Raising my own small army of children I have seen their little personalities bloom, their passions emerge, and their emotions run wild. Instead of letting my strong willed child… more like children…wallow in frustration and anger when things don’t go perfectly their way, I want to empower them to harness their passion (good and bad) to achieve their dreams and make a big impact in the world!
Strong willed children typically live in a world of big emotions.
In fact, especially in the moment, they don’t care what anyone thinks of them. If they don’t know the word to describe what they see, they make one up. If they hear a sound, they express that sound. If they have a feeling, the force the feeling out in the only ways they know how.
What is a Strong Willed Child?
Because you’re here, it’s likely that you already know from experience what it’s like raising a strong willed child. But let’s talk about it… They are kids that have a disposition that exhibits independent thinking and a sense of independence.
Doesn’t sound so negative does it?
That’s because many people would describe them as stubborn and even sometimes defiant because of a tendency to not yield to authority figures even when there is no clear benefit to doing so. They also tend to go against the consensus and not follow social norms, which can be both a blessing and a struggle in raising them to be successful adults.
Strong-willed children are those who cannot easily be swayed by others. They want what they want, and they’ll do what they need to do in order to get it.
… and in my personal experience, strong-willed children also generally have a strong sense of injustice.
All of this can make them feel singled out, but if harnessed, it can also be the catalyst for making real change in the world around them. They can be so inspired and passionate that they do create waves of change because they stand firm in their convictions.
Strong-Willed Children are More Likely to Succeed in the long run harness their passion
No one wants to crush their child’s spirit, but in the frustration of raising a strong-willed child, it’s not difficult to accidentally do. There are always times when rules that we set as parents need to be followed because of safety or out of serious trouble. (Of course, minor incidents and their natural consequences can be the best education.)
But what if there were a way to have our cake and eat it too? What if giving our kids more freedom to live their lives their own way actually led to stronger children who are more able to follow through on what they want?
We can allow our children to pursue creative thinking and risk-taking. We can let them have some fun by exploring different hobbies and activities. And we can allow these strong-willed children more freedom will help them become stronger, resilient adults in the long run.
5 Ways to Make Sure Your Child’s Strong Willed Attitude Doesn’t Keep Them From SucceedingCheck out our completely free VALIDATE chart to help with big childhood emotions. Click here for a pop-up without leaving the page.
Acknowledge when you’re wrong. (Make sure that you teach them they can be wrong too.)
Because strong willed kids are likely to feel that grave sense of injustice, they need to know that their parents and authority figures are not just imperfect — they already know that — but that those important adults in their lives can admit to mistakes.
This helps give children better control of their emotions in their lives. The moments when they feel deep hurt from a situation where the adult that may have imposed a certain limit that was necessary will be taken far better if the child has experienced other hurtful moments where maybe a parent was in the wrong for treating them a certain way and were given an apology.
The way we interact with them matters. Therefore being an authoritative figure is far more empowering than being an authoritarian parent.
Of course, setting the standard for apologizing is also important for our kids to understand that they too are not infallible.
Allow strong willed children to feel their emotions and let them know it’s normal!
Gaslighting our children to say “you’re ok” or “you’re not hurt” can be an easy thing to say in the moment to try to discount what our children feel. However, even within the same family we all have vastly different experiences to the same encounters. Maybe one person thinks a joke is cruel and insensitive and another thinks it’s funny. We can’t write off the feelings of another person, especially not our children, just because they don’t perfectly align with our own.
Let them tell you how they feel. Talk it out. Find out their point of view and see if they can articulate those feelings meaningfully. If not, see if you can help discern ways that you can try to articulate it for them.
This will help them explain their stance when they are in their young adult years and throughout life so that they know when and if they should back down. It sparks those questions internally:
- Why am I passionate about this?
- Is it worth standing up for?
- Am I letting petty feelings overtake me or are my emotions valid?
- Are these convictions what I want to be associated with?
- Can I clearly communicate why this is important?
Don’t reward or punish too much, but definitely follow natural consequences.
Strong-willed kids need conversation and safe spaces more than rewards and punishment. Too many rewards can make them trend towards manipulation; however too much punishment can squash their enthusiasm and intensify their emotions overall.
Simple natural consequences help them see cause and effect more clearly. Don’t empty the dishwasher for the day? Get it done before participating in family game night. Can they participate in game night? YES. There is no added punishment, just the logical consequences of their own actions. Simply do the job and move to the next step.
Working with them through theorems like “When you finish ___, we will ____”. It helps them understand that there is a sequence of events that they will follow.
Give them space to create and let them try new things!
Strong willed kids are creative. They also quite often need their own space — because of course being by themselves means they are the only authority to answer to.
Challenge them to think through a problem they have encountered or see in their own life, a loved-one’s life, or the world in general. Have them think through ways to make a difference. If it’s their idea and their perception of a need, there is so much more excitement to pursue it. And they will do so with great vigor.
Of course, trying new things also helps them to explore their likes instead of just focuses on their dislikes. These can also turn into really wonderful ways to help temper bad days or bring those low emotions on the emotional roller coaster shift the other direction. Sometimes shifting a strong willed child’s anger or defiance is simply about redirecting them.
Help strong-willed kids succeed with structure and front-loading.
There can also be anxiety associated with passionate and independent children. THey feel a loss of control when they don’t get to be a part of a decision making process or if they don’t understand how or why something is happening the way it is.
We use a technique called “front loading” and we start it with our children when they are toddlers. The process is simple: tell them what is going to happen and in the order it is going to happen. This helps them process the situation and know where they are in the bigger picture. Then they can also ask questions to see how their needs and desires fit into the bigger picture.
While you don’t have to set a rigid routine for your family if it simply doesn’t work for you (it doesn’t for us), but you can develop routines. There are things my kids know they have to do every day. Some days they complete them before noon, others right before bed. But they have ultimate control of their day as long as they know there are certain chores and tasks in their daily routine.
How to help a strong willed child overcome disappointment from self-imposed high expectations
One of the things I have noticed in my children is that my strong willed kids are the ones that have high expectations, are rigid in how they experience outcomes, and are the most likely to get disappointed in any given situation.
Related from my friend at Parents with Confidence: Words of Encouragement for kids in every situation.
Set boundaries for how we express disappointment.
What can make a child’s disappointment so alarming is the sheer energy of their response! You might find yourself struggling to carry a screaming, flailing, totally out-of-control toddler out of a party over the mere fact that she got the purple princess party favor instead of the pink one. But even at this age, parents should start to set boundaries for expressing our feelings, including disappointment. Yes, you may politely ask if there are other pink princess crowns and if you may have one. No, you may not throw yourself on the floor in protest of this insufferable slight. “
Preview situations from your child’s perspective so you can help him/her set realistic expectations.
Children’s disappointment stems from a place of excitement. This is going to be the best Birthday ever! I just know I’m going to get everything on my wishlist!
Parents can help kids by anticipating their child’s perspective of a situation or event and then helping them set realistic expectations while also preparing for any backlash that might happen:
- Consistently remind your child of their unique nature and how that comparing themselves or their personal situations is truly the thief of joy.
- With one of my children that has a birthday right in between two other siblings I had to remind her that wishlists are not a guarantee of what each person gets, just ideas of what they might like. But I also spent time prepping how I would talk to her in the moment, pointing each gift to her interests and passions.
- Parents should also explain to older kids (starting at about age 4) how certain expressions of disappointment can be rude or even hurtful to others.
For instance, a huge tantrum on about a gift in front of the person that gave it to them, surrounded by new toys barely out of the wrapping paper, because you didn’t receive ONE specific item can make you look really ungrateful for the things you did receive. And no one wants to be generous with a child who appears ungrateful.
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living on a farm in New England. She believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience and has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development. She is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!