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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 October 23, 2020

How to Help Your Kids to Deal with Bullies at School

How to Help Your Kids to Deal with Bullies at School

Sara is in her first year of Junior High. Every day, when Sara walks down the school hallway between her mid-morning classes, there is a group of girls who will tease, push her, or dump her books from her arms.

She wonders daily what she did to deserve their meanness. She doesn’t even know these girls as they came from a different primary school than her own. Every evening, she lays in bed and cries just thinking about having to encounter these girls in the hallway the next day.

Jeremy used to be good friends with Bill until Bill started calling Jeremy names. At first, it started as what seemed to be Bill trying to get a laugh from the other boys on his soccer team. He would make fun of Jeremy to get a laugh from the other boys. He has continued with the behavior for weeks, but it has gotten worse and Bill now calls Jeremy hurtful names at their soccer practice every day. Jeremy is thinking about quitting soccer because the situation has become so bad.

Renee was born with a congenital defect. Her arm is malformed and she only has three fingers on one hand. She is in her first year of primary school. There is a little boy in her class who makes fun of her arm and mimics her arm movements and shortened arm effect anytime they are together and a teacher isn’t watching. Renee cries at home after school saying that she doesn’t want to go to school anymore. Her parents are bewildered as she has been begging to go to school for years. Now that she is old enough to be enrolled in primary school, she doesn’t want to attend anymore after just one month of school. Her parents have no idea what is causing her to be upset and not want to go to school.

These are just three examples of bullying. Bullying can vary widely in behavior and context. Parents must know the difference between “kids just being kids” and bullying.

Bullying Defined

Bullying involves repeated behavior that harms another child. For example, the girls who continually pick on Sara in the hallway are bullying her by dumping her books, pushing her, and shoving her every day.

Bullying is not always physical, though. For example, in the situation of Jeremy, his teammate Bill is bullying him by calling him names repeatedly.

StopBullying.gov is a website about bullying that is hosted by the United States government. This website provides a clear definition of bullying as the following:[1]

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include [an imbalance of power and repetition].

An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.

Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Bullying is aggressive, mean, and/or unwanted behaviors that happen repeatedly to a child.

Intervention

Bullying, especially for kids, requires immediate intervention. If your child suddenly decides that they no longer want to go to school or that they want to quit an activity, then a discussion should occur. Sit down with your child, and ask them what is going on in their life.

Have compassion, understanding, and care in your words and tone of voice so that your child can open up to you. You never know if they are being a victim of bullying unless they open up to you and share what is occurring in their life.

Some children don’t share immediately because they are embarrassed by the bullying. Others don’t tell their parents because they are afraid of the bully. They worry that if they tell, the wrath of the bully may get worse. This should also be a concern for the parents.

Any intervention must be effective in removing the threat of the bully. If reporting the situation makes the bully’s behavior worse, then the intervention has failed.

Talk to School Leadership

Parents should talk to school leadership, such as the teacher, counselor, or principal when a bullying situation is occurring. If the bullying is happening at school, then the staff should be made aware so that they can intervene.

Most schools have policies and protocols in place for handling bullies. Such things may include separating the students so that they aren’t interacting anymore.

For example, with the situation of Renee, the boy who makes fun of her arm may be moved away from the school table they currently share. He would be moved to a separate side of the classroom so that he couldn’t easily communicate or make fun of Renee.

Then, the counselor would talk to the boy about how his actions are hurtful and why he shouldn’t be making fun of anyone. The teacher and principal may have to implement consequences, such as removal from class or suspension, that are made clear to the student and his parent if he continues his behavior.

In many instances, removing the opportunity for the students to interact is the best way for the bullying to stop. If the bully doesn’t have the opportunity to interact or communicate with the victim, their bullying behavior is stopped. This is the reason why in many instances of bullying parents need to involve school staff members (if it is happening at school).

Parents can’t control where the students sit in the classroom. However, the school can change where students sit in the classroom. Parents should speak to the school about the bullying to ensure that appropriate interventions are made, including separating the bully from their victim.

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Parents

Parents are advocates for their children. If parents do not stand up to protect their child, then who will? When a situation of bullying is revealed by a child, the parents need to take the information seriously.

Unfortunately, many parents of bullies don’t want to admit that their child is a bully. It can look and feel like they failed as parents. When a child is being bullied, that parent may reach out to the bully’s parent for intervention only to be put off. The bully’s parent may claim it is the other child’s fault, or they may insist that their child is innocent.

This is why intervention should happen at the school if possible. Parents must advocate protecting their children as bullying can leave mental and emotional scars. The sooner they can get the bullying to cease, the better.

Bullying Can Have Serious Effects

Victims of bullying can develop depression and anxiety. The ongoing bullying can impact a child mentally and emotionally long term. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center cites research that shows that both bullies and their victims are at an increased risk for suicide.[2] In recent years, suicide has been increasing among teens and pre-teens. Bullying, including cyberbullying, is one of the primary causes for the increase in suicide among our youth.

The serious—and sometimes even deadly—effects of bullying should be considered by all parents. If a child comes forward to reveal a situation of bullying, affecting either them or someone else, then parents and adults must intervene. Schools are set up to handle these situations, with policies and protocols in place. The consequences of bullying can be quite serious, which is why most schools have taken steps to institute bullying policies.

Signs of Bullying

Not all kids will come forward to tell their parents that they are being bullied. Parents should be aware of behavioral changes in their child, such as depression, anxiety, sadness, loss of interest in activities or school, sleeping issues, not eating, irritability, and moodiness. If your child exhibits any of these behaviors for a period of two weeks or more, then it is time to talk to the child about what is happening in their life.

A parent who suspects bullying may be happening can talk to their child about bullying in general. The parent can explain what bullying can look like, or they can provide an example that has happened in their own life. They can explain that it is not the victim’s fault.

Let the child know that if they see other children being bullied or if they are experiencing bullying, then they need to tell an adult (preferably you as the parent). When the child believes that telling can help the situation, that child is likely to then talk about it.

How to Help Your Kids

If your child is being bullied, you can and should help them. You can do it not only via intervention within the school but also by helping them cope with the situation.

The first step is talking—having the child open up and talk about what is happening so that you can help them with strategies to stop the bullying. You can’t help them unless you know what is actually happening.

Here are some more ways that you can help your child who is dealing with a bully:

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1. Advise Them to Avoid the Bully

If they aren’t exposed to the bully, then the bullying often stops. This is often why school intervention is needed so that the kids are separated and no longer have interactions.

If it is cyberbullying taking place (e.g., your child is being bullied on social media) then they may need to block the person who is bullying them or put their own account on hold.

2. Advise Them to Walk Away and Not Engage

Many bullies thrive on reaction. The reaction from the person being bullied is what fuels their behavior. They may be doing it to make others laugh, or they do it to feel power over another person. If the reaction from the one being bullied goes away, then the bully may become less interested.

You should advise your kids to not engage with a bully. Walking away without reacting is a good way of handling the bully.

3. Let Them Know It Is Okay to Get Help

The child should feel empowered to get help when they need it. For example, if Jeremy stays in soccer and the coach is informed about what is happening and the bullying happens again, Jeremy should tell the coach.

He can do it confidentially after practice, or he can talk to the coach off to the side during practice if possible. If Jeremy needs intervention for Bill to stop, then he needs to ask for help when it happens.

4. Build Their Confidence

Often, a bully chooses to bully someone because they see the person as a weak or easy target. Other times, a child is picked on because there is something about them that is different. Building up your child’s confidence and self-esteem is important to helping them prepare for handling bullying in the future.

For example, if another child makes fun of Renee’s arm next year in her new class, she would be prepared to shut it down by defending herself confidently with calm words that deter the child from making fun of her again.

Every situation is different. But if your child has something that makes them different or stand out from others, then they can be prepared to handle the situation better if they know in advance what they would say to someone who picks on them for this difference.

5. Encourage Them to Have Positive Friendships

Children and youth need peer relationships. This helps them live a balanced and healthy life. A child without peer relationships and friendships is more likely to be a target of bullies.

Encourage your child to make friends with others who are positive and kind. Help your child develop these skills as well. You can’t get friends unless you can be a friend.

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Be There for Your Child

One of the worst things that a parent can do when their child is being bullied is for them to say “tough it out” or “kids will be kids”. Not taking their situation seriously and not helping them is failing them. Parents must be willing to not only listen to their child and allow them to express things openly, but they must also be ready to help their child.

If your child comes to you because they are being bullied, then take the situation seriously. The lasting effects of bullying are not something you will want to deal with in the future. Deal with the situation at hand so that the bullying can cease today.

Be prepared to take serious action. If your school principal is not taking the situation seriously, then take it to the next level. Inform the school board or school administrators about what is happening. Keep the facts, and let them know you want the bullying to stop immediately.

If the school doesn’t take any action and the bully continues to be a threat to your child, then be prepared to remove your child from the situation or the school, so you can protect your child from harm. Above all else, our job as parents is to protect our children.

Bullying is not a one-time instance of someone saying something mean to your child. Bullying is a repeated act, whether physically or verbally, that is harming your child. Don’t allow your child to be repeatedly harmed. Once you know that bullying is happening, it must be stopped immediately through appropriate interventions.

Get Additional Help if Needed

If your child has been bullied and is suffering from depression, anxiety, or other emotional turmoil because of bullying then they should get professional help. You can go to Psychology Today and enter your location to find a qualified therapist near you. This website allows you to search by issue and treatment age as well. This can help you find a therapist near you who can help your child with their specific issues.

Stomp Out Bullying is another website with additional support and information about bullying. They offer a free chat line to teens who are experiencing bullying. If your teen is being bullied and needs additional support check out their website today.

Final Thoughts

Bullying, especially for kids, is a serious matter that should be addressed as soon as possible. It can bring long-term psychological and physical damage to your children if you don’t act on it immediately. Your primary role as a parent is to protect your child from harm. This guide can help you help your kids to deal with bullies to get them out of harm’s way.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] StopBullying.gov: What Is Bullying
[2] Suicide Prevention Resource Center: Suicide and Bullying

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