Have a strong-willed child? You’re lucky! Strong willed children can be a challenge when they’re young, but if sensitively parented, they become terrific teens and young adults. Self-motivated and inner-directed, they go after what they want and are almost impervious to peer pressure. As long as parents resist the impulse to “break their will,” strong-willed kids often become leaders.
What exactly is a strong-willed child? Some parents call them “difficult” or “stubborn,” but we could also see strong-willed kids as people of integrity who aren’t easily swayed from their own viewpoints. Strong-willed kids are spirited and courageous. They want to learn things for themselves rather than accepting what others say, so they test the limits over and over. They want desperately to be “in charge” of themselves, and will sometimes put their desire to “be right” above everything else. When their heart is set on something, their brains seem to have a hard time switching gears. Strong-willed kids have big, passionate feelings and live at full throttle.
Often, strong-willed kids are prone to power-struggles with their parents. However, it takes two to have a power struggle. You don’t have to attend every argument to which you’re invited! If you can take a deep breath when your buttons get pushed, and remind yourself that you can let your child save face and still get what you want, you can learn to sidestep those power struggles. (Don’t let your four-year-old make you act like a four-year-old yourself.)
No one likes being told what to do, but strong-willed kids find it unbearable. Parents can avoid power struggles by helping the child feel understood even as the parent sets limits. Try empathizing, giving choices, and understanding that respect goes both ways. Looking for win/win solutions rather than just laying down the law keeps strong-willed children from becoming explosive and teaches them essential skills of negotiation and compromise.
Strong-willed kids aren’t just being difficult. They feel their integrity is compromised if they’re forced to submit to another person’s will. If they’re allowed to choose, they love to cooperate. If this bothers you because you think obedience is an important quality, I’d ask you to reconsider. Of course you want to raise a responsible, considerate, cooperative child who does the right thing, even when it’s hard. But that doesn’t imply obedience. That implies doing the right thing because you want to.