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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 December 20, 2019

Is Authoritarian Parenting Good or Bad for Your Child?

Is Authoritarian Parenting Good or Bad for Your Child?

Kate sits down to the dinner table and is eager to be a good girl and eat her dinner like her Mom and Dad want her to do. She is a sweet girl who wants the approval of her parents very much. It is not always easy though. During dinner, she stands up and starts to leave the table because she has to use the bathroom. Her Dad yells at her to sit back down. He tells her “we don’t just get up from the dinner table, we wait and ask to be excused after everyone is finished eating.” She begins to protest, wanting to explain that she needs to use the bathroom. Her father becomes more upset with her and yells at her that she is now talking back and she is not allowed to say another word at the dinner table until everyone is finished eating and then she can be excused.

Unfortunately for Kate, she can’t hold it, and she has a little accident because she is too fearful to say a word to her Dad. She doesn’t want to get yelled at anymore. She also knows that in her home, kids don’t have a say. What Mom and Dad say is like words carved into stone. They are strict beyond reason and they will not bend their rules. Therefore, Kate felt that she had no choice in the matter and when she could no longer hold it. There was nothing she could do about it.

Kate’s parents are an example of authoritarian parenting. They are strict, they are not emotionally engaged with their children, and they have very high expectations for their children. This type of parenting style leaves children feeling disconnected from their parents.

Kate wanted to communicate to her parents that she had to use the restroom, but she couldn’t even get her words out because her parents have such strict rules and demands of her. They did not care to hear what she had to say, because upholding their rules was more important to them. In their household, a child’s opinions and feelings do not matter.

This kind of strict parenting is not helpful for children. It can damage a child and leave them with low self-esteem, mental health issues, and doing poor academically among other problems cited by research in Parenting Science.[1]

What Does Authoritarian Parenting Look Like?

In the 1960’s, a researcher and theorist by the name of Baumrind established the well known theory of parenting styles. Those four parenting styles, which are well known today, are authoritarian, authoritative, passive, and neglectful. For proactive parents that are trying hard to be good parents, they will usually lean toward either authoritarian or authoritative.

Authoritarian parenting involves strict parenting and high expectations for children. This can sound reasonable and even like good parenting. However, the strict parenting is often characterized by lack of compassion toward the child, little to no flexibility in rules, and complete control sought over the child’s behavior.

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Parents who use this parenting style believe it is their job to control the will and behavior of their children. An article in Psychology Today explains how authoritarian parents operate:[2]

Authoritarian parents believe that children are, by nature, strong-willed and self-indulgent. They value obedience to higher authority as a virtue unto itself. Authoritarian parents see their primary job to be bending the will of the child to that of authority—the parent, the church, the teacher. Willfulness is seen to be the root of unhappiness, bad behavior, and sin. Thus, a loving parent is one who tries to break the will of the child.

For example, Jake has authoritarian parents. He wants to stay out past curfew on a school night because he has an opportunity to play in a jazz ensemble. He has been playing the saxophone for years and his ambition is to play in a college jazz ensemble.

With Jake still being in high school, his parents have a curfew. On school nights, it is 8:00 pm. This rule is instituted because his parents believe they need to ensure that Jake gets his school work done each night and that he needs to be well rested for school the next day. However, they don’t explain the why of their rules to him, they simply tell him that those are their rules. The jazz ensemble is practicing at 8:00 pm on a Thursday night and they have invited Jake to come play with them. It is a well known group and a huge opportunity for Jake.

Unfortunately, his parents say no. Their authoritarian parenting style is unwavering. He wants to discuss the opportunity and its importance, but his parents will not even entertain the conversation. They stop him mid-sentence and go over their rules again. There is no flexibility.

If Jake’s parents had been authoritative, they would have taken the time to hear out his case and would likely have granted him a later curfew for that one instance. They would see that, although they have a curfew, there are some instances when an opportunity is worth bending the rules. They would ask that he has his homework done before going to play with the group, and that he come home as soon as the practice was finished.

Authoritative parents have rules, but they are also flexible based on reasonable requests for exceptions. The authoritative parents are interested in how their children are thinking and feeling. Conversely, authoritarian parents are not likely to be interested in hearing their child’s thoughts and feelings, because they want to control the will of their child, not come to some middle ground.

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Here are some characteristics of authoritarian parenting:

  • They have strict rules that are unyielding and unwavering. This is often called “heavy handed parenting.”
  • They do not want input from the child about rules. They also feel that the child’s opinion does not matter, because they are the parent thus are the supreme authority over the child.
  • There are severe punishments when rules are broken.
  • There is an emotional disconnection between parent and child, because the parent is not interested in what the child thinks or feels. They are more interested in controlling the behavior of the child and having the child be compliant to their rules.
  • Children are expected to listen to their parents and follow the rules, there are no exceptions. A child that voices their objections will likely be punished for doing so.
  • The parents have high expectations, especially when it comes to compliance of their rules.
  • Parents expect that their child will be obedient and they do not need to explain the “why” of their rules and expectations. Compliance is expected out of sheer obedience, not because the child understands the reasons why the rules are set. Parents do not feel the need to explain why they set their rules.
  • There is a failure to have attached relationships between parent and child because of the overly dominant nature of authoritarian parents and their unwillingness to allow their children to have their own voice or free will.

Authoritarian parents are driven by a belief that they need to control their children. This means controlling their children’s behavior to an extreme. They are inflexible and don’t take into account the child’s desires, emotions, or well-being as being as important to enforcing rules to get the desired outcome. Authoritative parents on the other hand, seek to guide and direct their children instead of control. There is a distinction.

The Problems of Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parenting has many negative consequences to children. Children who are raised in homes with extreme authoritarian parenting are more likely to become dependent on drugs and alcohol, have lower academic performance, and increased mental health issues according to Parenting for Brain.[3] Children who are raised with authoritarian parents are also more likely to have lower self esteem, inability to make decisive choices, and have social skills that are lacking.

When a child is raised to be taught day in and day out that their voice does not matter, then that child will likely be ingrained with that belief. They will not value their own opinions because they have been taught that what they think does not matter and is of no value. This leads to poor self-esteem and low self-worth.

If a child doesn’t believe that their thoughts matter, then what they think about themselves overall is going to be affected. They will not think highly of themselves or believe that what they think, say, or do is of value. This will contribute to low self-esteem long term.

Social skills will suffer because a child who comes from an authoritarian home will be trained to believe that nobody wants to hear their opinion and that relationships are based on compliance.

For example, Judy is raised in an authoritarian home. She is now 18 years old and has her first boyfriend. Anytime that he asks something of her, even if she internally disagrees, she feels that she is supposed to comply and do what he says in order for him to like her and continue wanting to be with her.

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He wants to have sex. She does not feel that she is ready, but she will not voice this to her boyfriend because she doesn’t think that her opinion will matter or that he will want to listen to what she is feeling. She goes along with sex in their relationship to be compliant. She doesn’t want to be punished by disagreeing with not having sex. He says that they are ready for that next step in the relationship and she fears that the consequence of saying no would be that he ends the relationship.

Therefore, she doesn’t even voice her thoughts or feelings on the situation because she doesn’t think they have value or will be heard anyway.

She has been taught by her parents that her opinions and feelings don’t matter. She has learned from the past 18 years with her parents that what matters most is that she is compliant. She gets along with her parents best when she is doing exactly what they want her to do. This is why she feels the need to do the same with her boyfriend.

Going along with his decisions, being compliant, and not voicing her feelings will keep the relationship going and avoid conflict or punishment. The ultimate punishment in her mind would be that he ends the relationship.

With her opinions never being valued by those who she has loved the most (her parents), she has learned that she should not voice her opinion if she wants to keep the other person in the relationship happy. In her mind, because of how she has been raised, compliance overrides all else, and her opinion is meaningless.

However, her boyfriend is not her parents. He is understanding and would want to know how she feels. He wants a long term relationship with her and he loves her so much. His true desire is for her to be happy. He would never want her to have sex if she wasn’t feeling the same way that he was feeling. He would gladly wait and would want to hear what she thinks and feels about taking their relationship to the next level.

Authoritarian parenting methods can inflict great harm on a child. The child becomes emotionally damaged because they grow up believing that their opinions, thoughts, and feelings do not matter. Instead they are taught that compliance and being obedient supersedes all else.

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The Solution

The solution is to move from authoritarian parenting methods to authoritative parenting practices.

Authoritative parenting has been deemed as the best parenting method by researchers, according to Psychology Today. Parents who use authoritative parenting methods have rules for their children, but they are not looking for blind compliance. They recognize that having a relationship with their child is of great importance and therefore valuing the child’s voice, opinions, and thoughts is important.

Authoritative parents seek to guide and direct their children, but they do not seek to control the will of their child.

Parenting Coach Plan explains the foundation of authoritative parenting as the following:[4]

Authoritative parenting can be described as a style of parenting that combines firm limits and clear boundaries with fair and consistent discipline. Authoritative parents are also nurturing, highly-involved, and willing to speak openly with their child regarding expectations and the consequences for failing to meet those expectations. Rules are enforced and fair consequences are put in place for when those rules are broken.

Children raised in authoritative homes follow the rules because they understand the “why” of the rules. They are also bonded to their parents because they are able to talk to their parents openly. This bond helps nurture a positive home environment and a two-way relationship that can last a lifetime.

To learn more about how to be an authoritative parent and how to discipline a child using this parenting method, check out my article:

How to Discipline a Child (The Complete Guide for Different Ages)

Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com

Reference

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