Raising a strong-willed child requires careful and creative parenting to navigate hard moments. Here are five tips to help turn the tension of raising a strong-willed child into joy.
Never enter into a battle of the wills
The trick to loving and parenting a strong-willed child is to never enter into a battle of the wills. You will be exhausted. If you win, you will break their will. If you lose, your child will walk all over you. Your job is not to teach your child who is in charge through painful disciplinary techniques. Your job is to help your child redirect their strong will toward the good while enforcing certain basic house rules.
Write basic house rules and stick to them
Make a list of house rules and be sure to write them down. For example, younger children need fewer rules– try to stick with about one rule per year of age. So, if you have a four-year-old, four house rules are about enough. If you have multiple children of different ages, write enough rules to meet the needs of the oldest. Post them in a central place, such as on the refrigerator. Go over your house rules regularly, at least once a day. When your kids break them, recite the broken rule back to them.
Discipline with natural consequences and personal reflection, not punishment
There is a temptation with a strong-willed child to enforce strict discipline to show them who is in charge. When your child tests your patience, it’s easy to default to a standard punishment such as time-out, loss of dessert, yelling, or spanking. Yelling and spanking aren’t long-term solutions. You might get the immediate result that you want (a kid that stops the undesired behavior), but, in the end, yelling and painful physical punishments simply cause you to enter into a battle of the wills with your child and cause more harm than good.
Rather than yelling or corporal punishment, children need attuned parenting for healthy brain development. This is where you have to be creative as a parent. Instead of resorting to knee-jerk punishments like taking away treats or spanking, choose disciplinary techniques that require reflection or allow your child to make up for their inappropriate behavior. For example, if one child is mean to another, perhaps the mean child needs to do chores or something kind for the child they were hurting. Older children can write letters of apology to people they have wronged. Writing punishments accomplish two things – they allow a child to reflect on what they did wrong, and they give us both a little time and space away from each other to cool down.
Redirect selfish desires
Strong-willed desires are fundamentally selfish. Our job as parents is to refocus that strong will away from selfish desires and towards the good. Give your child opportunities for leadership, even if it means letting a strong-willed three-year-old be in charge of a situation for a few minutes. Let a younger child babysit a sibling while you cook dinner. By school-age, help your strong-willed child immerse themself in a cause– supporting an animal shelter, working in a food pantry, caring for an elderly neighbor, etc. Older children need real challenges as outlets for their will– consider pushing them into athletics, academics, or musical endeavors that will push them to the limits of their personal fortitude. Being a present parent can help you stay in tune with your child’s interests and passions.
Ease your child’s strong will through tenderness and love
It’s easy to be so tired and frustrated with a strong-willed child that we forget to be tender, gentle, and loving. Yet without our example, our children cannot learn to be tender and gentle to themselves. Find routine times in the day to physically touch and hug your children and talk to them in a tender, loving voice. Good times for these moments are first thing in the morning, when your child returns home from school, and at bedtime.
Investing in your child now is the best investment of your life– spending time loving and raising your child will reap dividends of joy. If you teach a strong-willed child to do what’s right, they will do what’s right with a strong will.