Strong-Willed Child…What To Do?

I had a reader ask me for some tips on dealing with a Strong-Willed-Child after reading my post about my daughter (you can find that post here.) I could probably write ten posts on this subject and over time, I probably will. But for now, I’m just going to give a few pointers off the top of my head. I will expand on these points in upcoming posts.

If you have an SWC (Strong-Willied-Child) there are many different ideas out there for how to handle the struggles that go with that. You will get advice (like it or not) from parents, in-laws, teachers, the little old lady in the grocery store, etc. Let me be clear, I don’t have all the answers…by a long shot! But I have learned a few things along the way so here goes:

1. Plan your responses ahead of time. Waiting until the heat of “battle” to make a decision about how you’re going to discipline your SWC is asking for trouble. I had the most success when we had clearly defined consequences for disobedience, etc. Having a plan that both you and your child are familiar with helps you to avoid being too emotional about the situation. It avoids escalation, which is a tool that SWC’s use to wear us down and get their way. (I used a “turn-a-card” system that I adapted from one that my son’s kindergarten teacher used in the classroom. More on that in my next post.)

For example, establishing ahead of time with your 4-year-old that if she hits her brother she will go to her room for 4 minutes makes it very easy to follow through in the event she actually hits her brother. There is no need for discussion. She goes to her room. If you don’t have consequences already set up, you might react in anger or frustration and you’re much more likely to be inconsistent.

2. Let them make choices and allow natural consequences. SWC’s like to control their environment and they do not like to be told what to do. So, use their desire to control to your advantage. For example, if your 6-year-old doesn’t want to wear his coat but you know he will be cold, tell him it’s his choice. I’d say something like, “I’m not going to make you wear your coat, but it’s cold outside and I think you should. If you choose not to and you’re cold when we go outside, I don’t want to hear complaining. You will just have to be cold. It’s your choice.”

When they have to make the decision, often they will make the right choice but when they don’t, let them suffer the natural consequences. This works way better than asserting your (rightful) authority and making them wear the coat. They need to see that their choices have consequences and it’s much better that they learn this at a young age when the stakes are small. This is a “pick your battles” kind of thing. There are some situations in which you will want to put your foot down. So pick the ones that aren’t so important and give your SWC some choice in those matters.

3. Don’t take it personally. This one’s hard. Because we do take it personally when our flesh and blood behaves like a raving lunatic. But we only torture ourselves and make the situation ten times worse when we do that. It’s vitally important that you distance your personal feelings from your child’s behavior. Stop worrying about what people will think of you when your child behaves badly because that causes you to react out of embarrassment and you will probably not make the best discipline choices. (I’m not saying people won’t judge you. They will. But who cares?! They obviously have only compliant children at home ;))

When your child throws a tantrum or acts rude or disobeys you, it is not a personal attack and it is not a failure on your part. Kids (especially the strong-willed ones) will make mistakes. They will behave badly. It’s all part of learning what is right and wrong. Just accept that it will happen and have a plan for how to deal with it (see point #1). If you take it personally you will react emotionally. That is the number one way to escalate the situation with an SWC. If you struggle with this one, walking away from the situation for a few minutes can be very helpful.

As I said, I will expand on each one of these points in upcoming posts. But for now, I hope that you can find something that helps you have a better day with your Strong-Willed-Child.




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Do You Have a Strong-Willed Child?

My lovely Sixteen during her "red" phase

Do you have a strong-willed child? If you have to think about the answer…that would be a solid, “No.” If you have one, you know it! Now, every child is capable of strong-willed moments. (We adults are too!) But a true strong-willed child leaves no doubt that they are one.

My daughter, “Sixteen,” was definitely an SWC (strong-willed child). It was really only an issue from about age two to fourteen. You laugh. Ha! The hardest part about dealing with the SWC behavior all those years was that it was most often behind closed doors, which led me to feel like I was losing my mind. She was a perfect child in public. School teachers loved her, Sunday school teachers, kids at school…she was liked by all. But at home, if I wanted her to do something she didn’t want to do…watch out! World War Three took place in my kitchen. Now I am glad she wasn’t difficult in public, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I wanted her to act up in front of others. But the private, “behind closed doors” nature of our conflicts left me feeling desperately alone. Can you relate?

Her will was amazingly strong. My life would have been so much “easier” if I had just let her win the battles. She wasn’t a “bad” kid. She wasn’t mischievous or conniving. She just wanted to be in control. But as her mom, I couldn’t let her control the situation. An eight year old shouldn’t be allowed to run the show. So we battled. It was a battle of wills and it was exhausting. It wasn’t every day…but it was often enough that it colored my world in shades of black and gray.

A friend once told me that God gave my daughter to me because he knew I wouldn’t give up on her. I tried to take comfort in that. He knew I was the right one for the job. Because she is really an amazing person. I always said she’d be an amazing adult if I let her live that long. (If you don’t have a SWC you may be appalled by that comment. It’s okay…mothers of SWCs learn early on not to take it personally when others misunderstand them. If you do have an SWC, you know exactly what I mean. When she’s in her twenties we are going to write companion books about her childhood. Mine will be called, “Some Days I Hate My Daughter,” and hers will be, “Some Days I Hate My Mother.” That’s the plan, anyway.)

So during those dark days I did a lot of praying. I needed God’s strength to get through most days because I didn’t have the strength to be kind, patient and loving on my own. I could be sarcastic, retaliatory and angry without help…I had that down to a science. But I didn’t want that. I wanted to do the right thing…to be the right thing. I wanted to be the mom she needed. And I didn’t want my struggles with her to infect my other kids or my marriage. Some days, I was able to totally rely on God and on those days, regardless of how she acted, I knew I handled myself well. But on other days, I just acted out of sheer exhaustion. On those days, I felt so defeated. But I kept pressing forward. Kept asking for God’s help and slowly (very slowly) things started to change.

Everyone talks about the scary teen years. I say, “Thank God for the teen years!!” See, she always knew that she needed to have more self-control but for so many years, she just didn’t know how to make that happen. But as she matured, she began to figure it out. I can say that now, at almost 17 years old, she is one of my favorite people. She loves God and wants to serve him. She does very well in school. She works hard at her job and volunteers in the community and at church. She is one of the people I laugh with most. She has many friends and seems to be well liked by everyone. In the home, she is a different person than she was as a kid. She is helpful, generally doing whatever I ask her to do. She makes a great effort to be a good big sister and help her brothers. Of course, she’s not perfect. I’m not either. She’s still strong-willed but she balances that with more self-control. We still have days that we can’t stand each other. But those days are now the exception, not the rule. (Thank you Lord!) God is not done with either of us yet, but the older she gets, the better our relationship gets. Words can’t describe what a victory that is. And it’s something I’m so incredibly thankful for.

So if you have a child who challenges you constantly, take heart! It won’t last forever. It’s taken many years for me to get to the place where I can honestly encourage you, but I promise things will get better if you don’t give up. Keep being the parent God made you to be. Keep loving your child even when they seem unlovable. Do you know you are not alone? If you have an SWC, leave a comment. Let’s encourage one another.



P.S. I asked Sixteen to read this before I posted it. I didn’t want to hurt or offend her. She knew my purpose was to encourage other moms out there so she said she was cool with it. That’s proof right there…things will get better!

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