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10 Ways to Handle a Strong-Willed Child

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I was a strong-willed child, and I raised one. I know how frustrating it can be to have a battle of the wills with a small child, but there is help! It’s so helpful to know these tips about child development when running a home daycare or raising your own kids.

10 Ways to Handle a Strong-Willed Child

Moms and Dads, there is nothing more challenging than a child with a strong will. I have kept over 80 children in my career as a childcare provider. Believe me, I have seen strong-willed children. I have loved strong-willed children. 

Strong-willed child

I have seen children that parents thought were strong-willed, that were a piece of cake. I have also had children I considered really challenging in my career. Kids that really gave me a run for my money. Guess what? I survived and so did their parents.

upset strong willed child

Strong willed child characteristics

I’ll tell you another little secret. Strong-willed children make very driven, successful adults. These kids are the ones who are going to rock this world and make a big difference. Typical children can make a difference too.

I am telling you that strong-willed children don’t give up and when they want to do something, they DO IT! They make wonderful adults and citizens. Those qualities that make strong-willed child characteristics make them productive members of society.

I was a strong-willed child, and I raised one. I know how frustrating it can be to have a battle of the wills with a small child, but there is help!

Synonym for strong-willed

Determined, iron-willed, resolute, stubborn, mulish, obstinate, willful, headstrong, strong-minded, inflexible, unbending, forceful, pushy. I think we can all agree that most of these are great qualities to have in an adult. They help with the determination to get things done, make a great boss, give the person the strength to handle many things.

We just don’t like to see them in children, right? Because we want children to obey, be seen and not heard, and all of those things. But let’s change our mind a little bit about some of that. We DO want kids to learn to think for themselves. And we DO want kids to grow up and be successful. So managing the strong-willed child is an art, but it has its benefits.

Strong willed toddler

Your child will show their strong-willed nature by toddlerhood. We’ve all seen a strong-willed toddler at the grocery store with their parents or in a restaurant. We feel the parent as they deal with this child. 

One thing a strong-willed child needs is training. They need direction. They need positive thoughts and patterns that will help make them successful adults. Please try to remember when you think you are going to stroke out, that this child is struggling in this world just as hard as you are.

Life is never a piece of cake for these kids. Being born an adult is no easy thing. Have some grace and understanding when dealing with them. Show them some understanding. This is what they need most from you!

Many people think you can break the spirit of the spirited child. Guess what? You cannot. I hate to tell you, but you cannot “win” no matter how stubborn you are. You can, however, guide those precious jewels in the right direction.

Children may be obstinate because they are anxious, have OCD tendencies, or even sensory issues. Try to look for clues of what may be causing your child to be stubborn or have outbursts. Understanding the cause will help you so much in the future.

Who in your family has similar traits to this strong-willed child? Do you not want to admit, but the child acts just like you? This is actually a great help. You can take the person who the child takes after, and get information that will help tremendously in dealing with the child’s behavior issues.

Pick their brain and find out what they were thinking when they were being bossy, I mean stubborn as a child and even now. What makes them tick? What drives them? Use this information to formulate a plan to help this child survive their childhood.

How to deal with a strong willed child

Don’t give in to the strong-willed child all the time. Children are not well served when they are allowed to go through life without boundaries. When they grow up and get jobs or form relationships, they will need to understand boundaries.

When their boss tells them to complete a task, they need to do this or they will have trouble remaining employed. Strong-willed children need to be taught to listen and follow directions.

Get creative in making kids want to listen and follow directions. What motivates this strong-willed child? Does activity help the child’s behavior? Take them running before school every day. This is good for you and for them. I have a past daycare parent that has a spirited child and they do this. If the weather is bad, they run inside on treadmills, if it’s good, they run together outside before school every day.

I can bet you a million bucks, her teacher appreciates the efforts her parents put into helping guide her behavior. They also do yoga after school to re-center her for the evening. This is a great idea as after school is prime time for meltdowns since children have been working so hard trying to behave all day.

Remember strong-willed children need to see things for themselves. They won’t believe you if you say the stove is hot or it’s too cold outside without a coat. They have to experience this for themselves. Expect them to do this and save yourself the trouble of arguing with them. Obviously, keep them as safe as you can, but remember this is normal for this type of child.

Raising a strong willed child

Strong-willed children want to master skills and take charge of things. Let them be your helper. Empower them to channel their drive into things you want them to do so they won’t choose things you’d rather they didn’t. Let them have control of their own body and master what choices are made about it. Don’t fight with them over their fashion sense. Let that decision be theirs.

Listen to them and see what they are really asking for. Sometimes if we take the time to listen, we see that children are not really acting out, they have a need. Be sure to always be willing to listen to what they are really saying, even if you are in a big hurry. There is nothing more important than the heart of your child. If they are screaming and yelling over you sending an extra bag of candy to school for the party, they may just have a hard time adjusting to change and need you to give them a warning rather than force the new rules on them because you have the candy.

Disciplining a strong willed child

Make sure to have clear rules, but also routines. This helps the child to understand what is coming and adjust to what is coming next. Make sure your family has structured rules and you follow them as much as you can. Routines help strong-willed children to feel secure and they will go such a long way in preventing problems.

Avoid power struggles. If you have a child who wants all the train cars and doesn’t want to share any with the other kids in the group, you can give them the choice between making sure they only have 5 train cars and the rest are left for their friends, or not playing with trains while the other kids have cars to play with.

Giving choices is a great way for kids to feel like they are winning a battle. They may not like either choice, but they will make the one they hate the least. I try to give all my kids lots of choices throughout the day so everyone feels like they have some control.

You will find that the strong-willed child is lots of fun. They are usually funny or really entertaining and talented in some other way. They really are a delight. Find ways you can celebrate their individuality and uniqueness as much as possible. It will not only help you learn to enjoy it more, but you will also help them choose better behavior a whole big lot more often.

Dealing with a strong willed child book

For more help, check out Dr. Dobson’s advice on raising children and especially his book on raising the strong-willed child. 

child hugging grown up

Big hugs caregiver, you are doing a great job with that difficult child. If it’s your personal child or one of your daycare children, find ways to channel all of that sureness into something positive. You will greatly improve your own life and your strong-willed child’s.  It may be really tough to find positive things to celebrate in that child, but you can do it. Good things are there!

For more child development information, check these out:

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