Creative Child

Three Things You Never Knew About Your Strong-Willed Child That Will Change Your Relationship

Parents with strong-willed children receive some of the worst advice around. I should know. As a mom to a strong-willed child myself, I’ve heard my fair share of them. Well-intentioned family members and friends have all suggested that I need to come down stronger and harder on my strong-willed child. Basically, she was the way she was because I let her walk all over me. And that the way to “fix” her was to be stricter. Show her who’s boss. 

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But this piece of advice, if applied without proper empathy and finesse can have detrimental effects on your relationship with your strong-willed child. As a mom who knew my child better than anyone, I had the maternal instinct that coming down harder on my child wouldn’t have the effect I had hoped for. But out of pure frustration, I tried it anyway. It only seemed to make things worse. I’m not alone in this.

According to Cynthia Tobias, author of “You Can't Make Me (but I Can be Persuaded): Strategies for Bringing Out the Best in Your Strong-willed Child,” countless parents have severed relationships with their strong-willed child or lost them to rebellion because they have chosen to engage in a lose-lose power struggle.

Instead of throwing down harsh rules and reprimands from your parenting perch, the first place to start if you have a strong-willed child is to deign to understand who they are and what makes them tick. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be disciplined. They absolutely need to be. But they need to be understood first.

Strong-willed children are strong-willed because they are guided by a strong moral compass. They don’t do things simply because they’re supposed to. It has to matter to them personally. At 18 months of age, this sense of integrity for a particular way socks need to be put on or how cereal needs to be eaten out of a certain bowl might seem ridiculous, defiant and downright disrespectful.

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But a short history lesson will remind us that we need these strong-willed children to grow up to be people who stand up to authority when it contradicts their own moral code, even when it goes against social mores or authority. We don’t want our kids to grow up to be the kind of people who accept authority for the sake of authority. So why do we reject this trait in our children?

It’s inconvenient for one. What parent wants to deal with a child who turns a mountain out of a molehill, or who seems to argue a point into the ground just to see how far into the ground the point will go? But strong-willed children are also the ones who go to great lengths to rectify wrongs, who create inventions and solve problems when everyone tells them it can’t be one. Some of the most resourceful, creative, successful, entrepreneurial, kind and compassionate people were once strong-willed children who’s fire to see it through never burned out. This seeming liability as a child will be their best asset when they grow up.

So how do you cultivate and refine the strong will in your child? Here are three imperative things parents with strong-willed children need to know.

1. You can’t force them. Understanding that we can’t force our kids to do much of anything with long-term consequences is a humbling pill to swallow for many parents. We are the authority figure after all. Isn’t it our job to make our kids listen and obey? No, it’s not. And this is where many parents miss the way: we put undue pressure on ourselves.

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