If you have a child who is strong-willed, it can feel very lonely. I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. I have one of these children myself. I love him to death, but if you have been following me, you will know it’s not easy and you’re hearing from a trained psychologist that has been practicing for over 20 years.
Getting your child to listen and follow the rules can be difficult, especially if you have been a bit too lax in your parenting or too stern in your parenting. The goal is to be somewhere right in the middle. The good news is that it is never too late to change.
This blog post was created for all you mamas that have a strong-willed child to parent,
but I think it can be a useful resource for all you mamas out there. Let me start by discussing the three main types of parenting in the simplest way:
Permissive: You let your child makes the rules and you tend to not follow through
with punishments. You give your child too much freedom and do not set firm limits.
You tend to back down because you don’t want your child to feel bad and you hate to see them upset so sticking to your punishment never pans out. You give in because short-term peace feels better than long-term gain. Child grows up being spoiled and cannot function well in the world because they can’t understand why the world does not accommodate them. They often have a hard time leaving home because they are so used to people doing everything they want for them. Relationships are difficult for them because they expect that they should always get what they want.
Authoritarian: You are fair but firm in making sure your child follows the rules.
You listen to what they have to say and let them know their voice matters, but there
are still consequences for bad behavior. Your punishments fit the crime and you stick to them even when it feels difficult to do so. You do not scream or hit, you remain calm and stick with your plan. The child grows up with good self-esteem, is kind and respectful to others, and can handle tough times in life. The can see things in the world from both sides and are open to hearing feedback from others. They usually have healthy relationships with others because they understand mutual respect.
Authoritative: You are very rigid and strict and you do not allow your child to have
their voice. You may use physical punishments and it is your way or the highway. Your child may actually fear you and you like to feel like the commander in chief. The parents do all the problem solving and the child never learns to make decisions. The child grows up angry, resentful, and does not function well in the world when people do not agree with what they have to say. They have a hard time being compassionate to others or hearing the other side of the story. Their relationships with others are often filled with anger, tension, and unhappiness. It is easy to see that the best parenting style is Authoritarian.
Lets talk setting limits: Are you too too soft (lax) or too firm (strict)?
A Soft Limit is when “No” = “yes, sometimes or maybe”
“I really wish you would stop doing that”
“I hope you don’t do that”
Repeating yourself over and over
Reminding your child to do something over and over
Allowing second chances
Reasoning or explaining why you are doing something
Lectures that go on and on
Stating something makes you angry but you end up doing it for your child
Ignoring bad behavior and hoping it will stop
Begging your child to do the right thing
Cajoling your child into doing something that they obviously can do
Bargaining or Negotiating with your child
Arguing or debating
Inconsistency Between Parents
Cleaning up your child’s mess for them
*Before I move on to Firm boundaries, I just want to be honest here, I have done
many of these soft limit-setting behaviors myself. This does not make you a bad
mom. Remember my motto “perfectly imperfect.”
A Firm Limit is when “No” = “No”
Examples of Firm Limits:
-Direct and simple communication
-Stop that now
-Stop jumping on the furniture
-Turn that program off or the TV goes off for the night
-You need to be home at 7
-If you throw that ball at your brother I am taking it
-Calm and understandable verbal communication
-Use Time Out
-Take away your child’s toys until they learn to clean them up
-Take away your child’s phone
-Take away a device
-Not buying your child a new toy if they don’t take care of it
-Take away privileges or rewards when there is bad behavior
Another thing to remember with a strong willed child (and perhaps any child) is to set the rules of the house up in advance. Even if you are going to start fresh after reading through this, you need to let your child understand they’re will be new rules from now on. Children respond better when they understand what the expectations are.
A simple thing to say is, “I want you to know that from now on, there are going to be
some new rules and if you do not follow them, there will be consequences for your
actions.” Then on a piece of paper, write down the rules and write down the consequence.
Make sure you write the rules and consequences in age-appropriate language and
revisit it daily until you are sure they understand. I would even suggest having your
child tell you the rules and the consequences so there is no misunderstanding. Make
this as simplistic as possible.
Some Other Tips For Dealing With A Strong-Willed Child
1) If your child challenges the limits, give them two choices
“You can either stop bouncing the ball against the windows or I will take it
away, which would you like to do?”
“You can play baseball outside or I will take it away, which would you like to
“You can eat that ice cream at the table or outside, which would you like to
2) Use a Timer
“I am setting this timer for 10 minutes and I expect you to be dressed and
ready to go”
“The timer is being set for 5 minutes for you to brush your teeth and get into
bed, if your not done, then lights out without a story.”
3) Stay focused on your child’s behavior and not the attitude behind it
4) When your child gets angry, try to calm them down (this may even require both
you and your child to take a time out)
5) When your child gets you angry, calm down before you react
6) If you mess up, apologize to your child (this is one of my favorites because it sets
such a good example for your child)
7) Don’t generalize your child’s bad behavior to their whole personality (If your
child is being bad, don’t say, “You are such a horrible boy” instead say, “Your
behavior right now is horrible.”
8) Don’t take what your child says to you personally (There will be a lot of “you’re
the meanest mom in the world” before your child is out of the home and you can’t
take it personally)
Follow these steps in order to make your consequences effective
1) Make it Immediate
2) Be Consistent
3) Make the consequence logical and easy to understand
4) Make sure the consequences fits the crime
5) Forgiveness after it is over
How To Use Time Out
Quick Steps For Using Time Out Effectively
1) Introduce your child to what a time out is before using it
2) It needs to remain brief 5 to 20 minutes (the standard rule is 1 minute per age
and to not start until your child is 3 years old)
3) Select a place (Choose a room that has the least amount of distraction and is not
filled with entertainment. It needs to be away from other people completely)
4) Using a timer, such as simple kitchen timer. This works really well for young kids
because they can see how much time they have.
5) Let the child know that if they come out before the timer goes off then they have
to start all over again
6) The child cannot leave the time out area until their behavior is under control (so
if your child is still throwing a tantrum or acting out after the time out is over, they
need to go back and do it again. Repeat until the behavior stops)
7) Use it consistently, just because it may not change the behavior immediately does
not mean that it is not working
*If your child does not easily go into their time out area, you may have to guide them
(or pick them up) and put them there. I’ve actually had to hold the door shut for my
little Lucas because he refuses to stay in the time out area. I hold firm and do not let
him come out until he stops the tantrum. I will hold the door shut for as long as I need to. After the timer goes off, you can check in. If your child continues, reset the timer, and then shut the door again. Repeat until the behavior stops.
*I realize this can be very difficult for a child who is stronger than you but do all you
can to try and start this early enough so it is effective and you have a means of getting them into the time out area.
*If you’re in a public place and your child is throwing a tantrum or misbehaving I
recommend stopping what you are doing and bring them to a bathroom where they
can cool off. If they continue then leave (I know it sucks) and go home immediately.
They will learn that they cannot get their way.
Using Positive Motivation
When your child is acting cooperative and behaving, reinforce their behavior over and over and over again. This is so important. Strong willed children often feel bad about their behavior and don’t know why they are acting out. So when they’re behaving, you need to do all you can to tell them how much you appreciate their good behavior and that you knew they could behave. Go above and beyond to tell them how proud you are of them making good choices. Positive creates positive, Negative creates negative.
You want your strong willed child to feel good about themselves and motivate them
to want to be good. The more you reinforce their good behavior, the more they will
want to act good.
Encourage your strong willed child to make better choices and reinforce them when
they make good choices and model good behavior for them. As their mama, you are their role model whether you want to be or not. It is your job to model good behavior and set an example. Children learn by what we do. Telling your child to do something that you don’t do yourself is never going to work. “Do as I say, not as I do” does not cut it when it comes to parenting. Change will take time, but if you stick with these principles that I have outlined for you, change will happen. Don’t give up! You have got this. And once you start to see change, this is going to help make everything in your life easier.
If you loved this blog post, you will definitely love my free guide: The Busy Mom's Guide to Happiness. You can grab it by clicking here. Best wishes mama!