If you have a strong-willed child, you’ve probably recognized truth in the statement that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Dr. Nicole Baldwin is a strong-willed mom who knows from personal experience that “parenting a strong-willed child can be exhausting, disheartening, overwhelming and extremely frustrating!” On her excellent blog, Confessions of a “Type” A Dr. Mom, Dr. Baldwin offers “Six Tips For Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child” — advice that most parents could use:
First, let me say that MOST children have “strong-willed” moments. We don’t call 3 year olds “threenagers” for nothing! During the toddler and preschool years, it is natural for children to test boundaries and exert their independence. This is actually a GREAT thing (having a child that is 100% compliant and doesn’t ever seem to have their own opinion can actually lead to lots of trouble in adolescence).
Picking your battles — when to engage in parental-child conflict, much of which most parents learn is inevitable, and when to pull back in peace — is a key strategy in balancing the need to develop your child’s sense of autonomy (the “art of the deal”) with the responsibility of teaching them that some things are simply not negotiable (“It’s my way or the highway, kiddo”):
Giving a strong-willed child some sense of control in their life will take you SO FAR and minimize the struggles you are having. If your child decides not to wear her coat out on a cool day and then later gets cold, she will learn a valuable lesson (and WON’T catch pneumonia…I promise). That being said – there are some battles that you need to fight, no matter what:
- Issues of safety: seatbelts, helmets, holding hands when crossing the street, etc. These are issues of your child’s safety and well being and you absolutely need to hold firm on these issues.
- Backtalk and issues of respect: it’s one thing to allow your child to have an opinion and voice that opinion to you…but it’s important that they learn to do that in a kind and respectful manner. Harsh language and downright rude comments should NOT be tolerated. This ABSOLUTELY goes both ways and we, as parents, must model respectful tone and dialogue with our children. Do as I say, not as I do does NOT work with strong-willed children.
- Pre-established routines/boundaries: if bedtime is at 8pm, then you need to stand by that. SWC are born negotiators and if you continually give in to them, they will learn that all they have to do to get their way is keep up the argument and you will eventually cave. You NEED to be strong in these moments. As stated above, by simply stating that this is the routine and this is how it’s done takes the “bad guy” aspect out of it.
Dr. Baldwin advises new parents (while reminding the rest of us — every parent, grandparent, and caretaker who has experienced the pleasure and the pain of raising a child) that consistency is key:
If you ask your child put away their toys before bed one night and you hold fast to that request only to give in to their whining the next night, not only is your child unsure of their boundaries but they are more likely to push back and whine the next time you ask them to do something because they have learned that this is how they can get their way. Furthermore, if your child has more than one parent or caregiver, EVERYONE needs to be on the same page when it comes to discipline. If a strong-willed child senses that one parent will give in to their “demands” more than another, you can BET they will use that to their advantage.
Allowing children to choose from a list of two (and only two) options is usually better than dictating which option you think is best, or worse, starting an open-ended inquiry:
Strong-willed children want to be in control of themselves and their surroundings from a very young age. You will find that you get MUCH farther if you allow your strong-willed child to have CHOICES (just be sure that the choices you offer are acceptable to you). Some examples of choices: Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today? Would you like broccoli or green beans for dinner? Would you like to put your shoes or your coat on first before we leave? Notice that all of these are very specific and not open ended (if you ask “What shirt do you want to wear?” or “What do you want to eat for dinner?” you are VERY LIKELY to get an answer that you’re not happy with).
I might add that asking a simple “Yes/No” question is taking the road which leads to nowhere and will likely result in a stubborn and less-than-satisfactory answer. But, like everything else that’s true about parenting, YMMV (your mileage may vary).
Whether your child is strong-willed or laid back, you will find additional wisdom on Dr. Nicole Baldwin’s blog here.