Do you have a strong-willed child? I do. My 4-year-old is the most opinionated little girl you’ll ever encounter, and you know what? I think it’s absolutely fabulous. I spent most of my life being a passive pushover who was too scared to speak in class let alone confront someone when they were being mean to me, and I love the fact that my daughter knows how to be so assertive and sure of herself while also being the most kind and loving kid you’ll ever meet.
That takes skill, my friends!
But I would be lying to you if I said raising a strong-willed child is easy. Quite the contrary, actually. My daughter can test my patience like nobody’s business, and while navigating the Trying Threes and Freaking Fours with her sometimes left me in tears, my Sweet Bear has taught me so much about myself, and I’m a much better person for it.
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We’re currently gearing up for her fifth birthday, and I find things are settling down. She doesn’t always like the rules that are imposed on her, and still has the occasional temper tantrum when things don’t go her way, but overall I find she is much easier to reason with and understands that there are consequences to her actions. In fact, while contemplating how to behave in certain circumstances, she often reminds ME what her consequence will be if she makes a bad choice. It’s hysterical!
Of course, it took a lot of hard work and perseverance to get to this point, and since I know there are other parents out there who are in the thick of temper tantrums and power struggles, today I’m sharing 10 of my best tips for dealing with a strong-willed child. I also want to recommend the book 1-2-3 Magic: 3-Step Discipline for Calm, Effective, and Happy Parenting by
And now for those tips…
1. STICK TO A PREDICTABLE ROUTINE
Strong-willed children do not like to be told what to do (neither do I, for that matter!), which can be challenging when you’re trying to set rules and assert some authority, and I’ve found that sticking to a predictable routine really helps. When my daughter knows what to expect throughout the day, she is less likely to try and push her limits, which results in fewer power struggles between the 2 of us.
2. OFFER CHOICES
A common theme with strong-willed kids is that they like to be in control. The more freedom they have to make their own decisions, the better, so I always try to empower my daughter with a series of choices. This takes a little bit of creativity on my part, and I’m careful to only offer choices I want her to make, but the I find the more autonomy she has, the happier she is.
3. PICK YOUR BATTLES
While I don’t always agree with the choices my daughter makes, time has taught me the importance of picking my battles with her. I always try to guide her in the right direction, but I also try to look at the bigger picture when it comes to enforcing rules. As long as she is making the right decisions when it comes to important matters, like treating other people with respect and following directions, I really couldn’t care less about her outfit choices, you know?
4. REDIRECT ATTENTION
This strategy worked much better when my daughter was younger. If something upset her, it was so easy to direct her attention to something else, and 9 times out of 10, the crisis was averted. Now that she’s older, it’s a little bit more challenging, and I often find avoiding tantrum triggers altogether is a much better strategy!
5. WAIT OUT TANTRUMS
On the odd occasion that my daughter does through a temper tantrum, my initial reaction is to try and reason with her, but experience has proven to me that it is sometimes better to wait until the tantrum passes before trying to speak with her rationally. I simply explain that I’ll be in the other room and that she can come and find me when she’s ready to talk to me.
6. FOLLOW THROUGH
Strong-willed children have a tendency to try and test boundaries, so following through with consequences is really important. I found this challenging at first (would it be so bad to cave and let her play with her iPad?), but once I asserted my authority, my daughter started to pay attention whenever I issued a warning for bad behavior.
7. DON’T NAG
I don’t know about you, but I find it very irritating when people nag at me. A simple reminder is helpful, but asking me to do something over and over gets my back up and makes me less likely to do what is expected of me. And since I know my daughter takes after her momma, I try my hardest not to harp on her. I am always very upfront about my expectations and the consequences I’ll enforce if she doesn’t do as I’ve asked, and since she knows I will follow through with those consequences, I rarely, if ever, need to remind her to do something more than once. This goes a long way in avoiding power struggles – phew!
8. BE YOUR CHILD’S BIGGEST CHEERLEADER
While it can be very easy to get caught up with your child’s bad behavior, I find it much more effective (and pleasant!) to focus on all of the things my daughter is doing RIGHT. By praising her for following directions and making good choices, I give her the positive reinforcement she needs, and I find she is much more likely to follow through with that behavior in the future.
For a long time, my communication with my child was very one-sided. I was so focused on ensuring she listened to all of the things that were important to ME, and failed to remember that she has her own set of opinions and views on things as well. So now I try to keep our conversations as open as possible. I may not always agree with what my daughter says, but by respecting her as a person, picking my battles, and allowing her to make her own decisions when appropriate, I find she is much more willing to make concessions and listen to me when necessary.
While these tips have worked wonders in helping me raise my strong-willed child, there are days when my patience is completely shot before we even make it to school drop-off. I hate those mornings, but time has taught me that I’m only human, and as long as I make an effort to do my best each day and my daughter goes to bed feeling loved and secure and happy, I shouldn’t let one bad day derail me.
This too shall pass…
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