When my second child was little, words like spirited and stubborn were thrown around often. He was a challenging toddler and even more challenging pre-schooler. I often bemoaned the fact he wasn’t like his cooperative and compliant older brother.
Then along came my daughter and I thought, “What fresh hell is this?”
Parenting a child who is strong-willed is not only challenging, it can be downright exhausting. Small issues can become epic struggles and even the simplest tasks or requests can result in major meltdown.
There have been moments when I have questioned who is the adult and who is the child when my daughter has her game face on. Its times like these when I realise I’m parenting her in the wrong way.
Every child is different and it is impossible raise them exactly the same. While my eldest is easy going, responsible and reliable, it is unfair to automatically expect these qualities from my younger two. My middle child is strong-willed but a free spirit who is adventurous and reckless. The youngest is so astute and determined but still in that clingy, demanding toddler stage (at least I hope it’s just a stage!)
I’ve learnt that strong-willed children need firm boundaries but they also need autonomy. It can be a difficult balance, especially in a busy family. However, children with this type of nature need you to stop and make time for them. Otherwise, the entire household can grind to a halt.
Some strategies to help when parenting your strong-willed child include:
- Give choices – Not carte blanche, but a selection from a number of options preselected by you. This gives your child a sense of control and independence.
- Use routines – Familiarity and structure lets your child know what’s expected. This helps regulate activity without making them feel like they are being controlled.
- Don’t engage in power-struggles – If your child wants to argue, you do not need to engage. A calm, unwavering response will teach your child much quicker than yelling matches. It will spare your sanity, too.
- Encourage verbalisation of feelings – A lot of frustration in children comes from not being able to articulate their thoughts and feelings. Teaching your child this skill early in life will help avoid meltdowns and arguments.
- Let them learn for themselves – Strong-willed children don’t like to be told what to do. When it’s safe and practical, let them learn from experience. They may get a few scrapes and bruises along the way, but they also get the pride that comes from doing it their way.
- Build and emphasise trust – Once your child understands that you do things because you want the best for them, not just to control them, your relationship will benefit and power-struggles will be minimised.
Finally, be comforted by the fact that your strong-willed child will undoubtedly grow up to be a strong, confident and successful adult who will thank you for not trying to break their spirit when they were younger.
In the meantime, good luck!