Inside: Struggling with your difficult child? Parenting strong willed children is a heart-centered mission. But there’s a hard truth about your child you may not have realized. Find out the honest truth about your strong willed child, and what you can start doing right now to give your child what he needs.
Eventually, my strong willed child will have to face the world.
A world that’s sometimes unforgiving, sometimes unyielding.
What will he do when he comes up against people who don’t think like him or appreciate his opinions? What will he do when he has to submit to the authority of a boss or teacher?
Sure, you could say he can always become an entrepreneur, or make his own set of rules. But in reality, people who can’t willfully submit to authority often lack the self-control to succeed in anything they do.
The best leaders are always the best listeners. They seek out the input and wisdom of others.
If I want my strong willed child to be successful, to be the leader and the light he was born to be, I’ve got to help him climb this mountain of the “will” now.
I want to help him conquer this now, while I’m here to help. How unfair would it be if I left him to deal with this issue of a weak or selfish will when he’s an adult out in the world by himself!
Mothers teach with more gentleness than the world ever could. That’s why discipline for the strong willed child has to start at home.
Before we get into the details of parenting strong willed children, let’s be perfectly clear. I don’t have this all figured out! My children and I have bad days just like every other human on the planet. However, I’m absolutely confident that the advice you’ll read below is solid ground to walk on. And I’m 100% positive that we’re moving in the right direction. With my own strong willed child, I’m seeing huge jumps and leaps in his behavior, confidence, and attitude using these simple tips. So with that in mind, let’s get to it!
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Characteristics of a Strong Willed Child
Strong Willed Personality Traits
If you have a strong willed child, you may recognize the characteristics immediately.
Most strong willed children:
- have trouble making transitions
- have frequent outbursts or tantrums
- argue and demand explanations
- like to make their own rules
- don’t respond to empty words
Let’s flip this. Strong willed children aren’t really strong. If we take it at face value, these kids are essentially “weak-willed.”
Ouch. That doesn’t sound as positive does it.
That hurts a bit if I’m honest.
This idea of the weak will comes from Charlotte Mason. She offers so much practical insight for parenting, even in our modern world!
The crux of raising a strong willed child is found in this constant cycle of building his “will” muscles.
What will it take to mold those negative character traits into the leadership traits God intended for your child?
This simple switch completely changes the way I parent. We’re no longer in a battle of the wills. I’m not trying to be “stronger-willed” than my child.
I’m not the enemy. I’m not on the opposing team.
I’m the coach. We’re on the same team, but I make the rules.
At first this mindset of parenting strong willed children seems counter-intuitive. What about offering choices? What about providing independence?
Here’s the honest truth. All the amount of independence and choice in the world won’t help the child who can’t lead himself.
And honestly, when is the last time your strong willed child responded correctly to being given choice? Usually, when I offer my child two choices, he promptly chooses… neither.
While these strategies have their place for diffusing the situation, they side step the real issue.
Strong willed children must do the hard work of learning to consider others above themselves.
They must learn to control their self will and choose right over might. And it’s our job to coach them. This is the heart of discipline for the strong willed child.
Three Habits for Parenting Strong Willed Children with Confidence!
Habit #1: Feed Your Child’s Spirit
You know what builds strong muscles? Good food.
I don’t care how much time you spend at the gym, if you grab a cheeseburger on the way home, you’ll never build muscle!
The first habit you can start right now to mold your strong willed child is to be mindful of what you are feeding his spirit.
This is a powerful thought: You are partnering with the Holy Spirit to make your child ripe for salvation. Pray for your child that the Holy Spirit would draw him in with kindness. Pray that your child’s heart would be softened so that he will listen and respond when you instruct and speak!
The Holy Spirit can affect more change in your strong willed child then every strategy or tip ever could. … But, God still instructs us how to discipline a strong willed child!
Here are three simple ways to speak life to your difficult child and feed his spirit.
Praise in Public, Discipline in Private
Guess what, kids are always listening. Always.
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got from my parents was to praise in public and discipline in private. When I look back, I can’t remember one single time when my parents bad-mouthed me to their friends, or even to family.
And it’s not like I didn’t deserve it! My strong willed child gets it honestly, as I was fairly strong willed myself as a child.
Instead, my parents took the time to pull me to the side, address the issue privately, or even leave the scene if necessary.
But when they spoke about my sisters and I in public it was always positive.
They didn’t lie or brag about us, or puff up some fairy tale version of our family. They just chose to honor us in public, and keep the details of discipline private.
If you’re wondering how to discipline a strong willed child in public, try this:
- Don’t yell across the room or playground. Go to them and pull them close.
- Whisper in their ear or get face to face so your conversation is just between the two of you.
- If your child melts down or chooses to throw a tantrum, you can always choose to leave. Get in the car, go to another room, and make it clear that the behavior is unacceptable.
Cast a Vision for Your Child
Consider this. Your voice is your child’s inner voice.
Woah. Yeah that hit me hard to when I first heard it. The words I speak to and about my child become what he thinks about himself.
Do you catch yourself saying this to your child?
- You’re so stubborn.
- You’re a bad kid.
- Here comes trouble…
- Why are you always….?
I’ve said hurtful things in the past to my strong willed child. I think every mom says things she doesn’t mean at times. We’re human!
But if this is the constant thread of your voice in your child’s head, it’s time to make a change. Parenting strong willed children means speaking life continually!
A relationship built on anger and frustration will only sabotage any discipline you attempt with your strong willed child.
Instead, try these words of life:
- You are my favorite boy (blondie, 5 year old, etc.).
- You are a man of God/ woman of God.
- You can do hard things.
- I’m proud of you when you…
Back up these words with your actions. Spend time with your child. Get down on the floor and play. Have a conversation about his favorite things.
Invest, invest, invest in your child!
Speaking life to your child doesn’t mean that you side-step or ignore bad behavior. We’ll get to addressing defiance in step two.
Instead, feeding your child’s spirit just means that he will have a deep well of life-giving interactions with you to draw from. This relationship and trust will come in handy as you begin to stretch those will muscles!
Find Positive Examples and Influences
Thirdly, you can feed your child’s spirit by learning from the lives of others. Give your child lots of both real and fictional examples of people who are learned how to have self-control. Look for stories of people who used might for right, not for their own gain.
Here are a few of our favorites:
- The story of Eustace Scrubb in the Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. There are fantastic character-building stories in this whole series! Get the Narnia books here.
- David the Shepherd boy, and how he trusted in the Lord’s power, not his own, to fight the giant. Read Psalms 51: 10-19 to see how “strong-willed” David submitted himself to the Lord when he sinned.
- SuperBook: This animated series on Amazon Prime Video follows two kids through their own struggles and their time travel adventures into Bible stories. I love how these kids learn to submit to God’s authority, even when it’s hard!
Action Step: Start right now to speak life over your child. If you feel the need, apologize for the way you’ve spoken in the past. Choose to feed your child’s spirit!
Habit #2: Exercise the Will
Sometimes I exercise in our living room. Now my husband is the type that loves working out. He loves the burn.
Me? Yeah, I’m definitely not that type. When I work out, it takes every inch of my will-power to get past that first muscle burn.
When I started, I could barely lift the weights off the floor. But the more I practice, the easier it becomes.
It’s easy to get discouraged. But really, success comes just one repetition at a time.
Let’s put this in parenting terms:
- Asking your child to listen and obey directions in a public place when the stakes are high and everyone is watching and they’re hungry and tired = bench-pressing 200 lbs.
- Asking your child to pick up toys at home before dinner = curling a tiny 3 lb dumbbell.
Obedience in those big moments will never happen if you don’t expect and enforce obedience in the small moments first.
Consistent discipline for the strong willed child happens one repetition at a time.
Remember, you are building your child’s will muscles. And to do this your child will need tons of practice and repetition! The journey of how to discipline a strong willed child requires patience, and tons of it.
Here are some practical examples of how I’m exercising strength of will and self-control in my children:
- I get the red cup out to give my child some juice. If he throws a tantrum because he wants the blue cup, do I give in? No, I calmly explain that we get what “We get what we get, and we don’t pitch a fit.” If he wants juice he can drink it in the red cup.
- If I tell my child to clean up blocks and she ignores me or keeps playing, do I let it slide? No, I calmly get up and go to her. I say “I’m going to help you obey. Please obey with a happy heart.” and then guide her hands to pick up the blocks until she does it independently.
If my child flat out disrespects or disobeys me, do I get angry? No, I realize that is an opportunity for training. I discipline calmly, I stand my ground, and I’m confident because my authority comes from God, not from within myself.
Remember, I’m not trying to “have it my way.” I’m not trying to “outwill” my child. But I am also not sidestepping an opportunity to strengthen his will!
Your job is to firmly but calmly lead your child, one choice at a time. And then one day, I promise, you will rejoice to see your child finally leading himself and making the right choices!
Day by day his will-power will become stronger so that he can think and act with self-control and restraint without your help!
Action Step: Think about your day to day habits. Are you allowing disrespect or disobedience in the little things? How is this magnified in the big things? Choose one simple habit, such as being OK with the “wrong” color cup, and work on stretching your child’s will muscle in that area.
Habit # 3: Love God, Love Your Neighbor
While you’re busy finding opportunities to strengthen your child’s will-power muscle, don’t forget the “why.”
Why does it matter that our kids obey authority? Why does it matter that our children can be OK even when everything doesn’t go exactly their way?
Why does it matter that our kids aren’t thrown around by their every whim or emotion, but instead are led by self-control and restraint?
It matters because we, along with our kids, are commanded to love God with our whole heart, mind, and strength.
It matters because we, along with our kids, can’t love others as ourselves if we are still stuck in a me-centered mindset.
It matters because the fruit of the Spirit is self-control!
Counsel your child about their actions: Ask…
- Are they showing love toward God and others?
- Is that behavior self-centered or others-centered?
- How would they feel if someone acted or spoke that way towards them?
Remember, good behavior in itself can’t save your child. That’s not the goal.
Instead pray that the Holy Spirit does the work from the inside to soften your child’s heart.
And you, mama. You partner with the Spirit to provide the loving, life-giving, calm, yet firm coaching your strong willed child needs.
Action Step: Talk about and model what it looks like to love God and love others. Affirm your child when you see him putting other’s before himself!
What’s your story with your strong willed child? Training your child in self-control and strength of will is a gift that will last a lifetime.
Parenting strong willed children isn’t easy, but I am so, so confident you can do it! How do I know? Well, I’ve been where you’re at right now.
How are you going to use these tips to parent your child with confidence? Do you feel more empowered in how to discipline a strong willed child? Share with us below!
Excellent article. I would add that it takes time to discipline a strong willed child. So plan accordingly. Do not over commit for any reason. Or you will end up resenting your first responsibility.