it – try very hard not to say, “Well I told you that would happen if you didn’t measure the flour properly.” These kids will learn a lesson all on their own and they will learn it well.

2. When there is a problem that needs solving – invite them to help

Strong willed children thrive on exercising their brains and problem thinking skills. Let’s say they want a friend to play but today won’t work – invite them to work out a day that does work for everyone.

3. Give them some room to make choices

Strong willed kids enjoy the respect that comes from deciding which option they would they like the most. It may be as basic as – “Would you like the blue cup or the red cup?” Choices engage a child’s thinking and it allows them some freedom which they need to thrive.

4. Rehearse areas that are difficult

Strong willed children often find exiting an activity they are enjoying problematic.
Before they play at a friend’s house, tell them what they need to do and say when it is time to leave. They need a script to run over that replaces their natural one, which usually sounds like, “I don’t want to leave. I haven’t finished yet!”. Try practicing, “Thanks Dad, I’ve had a great time and I’m ready to go.”

5. Use a rule as your reference point – not a personal attack

Strong willed children are very sensitive to discrimination. If you tell them to stop throwing the blocks around or else – they just might find that worth investigating. However, if you say something like “James, we use blocks for building with – that’s our rule.” James can separate himself from the command and see it as a stable family rule.

6. Maintain regular routines and rituals

Strong willed children almost seem to want to sabotage the good times available to them. They test parents resolve and unconditional love. These children absolutely need to know that certain daily rituals like bedtime stories and back rubs will take place regardless of behaviour. These patterns are predictable, comforting, and remind them that they cannot push you away.

7. Reserve some energy to be playful

Strong willed children are exhausting. They are pushing so many buttons that parents often feel they are just keeping their heads above water. There is a trick with these children – they can be disarmed easily! When we hold the toothbrush and the toothbrush starts to talk – the fight goes out of them. They smile, and parents and children stay on the same team.

8. Refrain from using fighting words

These sound like “ How dare you speak to me like that. There are no more treats for you until you learn some respect!” Fight invites fight. A strong willed child hearing these words is likely to think – I don’t care about the treats – I just must win. Thinking words create much more engagement and they sound like, “As soon as you can speak respectfully to me, I will be happy to stay in the room and listen to you.”

9. Don’t threaten

A threat carries a degree of powerlessness, and strong willed children pick up on that. They can tell when a parent is lost for control and is using punishments to scramble for some. These children need consequences, and they need to know what they are up front.

10. Be careful about what they hear you say

Speaking positively about your child works magnificently – and so does speaking negatively. If the message they are hearing is that they are a nuisance, a bad child, wearing you down, difficult or unmanageable – they will feed off that and live up to the words.

And now, for a word of comfort. Strong willed children bring delight to parents, family, and teachers alike. Their strength is inspiring. They don’t need approval from others to make good decisions. If you’re the parent of one, just know that your journey will be easier if you go with the grain, and let your strong willed child know how fond you are of them.

If you’ve got a strong willed child on your hands, I’d love to help you. I’ve got an event coming up called ‘The strong willed child’ that I’d love to see you at. I’m also a Family Coach at Parenting Place and you can book a session with myself or another one of our awesome Family Coaches here.