I think I was born strong-willed. That’s not the kind of thing you learn. The advantage is that you stick to what you believe in and rarely get pushed out of what you want to do. – Joan Jett
If you’re reading this, chances are great that you have a strong-willed child. You don’t need a check list to figure out the signs. You live with them. Strong-willed children test every limit and boundary. They’re exhausting. It is quite the journey for personal character growth to raise them without losing your mind.
According to numerous childhood behavior experts, the strong-willed child possesses specific characteristics that can be observed from an early age throughout the preschool and elementary years. A strong-willed child displays intensity, persistence, valiance, decisiveness, boldness, and frequent mood shifts. They can be highly demanding and unsatisfied with adult guidelines.
However, there is hope. The same characteristics that make a strong-willed child are the same traits possessed by many CEOs, world leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and world-class athletes. I’ve raised a strong-willed child. He’s a leader. When shaped correctly, the weaknesses of being strong-willed turn into strengths.
7 Survival Tips:
1. Clear Expectations & Boundaries
Be firm but fair. A strong-willed child needs natural consequences, not arbitrary consequences. Arbitrary consequences will exasperate a strong-willed child. Set up boundaries with consequences in advance. A natural consequence is a consequence that would naturally take place in life. For example, if a child spits on a pillow, they need to wash the pillow. If a child forgets to feed their pet, then they need to skip a meal. This teaches your child that actions have consequences. This is life. Positive actions cultivate positive results. Negative actions result in negative consequences.
“Your style has got to be robust. Children respond to adults who have calmness and composure. If you remain pleasant and firm under fire, the messages you send are, “I am in the control seat. Everything is okay here. Your needs will be met but I will not be pushed or bullied”. This settles children down. They learn they are not so powerful that they can disconcert the big people in their world, and their world feels a lot safer because of that.” (1)
I know that a strong-willed child can wear you down, but it is crucial to be consistent with them. Otherwise, they will not respect your authority. They need to feel safe and secure by knowing you follow through with action for your words. The strong-willed child has a virile desire for justice. This is why it is crucial to follow through with what you say you are going to do. Otherwise, you will have a challenge. Your child will challenge why you didn’t do what you said, or they will take advantage of the lack of consequences.
3. Put Them In Charge
Yes, that is what I said. Put them in charge of something. Channel their energy from opposition to something positive and constructive. Strong-willed children are leaders. Find a way for them to lead. Have them solve problems. The strong-willed child thrives on exercising their brain with solving problems. For example: If they want to have a toy, but you don’t want to buy it. Have them come up with a plan to earn it. Then, follow through. (Following through with what you say is very important to a strong-willed child.)
Learn to wait and not react. This is a hard one for me. A strong-willed child likes to push buttons. They are tenacious. When they want something, they don’t give up. Remember to wait, think, and respond with consistency. When a strong-willed child is shaped correctly, their tenacity becomes a positive trait that creates entrepreneurs and adults that don’t give up.
5. Look for ways to say, “yes”
The strong-willed child has the need to be in control. A wise friend told me once, “Choose your battles.” Do you really need to say, “no” right now? Look for ways to say “yes” by giving options: You can do A or B. Would you like a piggy back ride to bed, or would you like to walk to bed? This allows your child to be in control with you still giving livable options. It’s a win:win scenario. No one likes to be told “no”, especially a strong-willed child.
6. Let them learn by the mistakes they make
I have a motto: Mistakes are for learning. Strong-willed children don’t like being told what to do or what they did wrong. This strips their dignity and need for power. I’ve often over-explained directions to my 10 year old (and up). I even asked him to repeat the directions back to me. All I got was an eye roll. Instead, give strong-willed children a task and let them figure out the execution of the task. They will learn far more from their mistakes, and you will have less resistance raising them.
7. Love, love, love- unconditional love and praise
Praise the process of what they do well and focus on their positive traits. No matter how many times they push your buttons and you feel like losing it, or you do lose it, remember to hug them and remind them that they are special.
Strong-willed children feed off the reaction they get from others. My son loved to hit my “hot” buttons with regular tests to see if I truly meant what I said. (Those tests began when he was eight months old.) He tested limits just to see if I stayed calm and robust. (Most of the time I did. I had to.) When I stayed consistent, loving, and patient allowing my son to problem solve, learn from mistakes, and make choices, we had more harmony in our home. I raised a leader, a strong-willed child, without going insane. You can too.
Pamela Hall is a mom and the founder of Literate For Life. Their mission is to educate, encourage, and empower people, particularly children, to be literate for life through their blog community and relevant, applicable seminars and programs.
Photo Credit: 1. gettyimages 2. pumpkinpatchkidsblog.wordpress.com Source: 1. pumpkinpatchkidsblog.wordpress.com