Is your child stubborn and challenges you on everything? Learn how to effectively discipline your strong-willed child without breaking his spirit!
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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?
This is a guest post from K.C. Dreisbach, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author behind “Trials of the Working Parent“. She has spent years in the field of mental health helping thousands of families achieve happy, healthy lives. Currently, she is a Clinical Supervisor for a non-profit agency working with troubled youth and their families.
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 following tips are helpful when working with a strong-willed child, but 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! So, let’s look at my keys to parenting strong-willed kiddos, 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 me. All 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
That’s what I keep telling myself when my toddler is throwing an epic tantrum. Strong-willed children can be difficult, but one day, their spirit will separate them from the pack and allow them to thrive. 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.