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If you have a strong-willed child, then you know how difficult it can be to navigate even an ordinary day. Your simple requests to get shoes on, pick up toys, or sit at the table for dinner might be met with an obstinate “No!”, running away, ignoring, or even a temper tantrum if you’re parenting a strong-willed child.
The reason behind this behavior can be complicated, but often, it’s rooted in your child’s desire to be in control and make his or her own decisions.
Note: I am not a pediatrician or a child psychiatrist. If you’re really struggling with your child’s behavior, your child’s pediatrician can be a wealth of resources and point you to the appropriate specialists. If you feel that you need to consult yours, I encourage you to do so.
I do have quite a bit of experience working with young children through my speech pathology practice, as well as from raising my own five children. I’ve found that the 5 parenting tips I’m sharing with you here are key for managing a strong-willed child.
If your goal is peaceful parenting with love and logic, but you’re finding yourself running out of patience and raising your voice, then these strategies are for you!
Strategy #1: Offer Choices
Next time your child refuses to do what you need him to do, try offering two choices. Imagine your child is refusing to put on the clothes you have set out for him. Instead of continuing to battle about it, you can give your child some of the control he’s after.
You can suggest, “OK, why don’t you decide what to wear today?” Give him 2 shirts, 2 shorts, and two pairs of socks to choose from. The key here is to keep the choices on your terms.
What you don’t want to do is open up the entire closet of clothes to choose from, because that will end up being an overwhelming and time-consuming choice for your kiddo to make.
Here’s another scenario. Your child has dumped out multiple games and puzzles all over the room and says he will not pick them up. You can get him to cooperate by giving a choice here.
Try, “OK, I know this is a lot to put away by yourself, so I’ll help you. Do you want to put away the puzzles and I’ll do the games? Or do you want to put away the games and I’ll do the puzzles?”
One really important thing to be careful of when using this method is to always make sure you are 100% good with either choice your child makes. If you need to go to the store and he needs to come along, don’t say, “Do you want to go to the store or do you want to stay home?” He’s going to say “stay home” and then you won’t have the chicken you need for dinner.
Instead, think of a choice you can live with. Maybe it’s allowing your child to choose between two meals you could make for dinner, and then you buy those ingredients at the store. Or allowing your child to decide between riding in the cart or walking beside the cart.
It really is amazing how easily the “Offer Choices” strategy can turn around a child that is being obstinate.
Strategy #2: Give Responsibility
Power struggles. Sometimes it feels like 95% of parenting consists of power struggles with your child. Amiright?
Your strong-willed child wants more power and control over her life. And you can give it to her by giving her a little responsibility and allowing some independence in everyday tasks.
Even a two-year-old can handle some tasks on her own. Tasks like peeling a banana or clearing her own dishes from the table. And when you give some responsibility to a young child, you’re showing her that you know she is capable and she doesn’t need to rely on you for everything. And that is often the bit of independence that a strong-willed child is striving for.
I’ve noticed over the years that some parents are afraid to give their kids jobs to do because they want to “let them just be kids.” They think it’s unkind to “make” their kids do chores. I really believe parents who feel this way are missing a whole big piece of perspective.
Responsibility in the form of chores helps a child understand that they are contributing members of the household. This gives a child a sense of power that is quite different from the power they get from behaving poorly, but it can fulfill that same desire for independence.
Bottom line: having responsibility makes kids feel good, confident, and empowered. And as a side effect of that, it can help them be more cooperative overall.
Strategy #3: Stop Micro-Managing
Oh, believe me I know this is a tough one for any of my Type A parents out there. But I had to include this as one of the parenting strategies because none of the other methods in this post will work if you’re micro-managing every single thing your kiddo does. Please imagine me saying that to you in the gentlest, most non-judgmental way, because I have struggled with this for my 23 years of being a mom. No judgment here.
But in order to really empower your child on your terms, you have to let go of some of the minutiae that just aren’t important in the long run. Being very rigid and controlling with things like how they arrange their toys on the shelf or whether they got water all over the countertop when they washed their hands only makes it harder for your child to feel successful. And it makes it a lot more likely that you’ll have a power struggle.
So instead, choose your battles carefully. Raise your tolerance. Lower your bar. Some paint on her dress or messy hair for school just doesn’t make an ounce of difference, so work hard to let those things go. It gets easier with practice. I promise.
Strategy #4: Use Visual Schedules
Using visual schedules is an awesome strategy when dealing with any type of push-back or difficulty from a strong-willed kiddo. It works especially well when the battles happen consistently during a routine part of your day.
What is a visual schedule?
A visual schedule is a sequence of pictures that each represent an action or activity within a routine or schedule.
Teachers and professionals who work with kiddos who have developmental learning issues, such as kids on the autism spectrum, use these a lot in the classroom setting. A visual schedule makes it easier for a child to see what has already been done and what will come next within a routine, allowing for easier transitions between activities and parts of the day.
If you would like an in depth look at how I use a visual schedule at home with my youngest, check out my post How To Use A Visual Schedule for Difficult Three-Year-Old Behavior [free printable].
Routines that might trigger difficult behavior are things like getting ready for school, putting away toys after playtime, and bedtime. To use a visual schedule for these times, you would just need a simple sequence of pictures representing each part of the routine.
For picking up toys after playtime, you could try a picture representing playtime, a picture representing cleaning up, and a picture representing something afterward, like a snack or a story.
For bedtime, you could use a picture symbolizing pajamas, one for brushing teeth, one for reading stories, and one for going to bed.
To make a visual schedule, I recommend using the free version of Canva to find images that are close to what you need. Simply print them out and post them in order on the wall or a piece of paper where your child can see what’s next.
Here’s one I use for my preschooler on school mornings.
I’ve found visual schedules to be super helpful in reducing power struggles that are triggered by routines throughout the day.
Strategy #5: Establish Simple & Logical Discipline
Making sure you have a consistent, logical, and straightforward discipline plan in place is crucial for any sort of positive change in your child’s behavior.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but I’ll just be the first one to admit that your discipline strategies need to change as your child gets older. And what works for your 2-year-old might not work for your 11-year-old. And what works for your determined child might not work for your sensitive child. And what works for an analytical parent might not work for an artistic parent.
It’s my belief that consistent discipline is important for all kids, no matter their demeanor. For strong-willed kids, reliable and logical discipline is critical. If your child behaves in a defiant manner and finds that each and every time he can expect the same, boring, consistent disciplinary action, then the defiant act loses some of its ability to fuel your child’s desire for control. Suddenly, the defiant behavior becomes less appealing to your child. And that’s a win for you.
Settling on discipline that suits your child and your family can be a long process of trial and error, but that’s ok. In my experience as a parent, I have read more than my fair share of parenting books and tried numerous styles of discipline and behavior management.
By far the best thing I’ve done to help me approach a place of peaceful and consistent parenting has been to educate myself on how children develop, emotionally and neurologically. Understanding what is reasonable to expect from a child at a given age developmentally has really helped shape our family discipline.
While there are a lot of books and programs out there that will help you gain a better overall understanding of your child, these are two specific books that I highly recommend. Both books are written by Dr. Daniel Siegel, a child psychiatrist and professor at UCLA medical school.
Whatever method or set of rules you choose for your family, it’s important that your discipline is consistent, predictable, logical, and calm. A strong-willed child needs to know what the consequences will be if he does not sit at the table and eat dinner with the family or if he hits his sister.
Raising A Strong-Willed Child
There are lots of positive things about having a child with a strong, determined personality. While it can be a challenge at times, know that ALL children pose a challenge at times, no matter their personality. I genuinely hope that these strategies help you out and lead to some peace and calm in your household.