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Jenny Hale - How to Deal with Strong Willed Children

Factsheet: Strong willed children

Some of us are blessed with one or more of these children in our families. What you may have noticed:

  • Takes charge
  • Do it my way or else!
  • Competitive
  • Sees ‘no’ as a challenge
  • Can’t see that others might be right!
  • Black and white thinking
  • Resistant
  • Asks for one more
  • Explosive and fragile


And on the flip side:

  • Likes to lead
  • decisive
  • Independent
  • Hard working
  • Tenacious
  • Strong sense of justice
  • Think outside the box – young entrepreneurs


Strong willed children often have a parent who is also strong willed J some people (especially your parents) will say it is payback for how hard you made life for them!

Children who make decisions with intensity tend to be called "strong willed." At the end of the day, their parents feel as if they've been engaged in hand-to-hand combat for hours-and the children often win! Strong-willed kids are generally determined, highly motivated, persistent, and not easily persuaded once they've made up their minds. Most parents consider a strong will a negative personality trait because it often creates resistance and frustration in family life.


Children with strong wills have the potential to become the next generation of leaders!

They have their own ideas and plans. They know what they want. They're persistent, confident, passionate, and determined to succeed at whatever they choose to do. Leaders have an agenda, look for ways to incorporate others into their plans, and have a higher need for control in life. Balanced with graciousness, leaders become a treasure because they make things happen, create organization out of chaos, and motivate people to action.        


Step up – lead your strong willed children!

Parents need to develop strong wills. It's not an option. Many strong-willed kids have weak-willed parents, allowing the children to become more selfish and demanding. Unmotivated children also need strong-willed parents to challenge them to succeed. Kids need parents who are willing to take a stand for what's right, demonstrate leadership, and set firm limits. They need mums and dads who have firm and kind leadership and expect their strong willed children to behave well.


Don’t take it personally!

There isn’t time to take it personally and wonder what you did wrong. Or feel that this child is out to make your life a misery. They will find your buttons and tender areas and if you are fragile or defensive, easily hurt and offended, your child may very easily show contempt for your weakness. You don’t have to be uncaring and without feelings, but if you have to have them as your buddy and friend, they will not respect you. They need you to be the big person with the guts and stability to stay on course. 

Strong willed children can be more complex and trickier to parent and there are times to stop and investigate. A good question to ask from time to time is - Why is my child behaving like this? Are there any unmet needs that I need to focus on? As we are able to appreciate that the behaviour we see in a child is also a reflectionof how they are feeling we come to be able to address the real cause of behaviour. A child who feels right acts right!


14 ways to avoid conflict with strong-willed children 

1. Be a KFC parent! Be kind, firm and calm. Your tone of voice says a lot to your child. If it is sarcastic, angry, fighty or desperate – your strong-willed child will sniff it out! Stay kind, dignified and pleasant. You don’t need to get mean or shout at them – in fact it gives your child more ammunition to fight with. A strong-willed child has to challenge it and defend himself. The issue gets lost, as the child has to fight with the ‘fight’ in you. Firmness is what these children desperately need even though their job description is to get you to fold, buckle, adapt and move. Work out what you really are prepared to stand by and be solid. A strong willed child will do their research on you – if they find they can move you around – they will be relentless. Speak calmly and quietly. Bring your voice down especially at the end of the sentence. Your calm voice and manner carries your confidence. If you need to, find a way to regain your composure by making a cuppa or walking to the letterbox. Avoid fighting words that sound like “You are not going to turn television on until you have put your kindy bag away.” You could get a much better result by saying “You are welcome to turn television on as soon as your kindy bag is away.”

2. Use ‘yes’ wherever you can and ‘no’ sparingly. Many of our children’s requests can be given a yes, if we take the time to rephrase the response. When your child says at five o’clock at night “Can I have Timothy over to play” the usual answer would be “No, look at the time. Of course you can’t have Timothy over now. We are going to have dinner soon.” An answer like that has the potential to create a battle especially as we are giving the impression that it was a very foolish thing to ask for. However, if we respond with something that shows we are thinking about their needs, the child feels respected but realises that certain requirements are necessary for such an activity to take place. “It would be great to have Timothy around to play.’ Having friends over time’ is over for today, so let’s plan what day would be a good day to invite him and we’ll ring after dinner to arrange it.”

3. Give them opportunities to problem solve. A strong-willed child likes an opportunity to convince his parents about a request. Every now and then give your child the privilege of going away and working out a convincing argument on why they should be allowed to do something. Let them spend their energy on good reasons why you should agree to their request. If your child wants to have a play date and it does not work that day, offer them a chance to find a solution to the problem “We have a wee problem here Tamara, and I think you can work it out. Get the calendar out and work out which day we are all going to be home so this can work for everyone.” If your seven year old wants to buy something expensive but you are not willing or able, ask them how this problem could be solved. These kids are often busting to flex their problem solving; entrepreneurial skills so let them have their ‘head’ from time to time.

4. Use less verbal instructions – find alternatives to words. A strong-willed child resents the constant barrage of instructions, requests, corrections and words telling them what to do. It makes them feel controlled. Try an instruction on a piece of paper – Please hang up your towel! Instead of reminding them to brush their teeth each night, stick a friendly little note under their pillow “Teeth please.” Instead of insisting that they come with you to visit granny, write a lovely invitation – Dear Katie, We are going to be visiting granny on Saturday morning and we would love to have you come with us. The car will be leaving about and will return about 11.30am. There will be ice creams on the way home. Hope you can come. R.S.V.P Friday.

5. Offer choices. Your child feels a sense of significance and importance when given the responsibility and privilege of coming up with their own response. It allows them to think for themselves and they also learn to put their energy into thinking about their preference and not whether they want to do it or not. There are a number of areas that you can invite your child to have input in. Choices can range from what colour shoes to put on, a banana or apple to eat, going to bed on daddy’s back or on daddy’s feet, holding hands across the road or being carried. As they get older, whether to eat their meal or go hungry until the next meal, how to spend their allowance, which sport to play or whether they complete chores immediately or before a meal time can all be choices that they make. Now some interesting strong-Willed children will invent a choice that you have not included. When you say, “Are you going to wear your sandals or your blue shoes” they say, “I want to wear my gumboots”. This is where you decide whether this falls into the small stuff basket or 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.'

6. Give frameworks of time but do not insist on things being done immediately. Sometimes having time and space to come to grips with a new idea, task or request can help. 'I'd like the dishes done before you turn on the television.' or 'Afternoon tea is ready as soon as you have put your school bag away.'

7. Refrain from giving them mini-lectures. Let the consequence do the teaching. If they made a choice that has unfavourable consequences, resist the pressure to give them the “I told you so” tell off. The learning from this situation could get lost in the effort to justify themselves and maintain their dignity.

8. Stand your ground on important issues. A strong-willed child wants someone who is firm – who they can ultimately 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. Listen without solving. Empathetic listening is being able to fully understand a person and hear them out. Many strong willed kids have parents who are always telling them what to do and how to behave and feel. If you spend the time nodding and focusing on what they are feeling, your child is very likely to feel validated and will fix the problem themselves.

10. Remove yourself from the heat before you do or say something you may regret. 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.” Strong-willed children learn to respect their parents’ boundaries especially if they know that you will be revisiting that request or idea. 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.

11. Avoid escalating consequences. Strong willed children will often take back some of the control you have taken off them by showing very little care for a consequence. It is important not to escalate the consequence in an attempt to find their currency. Stay calm and follow through but don’t put all your hopes into believing that a consequence will do the trick. When they tell you that they don’t care if they can’t have dessert – then agree with them. It is the certainty not the severity that matters.

12. Keep sacred traditions. Strong willed children are known to sabotage their good times! They may try and punish you or themselves by deliberately doing something that punishes themselves. These children can end up feeling unlovable and bad children. If you always have a story and a cuddle at bed time – keep that going. Some families will formally plan to spend time with a strong willed child 2 or 3 times a week and it is neither a reward or a punishment. It will happen, no matter what and this can help a child feel lovable and cherished again.

13. Inspire them. Strong willed children resist being locked down but will step up if they feel they are being respected and believed in. Instead of telling them off for their bad behavior – turn it around and inspire them. 'Samuel, you are a good boy and you and I know you can do better behavior than this. Let’s see it because you are capable and clever.'

14. Quietly discipline them. Strong willed children will often react to an instruction if they are surrounded by an audience. They see it as a challenge – their dignity is at stake and so is their need to win. You are much more likely to get cooperation if you quietly move beside them and ask them to do something without anyone else hearing you!