Bits of Sweetness: To the parents of strong-willed kids

To the parents of strong-willed kids

my hat goes off to you. Seriously.

I was a strong-willed child myself, so I know a thing or two about what goes on in the mind of those so gifted with the gene! But, having a strong-willed child? That is another matter entirely. I had no idea what we were in for. Let me back up though. Six years ago.

Six years ago, I was an amazing parent. I knew just exactly what I would do when a problem arose. I had just the perfect solution for every single conflict. If I saw a parent with a screaming child in the store, I would smile sympathetically yet have thoughts running through my mind about how that parent seriously needed to get it together with their parenting. I mean obviously, if they were doing a better job, this sweet child of theirs would not be throwing a fit in the store, right?! Haha... yes.. sure! One problem though- six years ago, we didn't have any kids yet! Somehow that "expert" status started to quickly vanish once our sweet baby boy entered the world. We had no idea. Fast forward five years. There is no doubt we have a strong-willed child on our hands. He also has a sweet sensitive heart so it's quite the combination. There is no easy solution to parenting him! Someone send in the chocolate please! I will gladly take a Mama time out about now!

Ok, teasing (kind of ;-) ). I know I was a strong-willed child, but I think our son got a double gene or something! What works with a lot of kids does not work (or takes twice as much work) with him. (Of course, that is just during his strong-willed moments. A lot of times he is sweet as can be and you would never know). Parenting a strong-willed child is definitely not for the faint of heart. You hear enough no's and protests and different solutions and fits and bargaining to last about ten lifetimes. You try to be firm and consistent and discipline but these strong willed kids? Oh they are special. Why? (Oh... why. good question. I am guessing you probably do not have any strong-willed kiddos if you are asking. If you have one.. you just know.Really.) Why you ask? Because. What will work for un-strong-willed children does not work (at least the first 100 times) with the strong-willed child. It just doesn't. They have this innate need to test boundaries and see what will happen if they do or don't do this, and maybe just maybe, even though they have tried it wrong 500 times, it will be different this time! You can tell them "no!" a thousand times, and have a consequence each and every time, and guess what? They will still test that boundary! Don't get me wrong here, but parenting the child who is strong-willed is much like parenting a special needs child. It takes a special bunch of strength and determination and courage and lots of creative ideas (and, chocolate!) You are trying to teach them to obey, and to bend their will to obedience yet you don't want to break their spirit. So hard!   You know what is the hardest though? Not the fits, not the "NO! I WON'T DO IT!" or finding coloring on the wall for the tenth time this month. No, it's actually the well-meaning advice from others. (You know. The ones who likely don't have strong-willed kids themselves.) It usually goes something like this: "Hmm you must not have done X enough or your little Susie there would not be talking back (or saying "no" or acting out or any other misbehavior.) It is great advice. It really is. Consistent, loving, meaningful discipline is the key to raising kids who obey. But, here's the thing we are finding: you can have all the consistent, loving, meaningful discipline in the world with our sweet strong-willed son, but you sure are not going to always see results. You can give great creative consequences but even if you do, they still don't produce the results you'd like to see. Strong-willed kids ironically pick the action they are not supposed to do, even if it means that they get their consequence! Or, they are so focused on the fact that they want something, that the fact they disobeyed doesn't matter to them. To them, wanting the prized privilege (toy, or something to do) should be enough to eliminate the consequence, right?!  It's tough. I think it's something you just don't "get" until you are there yourself. I know I sure thought if I did X enough that our children would be very well-behaved. Haha guess who is laughing now? (or not so much on some days!) Some days you want to throw in the towel and just put on movies and let them have a grand old time not having to worry about listening or fits thrown because no matter how much discipline there is in a day, it just doesn't always show through and, well, we all know it's easier to just avoid the problem. At least initially. Sometimes it feels like we really have failed. Or we wonder where that magic parenting book is that has all the answers. No, my friends, parenting the strong-willed child is not for the faint of heart. I'm also realizing that it's ok that not everyone understands because really, no one is going to understand our son like we do. We are probably going to get thousands of pitying glances, and unwanted pieces of advice and yet,I am (slowly) starting to slowly be ok with this. Why? Because we know our son. We know what it's like and are the best parents we can be for him. I am learning to find the little nuggets of gold in what people say. Sometimes it's hard. It's hard when people haven't been through what you have been through and toss out advice that if you just followed it, you know your child surely would not be how they are right now!(ha, right?!) But you know what? Underneath it is usually something important- care. They give advice because they care and love and want everything to be ok. I am learning to see through the things that I don't like to hear, and appreciate what is underneath, and, ok, the strong-willed in me is learning to appreciate the initial unwanted advice too. Heavens knows we all need a little help up sometimes. I appreciate the community we have in friends and family who have been there and have good solid advice that helps. And you know what? All you parents of strong-willeds out there, hear this: It is going to be ok! I promise your child is not going to be like this forever. These tantrums and fits and humiliating defiant moments in public eventually fade as they grow. And, not every single day is hard as rocks. There are sunshine moments in there! Take heart! (And, be sure to cherish the moments!) You will survive! I thought I'd list the things that have helped us parenting our sweet boy. And, regarding the books in my list, think nuggets of gold. Like with any parenting book, just know that you may not agree with it 100%. It may not fit your child much, but I try to look at it this way- it would be impossible for a book to fit our situation 100%! Or really for it to be something I completely agree with, so I look for ones that have nuggets I can take from to apply and that is ok! Anyways, back to the list. Things that help us-

Consistency- this is so key. Don't look for the results to see whether it is working. Just trust that it is! (promise!) Something I told a friend: You child is fighting you on boundaries because they love you and want the boundaries there. It just happens to come out in the form of testing and fighting the boundaries. (Oh the irony, eh?!) Consistency is powerful with kids. I think something people have a hard time understanding is that strong-willed kids check up on boundaries often. So, to some it will look like disobedience (and, sometimes it might be!) but much of the time, it is your child seeing if those boundaries are still in place. To see if you are still serious. And, you need to be! It's important to be! Consistency is important because it defines your role as a parent. Decide how it's going to be and stick with it! If you say no ice cream after dinner, stick with that! Don't waver! I know their little faces are so cute, but really. Your child will thank you in 20 years. Which brings me to the next thing-

Choose your battles wisely. It's hard to know sometimes. And sometimes Andrew picks them for us. You have to stay established as the parent though and letting your child win over and over isn't going to do that. It's hard to try to be the parent and not their bff. Being their bff is so much easier!! I mean really, it eliminates so many of the fits! But watch out teenage years! You can't quite satisfy them with an ice cream cone and bubbles! It's important to stay the parent but sometimes we have found that some battles really aren't worth it. Some are thought. Choose carefully. Just don't do what I did in avoiding as many as you can. That really doesn't work well! Also: we've found telling Andrew what he can do works wonders. Somehow, saying anything with the word "can't" or "don't" in it is this automatic challenge to a strong-willed child. They set out to prove you wrong. Giving him things he can do works wonders. Also complementing him. It is amazing to see his little face beaming at how great we thought something he did was. He really takes pride in it and it makes a difference in wanting to do it again.

Have some fun! Really this is a lifesaver. Some days I swear Andrew decided to take a "naughty" pill. Once I had a super fun movie day planned and it was as if nothing fun mattered to him. He was just going to be naughty. So, I changed things up and we had a tickle war. It did wonders. Sometimes changing directions (or the activity if it's just not working out) is a life saver. Other things that help: Letting him be our "big helper", having races to see how fast he can clean up, helping him think of others to help him connect his actions with what happened.

Prayer- Truly, prayer helps you keep focus. It's better as a first thing to turn to than a last resort. It doesn't have to be formal. Think of it as an ongoing conversation with God. The encouragement and wisdom and hope he gives is incredible.

Community. Find others who have strong-willeds who understand what you're going through. It helps a lot!
This article was very encouraging and helpful! Another mama who has been there!

Good counsel. We all need someone we can go to who will give us good advice. Sometimes we don't want to hear it, but it's important to have because sometimes what we don't want to hear is what we need to hear the most (ouch.).  A pastor or older friend might be a good idea!

Some of our favorite books-
The Bible- no not a cliche. There are some of the best ideas in here for raising kids. From being kind to one another to not exasperating your kids- there really is something for every situation. After all, God created people and families. He is the author of life. I think he just might be the author of some of the best ideas.

Shepherding a Child's Heart- getting to the heart of what really matters

How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk- Great ideas for effectively communicating with your kids!
Creative Correction- Creative ideas for discipline
The New Strong-Willed Child-  best-seller by Dr. Dobson. There are lots of good enlightening things about strong-willed children and practical ideas.
Setting Limits with your Strong-Willed Child- great book on how to set clear boundaries
This page has lots of helpful tips.
Jesus Calling- this devotional isn't about parenting. it's just one of the best devotionals out there and will help you as a parent refresh and recharge. You need those five minutes (or, fifteen or twenty or more!) to stay grounded and remember what's really important. This book has five stars on Amazon. It totally earns it.

One last thing- did you know that you can call Focus on the Family and ask for advice? They have some awesome counselors there who can help! (And, it's free!) Their number is 1-800-A-FAMILY

Most of all, just keep heart. And hey, don't forget to laugh some! We will survive this parenting thing! You're already doing it! It might be hard work but it is worth it!!

(If not, I may or may not be found eating some chocolate in the corner in an extended Mommy timeout! ;-) You may or may not have to force me to come out of hiding! Ok kidding!)


  1. Well said Laura, well said! I love his handsome face!
    You are an amazing Mom, and don't you forget it!

  2. I have four grown children (ages 23, 25, 27 and 29). My strong-willed child will be 28 in March. I, myself was a strong-willed child and really enjoyed your post. I read Dr. James Dobson's, "Strong-Willed Child" when my son was born; great book. A word of encouragement? This strong-willed child was an honor student, great athlete, graduated sum cum laude from college and is now a physician! Hang in there, keep being consistent and let him know you always support him...even when he does take his naughty pill:)

  3. Laura, thank you for this!! I was NOT a strong-willed child (a sideways glance was enough to get me back in line), but boy do I have two of them! :)
    Thank you for the reminder to PRAY on how to parent these sweet ones. So important. I often have to ask for insight from the One who made my children. I'm amazed at what a difference this makes! I don't know about anyone else but if I feel inadequate about anything, it's about being a good mom. Thank you for this beautiful reminder--we're making a difference. :)

  4. You've got a lot of really great wisdom here! Persevere, Mama! You're doing good work.


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