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Published on September 20, 2018

12 Tips for Parenting the Strong Willed Child in a Compassionate Way

12 Tips for Parenting the Strong Willed Child in a Compassionate Way

How do you know if you have a strong willed child? You just know. Nobody had to tell you and you didn’t have to analyze your child to determine if they were strong willed.

Their personality is so strong that there is no guessing that they have a strong will. This type of personality is especially challenging to parents because it is difficult to parent someone who already has their mind made up about just about everything in life.

If channeled in the right direction and you don’t break your child’s spirit along the way, you can have a kid who is destined for epic things in life. Strong willed children are often highly self-motivated, so they are go-getters from a young age.

Help your child become the best person they can be by parenting your strong willed child appropriately, so their spirit is not broken.

Below are tips on parenting the strong willed child:

1. Don’t make yourself the enemy

Don’t make yourself the enemy by making it your way or the highway. Being a dictator as a parent will only drive your child away from you and make you the enemy.

Some parents want their strong willed child to listen and obey above all else, so they become forcefully strict in their parenting. They think that they need to act dominating and forceful in order to gain obedience from their child.

This is not helpful for the strong willed child. This will make you out to be the enemy because the perception is that you want your way and you are against their way.

It becomes a battle of wills; yours versus theirs. This obviously isn’t your goal as a parent; which is why you need to practice authoritative parenting methods.

Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Parenting

Parents should try to be authoritative parents of their strong willed child.

Authoritarian parenting methods should be avoided, as this type of parenting is a dictatorship with parents trying to exert their will over their children. Authoritarian parenting is especially not helpful with strong willed children.

Conversely, authoritative parenting methods are very effective with strong willed children. Parents who utilize authoritative methods have clear rules, are loving, consistent, while also placing value on their child’s bests interests.

At the end of the day, their goal is to do what is in the best interest of their child. Rules for one child are not the same for another within an authoritative home.

They see each child as an individual. They have rules, but rather than always seeing everything as black and white, which would be the case with an authoritative parent, they are willing to listen to their child regarding the situation at hand and determine the course of action in each case.

The rules are not there to simply be enforced. Rather, the authoritative parent sees the rules as guidelines to the end goal of raising healthy, happy, morally sound individuals.

Seeing the rules as guidelines provides some flexibility.

For example, if you have a rule that your child’s bedtime is at 8:00 PM bedtime and your strong willed child wants to stay up until 9:00 PM because they want to watch the Miss America Pageant, then you take the time to listen their reasons and a discussion takes place.

Your child explains that they want to watch the talent portion of the competition because they have a goal to someday be in this pageant and they want to see what kind of talent is needed to get to the Miss America level.

Rather than being an enforcer of the rules, for the sake of the rules, you begin to understand that they are wanting to watch because they have a goal and dream that they want to pursue.

You allow a one hour flexibility in this case, but make an agreement that anything beyond that hour will have to be recorded. You also include in the agreement that if there is any complaining or arguing when the hour is up, then the show will not be recorded at all.

Creating clear boundaries, but also taking into consideration their desires, dreams, and goals (within reason) will help you make better decisions that aren’t black and white all of the time.

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The example above helps to create responsibility for the child with expectations, allowing them to not simply “have their way”, but to create an environment where they are treated with love and consideration.

Their hopes and dreams should not be squashed or minimalized. Your strong willed child may have great dreams and you don’t want to send the message that their dreams don’t matter because the 8:00 bedtime is more important.

2. They need to make choices: Offer them options

Love and Logic parenting methods can work quite well with strong willed children. This parenting method emphasizes offering options to children.

How it works is that from even the youngest of age, a child will be offered two choices for most daily decisions. This allows the strong willed child to be the decision maker for themselves.

Strong willed children want to feel in control of their decisions and will. Allowing for decisions throughout the day, even on the most basic level, puts the decision making in the hands of the child.

This is obviously within reason though. Parents provide the options, so they should be options that are win-win for the situation.

For example, at lunch time you can offer your child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or macaroni and cheese. These are both options that you don’t mind making, yet it leaves a decision for the child. This helps the child feel empowered, because they are in control of decision making.

What if you went to a restaurant every day and there was only one option and no choice to be made? That could make it feel like prison day in and day out.

Your child’s home environment can feel the same way to them. Are they being told what to do all day long or are they being allowed to make decisions on what they want throughout the day?

Making it a point to allow decisions, with two options (that are both win-win options), you are helping your strong willed child to not only feel empowered, but you are also helping to develop a positive relationships with them.

You don’t want your child to feel like they are being raised in a prison, so allow them to make decisions daily.

You will have a better relationship with your child when you allow them to make these daily decisions because you are sending the message that their thoughts and opinions matter.

3. Instill morals: Don’t force your views

Strong willed children become determined adult. If you want your children to have good morals and character as adults, then you need to help guide them by your example.

You can’t force a strong willed child to believe what you believe. However, if you live a virtuous life, then you are providing a great example.

You are their number one role model as a parent. Their morals are shaped in the home.

If you want your strong willed child to have good morals, then practice what you preach. If you talk about not cheating and stealing and then your child overhears you at the dinner table talking about cheating on your taxes, you are not being a good example.

Teach your strong willed child to live a virtuous life by how you act. Be the example you want them to follow.

Have conversations with your strong willed child about their morals and character. Having these discussions will help them determine what kind of person they want to become.

Allow them to digest the important role that morality and good character play in their future. This will help shape their behavior because you are shaping their mind.

4. Keep in mind that they learn from experience

One reason that strong willed children appear to not listen to their parents is because they learn primarily through personal experience.

They learn from their first hand experience, rather than taking someone’s word on it, and therefore they test limits and boundaries.

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A parent can say repeatedly “don’t touch the stove because it is hot”. The strong willed child will inevitably touch the stove for a millisecond to see for themselves that it is hot.

They learn from their experiences and tend to test parental advice rather than just listen to the advice provided.

They are listening though. They will likely challenge parental advice by seeing for themselves whether the advice has substance.

Because strong willed children learn from experience, safety is of utmost importance when they are young. These children can be highly determined to do things on their own.

You don’t want them falling down stairs or touching hot stoves, so protect them when they are young and don’t know any better. As they grow, they become smarter about their safety.

A strong willed child needs extra safety measures when they are young because of their determined spirit.

5. Listen to their reasons

Strong willed children usually have a reason behind their behavior. Allow the opportunity for them to explain themselves before you disagree with their decisions at face value.

Ask them “why” when things don’t make sense to you. Kids are not always logical, but the strong willed child usually has a reason behind their decisions and it is not just to defy you as the parent.

Allow them the opportunity to explain themselves, so you can better understand them and their decisions.

For example, your strong willed child may be refusing to wear the outfit that you laid out for them to wear to school. You lay out their outfit to make the morning routine go more smoothly and quickly. Their obstinance is not a welcomed part of the routine.

Rather than get angry and order them to put the outfit on, ask them why they don’t want to wear it.

To your surprise, there may be a logical explanation such as it is gym day and they need to wear clothing and shoes that are fitting for the activities.

Get to the bottom of the reason, so you can better understand their logic. Don’t assume that their refusal to follow the rules or routine is out of sheer disobedience.

Let their voice be heard, so they know that you are listening and you want to understand their reasons.

6. They need to know why

Strong willed children need to know the reasons behind a request. If you are asking them to stop jumping on the bed, your request for their obedience needs to be explained.

They have a strong will, which also means a strong need to understand the “why” behind things.

Explain to your child jumping on the bed that you don’t want them to get hurt or break a bone, like you did when you are kid.

Let them know that you are concerned about their safety and whatever other reasons you have behind the rule, so that they can understand your logic.

They don’t take rules at face value. They need to know the “why”, so be prepared to explain your reasons for your rules. The consequences should also be clearly explained.

That way, they know the logical reasons behind the rules and the consequences if the rules are not followed.

7. Use empathy and compassion

Strong willed kids need empathy, compassion, and respect. This can be difficult because strong willed children can appear obstinate and disobedient.

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Parents have to understand that their child is not doing things for the sake of disobedience, rather the child has a strong will and determined spirit.

They have reasons behind what they do and why they do it. It takes extra compassion and empathy to seek understanding the child and why they do what they do.

For example, on a morning when you are already running late and your child is refusing to put on their shoes and you yell at them to put on their shoes now or you are leaving without them is lacking in compassion.

They may not want to wear those specific shoes because they are too tight. If you don’t take the time to ask them “why”, then compassion is lacking.

Take the time to talk to your child empathetically. This means a true desire to listen to them and their reasons. If they are not feeling listened to, then they will feel that you don’t care.

Listen with your full attention. This means stopping what you are doing and set electronics to the side while you communicate with your child.

Also, try to use a calm and loving tone when asking them their “why” and listen to their response. If you don’t listen to them, then who will?

If the child feels that they are not being heard or are being treated unfairly, their emotions will likely turn into behavioral issues.

Allow them to express themselves verbally, so that they don’t resort to physical expressions of their emotions, such as meltdowns, hitting others, or throwing things.

8. Repeated bad behavior is often a message

Strong willed children will often repeat themselves until they feel heard. This can also true with their bad behavior. They are often trying to communicate something to you because they are not feeling heard.

For example, that melt down in the store because you are ignoring their demands? Is it because they think that the melt down will get what they want or is it because they aren’t feeling heard?

When they ask a question, answer them and provide your reasons why. Don’t ignore them and hope they will stop asking. The strong willed child will not stop. They will escalate to the next level until they feel that they are being heard.

It doesn’t mean that they always get what they want. Instead, your goal should be to communicate that they have been heard and they are respectfully answered.

Yelling at them “no, because I am the Mom” is not a good approach when parenting a strong willed child. Instead answering with “no, we haven’t had lunch yet, but you can have a dessert after dinner if you a well behaved today”, will more likely result in good behavior.

The child feels that you listened to them and furthermore, you understood that their desire was for something sweet. Explaining that they can have something sweet later, as a result of their good behavior, puts the ball back in their court.

They now have the decision to be well behaved to get what they want later, or they can have a melt down which will result in the consequence of no dessert after dinner.

Children who are strong willed require more time because you need to listen more, explain more, discuss more, and respect more. It is a not an easy road.

However, the strong willed child can be a great success in life when their energies are channeled appropriately because things are clearly communicated. This communication is a two way street.

Don’t ignore their words until it escalates to bad behavior. If the behavior is seemingly out of control, then you need to help them verbalize their desires.

They are communicating something through their behavior. You need to help channel the behavior back into meaningful verbalization in order to figure out what they want and determine how to resolve the situation.

10. Weather the storm

It is not easy parenting a strong willed child. You will likely endure many storms while parenting your child.

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Keep doing what is in the best interest of your child, keep listening to them, and keep loving them.

Don’t be defeated by the storms which can come as temper tantrums, bad behavior, and rebellion. Know that they will pass.

Know that you are not alone. There are parents out there also dealing with strong willed children.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, then its time to reach out for help. A counselor or therapist can help both you and the child. You can also find support groups on Facebook. Use the search term “strong willed child”.

Don’t go at it alone. Find support now so you can weather the next storm even better.

11. Embrace their strong will — It can make them successful

Strong willed children are determined individuals. If their spirit is not squashed, they can use that determination to become successful people as adults.

Parents obviously need to protect their children from harm, but the smaller issues should be let go.

Learn to differentiate between issues that matter and those that really don’t matter in the long run. Does it really matter if they wear mismatched socks to school? No, if that is what they want, then let it be.

Allow them to make some decisions, especially about their own body, without making an issue out of it.

You don’t want to break their spirit because someday that spirit is what will make them stand out in the world. They are their own person, with unique ideas, and a determined spirit that will help them become successful in life.

They are more likely to persevere through difficulties because of their determined spirit. Don’t break this spirit at a young age by demanding obedience for the sake of obedience.

Take the time to understand your child, their reasons, and allow them to make choices along the way.

12. Motivate them!

Strong willed children tend to be highly self motivated. This means that when they decide, they want to do something they really go for it.

Provide motivation for your child by providing incentives. Strong willed children can be motivated with the use of a reward system.

The use of the “CHART method”[1] I developed can be especially helpful in parenting strong willed children. I have a strong willed six year old and this system is working great for her! Here is the article I wrote on the CHART method, so other parents can use this system as well.

Final thoughts

Having a strong willed child can be very challenging for a parent. If parents take the time to parent their strong willed child the right way, then this child can become a great success in life.

Strong willed children are not acting the way they do out of disobedience. It is their inner determined spirit that makes them want to do thing their own way.

They are highly motivated individuals and when that energy is channeled correctly, with their will in mind, then they can accomplish just about anything!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on May 24, 2019

How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit

How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit

My husband and I facilitate a couple’s marriage and parenting group. Recently, the group discussed qualities, characteristics, and traits we wanted to see our children develop as they grow up. One term that came up that all parents seemed to upon agree as a highly valued trait was that of grit. The question from our group was:

“Can grit be taught to our children?”

The answer is, yes. Parents can help their child develop grit.

What is grit? Dr. Angela Duckworth is the top researcher on this subject and wrote the book Grit. She defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long term goals”. This new buzz word is popular in the adult realm, but what about our developing children? What if we could help our children develop grit as young children.

Grit is more crucial to success than IQ. Duckworth, through her research at Harvard, found that having grit was a better predictor for an individual’s success than IQ. This means having the smartest kid in the room doesn’t ensure any level of success in their future. They can be brilliant, but if they aren’t properly intrinsically motivated, they won’t be successful.

Grit determines long term success. If a child can’t pick themselves up and try again after a failure, then how are they going to be able to do it as adult?

What a gift it would be to our children to engage them in a manner that helps them recognize their passions, talents, and develop a persevere to purse their goals. Below are some tips on how to raise a confident child with grit.

1. Encouragement is Key

When a child wants to learn how to ride a bike, do they keep going after they fall down or do they quit after the first fall?

If they aren’t encouraged to get up and try again, and instead are coddled and told they can try again some other day, then they are being taught to play it safe.

Safe and coddled don’t exactly go hand-in-hand with building up grit. The child needs to be encouraged to try again. This can be a parent saying “you can do it, I believe in you” and “I know that even if you fall again you will try again and eventually you will get the hang of it”.

Encouragement to keep trying so that they can build up perseverance is very helpful in building a child’s confidence. This confidence is what will help them strike out and try again.

If they feel that they can’t do it or shouldn’t do it, then they won’t. The mind is a powerful thing. If a child believes that they can’t be successful in doing something, then they won’t be successful. Part of building that mentality of believing in themselves comes from encouragement from their parents, care givers, and teachers.

Cheer Them On

How many times have you heard a story of success that someone had in life that all began because someone believed in that person?

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A coach, a mom, a teacher can have a huge impact by believing in the child’s ability to be successful and voicing that encouragement to them. Words are powerful. Use them to build up a child, by telling them that they can do it even if they have try again and again.

Be their support system by being their cheerleader. Cheerleaders don’t just cheer when the team is winning. They cheer words of encouragement to keep the team going.

The same goes with children. We need to cheer for their successes, but also cheer for them to keep going and fighting the fight when life gets tough!

You Can’t Force Them

Keep in mind that you can’t force a child to keep trying. They have to do it themselves.

For example, when my daughter was learning to tie her shoes, it was a real struggle. She gave up. I couldn’t make her want to try to do it again. She had to take a break from the struggle for a few months and then try again.

She was more successful the second time around, because she had matured and her fine motor skills had improved. It would have been ridiculous for me to force her to practice tying her shoes for the three or four months in between, with tears and arguing taking place.

No, instead we took a break. She tried again later. Forcing her to learn something that she wasn’t ready to learn would have pit us against one another. That would have been a poor parenting move.

There are boundaries that parents can set though in some cases. For example, if your child begins an activity and wants to quit mid-season because they are terrible at the sport, you have the opportunity to keep them in the sport through the end of the season to show them that quitting is not an option.

Although they may not win another tennis match the rest of the season or win another swimming race all year long, finishing the commitment is important. It will help with the development of grit by teaching them to persevere through the defeat. It is character building.

If your child is great at all things all the time, they will not develop grit. They need to try things that challenge them. When they aren’t the best at something, or for that matter, the worst, it creates an opportunity for them feel real struggle. Real struggle builds real character.

2. Get Them out of Their Comfort Zone

My daughter wanted to try cheerleading this past fall. She has never done this activity in the past, nor is she particularly coordinated (sorry sweetie). For that matter, she couldn’t even do a cartwheel when cheer season began.

However, we signed up because she was so excited to become a cheerleader. I signed up to coach because there was a need for more cheer coaches. We were all-in at that point.

Once the season began, I quickly realized that cheerleading was far outside my daughter’s comfort zone. The idea of cheerleading was great in her mind. The reality of memorizing cheers and learning physical skills that were hard for her made the experience a struggle. She wanted to quit. I said to her “no, you were the one who wanted to do this, so we finish what we started.” I had to say this more than once. I don’t think anyone on the squad knew this was the case, because she kept at it.

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She kept practicing those cheers every evening. It did not come naturally to her at first, so it was uncomfortable. She always seemed to be half a beat behind the other cheerleaders, which made it very awkward and uncomfortable for her. However, letting her know that quitting mid-season was not an option made her try harder. She wanted to learn the cheers so she wouldn’t stand out on the squad as the girl who didn’t know what she is doing.

By the end of the season, she became a decent cheerleader. Not the best, but she was no longer half a beat behind the rest. She learned skills that were hard for her to conquer. Now that she felt success in achieving something that was uncomfortable and hard for her. She knows she has it in her to do that in other areas of life.

That is why it’s ok for us as parents to let our kids feel the struggle and be uncomfortable. If they don’t experience it when they are young, they will as adults, but they won’t be equipped with the perseverance and inner-strength built from years of working hard through smaller struggles as they grew up.

Allowing our children to struggle helps them build that skill of perseverance, so that they have the grit to achieve hard things in life that they really desire to accomplish.

3. Allow Them To Fail

Your child will fail at things in life. Let them. Do not swoop in and rescue your child from their personal failures. If they don’t fail, then they don’t have the opportunity to pick themselves up and try again.

If I had pulled my daughter from cheerleader once I realized that it was going to be a real struggle, she wouldn’t have experienced failure and struggle. Letting her have this small failure in life taught her lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. She learned about the power she has within herself to try harder, to practice in order to make change happen, and to push through it even when you feel like giving up because it is embarrassing.

Failure is embarrassing. Learning to handle embarrassment is taking on a fear. When kids learn to do this at a young age, it is practice for adult life. They will experience failure as an adult. They will be better equipped to handle life’s disappointments and failures if they have learned to handle the fear of embarrassment and failure when they are young.

Practice builds up the skill. Processing and handling fear, embarrassment, and failure are skills.

If I had pulled my daughter from cheer and allowed her to quit, I would have taken from her the opportunity to learn how to process and handle the embarrassment and failure she was experiencing at each practice and games. She learned to keep trying and that practicing the skills would lessen the embarrassment and feelings of failure.

Learning the value of practice and how to preserve through the fear and failure are priceless lessons. We may want to rescue our children because we want them to be successful at the things that they do, but how will they be successful in this competitive world as adults if they are provided with only opportunities in which they succeed?

Failure is needed to learn to thrive. Success in adulthood does not come easy to children who are protected from failure because they haven’t built up the ability to persevere.

Perseverance comes when they have learned time and time again how to take the fear of embarrassment and failure head on and practice to get better.

4. Teach Them to Try Again

Encourage your child to try again. Don’t let them quit on the first try.

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Life is hard. If we quit the first time we tried at things, we would never amount to anything in life. We need to teach our children that trying again is simply part of life.

Help them to give it a go by providing encouragement and support. Offer to practice with them, provide them with tutoring or coaching if necessary — whatever it takes to get them back on the proverbial horse and trying again.

Break it Down

Sometimes failure occurs because they are trying something all at one time and they haven’t mastered the smaller components.

For example, a math student isn’t going to jump into calculus as their first high school math course. No, of course not. They build on their skills. They begin with basic math, then algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus to then they get to the calculus level.

If they are thrown into the deep end by taking on calculus before the foundation of their math skills are built, they will fail.

Help your child try again by breaking down what it is they are trying to achieve.

Going back to my cheer example… my daughter was not the best at learning the cheers when we began. It then dawned on me that we needed to break down each cheer phrase by phrase. Once we learned the phrase and movements that went with it, we could then learn the next one. Once these were learned, we could combine the phrases, practice them together, and then try to move to learn the next phrase in the cheer. It was a tedious process, but it worked.

Not all skills come easy for kids. Helping them learn the skill of breaking things down into manageable tasks is another way we teach them about grit. They are learning to build skills by persisting, practicing, and building upon previous experience, knowledge, and skills.

Grit is put into practice in childhood when they learn how to break down large tasks into smaller achievable tasks in order to build toward a greater goal.

5. Let Them Find Their Passion

Your child may be a wonderful pianist. However, if they aren’t passionate about the skill, then they likely won’t be happy or fulfilled in becoming a concert pianist.

It’s great to help your child discover their talents, but also let them discover what they are passionate about in life.

True success will come because they are passionate about the activity, not because they are the best. The best usually become that way because they are passionate first. Therefore, let your child experience a variety of activities and interests so that they can discover what they love to do.

6. Praise Their Efforts, Not the Outcome

Praising their efforts keeps them motivated and trying. If you focus on outcome, then when they fail, they will become defeated and discouraged.

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Focusing on the fact that they tried hard and pointing out specific ways that they did well in terms of effort will support them in trying again. When you make a habit of focusing on outcome, then failures are avoided at all costs, including taking risks.

Risks are needed in order to become successful. Therefore, make a habit of praising their efforts, even when the outcome is not what they had hoped and tried for, because eventually, if they keep trying their efforts will result in success.

7. Be a Model of Grit

If you are a parent or a caregiver for a child, then you are a model to that child. Children naturally look up to the adults in their life that are closest to them, especially their parents. They will look at your ability to persevere and achieve. Your grit will show.

Your children are watching. They may not know the term grit, but they will learn about working hard, not giving up, trying again after failure, and all that grit entails from your actions.

How you handle life is being watched by your children. You can work on your own grit by reading Angela Duckworth’s book Grit .

Develop a Growth Mindset

Helping your child develop a growth mindset is also helpful to your child in their development of grit. Dr. Dweck, author of Growth Mindset and researcher at Stanford, developed a theory of fixed versus growth mindset.

Basically, what it means is that if you have a fixed mindset, you will fear failure and easily give up. Someone with a growth mindset believes that their talents, skills, and abilities can be improved with hard work and learning. Parents and caregivers can help with the development of a growth mindset.

    Some of the ways that a growth mindset can be developed include:

    • Teaching your child how the brain works: neuron connections, right brain versus left brain.
    • Teach them to set goals.
    • Teach them to have a “can do” attitude.
    • Teach them to develop a strategy when they want to achieve something.
    • Teach them that mistakes are an opportunity to learn.
    • Teach them that failure is a normal part of life.
    • Teach them about self talk: Self Talk Determines Your Success

    There are a great deal of activities and materials online for helping your child develop a growth mindset including these resources below (each site contains at least some free content):

    The Bottom Line

    Grit is not just for adults, it is something we can help our children develop. Grit is more critical to success than IQ, so we should be helping our children develop this quality early in life.

    As a parent, being a model of grit, is one of the first ways to help our children become “gritty”.

    Featured photo credit: Gabriela Braga via unsplash.com

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