Setting limits with your strong-willed child can be a challenge. But with these 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.
Strong-willed children want to be in charge and will test limits. Imagine the two-year-old who insists “me do it!” as she fumbles with putting on her shoes. Meanwhile, mom waits impatiently, knowing she won’t be putting her shoes as quickly as she could do it.
As frustrating as it may be to handle a strong-willed child, defiance and gumption aren’t always bad. Even my friend recognized this. “I know as an adult this will serve her well,” she admitted.
What are some of the positive aspects of strong-willed children? They:
- are motivated and reach for what they want.
- are leaders.
- don’t succumb to peer pressure.
- are passionate.
- want to do things themselves and are self-sufficient.
Setting limits with your strong-willed child
All well and good, but in that moment, raising your strong-willed child can feel like a nightmare. You need to get out the door, not wait 15 minutes for her to put her shoes on. While these traits can serve her well in the future, they still pose a challenge to you right now.
What can you do to rein in this extra gumption, to better serve the both of you?
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 child challenge you and test her limits? The best reaction is to stay calm. This demeanor will be far more effective than if you challenged her right back.
Of course, we’ve all lost our tempers, when you can’t seem stop yourself from yelling. Still, remind yourself to remain calm—you’ll be able to model how to behave.
How do you know if you’re getting into a power struggle with her? You know it’s a power struggle when you’re determined to win.
Don’t make it about winning or losing, or focusing on complete obedience. Instead, accept her character and work with—not against—her temperament. This will help both of you “win.”
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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 her teeth, eating at the same time every night. Without asking or nagging, routines remind her what happens next.
When routines aren’t in place, this nagging falls on your shoulders. You have to remind her to put her shoes on every morning or that 7:30 means it’s time to head to the bathtub.
Having a routine means you don’t have to nag so much because she knows what next to expect.
3. Give parent-approved choices
Imagine a day in the life of your child. Now try and count how many times he’s told what to do or not do.
And for many of those instances, you have good reason. You have to keep him safe, your day needs to flow a certain way, and you do know best (usually).
But amid all those rules, he starts feeling like he has no say, prompting him to exert himself.
Giving him the choice between two things—both of which are parent-approved—can empower him. Yes, he has to wear a jacket, but he can choose between the denim jacket and the hooded zip-up, giving him a sense of power.
I no longer consider compromise as the way of the lenient 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 your child how to compromise.
Rather than expecting the world to comply, she learns how to meet the other side halfway. She understands the other person and sees the situation from their perspective. She feels satisfied even when her initial requests weren’t completely met.
So, how can you model a fair compromise?
Pick scenarios you’re okay with. “I want to eat a snack right now,” she 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. But you can have 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 child on board with nearly everything you need her to do? Treat her 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 child as you would any other adult. When she sees and feels your genuine respect, she’ll shower that right back at you.
6. Praise positive actions
Praising your child’s positive actions promotes the behavior you’d like her to continue. She’s more likely to resist your negativity, and will instead comply with your positivity.
So, how do you put that into action? Rather than always pointing out all the ways she acts up, praise her 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!”
Being stubborn and strong-willed can be challenging, no matter how beneficial these traits can serve your child in the future. What can you do in the meantime to work with her temperament and avoid power struggles?
Check how you respond and avoid retorting with an equally strong-willed personality. Rely on routines to remove the nagging you otherwise have to do to get things done. Give her a choice, limiting it to two parent-approved options.
Meet her halfway and compromise, which also teaches her how to find satisfaction in meeting in the middle. Ask yourself whether you’re treating her with respect. And focus on all the positive ways she behaves—this encourages her to continue that behavior.
Raising a strong-willed child no longer has to be the epic battle it can be—even if she insists that she “me do it!” when she puts on her shoes.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Child Says No to Everything
- Help Your Child WANT to Behave
- 6 Ways to Resolve Your 2 Year Old’s Sleep Problems
- How to Discipline a Strong Willed 2 Year Old
- One Question You Should Always Ask before You Discipline Your Child
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