Sometimes dealing with the power struggles of a strong-willed child leaves us with that feeling that our child needs to be “fixed.” But what really needs to be resolved is changing our parenting perspective and finding appropriate solutions to communicate with them.
What Is A Strong-Willed Child?
A strong-willed child is often described as “difficult” or “stubborn.” Some of the common characteristics include:
- Constant desire to “be right”
- Desperately need to be “in charge”
- Questions everything
Desirable Qualities of Being Strong-Willed... in the Future
Our overall main goal as parents is to raise confident and independent adults. We want them to have strong values and become leaders. We want to raise strong-willed adults.
They will be the ones who ask difficult questions, be persistent, and have no fear of being in charge or for defending their rights. They will have strength, confidence, and determination in reaching their goals and won’t stay quiet when they disagree with something they know isn’t right.
These are qualities we see in world leaders, CEOs, and successful entrepreneurs. They’re just hard to deal with as young children who question and create power struggles with their parents.
Strong-willed children often showcase their power struggles in public too, catching everyone’s attention. And people are always watching and sharing their input. They’ll either stare and judge from a distance or tell you “you’re lucky… they’ll grow up to be a strong and independent leader.”
Either way, it’s not all that helpful right now. Yes, my child is screaming through the grocery store right now, and yes, she can be a handful. Sure, being strong-willed might be great later in her life but definitely not as a young child and certainly not when it comes to her parents.
My Strong-Willed Child
My first child was a perfect listener, he was always respectful and obedient. I used to be a calm and collected mom but everything changed with two kids.
When It Started
By the time my youngest turned three, the most horrible age yet for either of my kids, my oldest was starting preschool. At first, she struggled with loneliness and then took advantage of having mommy by her side at all times. Then came the intensified emotions, power struggles, and complete stubbornness — the strong-willed threenager.
Sometimes it’s little things like insisting on having her stuffed animal with her at all times, including the toilet. Other times it’s simply not accepting a “no” or “in just a minute” even when said in the kindest manner possible and having a full meltdown. And of course, the common toddler inner struggles of trying to do things that simply cannot be done, like fitting a giant book into a tiny backpack.
Unknown Territory Even As a Second-Time Mom
I quickly realized that although there are a lot of similarities, there’s a huge difference between her and my firstborn when it comes to this stage. My son was obedient without question– until recently that is. But she immediately tries to get her way no matter what, and boy does she have some good acting skills.
With my son, a short time out would do the trick. He would calm down, apologize and try to be more contained. Sometimes he’d even send himself to time out because he sensed he was a little moody or mean– it was adorable!
With my daughter, we’d have to drag her to time out. She’ll be kicking and screaming for hours and let it intensify if we let her. It’s even gotten to the point of self-harm of pulling her hair and, one time, biting her lip till it bled.
Calming her down is a complete rollercoaster too. Hugs and musical distractions work sometimes. But it never feels right, it always feels like I’m failing as a parent.
New Perspective To Strong-Willed Parenting
It was time for me to change my perspective and look for different options. At first, I felt guilty about having different punishments for each of my kids but the truth is, everyone is different. Having a strong-willed child definitely makes parenting a little harder. Sometimes I think my daughter is a monster but she’s also got a lot of amazing qualities too. She doesn’t need to be “fixed,” I just need to understand her better so that I can parent her differently.
The Two-Options Method for Strong-Willed Children
A strong-willed child doesn’t like to be told what to do which makes it really hard for parents. They like to make their own choices so it’s our job to give them the right choices to choose from.
When you give orders to a strong-willed child, they will resist and you will end up in a power struggle. But if you give them the power of two choices, dictated by you, you both get what you want. For example, it’s time to sit down for lunch “Would you like me to sit you down or would you prefer to get on the chair yourself?”
We’ve been working with this two-option method for every power struggle for the past few weeks now and it’s been magical. My child will continue to have her moments but we’ve been working around her inner struggles.
When a power struggle begins and she starts to get frustrated, we offer the two choices. Honestly, her reaction surprises me almost every time. After taking a moment to think about it, ahh quiet, she shakes her head at the disappointment. And when we firmly repeat the options, she makes her choice. She’s not happy because it’s not what she wanted but she tends to accept that at least she does have some power in making her own choices. Viola, massive tantrum avoided!
Obviously, it’s not 100% guaranteed, one’s mind is unpredictable and toddlers can be wildly emotional. And sometimes they’re just so internally frustrated that they can’t even hear us over their own inner voices. Clearly, it’s doesn’t work instantly. Toddlers are supposed to be going through these internal struggles, but it has made a tremendous difference in finding a middle ground.
How Long Will It Last?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting, it’s that no method works for everyone and no method that does work will work forever.
My daughter is a smart cookie, she knows she’s being manipulated. But having the power to make her own choices makes her forget that, at least momentarily, and helps her understand the parental structure. In these situations, I think she understands the concept of ‘picking your battles,’ which makes me extremely proud.
I can’t help but wonder what am I going to do if and when this strategy wears off or how we’ll have to adapt. I hope the day never comes.
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Tips for Parenting a Strong-Willed Child
- When possible, let your child feel the responsibility of making choices throughout the day. Even if it means creating new opportunities, such as deciding what activity to do or having a chart or checklist of your daily routine.
- Teach your child lessons through experience and let them discover and fabricate questions on their own. A strong-willed child will have a hard time understanding concepts without testing them for themselves. Science experiments and nature play area great ways to release some of that curiosity.
- Follow logical rules and routines for establishing a standard guideline to avoid power struggles.
- Communicate clearly with your child by telling them how things will go before they happen and review them after. This will help them understand and accept change before it happens.
More on this topic: How To Encourage Communication Development In Your Young Child
- Listen to your child and try to see it from their perspective. Your child needs to feel heard and understood, it doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong.
- Pick your battles. Stay firm when it comes to parental order but ask yourself if ‘winning’ the argument will truly make a difference.
- Admit when you are wrong. Sometimes we are too quick to judge a situation and accidentally intensify the situation. Explain and apologize when necessary to show that everyone makes mistakes and teaches them about asking for forgiveness.
- Comfort your child. Certain moments are deserving of punishment but strong-willed children tend to shut down during their angry outbursts to effectively focus and reflect on fixing the situation. Communicate clearly about how difficult it must be for them. Use a soft voice, sing a song, and offer a hug or a change of activity. You may even want to try yoga or forms of meditation.
- Bribes, bribes, bribes! Every parent takes advantage of bribing their children for positive results. Bribes are particularly effective when dealing with a power struggle in public.
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My name is Paula and I’m a mom of two scrumptious cuties. Thanks Mommy Blog became a project for me to help guide other new moms and current moms through any of my own personal experiences and struggles. My hobbies include singing, doing jigsaw puzzles, baking, designing and trying to stay creative.