If you are the parent of a strong willed child, you likely don’t need anyone else to point out that your child is, in fact, strong willed. You already know. What you may not know (or may have trouble remembering at times) is that the qualities you find challenging when your child is young are the very same qualities that will be beneficial as they grow older.
How do you know if your child is strong willed? Strong willed children tend to exhibit these amazing (and sometimes challenging) qualities: clear about what they want; perseverance; creativity; determined; passionate; energetic; smart and savvy. They are spirited, intelligent, and not easily swayed from their individual viewpoints. They are most often the oppsite of calm, easy-going, reflective, quiet, and compliant.
If you are lucky enough to be parenting a strong-willed child, remember that it gets easier. Embrace ways to nurture your child’s spirited personality rather than trying to “fix” or squelch those qualities. The early years with your child may have you pulling your hair out. But think about it – that attitude you see is what will steer your child along his or her own path, navigating around peer pressure situations with greater ease, taking on leadership roles in society, and sharing their gifts with the world.
Strong Willed Child Meaning
Children who are seemingly more challenging in relation to adults around them are often considered to be “strong willed” children. If your child seems stubborn, argumentative, unruly, energetic, independent, determined, and passionate, you are likely in the presence of a child whom most would consider to be strong willed.
Having a strong willed child doesn’t need to be deemed as a detriment, though. In fact, by nurturing these same qualities, you’ll be amazed to watch your child blossom into a highly competent and successful teenager and then adult.
The qualities that are challenging to cope with and direct appropriately in young children are likewise qualities that are admired in adults.
Strong Willed Child Characteristics
Children’s personalities often fall somewhere along a spectrum of easy-going at one end and strong willed at the other. Naturally, children fall anywhere along that spectrum. For those on the far side (being considered strong willed by nature), here’s a list of common characteristics you may see, and how they can look during the early years of childhood:
- Determination: This can seem like “tunnel vision” when your child is young. He or she has started an activity and does NOT want to stop until completed to perceived satisfaction. Whether it’s climbing a rock and not wanting to come down when it’s time to leave or reading a book far past bedtime, the strong willed child is determined.
- Passion: An exhibition of a young child’s passion may look like nothing more than a huge mess to an adult. Maybe it’s an art project that’s been strewn all over the living room, or the backyard has been turned into a mud pit. Or their bedroom has been turned into a fortress. But in your child’s world, a creative experiment is blossoming in the most wonderful way!
- Conviction: A strong willed child’s inner conviction may be viewed as disrespect by some authority figures (especially to parents who feel it’s better for children to be “seen not heard,” which was a popular parenting attitude in earlier decades). But to those parents who understand and can appreciate a child’s conviction, this same quality will be a positive force later in life if it’s not squelched early on.
- Leadership: This can look like bossiness in the young child. Teaching (and modeling) respectful communication skills can help to steer this quality in a productive direction. Parents can teach ways to ensure their child’s tone and attitude is communicated as respectful and “enlisting” rather than overbearing and bossy with peers and others.
- Perseverance: This quality can come across as being a pest – asking for the same thing over and over, day after day, in every way imaginable, with small variations until success seems likely. Work with your child to let him or her know that you’ve heard the request and appreciate it, and then offer reasons for why it’s not possible to indulge. If it’s non-negotiable, let them know (and when appropriate, offer the reason so that the “pestering” may be lessened).
Benefits of a Strong Willed Child
Strong willed children exhibit a set of unique personality traits that are coveted as adults and truly beneficial. The same list above can seem daunting when a toddler or preschooler exhibits them. Yet as your child grows into adulthood, you can see how the same characteristics will help him or her to more successfully navigate their world.
- Determination: As your child grows older, this determination and single-focus-mentality will be a benefit when a job needs to be done, and done well. No flakiness here!
- Passion: The passion a strong willed child exhibits will be his or her guiding light later in life – burning brightly to share with the world. Nurture this quality from the earliest years to see the greatest and most amazingly creative results.
- Conviction: As your child grows, his or her conviction becomes evident in the ways they view, speak and act out against social justice, whether in small groups or society at large. This will be the young adult who stands up for friends who are being bullied, or works with groups to gain strides in fairness and equality later in life.
- Leadership: The “bossiness” of earlier years become leadership as your child grows. They can see the bigger picture, assess others’ skills and potential contributions with ease, and grow into successful leaders with the right guidance along the way.
- Perseverance: This is an amazing quality to grow into. Think about when your child will grow into benefitting from applying this trait to an educational track, work training, hobbies, or sports. This one wins the gold!
Parenting a Strong Willed Child
As the parent of a strong willed child, you may feel entirely overwhelmed at times. Strong willed children are often highly intelligent and by default they challenge authority figures in their lives. They can be more difficult to parent as a result – making you question your every move and decision. (These are the kids you think will certainly be future lawyers for the way they can negotiate through conversations, tripping you in at every response.)
Because these children are often not only intelligent, but also creative, they can argue you in circles (and stay at least one step ahead of you all the while!) Therefore, parenting strong willed children can be exhausting as they tend to need more attention and validation than children who have different personality types. They may also question things to death, until they understand every angle and every point along the way.
Keep in mind, though, that just because these children may come across as confident and authoritative, they question themselves, as well. Their self-esteem can be fragile, while being perfectionists and also exceedingly hard on themselves at the same time. You can help to steer them in a positive direction in terms of their own mindset by nurturing them with gentle guidance and showing empathy.
The key to successfully parenting a strong willed child is balance. Create boundaries, yet trust your child to be independent and expressive within those established boundaries. Creating a calm environment helps to lessen the chances of the more defiant aspects of your child’s personality coming through. By being a less reactive parent and staying calm yourself, your child’s focus will be less on escalating situations (including your reactions) and more on navigating their own path in the moment.
The most difficult challenge of parenting a strong willed child is that typical parenting styles rarely work. Cooperation, rather than authoritative, parenting deems greater success. Your strong willed child needs to feel a sense of control, so work with him or her and try to understand their perspective.
You’d be surprised by the answers you may get if you ask your child what they feel would work in a given situation. When you’re at a loss about what to do or how to navigate a situation, truly, ask what they think the best incentive would be for a given expectation. Then also ask an appropriate and effective consequence if they don’t follow through.
For example, if your child is neglecting homework and you feel you’ve tried everything to get the habit under control, try this strategy to see if it works. Ask your child why they are neglecting their homework. Then, ask what they feel will provide enough incentive to stay on top of his or her assignments. Lastly, ask what the consequence should be if homework still isn’t getting done. You both need to agree on the plan, and then you need to stick with it.
If it doesn’t work, try it again. But chances are it will work, because your child will feel a part of the process and will want to be successful in the solution. They will also want to be involved in future decisions so will do everything possible to show that they can handle that level of shared responsibility.
When your child feels they are part of the process, you’ll get their best efforts and responses. Partner with your child for success.
Another strategy is to say “yes” as often as possible. This will help to offset the times you need to say “no,” and will feel less restrictive. Even when something is a “no,” you can word it differently so that the message is more positive.
For example, if your child asks to stay at a playground until dark, and you want or need to leave sooner, find a way to communicate this without saying “no.” You could respond with, “we can leave now and you’ll have more time to read later, or we can stay another 20 minutes and have less time for books later.” This may not address the “staying until dark” question, but offers your child a sense of control while you are also partnering with your child for a solution that’s acceptable.
Understanding Your Strong Willed Child
Strong willed children are inner-directed and self-motivated. Understanding their individual and spirited qualities and remembering the benefits of such qualities will help you to focus and steer their activities in positive and productive directions.
These children will want to learn by their own experiences rather than from simply what they’re told. They will test boundaries and limits, and are therefore deemed as difficult and challenging. But when you understand the reason for their strong willed tendencies, you can better see not only what they are trying to learn (on their own way), but also how they prefer to learn things.
Strong willed children are amazingly adept at drawing adults into power struggles. But it takes two for a power struggle. So when you understand this, you can side step engaging in power struggles by showing respect and understanding of their point of view. Empathize, offer limited choices, and insist on mutual respect.
Instilling a mutually trusting relationship with your child is important when raising a strong willed child. Rather than striving for your child to do what they are told because you have taught them to be “obedient,” when you gain their trust, your child will do what they’re told because they trust you (and they will trust you more when you trust them in return). It seems like a small point, but understanding that single difference in strategy will help you both move forward in a more seamless, positive, and productive relationship.
When your child begins to trust that you are not working against them, they will come to trust your judgement in more important ways as they grow older. For example, when you talk with them about friend choices (who may be negatively influencing him or her), or when talking about other choices – such as experimenting with alcohol and drugs, your conversation will be more positively impactful. So by starting to establish mutual trust as early as possible, it benefits your relationship in numerous ways – creating a stronger parent-child bond and mutual understanding along the way.
How Do I Redirect a Strong Willed Child? Strong willed children thrive when they have a sense of control. Redirecting a strong willed child can be as easy as offering acceptable choices. As long he or she feels like they have a say in the outcome, that’s most often all that they need to feel validated and in control. If you find yourself in a power struggle, try changing the subject entirely (to something less stressful, more interesting, and light hearted). Adding humor and piquing a child’s interest can diffuse a power struggle quickly and ease any tension.
How Do I Stay Calm with My Child? A few helpful strategies include: Taking care of yourself first (if you’re hungry or over-tired, your own responses are more likely to be reactive); be intentional and mindful of your choice to respond calmly and lovingly; stop and focus on your own breathing – it can help to calm your mind and body; and, take a time out for a bit of space and think about happy moments with your child (rather than the currently stressful dynamic).
How Do You Discipline a Child without Hitting and Yelling? Using conventional discipline techniques with a strong willed child can backfire. A more successful approach for parenting this particular personality type includes balance and taking a middle-ground approach to discipline.
This strategy includes: Remembering WHY (not in the moment, but long term); working with your child in a cooperative way rather than in opposition; keeping the connection between you and your child as the foundation; asking questions to understand their reasoning and perspective; and modeling and teaching respectful communication (allowing them “do-overs” when they are being rude or disrespectful, such as “Please try asking for that in a kinder way.”)