The Challenge of Raising a Strong-Willed Child
I should have known by the way twin A made her debut — ripping her placenta from my uterine wall and causing an emergency C-section on her older sister’s 4th birthday — that she would inevitably be a strong-willed child.
This child gives new meaning to the phrase, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” She is a mini-girl, topping the growth chart in the 15th percentile; petite but mighty in her convictions. Albeit, her convictions consist of refusing to eat anything but cheese, apple sauce pouches, and fruity pebbles, persistently crying for 45 minutes when told NO to anything, and using brute force (pushing, hitting, screaming) to get her point across.
I’ve spent many hours feeling like I’m giving in to her and letting her have her way just to avoid the tantrum. Can I still raise a kind, compassionate, self-sufficient, non-bully by avoiding the hard part of raising this strong-willed child? I am not going to spend the rest of my daughter’s childhood giving in or giving up. So, my husband and I have had to take some new approaches to parenting this strong-willed little girl.
Pick your battles
You can’t win with this child. You need to be on your A game, ALL the time. What worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today. She is stubborn and I cannot convince her to do something she does not want to do. I don’t want to crush her spirit, but I also refuse to cave in every time we disagree.
So I pick my battles. I will not let her eat sugary cereal for every meal, so this is one of the situations where I need to be prepared to endure the tantrum. She is insistent on getting in the car, climbing in her car seat and buckling herself in without help. Although most mornings we are in a hurry and it would be quite the time saver for me to do all these tasks, I choose not to fight her on this one. It makes our morning commute tolerable when we don’t have to listen to the crying.
As the parent, it is up to you to decide where compromises are made. If it is important to you, then stay the course. Just understand that there will likely be lots of turbulence!
A strong-willed child is more likely to comply when given a choice. I use this method more than any other! I use it for everyday choices and for discipline.
Most meals I will offer her a fresh fruit/vegetable or a fruit/veggie purée pouch. She almost always takes the pouch (at least there is a trace of vegetables in there, right?).
When misbehaving, she will be given a choice to either do what is asked of her or get a time out. Luckily she is two years old and this method works 75% of the time (as she gets older, I’m sure this will not be the case).
Sometimes she chooses the time out over the other choice, and I have to be okay with it. This is the downside to this method: you need to be able to accept and/or enforce whatever choice she makes.
Yelling only frustrates me
When asking my strong-willed daughter to do something she might find unpleasant, I must get down to her level, make eye contact, and talk to her in a calm voice.
When her answer is “No,” my first instinct is to raise my voice. This results in one of two outcomes: she instantly cries and will continue to cry for 45 minutes, or she throws her arms out in front of her, palms open, fingers outstretched and yells back.
If I try to interject, I’m immediately met with a yelling “SHHH” or “STOP IT”. No amount of yelling, begging or threatening will make a strong-willed child do what they don’t want to do.
Have patience, and when you think you have no more, find some!
There will be times when you do everything right, and your strong-willed child will still be upset. Every day, I offer my daughter the option to be carried down the stairs for breakfast. Every day, she says, “No, I do it myself,” and every day I answer, “Okay,” and proceed down the stairs holding the hand of her twin brother.
Every day, just as I reach the last step my strong-willed child will say, “Mommy, carry you.” I politely remind her that mommy offered to carry her, but she said no. Cue, first (and usually the worst) crying tantrum of the day!
I struggle with this interaction every day. Is it a big deal for me to climb the stairs and pick her up? No. But, I already gave her what she wanted: to do it herself. I feel like this one is a necessary life lesson: you can’t have it both ways. Or shall I say, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”
Life is all about choices, some more crucial than others, but I want my kids to understand that depending on the choice they make there may be consequences. I’m hopeful that if they make a displeasing decision, they will learn from it! That is why I don’t appease her.
In the meantime, I’m learning how much patience I actually have. Every morning, I’m gaining just a little bit more.
They get a bad rap
Strong-willed children often get a bad rap. Others see your child throwing an epic tantrum in public and stereotype these kids into the “misbehaved” category. This is not the case. These children are individuals, natural born leaders, and world changers. No matter how much my daughter frustrates me and makes me question my mothering abilities, I wouldn’t change anything about her.
For all the negativity these characteristics contain, they create just as much positive! She can’t be faulted for knowing what she wants and standing up for it. She is independent, she won’t let others push her around, and she’s less likely to be swayed by peer pressure.
She is equally as sweet and loving as she is feisty and stubborn. She is a constant force in our home, she lives on her own terms, and I have no doubt that she will use these tools for greatness!
Amanda Hadley is a mom to a sassy six-year-old, and 2-year-old wondrous monster twins. She is a mom first and a photographer and journalist second. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband of 9 years. She spends her days repeating cliches she was sure she would never say, such as “because I said so” and “stop licking that”. She is an accomplished cartoon theme song repeater and has no idea what is happening in current events and dreams of traveling to exotic places, alone. She enjoys hot cups of coffee, silence and Atlanta Braves baseball.