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

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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 September 24, 2021

How to Teach Children About Respect When They’re Small

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How to Teach Children About Respect When They’re Small

When we enter into the journey of being a parent, we go through a rollercoaster of thoughts, looking a little ahead and worrying about keeping our kids safe. There’s that loop about wanting to be able to provide for them, giving our kids the things we wanted but could not have. But there’s also this nagging worry at the back of our minds about what will happen when our kids become teenagers. Do you remember Kevin and Perry and the moment Kevin turned 13 years old? Kevin went on the spot from this great kid to a monster that talked down to his parents all of the time.

Think back to what you were like as a teenager. Was there a power struggle with your parents or was there mutual respect? The idea of having our kids respect us is usually at the back of our minds while our kids are young. It’s not usually a problem. Outside the occasional tantrums, there are just rainbows and unicorns. Learning about respect is probably less important than learning to tie shoelaces, right? Hell, no!

The reality is that respect is one of the most important values that a young child can learn. It can help build good friendships with other children in the neighborhood and at school. Learning to be a little more tolerant of differences makes them more understanding when people do not act or behave as your kids expect them to. Respect helps children to focus more in class. Most importantly of all, it can build a stronger relationship with the immediate family.

These are all qualities we want for our kids, and they are also the qualities of a leader. Teaching respect to our kids sounds great. But first, what is it and how do we teach children about respect?

What Is Respect?

Respect is a way of recognizing and appreciating the rights, beliefs, practices, and differences of other people. It’s a little more than just being tolerant of other people. It’s a feeling that comes from within about how you should treat other people. It’s about how you should think about yourself, too. More recently, respect has also become more visible with the idea of respecting other people’s personal space due to the pandemic.

When our kids apply respect, they’ll make better decisions and avoid things or people that will hurt them. They are more likely to take care of the gifts that you’ve bought for them. Most importantly, they are more likely to earn respect from their parents as they become teenagers, rather than demanding it.

How Do We Teach Children About Respect?

My personal opinion is that you should not outsource teaching respect to other people. As parents, we have to own this responsibility. Even from a young age, there are a lot of poor influences on our kid’s attitude towards respect, such as terrible role models in the movies like Frozen. In this movie, Elsa takes no responsibility for managing her powers, hurts her sister and kingdom, and avoids demonstrating any respect throughout the story. So, where to start with teaching children about respect?

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1. Teach Your Children About Sharing

My earliest memory where I learned respect was at the age of four. I had an incredible red trike. It was epic, has a custom design, has faster wheels, and a decent steering lock. Then, one day, my dad took the trike and handed it over to my nursery. Other children were using it! This was a culture shock as it was one of my favorite things, but now I had to share it. It took a little time, but I was okay with the sharing as my dad rewarded me with cake for sharing.

Sharing is one of the best ways to teach kids about respect. Our kids learn that if we give a little to others, we can sometimes get some of what we want as well. Kids will watch what the parents do. At the dinner table, do they pass things around like the ketchup or share items of food? Or does everyone have their phones out, sit in a silo, and quickly disperse? The dinner table is a great place to learn about sharing, but so are playing games with the kids.

Playing games like Lego is a great way to introduce sharing and respect. You can build a tower together, something simple and fun, and take turns adding pieces onto the building or swapping pieces if you are building your own world instead.

2. Let Your Children Answer for Themselves

My job is as a martial arts coach, which is a fun job, by the way. We’ll get to this in a minute, but I wanted to share a really common observation that we see at the academy.

When children come for their first class, they may be as young as four years old or as old as 12 in our kids’ programs. All the coaches are interested in why the kids want to try a class and what the parents want their child to learn. When we first meet a child, we’ll get down to their height level, as it’s not respectful to tower over the young kids and talk down.

Now we’re at eye level, we’ll smile, greet the child by their name, and ask them a question like “who is your favourite superhero?” so we can build a little rapport before the bigger questions. After only a few seconds, the parents will often step in and answer for them.

This can happen regardless of whether their child is four or 12 years old. To be honest with ourselves, we’ve probably all done this at some time with our kids and even our partners. It’s well-intentioned, but the problem is that when we step in.

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We’re not showing our kids respect, as we’re not valuing their opinions. It may be that it just takes them longer to have their say in a new situation. We rescue our kids because we think of them as shy or low in confidence. But if we’re doing this a lot, we’re stopping the flow of respect.

Let them struggle, let them think for themselves, and show them some patience. They won’t always reply, but you’ll be amazed to see that they’ll persevere more often than not to communicate in their preferred way.

The problem is that when we interject for our kids, two things can happen:

  • We reinforce that their opinion isn’t valued, and/or;
  • We rescue the less socially confident (shy) children from an uncomfortable situation that inhibits them from developing skills for the future.

Instead of jumping in to do things for our kids or answer for them, let them answer, struggle, and think for themselves. You’ll be amazed at how their sense of personal significance will grow. When children are more confident and capable—even in uncomfortable situations—the respect will flow more freely.

The secret is not to make a big deal of it, whether they speak up or not. But let them have a little time to try, then continue if there’s no progress this time. Maybe next time, there will be progress as their confidence grows.

3. The Role Model Soapbox

Of all the ways that we can teach respect, leading by example is the hardest. Let’s face it, we all think that our kids should “just do as I say, not as I do.” But it rarely works like this in life.

I remember taking my daughter out to a pub for lunch when she was of an age that she still used a high chair. We were meeting a friend of mine as he was having a few problems at home and wanted to catch up and chat. Hannah, my daughter, was served first at the pub with her lunch, myself next, and my friend who we’ll call Dave was served last. We were just about to start eating when Dave looked at his food, slapped the plate back at the waitress, and shouted “It’s the wrong order, go fix it now!”

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Dave was tired and stressed, it’s why we were meeting up. However, it’s not an excuse to be a lousy role model not having empathy, respect, and self-control in front of Hannah. In this instance, I felt the need to apologize to the waitress and so did Dave.

However, I appreciate that we all have those times in our lives, like Dave, when everything is going wrong. It’s easy to say, “you should stay calm, stay in control and show understanding to others.” But the reality is that the actions we should take are simple to talk about but harder to put into practice. But we have to try and find the energy to show our kids some respect and dig deep for those times that we need the energy to be patient.

Give Your Child a Little Patience

Many times, when our kids are behaving “out of sort,” they’ve just forgotten or missed the cue to show the right behavior. We’ve all been so deep into a task that we’ve missed our name being called or we’ve been tired and replied in a poor way out of instinct. A little patience with our kids is sometimes needed if this is the case. It’s the right way to demonstrate respect to them—asking good questions, especially if they mess up, rather than snapping and demanding that they listen the first time. We’re their parent, after all, they should do as they are told!

You’re going to experience when your child says “I hate you” or “wish you were not my mum or dad.” You may even hear this from your kids when they are as young as four years old. Remember the movie I was talking about? Kids will mimic what they see and hear. It does not mean that they really meant the words they just used. It’s usually just a gut response when angry. You can reply, “what made you feel like this?” They will usually feel better and get a more useful response than when you use “go to your room, now!”

So, leading by example is a little more than being a role model. It’s also showing your kids respect and treating them as a person rather than trying to completely control them and finding patience. This sounds like hard work, so maybe a little outsourcing of teaching children about respect is okay.

A Little Outsourcing May Be a Good Thing

I mentioned that you should not outsource teaching respect, but some activities can make a big difference. Yes, I’m about to contradict myself and talk about martial arts. When you think of martial arts, men in white pajamas bowing to each other, kneeling, and listening patiently to the sensei “teacher” often come to mind.

Many martial arts clubs have moved on to t-shirts and jogging style trousers but kept the rituals that help build respect and character. There are a lot of routines within the martial arts that are great habits for kids to learn, which will guide them in learning about respect.

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Training with a partner also helps improve yourself. It teaches your kid about being responsible for their uniform, training equipment, and even the academy. Our students all help clean the mats that they train on, tidy equipment away after each activity, and stand quietly at attention. These are great life lessons that teach your children respect as well.

Only 3 Ways to Teach Respect? Is That All You Have to Do?

We all want to teach our children about respect because we know it’s going to help them be more successful and happier in life. There isn’t an age that’s too early to start the learning. Sharing is an approach that you can start at a young age, but it’s okay to value your child’s needs, too. So, if they have a favorite toy and do not want to share it, this is okay as long as they’re sharing overall.

Next, let your child answer for themselves. To be honest, this is the hardest as the silence can get uncomfortable, but you have to persevere and let them try to answer for themselves. This small activity makes a big difference in the long run and kids get better as they grow in confidence.

Lastly, there’s the “role model soap box.” It’s probably the strongest influence on our kids at an early age as they look up to their parents a lot. Just remember that for those days when you feel cranky and tired, practice a little patience, and if you get something wrong, you may need to apologize.

You can always outsource some of your kids’ learning to a great activity, such as martial arts. If you’re going down this route, look for a club that has a character development program. You’ll find that the lessons on respect are more direct rather than being just implied through traditions and rituals. My final remark on teaching children about respect is that if you have kids that are strong visual and audible learners, try to take advantage of them. Sesame Street has some great video lessons on the topic that can help.

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Featured photo credit: Adrià Crehuet Can via unsplash.com

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