10 tips for parenting the strong-willed child without breaking their will

Do you 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.

Parenting a strong-willed child is full of ups and downs. These children are outspoken, prone to power struggles, sensitive and assertive.

Self-motivated and inner-directed, they go after what they want and are almost impervious to peer pressure. As long as you resist the impulse to "break their will," strong-willed kids often become leaders. So what's the best strategy for parenting a strong-willed child?

You may have a strong-willed child if your child:

  • is prone to power struggles,
  • is challenging, bright and dynamic,
  • will stand up for what he believes in at all costs,
  • has a meltdown or gets angry when she doesn’t get her way,
  • is a natural leader,
  • asks why often,
  • can be described as outspoken
  • has iron-clad determination when he has his heart set on something.

Because strong-willed children challenge authority and are fiercely determined, it is impossible to parent them on autopilot. If you’ve tried lecturing, taking privileges away, or put them into timeout again and again, you know how futile it can be. In fact, you may often find yourself in a standoff where he or she will not comply.

The truth is, strong-willed children do not respond well to being forced to do anything. Researchers state that when a child is forced, she is no longer a moral agent. She is no longer choosing to do right. On top of that, when we try and force a strong-willed child, we are essentially asking her to push aside who she is and accept our instructions at face value.

Though strong-willed children aren’t easy to parent, they are amazing children to raise.

Parenting a strong-willed child is challenging and dynamic, but it is also such a rich experience. Most parents want to raise children who will stand up for what’s right and be successful.

Studies show that strong-willed children are more likely to become great leaders who are willing to do the right thing at all costs. One longitudinal study examined children’s characteristics and circumstances as predictors of occupational success. Researchers followed these children from the age of 12 through to the age of 52. And, they found that children who questioned authority and weren’t obedient were more likely to earn more and be more entrepreneurial than their less spirited counterparts.

The more research that comes forward on these headstrong children, the more we learn that maintaining their spirit is the key to their lifelong success. The key to parenting a strong-willed child comes down to one crucial thing: trust.

When children feel connected to the adults in charge of them and trust they have the child’s best intentions at heart, they behave their best.

When our children feel like we don’t understand them or are disconnected from them, they’re more likely to act out.

In maintaining a spirited child’s trust, we open them up to understanding and internalizing our values and rules.

So how do we accomplish this?

Positive parenting strategies are key. Below you’ll find some wonderful tips on how to reinforce or re-establish the trust between you and your strong-willed child:

Because you want to work with, not against your strong-willed child’s attributes, research favours a Socratic approach. This means:

  • establish the family rules in a collaborative manner,
  • answer questions about rules and expectations as they come up,
  • checking for understanding in the child.

In doing this, children feel empowered, involved, and respected. Therefore, they are more motivated to listen and understand when disciplined.

You can do this by having a well-established routine. Or, simply you can let your child know what the day will look like and what to expect throughout the day. Strong-willed children do not do well when their power is taken away. By having predictability, they feel in control and are less prone to meltdowns. Also, it lessens their cognitive load and makes it easier for them to face other challenges with more ease.

When a strong-willed child is engrossed in an activity, her only priority is to see it through. When a parent appreciates what the child is doing and then tells the child what to do, she listens better.

There are days, or parts of the day, that are less predictable than others. For instance, give your child a two-minute warning before transitioning from one activity to another. This allows him or her to feel a greater sense of control.

Like having a routine, setting clear expectations allow a child to know how he or she should act, what they should do, and what isn’t acceptable. It also makes discipline much easier too because he or she will understand that they’ve deviated from expectation.

Our children need to be able to trust that what we say is what we mean. If they have done wrong, it is important we follow through on discipline. And if plans change, it is important they understand why.

Ultimatums often provoke power struggles, are a threat, and erode the trust and connection between the strong-willed child and parent.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your spirited child is the acknowledgment of how he or she feels. This recognition scaffolds moving forward and creates space to understand the discipline that may follow.

Yelling, get mad at their crying, or showing other signs of anger can happen to the best of us. Not only does admitting we’ve done wrong model good behaviour, it also re-establishes trust. Yelling is damaging.

Parenting a strong-willed child is anything but easy. There is no quick fix. However, by parenting mindfully and maintaining your children’s sense of trust, you can promote their cooperation. Moreover, you can maintain their spirited nature and continue to raise them into strong leaders who can have a positive impact on the world one day.

Resource: Psychology Today

This article was first published on AfricaParent.com

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