Parenting can be challenging – even more so if your child (or children) seems to be more difficult than others. While I don’t have all the answers, hopefully, these tips on how to deal with a strong willed child will at least help a little bit.
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Top Tips for Parenting a Strong-Willed Child
Strong-willed kids often become leaders because they are motivated and determined. Usually, a strong-willed child wants mastery. Thus, they use their energy in challenging, persistent ways, such as bad behavior, acting out, or throws a tantrum.
You just have to survive raising them first as littles before they become terrific teens and successful adults. These tried and true tips are great for all types of children but work exceptionally well with ones that are a little more spirited.
1. Keep Your Cool
Keeping your cool is one of the best positive parenting strategies to avoid power struggles. However, it’s also the most challenging (and sometimes exhausting) thing that a parent can do to make things better in the long run.
First of all, you’ll stop yourself from having knee-jerk reactions to your child’s behavior. You should approach discipline as calmly as possible so you don’t punish ineffectively or lash out yourself.
Besides being more effective, it also models good behavior. Often strong-willed kids also have trouble with impulse control, so it’s extra essential to see what self-control looks like.
Remember to sidestep power struggles. Kids can yell and scream. Just count to ten, or even put yourself in a “time out” for a few minutes before approaching a difficult situation with your child.
2. Understand Where They’re Coming From
Strong-willed kids are usually quite exceptional. Sometimes they also carry different diagnoses that make life a little more challenging. It’s essential to make sure your strong willed child isn’t having an outburst because of something that’s out of their control, such as sensory.
If you suspect a neural divergence like ADHD or SPD, read up on those conditions. Often there are slight modifications that can help set kids up for success. Even something like a speech delay can affect behavior in a young child.
It’s also vital, even with spirited neurotypical kids, that you keep your expectations managed. Keep it age-appropriate and based on what your child is capable of. For instance, a three year old child can respond differently than a four year old.
3. Establish Ironclad Routines
Some kids are amazing at rolling with the punches. Others have a hard time switching to a different routine. Thus, strong-willed kids do best with a consistent schedule, especially when it concerns your regular battlegrounds.
For example, while other kids might be OK staying up late one night, a strong willed child might use that as an opportunity to fight at bedtime for the rest of the week.
It might be tricky at first, but eventually, if your rules become set in stone, even the most tenacious kids will stop fighting by using routines.
4. Use the Magic of “When-Then”
Kids aren’t always great at listening – especially when they’re already upset. Children need positive discipline when trying to do peaceful parenting. One of the best things you can do when parenting a strong-willed child is switching to “when-then” statements.
Here is an example: “When you finish brushing your teeth, then you can have a book.”
It’s not peer pressure. Instead, it’s clear, it’s concise, and it does work. It not only helps parents be more clear about what they want, but it also offers no room for argument from the child.
5. Reward Good Behavior
If you don’t already have one set up, this is an excellent time to implement some kind of reward system for encouragement to do good. Do what works best for your family (and that you can stick to). Reward charts are an easy and effective option for them to make good strong-willed child choices.
When you first start with a reward chart, choose three things to accomplish and earn rewards for your child. At least two of them should be something your child usually does well. If they’re never earning rewards, the child won’t stay motivated to continue.
A fun way to reward and parent happy kids is to save their points for small prizes and outings. For example, ten minutes of extra screen time, a trip to the park, or pick up some small prizes and fill a prize box.
Taking points away for poor behavior is OK, but use it sparingly and only for kids over 7.
6. Have a Plan for Tricky Situations
Do you ever dread taking your kid out because you’re not sure how they’ll act? Making a plan is the best way to solve or mitigate an outburst, meltdown, or defiant child when outside of the house. The same goes for times at home when you need them to “be good,” like when making important phone calls.
Before the event or outing, talk about it with your child, respectfully. Tell them what will happen and how you expect them to behave. Then, ask for their input when it comes to solving problems, so they have some control.
You should also come up with a reward to help motivate them. It doesn’t have to be much! 30 mins of screen time, while you put groceries away or pick the cereal are great examples.
7. Stay Firm and Ignore When Necessary
Strong-willed kids find causing a scene or being defiant simple. Permissive parenting might make the problem go away in the short term, but most parents find out one way or another that it leads to even more outbursts later. Hence, a parent sets limits to avoid challenges in the future.
When you say no to your strong willed child you are setting limits. Stay firm and follow through even if they’re throwing tantrums in the grocery store or screaming big passionate feelings while you try to cook dinner.
Whenever possible, attend every argument firmly and then ignore everything else. Reinforce by letting your kids know that no amount of protest is going to change your mind. It will seem challenging at first, but eventually, your kids will learn that you mean business.
8. Set the Environment Up For Success
Spirited young children are not “just trying to be difficult” or malicious with their strong-willed behavior. Most of the time, kids dig their heels in or have outbursts when there’s something else going on that they can’t communicate.
If your strong willed child is particularly challenging, look at the environment. Are they hungry, tired, or overstimulated?
In general, you should also set up your home to better accommodate your child. Keep things that you know will cause problems out of reach (for the time being), create systems to help make routines easier, and limit the number of stimuli that wind them up.
Visual reminders for routines can also be beneficial, especially when there are ways for the child to get involved!
9. Try Parenting Books Specifically For Strong-Willed Children
There are many effective parenting books out there, and some have conflicting parenting advice. You may need to read a few or combine information from several to find a system that works for your family and parenting style.
Here are my recommendations for a place to start:
These books also make great gifts for parents struggling with a strong willed child (assuming you have that kind of relationship).
10. Get Help If You Need It
You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Take time for self-care and find ways to get a break from parenting your strong willed child. That way, you can come back recharged with your Superman cape, ready to be a peaceful parent at your best.
Sometimes raising kids can cause you to be overwhelmed. It’s not always possible to do it all on your own. Whether it’s advice from your child’s doctor, therapy, parenting classes, or someone else to help with your child while you get a break – don’t hesitate to reach out and get help if you need it.
Another positive thing you could try is finding support with other parents of spirited kids. Facebook or other online communities are a great place to start. Parenting a strong-willed child isn’t easy, but it will be a lot easier with the right support system.
Hang in there, parents! Even if raising children is a battle, remember that they are only young for so long. Eventually, even the most difficult phases will come to an end, and even the most stubborn child will grow out of their stubbornness.
Just keep doing your best and working on specific skills with your child. Take time to listen to them to make the child feel understood. And, a child save face by not admitting you did the right thing.
It won’t be long before all these things that make your strong-willed child a handful grow up to be a fantastic adult and human being.