Setting limits with your strong willed child can be a challenge for many moms and dads. But with simple techniques, you can turn difficult situations around.
“She is just so stubborn, and… strong-willed,” a friend said. She was talking about her child who was challenging her in ways she wasn’t used to. And she was frustrated—not used to the defiance and gumption in a strong willed child.
As frustrating as it may be to handle a strong willed child, these traits aren’t bad. Even my friend recognized this: “I know as an adult this will serve her well, but for me right now, it’s a nightmare.”
What are some of the positive aspects of strong-willed children?
- They’re motivated and reach for what they want.
- They’re leaders.
- They tend not to succumb to peer pressure.
- They want to do things themselves and are self-sufficient.
But some of these positive traits can test parents with a different agenda. Strong-willed children want to be in charge and will test limits. They’re passionate. Imagine the two-year-old who wants “me do it!” as she fumbles with putting on her shoes while mom waits nearby knowing she’s not there yet.
Setting limits with your strong willed child
So while these traits can serve them well in the future, they still pose a challenge to parents right now. What can we do to help rein in this extra gumption, to better serve both parent and child? What do you do about parenting your strong-willed child?
1. Check your response—are you strong willed too?
When kids are strong willed, they’re met with equally if not stronger willed parents. What’s your reaction when you hear your daughter challenge you and test her limits? The best reaction of course is to stay calm. It’s hard when she defies your rules, but you’ll be more effective.
Nearly every parent has lost her temper. It’s almost like you can’t stop yourself from going bonkers at your kids, or find every excuse to do so. Still, we need to remind ourselves to remain calm, especially with a strong willed child. They’ll agree when we’re not just as stubborn as they are.
2. Let routines do the job for you
Imagine all the tasks you’d have to remind your child to do if they weren’t already part of your routine. Using the potty, brushing his teeth, eating at the same time every night. Without asking or nagging, routines remind your child what happens next.
When routines aren’t in place, all this nagging falls on your shoulders. You remind your kid to put on her shoes every morning. Or to stop coloring because it’s dinner time, or that 7:30 means it’s time to head to the bathtub.
Flexibility offers a relief from the sameness of the day. But having a routine helps both parents and kids. Parents don’t nag so much, and kids know what next to expect.
3. Give parent-approved choices
Imagine a day in the life of a young child. Now try and count how many times they’re told what to do or not do. I’ll bet we limit our kids more than we think we do.
And for many of those instances, we have good reason. We have to keep them safe, our day needs to flow smoothly, and we do know best (usually).
But amid all those rules, kids start feeling like they have no say. And they’ll naturally exert themselves.
Giving your child the choice between two things—both of which are parent-approved—can empower her. Forgoing a jacket isn’t an option. But offering the option between the denim jacket and the hooded zip-up gives her some power.
Don’t offer too many choices can go wrong. But giving your child a say in her life can steer your strong willed child towards the same page as you.
I no longer consider compromise as the way of the wussy parent. But for a while I did: I assumed any detraction from a parent’s orders would encourage kids to sneak their way in. To manipulate their parents.
That was before I learned the benefit of picking your battles. Yes, we need to establish boundaries, but with room for flexibility.
Another reason to compromise? Doing so teaches our kids how to compromise themselves. Rather than expecting the world to comply, they learn how to meet the other side halfway through. They understand the other person and see things from their perspective. They feel satisfied even when their initial requests weren’t completely met.
So, how to compromise? Pick scenarios you’re okay with. “I want to eat a snack right now,” your child might say, a mere 15 minutes before dinner time. “Well, you do seem a bit hungry,” you can respond. “I don’t want you to eat too much or you might lose your appetite or have an upset tummy. Tell you what: I’ll give you some of the apples now and save the rest for after your pasta.”
5. Respect your child
Want to know the best way to get your kids on board with nearly everything you need them to do? Treat them with respect.
We adults can sometimes take this power thing to a whole new level. Because we have the authority, we can forget that we’re dealing with human beings. We disrespect our kids in ways we wouldn’t other adults or our partners.
We condescend, we’re rude, we snap. And when they react in ways we don’t like, we blame them.
It all goes back to us somehow. Start fresh and respect your kids as you would any other adult. When your kids see and feel your genuine respect, they’ll shower that right back at you.
6. Praise positive actions
Praising our kids’ positive actions promotes the behavior we’d like our kids to adopt. They resist our negativity, while our positivity is usually met with compliance.
Sometimes kids misbehave because doing so is the only way to catch our attention. Switch that around: Praise your child when she behaves.
Pat her back when you see her playing with her sister. Smile and say, “Look at you—you brushed your teeth all on your own!” Gestures small enough not to interfere with her activity but enough so she knows she’s doing well.
You know it’s a power struggle when…
How do you know if you’re treading the rocky grounds of a power struggle with your strong willed child? You know it’s a power struggle when you’re determined to win.
Don’t make it about winning or losing, or focus on complete obedience. Raising your spirited child can be challenging. But accepting her character and working with—not against—her temperament helps both of you “win.”
Want even more tips? Join my newsletter and download my PDF, 5 Tips to Raising a Strong-Willed Child and discover 5 ways to nurture and work with—not against—your child’s inner spirit and strong personality:
Get more tips on parenting and discipline:
- How to Discipline a Child: The Ultimate List of Resources
- What to Do When Your Child Says No to Everything
- Help Your Child WANT to Behave
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Deliberately Disobeys
Tell me in the comments: What is your biggest struggle with setting limits with your strong willed child?