Wednesday, April 10, 2019

How I Guided My Strong Willed Child

I'll never forget the day my 3 year old daughter looked at me and asked "How come you always get to be the boss?"

This isn't the first time she showed her strong will but now she could truly articulate her opinion.

I knew when she was a baby that she was going to have a strong will. She had a nonverbal way of just looking at you. She was very serious and would just give you the stare down. She refused to take a bottle but decided she'd drink from a straw at 5 months old. She totally potty trained herself (thank you Jesus) because it just made sense to her.

Having been a strong willed child myself, I knew there could be many battles ahead.

However I didn't want to battle and risk losing her heart. I wanted to help her use her strong will for "good and not for evil". I wanted her to develop into the young lady that her creator intended for her to be. She had been given that strong will and she had been given to me to guide.

In order to guide her strong will, I had to make changes to myself first. I had to realize that I was the adult and that the only person I could control was me. I had to dig deep and make a decision that I was going to help her.

I had to change me first before I could guide her.

I Changed My Perspective

Having a strong will isn't a bad thing. Strong willed children don't usually get bullied and strong willed adults become leaders.

If channeled correctly, being strong willed is actually a great attribute.

I wanted to view her strong will as this, a positive personality trait. I had to take society's negative view and change it to a positive view in my mind.

To help with my perspective change, I made a list of positive attributes of a strong willed person.

  • They are tenacious and can't be swayed when they make their mind up.
  • They are usually leaders and do not follow the crowd.
  • They take time to ask questions not to be defiant or difficult but because they are thinkers.
  • They are incredibly independent and don't need anyone's approval to move forward.
While striving to change my perspective, I had to change my vocabulary as well. My daughter was what one would call bossy. However, I didn't like that word because it is so negative. Don't get me wrong being bossy is not a positive attribute at all. When trying to correct her "bossiness" I used the word demanding. It is almost the exact same thing but doesn't feel so negative. 

I Changed My Parenting Approach
I started this process of changing my perspective by reflecting on my life as a strong willed person. I thought about certain situations with my daughter and spent time trying to figure out how I would want to be dealt with in that situation.

I wouldn't let fear of messing her up guide the change of my parenting approach, but I would let my love for her help me to change. I had to always keep in mind her heart and how I wanted her to feel loved.

Every child requires a different type of parent. The trick is to find out which type of parent they need. It's a lot of trial and error but in the end it's worth it if you can stay connected to their heart.

I Changed the Purpose My Strong Will

As an adult I am more able to control my emotions and understand what is happening when I'm upset. Instead of using my strong will to benefit me, I used it to benefit her. I told myself I had to be stronger and model grace and understanding when she was misusing her strong will.

When it looks like you're about to enter into a disagreement, take a second to pause and gain control. If you need to, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Step away if that makes it easier.

With 23 years of being a mom to both complacent and strong willed children and my 10 years of teaching experience, I've learned some strategies that helped me not battle over things that wouldn't matter in 10 years.

My Bag of Tricks

Control My Volume
I noticed that the more I raised my voice, the less she listened. I decided one day to change my voice. I tried using a soft voice when I was upset. It took some self-control and being intentional to not yell when I was upset. It didn't work the first time, but after she realized her negative behavior wasn't going to get to me her behavior changed. 

Try using a different tone when calling your strong willed child's attention. Sometimes a sing song voice or a whisper will catch their attention.

Suggested Reading:

How to Choose Calm Reactions Over Yelling

Use a distraction

If my daughter was throwing a fit or not being cooperative, I would suggest that she could go build something with her legos. It didn't always work but for the most part a distraction usually worked to take her attention off of whatever she was throwing a fit about.

Try offering a distraction of something that your strong willed child likes to do. Think of their favorites and keep them in the back of your mind.

Offer Options
When my daughter was 3 we started learning our numbers, letters, and shapes. I always followed the same routine everyday. One day she decided that she wanted to do it in a different order. Honestly I have never had a child express their opinion like this so I was at a loss. That day I dug in my heals and yes a battle erupted.

That night I reflected on the day and realized that order of the subjects really matter. The next day, I let her choose the order that we did our activities. I did however make having Bible first not an option, she agreed and we lived happily ever after. (Yeah right!)

Negotiating allows you both to win. You still get your list done just not in the order you wanted to. In the end does it really matter?

Seven years later we still negotiate sometimes. Every once in a while I have to say no to negotiating and she's ok with it because she knows that I negotiate more than I say no.

Consistency with Rules and Consequences

First I had to establish rules. Since she was little and really didn't know rules, I had to roll with the punches. I had to take it on a day by day scenario. However once the rule was established, every rule was black and white, never grey. The rules were always the same, they never changed.

With bad choices comes consequences. Once they were established, they were always the same. The time out spot was always in the same place. She knew what to expect if she made a bad choice.

Consistency is the key with strong willed children and really any child. They like predictability it helps them feel safe and secure.

Celebrate the Small Victories

Not every day was a rough one. After some time of consistency we had some great days. I made sure to make a big deal at dinner about what a great day it had been. I rattled off a list to her dad of good choices she had made. This led to more great days.

Kids want attention and they will take it however they can get it. Positive attention, such as celebrations, will give you more positive behavior. Take time to celebrate the victories everyday. Offer words of encouragement and affirmations. Find one good thing to complement them on. There is always something good to celebrate.

All of these strategies consist of one main focus on my part, self-control. Self-control on my part is the key to guiding my strong willed daughter. Using what I have learned over the years about guiding my strong will combined with self-control is what has helped me to guide my daughter. She is now 10 years old and although she still has a strong will, she is more guided on her using of it. It isn't always perfect but she's still learning. She knows what she wants and isn't afraid to say it. She's tenacious and will stand up for herself if she needs to.

I hope these ideas help you! I'm praying for you!

P.S. If I only had one book to read this would have been it. He is insightful in his parenting advice. He offers real life strategies based on personal experience with his own children.


  1. Good for you and your daughter. I see these types of children turned loose and making bad choices, foster care is full of them, and so many people can't handle it. Your advice is excellent. Pick the battles, redirect and tone of voice, lots of prayer.

  2. Thank you for your encouraging words. It's not always easy but I know in the end it will be worth it.