For Moms

4 Tips for Raising a Strong-willed Child

You know those kids that never stop going?

They seem like they have an unlimited amount of energy at their disposal, and getting them to slow down for just one friggin’ minute is impossible?

That’s my daughter.

From the day my daughter was born, there has been nothing “easy” about her.

If we somehow were magically able to swaddle her, she’d break out of it in record time.

Until she was 3 months old, she would cry from 5:30pm to 8:30pm on the dot. When she started crawling, she was (lovingly) nicknamed “Tornado” because she would get into any and everything.

She’s stubborn, determined, and has always preferred to do things on her own terms (which is probably why she started crawling at 5 months old and walking at 10 months.)

Don’t get me wrong, she can be one of the sweetest kids you’ve ever met – but she can also be one of the most exhausting kids you’ve ever met.

The first time I realized my daughter was strong-willed was when she was in daycare at 3 months old.

Her teacher said to me “Your daughter really knows how to get what she wants. She sure does have a pair of lungs on her.”

At 3 months old, my daughter would scream until she got what she wanted – and she still does at 2 years old.

Now that she’s starting to master talking, life has gotten somewhat easier. Our communication barrier was a major factor in her meltdowns, but now that she can talk I hear a lot of “No, Mommy. NOW!” when I tell her to hang on a minute.

Yeah. Not cool.

She tries my patience every day but I have to give it to her – she keeps me on my toes.

What is a Strong-willed Child?

Strong-willed kids (aka high-spirited kids) are natural-born leaders. They like to be in charge and in control. They tend to be bossy, argumentative, demanding and impulsive.

They also throw the most epic tantrums. If you try to get your babe to do something they don’t want to do, prepare for a complete and total meltdown.

They prefer to learn on their own terms, which usually means broken rules and pushed boundaries (it sounds as fun as it is).

On the flip side, strong-willed kids experience BIG emotions and tend to be highly compassionate, loving, and smart.

How to Parent a Strong-willed Child

If you’re the parent of a strong-willed child, welcome to the club.

We’re all on our third cup of coffee and craving just a second of quiet time.

Raising a strong-willed child can feel like life’s greatest challenge. The usual discipline methods don’t work. In fact, it almost seems like it makes them more determined to do everything you just told them not to do.

Enter: power struggles.

Telling your child what to do is the end of the world to them. They don’t have go-with-the-flow personalities – they are the leaders and rule-makers (and rule-breakers) of the world.

The good news? Recent research found that strong-willed children are more likely to earn more money and be more entrepreneurial than their peers.

They are also more likely to do the right things, even when their friends aren’t.

Tips for Raising a Strong-willed Child

If you’ve been nodding your head to everything I’ve said so far, there are a few things you can do to get through this phase of life without wanting to pull your hair out every second.

These 4 tips for raising a strong-willed child may be your saving grace (and get you that minute of quiet so you can sip your HOT coffee.)

1. Give Them a Routine

Having a day-to-day routine will help your child know what’s expected of them without making them feel like they aren’t in control. It doesn’t have to be a strict routine, just an idea of how their day is going to go.

My toddler’s routine isn’t set in stone, but it helps both of us navigate the day without a million meltdowns.

Our day looks like this:

  1. Wake-up
  2. Eat breakfast
  3. 1-2 episodes of Curious George or Sesame Street (so I can drink my coffee)
  4. Outside play/go for a walk
  5. Lunch (we eat early-around 11:30)
  6. Naptime
  7. Snack and playtime
  8. Clean up toys
  9. Dinner
  10. Bath
  11. Bed

So while we don’t have set times we do each of these things, she knows what to expect for the next activity.

It took us a while to get to this routine because she hated naptime, but now that she knows she’s expected to nap after lunch her tantrums have become practically nonexistent.

2. Let Them Make Their Own Choices (Within Reason)

Usually, when strong-willed kids have one of their freak-outs, it’s because they feel like they’ve lost their sense of control.

A great way to combat this? Give them choices!

Instead of picking out their outfit and then wrestling them like an alligator to get them dressed (all for them to undress 5 minutes later), involve them.

Ask them if they want to wear shorts or a skirt, give them the option of choosing a blue or purple shirt, or if they want to wear their sandals or sneakers.

Applying this technique to parts of their daily life lets them have this small sense of control, which is usually all they need to be happy.

3. Be Patient

This one’s for you, mama.

Your child is going to push your buttons every day. They are going to challenge you and (most likely) make you want to scream.

When they do this, take a deep breath, count to three and then proceed.

Find something you can do to take a much-needed break from their constant resistance (even just a drive around the neighborhood alone can restore your patience) and remember that this is just a phase.

You are doing an amazing job at a very difficult task, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

4. Put Yourself in Their Shoes (Metaphorically, Of Course)

We’ve all heard this phrase throughout our lives but have we ever thought about applying it to our relationship with our children?

Understanding why your child is acting out or melting down is essential to solving the problem.

My daughter went through an extremely challenging phase (more than normal) for us when she was 9 months until about 18 months old. We had no idea why she was having tantrum after tantrum, and then one day it clicked.

Her inability to communicate with us was equally as frustrating for her as it was for us.

Our solution? Baby sign language.

She could speak basic words, but not effectively enough to communicate her needs. Teaching her sign language helped bridge that barrier and put a stop to meltdowns.

Recognizing where your child’s frustration is coming from is so important to solving the problem.

Does your kid have a tantrum during activity changes? Give them a 2-minute warning so they know what to expect.

They don’t like what’s for dinner? Involve them in choosing what’s you are going to eat and let them help make it.

Do they throw the most epic alligator rolls and pterodactyl screams when you try to put them in their car seat?

Let them anticipate needing to leave, and explain why the car seat is important for their safety. A lifesaver for us was having our daughter “help” buckle the chest clip while I buckled her in.

Fake It Till You Make It

Newsflash: Everybody and their mama is going to think they have that one piece of solid advice that is going to change your life.

They don’t.

So just smile and nod, ladies. Smile and nod.

You are going to get those judgemental looks from people in the store when your child melts down because they wanted the blueberry oatmeal and not the strawberry.

Your mama is going to tell you that just a little bit of discipline will straighten them out (even though you know it won’t).

The truth is, you know your child best. Not even parenting “experts” (which I don’t believe exist) have the perfect advice for every situation.

So you keep doing you, mama. You’ll get past this phase soon.

Being the parent to a strong-willed child is a blessing in disguise. Not only are they going to grow up and be a leader, but they also teach you so much about yourself that you didn’t know before.

They teach you patience, persistence, stamina, and pure love.

Do you have a strong-willed child? What are some tips you’ve learned along the way?

Emily is mama llama to two tiny humans who blogs about motherhood and lifestyle over at Along Came Littles. She is also a freelance writer who helps small businesses and creative entrepreneurs find their voice and tell their story. She specializes in copywriting, blog writing, and content creation. When she isn’t writing, you can find her chasing her babes with an iced coffee in one hand and a camera in the other.

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This is relief not my only child is a willed child. You just described my life. My daughter never naps on days she is my first and I just had my second baby. Thanks for the tip. And theReply to Bontu
Congrats on your newest addition! My strong-willed child is my first as well and my two are 16 months apart. It can be SO HARD somedays, and it’s okay to feel like you’re in survival mode for a while. Remember that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. Thanks for reading!Reply to Emily
You have just literally described my life with our second child. He is ALL the things you just mentioned. Taking rides in the car to take a break for everyone has saved us many days! Thanks so much for this article!Reply to Sarah
Anything for a break, amiright? Thank you for reading!Reply to Emily
You literally described my toddler perfectly! She is so strong willed that it amazes me, in both good and frightening ways. I KNOW that she will be a GREAT leader one day, but I also want to survive this stage in her life lol. Thank you for sharing and for the strategies!Reply to Valerie
It’s completely exhausting, but totally worth it! Thanks for reading!Reply to Emily