Many parents struggle with how to discipline strong willed child. In younger children, strong personality traits may lead big feelings to be portrayed as negative behaviors. You may have a difficult time with your child’s behavior, even during simple daily routines. Luckily, if you learn to understand your child with these tips, you can help your children grow into the great leaders they were born to be.
If you have a strong-minded child it can sometimes feel like you are raising a lion or lionesses condensed into a tiny package.
Similar to a wild cat, you want your child to continue have a powerful love for life and remain unchained. However, (and that is one big HOWEVER), similar to how you can’t release a lion from the zoo into the city, you can’t let your strong-willed cub reek havoc without some gentle guidance and peaceful parenting.
You must find the balance between control and love. The balance lies somewhere in a trusting place, inbetween the power struggles and temper tantrums.
My daughter was born a spirited child. Literally, she came out day one ready to rule the world.
Initially, I engaged in all the battles with her. Starting at one year old, we began with morning battles about not wearing a winter coat in summer. The mid-day battles about what color her sippy cup is seemed scheduled by her. Then, there was one particular day where my 2-year-old daughter (at the time) intertwined her body in the shopping cart at the grocery store because she didn’t feel like leaving.
She was quickly labeled by many as a stubborn child. All of these full throttle battles were labeling her as a bossy kid. Then, I had a realization. My little one did not enjoy these fights either. Actually, she simply wanted to make her own decisions and listen to her own body.
She was not bossy. She was a born leader.
How to Discipline a Strong Willed Child
I spent so much time and energy focusing on ” appropriate behavior ” that I didn’t really have her best interests in mind. I wasn’t parenting her based on her personality type. No matter how strong your little one seems, they greatly need your love, patience, and understanding.
As parents, we must take the time to understand our child’s point of view in these 5 important ways:
1) Learn What Battles to Pick
The biggest challenge with raising strong-willed children is knowing when to engage with a form of discipline or whether everyone (child AND parent) simply need time outs to cool down.
A good thing to do is to start asking yourself these three questions before arguing with your daughter:
- Are her actions hurting her or someone else?
- Am I letting her do something that will hurt her in the future?
- Will this spoil her?
Once, she wanted to wear a Halloween shirt to her Christmas party at school, and the argument was getting heated. I had to take a step back. It was silly to me, but clearly this was very important to her. Was this harmful to anyone? (No!) Will this hurt her in the future? (No, in fact I am sure we will look back and laugh someday) Was she being ‘spoiled’ for wearing this? (Nope). She wore that ridiculous pumpkin outfit with pride on that brisk winter day.
I didn’t have to label my child’s behavior as ‘bratty’, It benefited both of us to learn to pick our battles.
These are 3 Battles I always let my kids win.
2) Provide Extra Choices (at All Times)
Headstrong children love making decisions and owning them. They have strong opinions and thrive off of exercising their independence. Doing things their own way, even if it feels odd to us, is important to them.
The best way to support this is to give them extra opportunities to make choices. Don’t give them a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Offer them waffles or cereal and allow them to decide.
Even if it is a situation that your child usually doesn’t care about, start to ask them for their opinion. This will help your child learn how to make good choices and develop their natural leadership skills.
I learned the hard way with my daughter that I should never pick out her outfits unless I want an argument. I bring her two appropriate choices and she feels confident and proud as she picks from the two options.
Related: Learn 6 Harmful Myths about Strong-Willed Kids
3) Provide Opportunities for Adventures
The important thing to remember about strong-willed toddlers and children is that they naturally tend to be a little more curious than others. Grow and nurture that curiosity, with extra stimulating activities.
This can include something as simple as a walk through the forest to look for sticks, focusing on a hobby, or learning new things. They need to do new things and be free to explore the world independently.
My daughter recently has shown a love for baking. She looks threw cookbooks constantly, and tells us what we are going to make next. It is a great outlet for her. My husband and I noticed a positive change and good behavior when she is doing a hobby that she loves.
Related: Parenting Defiant and Strong Willed Children
4) Show Plenty of Affection
The confidence radiating from strong-willed toddlers and kids is that they can give the false impression that they don’t need a lot of affection.
In reality, it is often the opposite. Most strong-willed kids are actually highly sensitive and affection is one of their basic needs.
They are not bad kids – they just feel very strongly about having control. The arguments may make them feel that they are doing something wrong, which can confuse them.
In fact, often constant tantrums and difficult behavior could be a sign of a more serious problem.
My daughter started to have a hard time listening to others. After talking to her pediatrician, we realized that she had developed mild obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). You can read about our experience here and 4 other serious conditions that mimic strong-willed behavior in kid. Understanding w you need to be open to listening to your child’s needs.
A strong parent-child relationship will help you discipline with positive reinforcement and identify when something more serious is going on with your child.
5) Support Their Choices -but Set Limits
Ensure you are showing them that you are there for them. Even if you don’t understand their decisions, show them that you support their choices.
With that said, you are still the parent. Psychology today recommends the following three things to keep in mind:
- Focus on the positive, and don’t dwell on negative behavior
- Remain consistent with your decisions and logical consequences
- Establish routines you child can count on
Your child would benefit from positive parenting techniques using natural consequences. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents and caregivers use healthy forms of discipline. These include positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, setting limits, redirecting, and lastly, setting clear expectations.
Learn all about how to use natural consequences to get your child to listen here.
Make sure your child understand the importance of listening to authority figures,.
Tell them that you are proud of them for owning their decisions and making choices, but also know when it is time to step in and help them.
As a parent, it can be hard giving up control to your strong-willed child. We want to teach our young children to do the right thing and make good decisions.
It is crucial to remember that this is NOT a personality flaw. Studies, like this one, show that strong-willed children grow up to be more successful in life. Your goal should be to grow that trait, not suppress it
Show them that they are not ‘bossy’ or ‘crazy’. They are ambitious little souls and they should be respected.
Next time your child is acting out, take a deep breath and try these 5 thing. When you try these 5 effective ways to raise strong willed kids, all of your hard work will pay off.
By showing them love, allowing them to make decisions, and choosing your battles, your relationship with your little lioness will flourish and grow. When I started respecting that beautiful and strong personality, my daughter and I started to bond in strong and lasting ways.
Turns out, my mother recalls tying my shoes 20 times in a row when I was five until I said they were ‘perfectly even’. So I guess I was a little strong-willed toddler, and I turned out just fine.
Does this article describe your child’s behavior? It’s not a bad thing! The strong-willed temperament can be a good thing if you utilize the positive parenting strategies during those constant power struggles. Wise parents use these tips to raise a strong leader.
I’d love to hear from you: What are some ridiculous fights that you have had with them? What do you do to support them?
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Wednesday 7th of October 2020
So funny that I clicked on this link because of my own strong-willed daughter named Lyla. I thought I was seeing things at first when I saw the name in the article lol.
Saturday 3rd of October 2020
Thank you for this insightful article! My daughter is only 18 months and she's already very strong willed! I will keep these in mind, and I can already start using your tips like letting her choose between two outfits or choose between two breakfast options!
Friday 1st of May 2020
Another unforgettable lesson I remember teaching my lioness was about the responsibility I had as a parent to demand obedience at times. One day, I saw a dead possum in the road and there wasn't any other traffic coming so I took the opportunity to slow the minivan and roll the windows down. To our horror, this possum lay there with its' intrals squishing from it's nose and rectum. As we observed this terrible tragedy, I explained how this little possum hadn't listened to the rules about not going into the street and how very important it is to obey your parents' commands, even when you don't understand or agree with them. Some would say it was awful of me to expose my child to such a traumatic scene, but knowing the her strong-will, my instinct told me that she would need this dramatic lesson (We lived on a very busy street). I'll never forget the day, 7 years later, when I heard her telling her two little brothers the story of that poor disobedient little possum.
Friday 1st of May 2020
As mothers, we know what our strong-willed kids can handle. I love how she told her brothers lol.
Friday 1st of May 2020
My lioness (raised in northeastern US) is now 23 years old and teaching college in Glasgow, Scotland. One of the moments that taught me that picking my battles was going to be a must was when she was 3. It was early on a Monday morning when we went head-to-head about the fact that she wanted to "wear the Wednesday panties today!" In addition to vowing to never buy day-specific undergarments again, I realized that this was my shining moment to teach her how important it was for her to keep her legs together and her skirt down. At that point, it wasn't even important who else knew about this 3-year-olds Wednesday panties. It was just that there was a different lesson we could learn that would be beneficial later in life.
Friday 1st of May 2020
Oh my, we had similar battles with "days of the week" underwear-- haha! I wonder if many others can relate!
Friday 1st of May 2020
Hi love from India. My daughter is just same as urs. But unfortunately we live in joint family and surrounding kids r not so strong they get their parents inn Evey now and then my little Fighter stands alone although I am always there but when I m not around no body else understands her. I m confused n heart goes to her... How do I make her feel more comfortable??
Friday 1st of May 2020
Hi! Thanks for commenting! That happens in my family too! When we can't be around it is important for her to still know that she must believe in herself and follow her heart, while still remaining kind and respectful to others. In time, she will understand.