You are tired of the constant tantrums and power struggles. Wondering how to manage your strong-willed child? Here’s a little help.
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Looking at my Fitbit, I’m only halfway to my 10,000 step daily goal.
Yes, a walk… that will buy me at least 2000 steps.
I turn to my 4-year-old son. “Want to go on a walk?”
My dog’s ears perked up… but, my son…
“NO!” he whined, “I’m too tired. I don’t want to go.”
Wait, Wait… let me get this straight. The kid who just reenacted American Ninja Warrior across our bathroom counters is now too tired?
“C’mon,” I say, “It’ll be fun!”
“NO!!” He dug in farther and amped up my guilt level a notch more.
“But… my tummy hurts and I just want to rest.”
No matter what I said or what I did, this kid was not going for a walk.
And I wish that I could say it was just this one time, but no. Once my boy is set on an idea he stays. You can call it stubborn…
Instead, let’s call it strong-willed.
Strong-willed child characteristics
How do you know if you have a strong-willed child? Well, let’s take a simple quiz:
Yes or no? Does your child seem to be completely motivated by her own agenda and ONLY her agenda and will argue and melt into temper tantrums if she doesn’t get her own way?
Welcome to the parenting a strong-willed child club!
I feel your pain. It can be incredibly hard in the short term. But know that you don’t have to be a slave to his angry outbursts or crazy wishes until he is 18.
In fact, I strongly advise against it.
You might have heard all the research about how having a strong-willed child is a really fantastic thing.
In fact according to TIME magazine, “rule breaking and defiance of parental authority turned out to be the best non-cognitive predictor of high income as an adult.”
This could be because strong-willed children are more willing to fight for their self-beliefs rather than follow the crowd.
They are ok with standing out and that’s cool.
But when we’re in charge of their personal safety, the line between the benefits and drawbacks becomes a little grayer.
You need some tricks up your sleeve. Here they are.
How to manage the strong-willed child by watching
First, you need to know what makes your strong willed-child tick. Actually, you probably know already.
When does she usually have a tantrum?
What are your power struggles about?
In the case of my son, he doesn’t respond well to change. He would rather keep doing what he’s doing unless of course, the change is part of his own agenda.
The trick is knowing what his agenda is.
While he doesn’t see the benefit of making me happy by going for a walk (I know, poor mom, right?), he does have quite the heart for our dog, Lily.
When I want to walk, I make sure he’s around and I ask the dog if she wants to walk.
Immediately, my dog stands up, cocks her head, and looks at me with these big, dark pleading eyes.
Then, my son says, “Lily, you want to go for a walk? Let’s go!”
And we walk.
Insincere trickery? No way! I’ve paid attention to what brightens up my son and use that.
What sparks your strong-willed child?
Praise what you like
Praise… you tricky beast, you get such a bad rap.
We’re all told how we shouldn’t tell kids “great job,” or “you are amazing” all the time. But how should we phrase our praise?
And how does this help our strong-willed darlings?
It’s human nature for children to crave their parent’s approval. If they see that their mom or dad like something, they’ll do it more often.
Now, the trick about praise is that you never want to make it sound like you are evaluating your child.
Because ultimately, your evaluation carries no weight whatsoever.
According to Nathaniel Branden in his book “The Psychology of Self Esteem”, quoted in the book How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk, “There is no value judgement to man, no factor more decisive in his psychological development and motivation – than the estimate he passes on himself.
That’s why phrases like, “Good job sitting there quietly,” don’t really work. When we say, “good job,” we’re not encouraging kids to be self-reflecting
Instead, use praise to highlight the strong points of your child’s personality while they are doing socially acceptable things.
For instance, say your child is very persistent.
(That can be said for all strong-willed children, right?)
Honor that persistence by noticing and describing those instances:
- “I notice that you tried and tried to get that LEGO brick to fit and you finally did. That’s what I call persistence.”, or
- “I saw that you didn’t quit when you had a hard time learning that dance. That’s determination.”
In both instances, you describe what the child did along with a one-word summary of the positive character trait.
This gives your child a way to evaluate her performance on her own terms.
Seek to Understand first
Temper tantrums and power struggles are a child’s way of asking for help. They may not choose the most effective methods, but all the same, it’s a cry for assistance.
The best way to discover exactly what is plaguing your child is to repeat her requests as you see them.
For instance, my son yesterday, after discovering that I and his sister had gone upstairs without him screamed and cried. Volume cranked up to 11.
My first instinct was to respond, “Erik. Stop. It’s OK.”
But, I paused…
Instead, I repeated back his complaint the way I saw it.
“You are mad because we went upstairs without you.”
“Ya,” he replied as he climbed onto my lap.
“And…” I was guessing here, “It scared you?”
His screaming ceased as he curled up into a little ball in my arms.
Seconds later, “Mom! Did you know we had tortillas today?”
Choices that you can live with
With the strong-willed child, sometimes the best discipline tip is to “drop the bomb and walk away.”
Choices are one of those bombs you can drop.
It’s important to remember that giving your child two reasonable choices is not the starting point for negotiation. (We don’t negotiate with terrorists)
It’s you can do this or you can do that:
“What would work best for you? Unload the dishwasher now or right after dinner?”
“Would you like to practice now or before dinner?”
“Either you can clean up your toys on the floor or I can give them to Goodwill.” (Careful with this one. Be ready to give the toys to Goodwill. I’ve done this before. I picked up all the toys on the floor and stored them in a box in the garage. What’s funny, is that my child never asked for a single toy in the box. Off to Goodwill they went)
Choices are a way of setting limits without making them seem like head-to-head threats.
I wish I could say that these 4 discipline tips are magic – you could use them and just like Galinda (with a guh), you would wave your wand and have a magically behaving child appear.
Parenting is much messier than that.
But, it helps to have these skills tucked away. If one doesn’t work, try another.
It’s a neverending process.
But keep strong mama and persevere. You got this!