Raising a child is beautiful. The snuggles and giggles and “I love you’s.” But it can also be hard. Like, can’t-even-catch-your-breath hard sometimes. Add into the picture a strong-willed child and it is emotional and overwhelming.
What’s a strong-willed child?
(If you have to ask, your child probably isn’t one)
- Always need to get their way
- Resistant to change
- Frequent temper tantrums
- Everything is a fight or a struggle
- Resists anything done to him (diaper changes, baths, etc.)
- Doesn’t respond to discipline
These are just some of the characteristics of strong-willed children.
My son is a strong-willed child. He feels things in a BIG way. When he cares about someone, he is extremely affectionate. When he is upset about something, he throws an extreme temper. His emotions are intense.
He was the baby who was still struggling with sleep training at 10 months old. As an involved mother with 2 degrees in psychology who was trying all the best methods, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing wrong. I still battle with mom-guilt, but recently came to terms with the fact that each child is wired differently and it just happens that my son has a strong will.
While there may be some negative aspects, there are certainly many positive sides. In fact, strong-willed children grow up to be leaders and innovators, not easily swayed by a crowd. Their determination can help them stick to a task, even difficult ones. These are the kids that might take a lot of patience and effort now, but the investment in their lives is priceless.
For me growing up, all I needed was the fear of disappointing my parents to keep me in line. No seriously, that’s all I needed. My teenage years were a bit different, but I was conscious about how people perceived me from very young. The thought that I might reflect poorly on my parents was terrifying and I thrived on affirmations that I was making them proud.
My son is not like that. Granted, he is still young at age 2, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.
It’s taken some time, but I’ve come to see what works and what doesn’t work with my strong-willed child. Note: I’m still learning, so this isn’t an exhaustive list. Because it is a lot of information, I have broken it up into 2 parts.
How NOT to Raise a Strong-Willed Child
What Doesn’t Work:
Raising your voice
To some people, raising your voice might make your authority shine, but not for the strong-willed child. This turns into a shouting game and reinforces the behavior that whoever’s the loudest, wins. Gentleness is your best friend as you talk with a child spinning out of control.
Oh boy. This is controversial. Whether it’s a spank on the bottom, a tap on the hand, or whatever. I’m not here to debate spanking, but I can say that this does not work for a strong-willed child. This teaches them hitting. Or rather, reinforces hitting (since they’ve probably already been participating in the hitting stage). Some parents swear by spanking, just like their parents did to them, and their parents to them, and so on, but this child doesn’t learn “I shouldn’t do XYZ because Mom and Dad said not to and if I do it I’ll get a spanking.” They learn aggression instead, that “Day Care Danielle took my toy even though I said not to, so I’m gonna hit her has punishment.” The strong-willed child can come across aggressive because of the aggression they’ve witnessed elsewhere (this can be from spanking, other kids hitting or biting, or what they’ve witnessed on television, etc.).
Okay, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Duh, Sarah! That’s a no-brainer!” (Side note: Does anyone still say “Duh” anymore??) But seriously, there can not be any room for your impatience and frustration to show. Not only will your child pick up on it and give it right back to you, but it won’t be constructive to any situation. My son has wide feet so it’s a struggle getting certain shoes on anyway, but add in the fact that he wants to do it all himself and it can take 10 minutes. I’ve learned to encourage him and give him pointers. Sometimes he does it all by himself and then wants to jump around and celebrate with me. It’s fun! Other times, it’s an opportunity to teach him how to ask for help nicely. At that point, the help is invited so he’s responsive to my direction and appreciates that he can count on me.
Try to remind yourself of your child’s age. Sometimes we expect more from them than what is appropriate or necessary for their age. This can be a tough one. Especially if they are advanced in some areas which makes us expect them to be advanced in all.
Remember that, as parents, we’re responsible for teaching them the behaviors we hope to see. Right around the time my son turned 2, we started attending a church closer to where we live. They have an impressive welcome team that do a fantastic job of greeting people as you enter. I was embarrassed to watch my son yell “No!” to each person that greeted us. I mean, these are friendly, smiling people.
Instead of immediately looking at things from his point of view, I was concerned about my own feelings (how it made me look as a mom, how embarrassing it felt, etc.). Because of this, I rushed him past the greeters, while sternly telling him that was naughty. Did this help my strong-willed child? Nope. Not even a little.
After a couple weeks of this (okay, so I was a little slow), I tried a different approach. On the short drive over, we talked about what was going to happen. He even practiced saying, “Good Morning!” Once there, he said the usual “No!” but I put into practice what was expected. We stayed there in the foyer, I said hello and asked what the greeter’s name was, then greeted him by name while shaking his hand. My son smiled, said his rehearsed “Good Morning!” and introduced himself on his own, then gave high-fives. He loved this so much, he started high-fiving everyone he saw!
I can’t expect him to act in ways that he hasn’t learned. You can’t really punish a child for acting like a 2-year old when they’re 2. Instead, give him or her the tools and patience to learn new concepts. And rejoice with them when they make progress!
What Does Work:
Those are just some of the things parents often do that add more detriment than help. Every child is different, so be aware of what seems to make things worse and find an alternative. There are many positive things you can do to help your strong-willed child.
Now that you’ve read How NOT to raise a strong-willed child, visit 10 Tips for Raising a Strong-Willed Child for ideas that DO work.