How to Parent a Strong Willed Child

Every moment of friction with your strong willed kid is a chance to learn and connect. Here are 6 tips to help!

Parenting a strong willed child (SWC or SWK) can feel exhausting. Their determined spirit and refusal to back down can leave even the most experienced parents feeling overwhelmed at times. However, with the right approach and understanding, raising a strong willed child can be such a rewarding experience. Once you begin to understand where your kiddo is coming from and meet them where they’re at, you’ll be able to support their fiery ambition instead of wanting to put it out. Let’s talk about effective parenting strategies and address some common questions surrounding the upbringing of strong willed kids.

Understanding Your Strong Willed Child

Strong willed children are often characterized by their independence, persistence, and assertiveness from a young age. They are not afraid to challenge authority or express their opinions, which can lead to power struggles and conflicts within the family dynamic. Understanding the temperament and behavior of strong willed children is necessary for you to start developing effective parenting strategies. Despite how it may feel during a challenging moment, remember, strong willed kids aren’t intentionally being difficult. They’re simply trying to gain a little bit of control over their circumstances and crave autonomy. Your job is to try and find as many moments as possible to offer them some of that control.

Effective Parenting Strategies

Setting clear boundaries and enforcing consistent rules is crucial for guiding and supporting strong willed children. It provides them with the structure they need while allowing them space to express themselves within limits. Consistency is key here, and SWKs thrive when they both understand the rules and have a say in them. If you can collaborate with your child to establish those clear boundaries together, you'll set them up for success.

6 Tips to Help You Support Your Strong Willed Child:

1. Resist the Urge to Control

It can be tempting to micromanage every aspect of our strong willed kid's life, but this approach often backfires. Instead, focus on guiding their problem-solving process rather than controlling their decisions. Offer choices to encourage their independence. For instance, during a doctor's visit, if your child is resistant, present the situation as a problem to solve together. You might say, “Here’s the problem: we’re here for your check-up, and you’d rather be doing something else. The check-up has to happen though. So…how should we solve this problem? She can check your eyes or your ears first. You choose.” By involving them in finding solutions, you respect their autonomy and help to develop their problem-solving skills.

2. Establish Collaborative Boundaries

Let’s say your strong willed 4-year-old refuses to eat her vegetables at dinner. Despite your insistence, she adamantly pushes the plate away and declares, "I don't like carrots!" Before you know it, you find yourself frustrated and unsure of how to handle the situation without escalating into a power struggle. You might even cling to the argument of, ‘the kid’s gotta eat dinner, right?’ Let’s reframe this. How can you collaborate with your SWK and encourage healthy eating habits without forcing them to eat certain foods? Trying something like, “Carrots are on the menu tonight. What do you think–should we cut them into circles or sticks?” is a place to start. Yes, your child still might not want to eat the carrots, but giving them a say in the preparation will increase the likelihood of them being open to trying them. Over time, these mini-moments of choice add up.

3. Embrace Flexibility in Routine

SWKs often resist rigid routines and may thrive better with flexibility. Instead of imposing strict schedules, involve your child in creating a flexible routine that works for both of you. For example, during bedtime, offer choices like reading a book or listening to calming music, allowing them to feel a sense of control over their routine. The tasks will still get done, but by embracing flexibility with the order in which they are completed, you accommodate your child’s need for autonomy while maintaining structure in their day.

4. Cultivate Problem-Solving Skills

Strong willed children tend to do best when they’re given opportunities to solve problems independently. You can encourage their problem-solving skills by presenting challenges as opportunities for growth. For example, if they encounter a disagreement with a friend, refrain from immediately intervening. Instead, ask open-ended questions to guide them in finding their own solutions. “What happened on the playground? Oh–your friend said some bucket dipping things to you. What do you think about that? How do you think you two can work it out?” By allowing them to navigate challenges autonomously, you empower them to develop resilience and confidence in their abilities. You’ll still be there to support them if they get off track, but for a SWK, the solutions they come up with on their own tend to be most impactful.

5. Help Them Catch Their “Sticky Thoughts”

The repetitive ruminations that many SWCs are prone to can be thought of as  “sticky thoughts.” This is where their brain loops in circles on one idea, over and over again, making it challenging to shift gears onto something else. Help guide your SWK away from the “content” of their thoughts and into the “process” of their thoughts. For example, if your child is stuck on a particular idea, you might gently bring their awareness to it by saying, “Do you notice how your mind keeps going in circles on the same exact thought? That’s your sticky thoughts keeping you stuck. Quick, what’s one thing you can see? Hear? Touch? Taste? Smell? Do your thoughts feel as sticky now?” By redirecting their focus, you assist them in breaking free from repetitive thought patterns and promote mindfulness and more present moment awareness.

6. Encourage Their Self-Expression

Strong willed kiddos have a powerful sense of identity and may express themselves assertively. Encourage their self-expression by creating opportunities for them to share their thoughts and feelings openly. For instance, during family discussions, ask them to articulate their viewpoints and validate their opinions. By creating a supportive environment for self-expression, you help them develop confidence in their unique voice and perspective, and allow them to trust that they will be seen and accepted for who they truly are.

Gain Support from Other Parents of SWKs

Parenting a strong willed child presents its challenges, but it's also an opportunity for growth and mutual understanding. By embracing these effective strategies and maintaining a collaborative environment, you can navigate this part of parenthood with confidence and grace. Remember, every moment of friction is a chance to learn and connect. Stay patient, stay empathetic, and stay committed to supporting your child's unique spirit.

In The Conscious Mommy Community, we have a monthly meetup for parents of Strong Willed Kids. In these LIVE meetings, you’ll find support and strategies to help you find more peace and less power struggles with your spirited, spicy, and misunderstood kiddos. Together, you'll not only overcome obstacles but also celebrate the journey of raising resilient and empowered individuals.