How To Parent A Strong Willed Child

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I have 3 boys. It wasn’t until my 3rd child came along that I truly understood what it means to parent a strong willed child! Boy oh boy, do I know what it means! He is only 2 years old and it is amazing how strong his likes and dislikes are, how easy it is for him to say “No” and how often he likes to challenge boundaries. Does this sound familiar to you? Do you want to know how to parent a strong willed child? If so, read on!

I can attest to the fact that strong willed children are born with, well…a strong will! My little guys temperament didn’t take long to come through! In fact, he was pretty strong willed in utero. Ha! When I was pregnant he would kick so hard I would literally jump from my chair. My other 2 boys kicked but J’s kicks were different…just like his temperament.

How to Parent a Strong Willed Child

screaming toddler on stairs-strong willed child


It takes a lot of patience to be a parent of a strong willed child. I have learned just that over the last couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, I love my little guy just the same. But…he most definitely tests my patience.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure what the “problem” was with his behavior. Initially, I thought he had a problem and was defiant (yes, I know he’s only 2 but seriously there were days when I was ready to throw in the towel.) Especially, when I compared him to my other two boys. I know, I know… it’s not good to compare. I tell my clients and friends that all the time. But, I too am human. It’s hard not to.

As the days turned into months and now into years, I questioned if it was the fact that he was our 3rd child and it was his way of trying to get our attention or that I am an older mom (I am 42 years young!) and I have less patience myself or was he just a “difficult” child or could it be a combination of all of them?

I did some reflecting on my training as a Marriage and Family Therapist, my experience as a mom and lots of reading that led me to understand that my little J is in fact a strong willed child! Now, if you would have asked my husband he would tell you J is just like his mommy! I bet if you asked my mom she would say the same thing! I won’t deny this little guy has a lot of me in him. And, I won’t apologize.

6 Signs you have a strong willed child

  1. It is SO easy for them to say NO
  2. They are short tempered
  3. Strong sense of right and wrong
  4. Strong likes and dislikes
  5. Challenge boundaries
  6. You are physically and emotionally exhausted

6 Tips for parenting the strong willed child

  1. Keep calm! It is so easy to lose our patience. Know your limits, know your triggers and take time out for yourself throughout the day. Self care is SO important. Even a couple minutes to yourself in a closet with your favorite piece of chocolate can be so wonderful. Not that I have ever done that before, don’t judge me! Small breaks go a long way, especially if you have little ones at home with you all day long. A strategy I use before I think I am going to absolutely lose it, is an adult time out. Check out my post on how and why I use these. I’ve never used so many adult time outs in the last 2 years! Haha!
  2. Pick your battles. Think about it, is it really worth it? For example, J loves to wear his pajama’s all the time! Like most people, I really like my boys to be dressed in their clothes before we leave the house…I know, I know, sounds unreasonable. Ha! But my little guy just doesn’t like to get dressed in his clothes. This became a frequent battle. I kept trying to put clothes on him. One morning we were on our way to my oldest sons baseball meet and greet. J, was SCREAMING, KICKING, having a full on melt down refusing to put his clothes on. Some would say, “How hard is it to put pants on a 2 year old?” Well, if you have a strong willed child you understand what I am saying. Literally, both my husband and I tried to put pants on him and it wasn’t happening! I could feel my body getting tense, my temperature was rising. Then I stopped. I turned to my husband and said “does it really matter? Why are we battling our 2 year old to put on pants? He isn’t going on an interview! Why do we care if he stays in his pajamas or not?” It was at that moment we said “who cares!” Let me tell you, J was so happy when we told him he could wear his pajamas. Our house was instantly calmer! To me, that’s a win! You have to decide what is and isn’t important. For us, wearing his pajamas isn’t worth having a battle. He isn’t hurting anyone or himself. In fact, most people thought it was cute. Many parents started reminiscing how their child used to do similar things. Again…pick your battles!
  3. Listen to your child. Now, this can be difficult when you have little ones that aren’t talking or just learning to talk. Often times they have melt downs because they are trying to communicate something and don’t have the words to do so. Whether they speak or not it is so important to listen and let them know you hear them. Find what works best for them. For example, I found it helpful when I state what I believe my son is saying rather than asking him a question. I usually say, “I know you are upset (or insert feeling). I pause for a second. It allows them to confirm they feel that way. Then I continue with another statement (not a question), ” you want the car (or insert need).” He lets me know if that is what he wants or not. Sometimes we go through 4 or 5 things before I can figure out what he needs. However, I am showing him that I am hearing him and I care what his needs are. I have also used “I want to help you, let’s figure it out together or show me.” If your child is at a higher level developmentally (speaking in 3-4 word sentences, etc.) this might not be necessary. The important thing is trying different things until you find what works for you and your child. They need to feel heard.
  4. Let them be independent and learn on their own. Strong willed children are extremely independent. They want to do things and learn on their own. They need to do things for themselves to actually believe it. My little guy is super curious about everything. He loves to explore, touch and climb everything. As a parent, this would frustrate me at times. Especially when my other 2 boys were quite the opposite. I would tell them “don’t touch that, it’s hot or that’s dirty” that would be the end of it, for the most part! Not J! Why doesn’t he just believe me when I tell him the water is too hot!?! Nope, he has to find out himself. ALL THE TIME, WITH EVERYTHING! I have learned to take a step back, let him go and let my little guy be free. (As long as it’s safe!)
  5. Give yourself extra time when transitioning activities. This has been very difficult for me but it is extremely helpful. For example, when it’s time to pick up my oldest son from school I can’t tell J, “ok, let’s go, we need to pick up D from school,” then expect him to get up from playing and walk out the door. It doesn’t work at all. I need to give him a 5 minute warning before we leave and I need to add another 5-10 minutes as a buffer for other unexpected things. J, wants to open the car door himself, he wants to get in the car seat himself, he wants to buckle himself, he wants to get in and out of the car himself. He wants to do things his way. I have tried fun little tricks, tried to distract him with fun games or songs and I have bribed him with candy…CANDY doesn’t even work!  You see, strong willed children aren’t interested in those things, they want to be and do things on their own. I realized if I didn’t want a full on melt down I needed extra time to allow him to do these things. Time is not always on my side, as with most mommies, but once I started adjusting my time, transitions became so much easier. Totally worth it in our home!
  6. Give them choices. It is extremely rare when I can tell J to do something and he gladly obliges. When possible, I give him choices. It allows him to feel like he is in control. It fosters his need to be independent and make decisions on his own (so he thinks!). Just make sure the choices you offer are ones you are ok with! That can end up a total disaster if they aren’t. I use this with all my boys. Children are constantly being told what to do all day and night. It is nice for them to feel like they have some choices. I find this is even more important with my little guy.

One last thing, parenting the strong willed child isn’t easy! So, when you are exhausted, frustrated, at your wits end, remember this…

A strong willed toddler will grow up to be a strong child that is less likely to give in to peer pressure, to be more confident and focused. Those strong willed children grow up to be strong, independent, driven adults.

I hope these tips can help you parent your strong willed child. It can be so difficult and extremely exhausting at times. With a lot of patience and learning your child’s needs you will be on your way to a more peaceful house. It’s important to be flexible. Your child’s needs will change and so will your techniques when parenting them. Do what works for you and your child.

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