5 Parenting Tips for a Strong-willed Child
BY CHRISTINA LOEWEN
My oldest daughter has always been challenging. We used to butt heads non stop and I couldn’t understand why. One day, with a strong feeling of hopelessness, I said to my mother, “she doesn’t listen, she’s so stubborn, she’s impossible! What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with me?!”. My mother responded calmly with, “there is nothing wrong with a strong-willed child”. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this but as a researched the phrase more I realized that she is in fact a strong-willed child and that I am not alone. I also realized that we couldn’t go on anymore the way we were. I was always angry with her and I hated myself for that so I knew that I had to change the way I was parenting her so that we could connect again.
I started trying out different ways of reacting to her and communicating with her and, after a while, noticed a change in her behaviour towards me. Suddenly, we weren’t constantly battling and having meltdowns. Suddenly, we connecting and understanding each other. She is still very challenging to deal with and I, being a flawed human, have to try very hard to not loose it on her but we are a lot happier and her behaviour has improved drastically.
So what is a strong-willed child exactly? They are children who have very strong, passionate feelings and are very intense most of the time. They are always “on” and always testing their boundaries. Some personality traits of a strong-willed child are: stubbornness, bossiness, energetic, short-tempered, and an unwillingness to listen. It’s easy to recognize a strong-willed child but it is also very easy to categorize them as a “bad child” when, in fact, they are not. They say that strong-willed children will grow up to change the world and I defiantly hold tightly onto this phrase.
Using these techniques, I was able to get us to the place where we are today:
1. Listen & Communicate
My daughter will repeat herself over and over again until she feels I have heard her. If i’m not paying attention to her she will quickly get frustrated and lash out. Strong-willed children have very strong opinions and need to get these opinions across to you. If they are trying to tell you something, respond to them rather than ignoring them. This will also help them learn to listen to you when you are trying to talk to them.
2. Embrace the Meltdowns
Strong-willed children have meltdowns over everything. Accept that there will be intense meltdowns often and see them as an opportunity to guide them. Instead of immediately putting them into a time-out, validate their emotions and try to understand why they are so upset first.
Once I started observing what was setting her off, I was able to teach her how to deal with her emotions without totally loosing it. I noticed it was mostly small things like she couldn’t get her sweater off or she was upset that her hands were sticky. I was able to teach her that it was more effective to come ask me to help her or to come to me for a hug. By teaching her rather than immediately punishing her I was able to cut the meltdowns in half because her problem solving skills improved. Strong-willed children are experiential learners!
Spirited children like to be in control at all times. In fact, there is nothing more frustrating to them than feeling out of control. Establishing a routine is important so they know what to expect each day. If you are going out make sure to explain to them ahead of time what you are going to do and what is expected of them. This predictability helps them feel in control.
4. Establish Trust
Always follow through with what you say and never make false promises. It is extremely important that your strong-willed child trusts you. Trust is the key to teaching them to listen and to respect their boundaries. Always follow through with discipline.
5. Keep Your Cool
A positive environment is important for all children! However, it can be extremely difficult to stay calm when a strong-willed child is having a meltdown yet again. Staying calm during the hard times is incredibly important. You loosing your temper when they are will only escalate the problem and turn it into a battle that neither one of you will win. Try your best to never parent out of anger.
Parenting a strong-willed child is far from from easy and when you are in the moment it can be insanely easy to loose it and start yelling with/at them. It happens to the best of us! However, when you do loose your cool make sure to apologize after. Explain to your child why it was wrong of you to yell and say sorry to them. When I get caught up in the moment with my daughter I always make sure I talk to her and say something like, “I’m sorry I yelled and lost my temper. That was not good behavior and it only made things worse”. Always remember that your child learns by watching you! That means if you make a mistake (we all do) that you don’t want them to mirror, make sure they know it wasn’t acceptable.