How to Discipline Your Strong-Willed Child

This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click and buy, I may receive a small commission (at zero cost to you). Please see my full disclosure policy for details.

Is your child stubborn and challenges you on everything? Learn how to effectively discipline your strong-willed child without breaking his spirit!

strong willed child

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy for details.

They say strong-willed children are supposed to be tomorrow’s leaders. They say that one day, I will be thankful that my kid is strong-willed and that his spirit will bring him success. However, TODAY, as a stubborn-as-hell 2 years old, my son’s spirit is bringing me a gigantic, throbbing headache. So how do we discipline our strong-willed children without breaking their spirit that will open doors for them in the future?

If you have a strong-willed child, you most likely read this title and almost tipped over your cup of coffee with your hand as you dashed for your computer mouse to click on this post!  And I don’t blame you!  I have a strong-willed one too!

What I’m going to be covering today is the general idea of what a “strong-willed” child even is and some simple ways you can begin carving that personality trait to be used for the forces of good!  Of course, we’ll be keeping Positive Parenting as our primary style of how to parent these kiddos, but we may also bleed into some other parenting techniques too.  So, let’s begin our journey together!

What is a “Strong-Willed” Child?

If you have a “strong-willed” child, you most likely figured it out pretty early on.  This trait usually shows up in the late months of infancy and early months of toddlerhood, and it shouldn’t be confused with the Terrible Twos.  Strong-willed kids are sometimes referred to as “stubborn,” “spirited,” “hard-headed,” etc.

The primary thing to remember about these kids is that this is not simply a “choice” in behavior, but a personality trait.  This means that your child didn’t suddenly become “strong-willed” because you failed to discipline them and so now they’re spoiled or are now brats.  Bystanders love to suggest this one, but it’s simply not true.  Being “strong-willed” is a personality trait, meaning that your child was born with the propensity to be this way.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t help shape and mold it, but it does mean that you didn’t cause it.

Furthermore, being “strong-willed” is not a bad thing! As parents, having kids that fit this character description can really take its toll on us.  It’s EXHAUSTING, right?!?  But we always need to keep in mind that this personality trait can actually be an asset!  Having a “spirited” child is really not a negative situation, and it shouldn’t be viewed as such.  It can be challenging, however, so how do we manage this?

Working with Your Spirited Youngster

Have you ever played with Play-Doh?  I held a parenting class once where I gave each parent a tub of Play-Doh.  Some parents got small, “travel-sized” tubs, others got glittery dough, some fresh-out-of-the-box, and yet others some older, stiffer dough.  I asked all the parents to make me a snake out of their dough.  Some rolled in their hands, others on the table, etc.  The end result was everyone had a snake, but some were chubby snakes, others long, some short, and some super skinny.  There were snakes of all colors.

What was the point of the project? Raising kids is a combination of Nature and Nurture. 

The “Nature” of your child is their genetic makeup.  This would be the color, freshness, and amount of Play-Doh a parent got.

The “Nurture” of your child is YOU!  The parenting techniques you use, your consistency, your own role modeling, etc.  This is equivalent to rolling dough on the table, between your hands, etc.

The message of this exercise is that you can all have a well-adjusted, happy child who can successfully function in our society.  Your “stubborn” child is no different!  Remember when I said you could curb this personality trait?  This trait is like the Play-Doh.  You can’t change the color/texture/freshness/etc. of the dough, but you can still mold it into something positive!

Related: How to Get Your Child to Listen the First Time You Ask

Discipline and the Spirited Child

Up to now, we’ve been looking at what it means to have a spirited child, but it’s time to shift gears and look at disciplining strong-willed children.  Most of you have heard of “discipline,” and many of you might have very different reactions to this word.  If you can believe it, some individuals can’t even stand the thought of disciplining their child!  There is a huge fear among some parents that discipline will shame their children, and thus, break their spirit.

Discipline, however, is an important component of raising happy, well-adjusted, and emotionally healthy kids.  In fact, discipline actually impacts your child’s development!

Children who don’t form a healthy, positive attachment with at least one stable caregiver in early childhood will be more likely to:

  • Grow to suffer from increased levels of anxiety and depression.
  • Do poorly in school, have poor physical health due to the increased presence of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body.
  • Engage in drug use.
  • Develop poor attachment styles, which go on to affect their future relationships.

Discipline is a huge part of the Parent-Child relationship, which greatly impacts the bond (aka attachment) you have with your child.  Failure to discipline can actually harm your Parent-Child bond!

Knowing this, why would any parent refuse to discipline their child?!?  Well, to put it simply, discipline isn’t easy.  To make matters worse, most parents have a limited understanding of what discipline is, and many fear that by disciplining their children, they will shame them or damage their self-esteem.

Today, I want to challenge this fear and encourage you to view discipline in a whole new light!  What if I was to tell you that discipline, when done correctly, can actually bring you and your child closer together!  Discipline can actually help to create a loving bond and connection with your child!  (YES! I’m telling you the truth!)  It’s called Wholistic Discipline.

Wholistic Discipline is a parenting philosophy and wholistic approach to raising children.  It takes into consideration the whole child and family system, creating a triadic view that attempts to balance all 3 components: the child, home environment, and the parent.

I’m going to give you a few tips that you can begin using TODAY to work with your strong-willed youngster.

Even though these tips are helpful when working with a strong-willed child, they can also be used with any child and personality type!  The key to these tips is to be consistent across time; the rules can’t change.  I used to tell parents, if your child tests you 100x in a day, you have to be able to go 101x!

Parenting Strong-Willed Kids Without Breaking Their Spirit

1. Start Early & Be More Stubborn Than Your Child

Regardless of whether or not you have a spirited child on your hands, rules and discipline should start early on in a child’s life and remain consistent throughout their growth.  My son is 10 months old right now, and I am already applying household rules to him.

Now, you need to be developmentally appropriate.  I won’t give my 10-month-old a Time Out right now, but I might tell him “No thank you. Daddy’s laptop is not a toy for you.”  If he reaches for the laptop 30x in a day, all 30x I will give him the same message and redirect him to something else.  Never give up! Remember, be more stubborn than your child.

Now, if you have an older child, and maybe you haven’t been the best at staying consistent, there’s no time like the present!  Start today!  Be warned, however, that your child will give you more resistance since they are not used to your new tenacity.  Eventually, however, they will realize that you’re not going to give in.  As such, they’ll start to get with the program.

2. Allow Your Child a Voice

In our effort to avoid breaking our child’s spirit, this a very important key to remember. Encourage your child to question you and speak their mind.  (Say WHAT?!?)  I know it seems counter-intuitive, but let me explain.

My father used to tell me, “Always question Krystal.  Question your boss, your teachers, your friends, everyone! Even questions meAll I ask is that you do it with respect.”  Your goal shouldn’t be to remove your child’s “stubbornness,” but rather should be to mold this trait, just like the Play-Doh.  

Allowing your child to question the rules helps to maintain their spirit, but by requiring respect as the foundation of how they question you, helps to mold this personality trait into something that becomes an asset to them in their adult lives.

This also should spur a meaningful discussion between you and your child on why the rules are what they are.  I want to emphasize that a discussion should really occur between you and your child.  This will foster and set the foundation for the parent-child relationship, help to develop leadership skills, shape their moral code, and enhance their critical thinking (a total PLUS!).

3. Model What You Want to See

Our children have their own genetic makeup, which is a combination of you and the other individual who helped create them.  But just like that Play-Doh, your parenting techniques and your own behaviors are what will define how that Play-Doh is shaped and what the end result will look like.

I teach parents that children are a mirror.  They are typically a reflection of us as their parents.  Did you ever do something, stop, and say, “OMG!  I sound just like my mother!”  Even if you don’t want to be your parents, you will still reflect them in some way!

If we want our children to be respectful towards us, we need to treat them with respect too.  If we want them to follow our household rules, we should be following those same rules.  From infancy, our children watch everything we do, and this begins shaping them into the person they grow up to be.

One Day They Will Be Leaders

Remember, our children today will be the leaders of tomorrow.  As parents, we have the duty and responsibility to help shape that strong-will into a courageous individual who can help change the world for the better. Therefore, it’s important to keep calm and not make disciplining mistakes when parenting your strong-willed child. Look at their fierce spirit as a good quality that will allow them to lead successful lives.

Do you have a strong-willed child? How do you handle disciplining your strong-willed child?

How to Discipline Your Strong-Willed Child

16 thoughts on “How to Discipline Your Strong-Willed Child”

  1. these are wonderful tips for anyone with a strong willed child! My son is 12 months and I think he is going to be very strong willed!

  2. Yes I always sound like my mom ugh! Loved this post! So true about allowing them to question respectfully. My oldest is three though and I don’t think I’ll encourages questions until we get past the “Why” stage. Asking why a millions time is WAY different then sincerely wanting to know something.

  3. GREAT tips! I’m the mom of a very spirited and stubborn child, so this was a very relevant read. I definitely need to remember to be “more stubborn” than him!

  4. Thank you for this post! My daughter just turned one and she is a strong-willed child. It must come from her father because I was not like that when I was younger. I wish I was. Although it is tough now I am so happy she has this trait instead of the constant people pleasing trait I have.

  5. I love this! Totally agree with all of them, especially number 3. They really do watch everything we do, and we shape them into the adults they will become with every decision we make.

  6. I love this! Totally agree with all of them, especially number 3. They really do watch everything we do, and we shape them into the adults they will become with every decision we make.

  7. Hi Everyone,

    This is K.C. Dreisbach, author of this post and of the new book, “Trials of the Working Parent.” I’m so happy you all enjoyed this post, and that you found the information useful! I wish you all much luck and love in your parenting journey!

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. These are great tips. I actually have a very easy-going three year old (got more my personality!), but my son is only 8 weeks and is totally different so far. I might need this advice in the future.

  9. My oldest is very defiant. She sometimes will not listen, and I’m not sure if it’s stubbornness or ADHD. I worry it’s the latter so I try not to be hard on her. It’s a fine line.

  10. My daughter is 3-years-old and she is definitely strong-willed. I’ve noticed it when she was around 12 months. The only thing I used to do is to be as stubborn as she was, which actually worked out really well since now she knows rules and understands discipline.
    I will definitely give a try to your other tips, thanks a lot for sharing.

  11. My son is 5 and exactly as u mentioned all the traits in your first blog… and i was very happy reading about it. It saddened me that I didn’t recognized or aware of this “strong willed child” but consider him as hyper-active child and i even feared he has ADHD. Thank you very much for information as a mother it lightens my heart ❤️

    1. Aw Fiorella thank you for reading! Don’t feel guilty about not knowing about this “strong-willed” trait – focus on how to manage it now that you know! I am glad this article was helpful!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top