Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Having a Strong-Willed Child

It is amazing how two kids can grow up under the same roof, have the same parents, be parented basically the same, yet be so incredibly different from each other.  We are the parents of two boys - one is a strong-willed child, and one is not.

When I have described what our life is like with our strong-willed boy, many mothers nod sympathetically, because they know what it's like.  Then there are some who think they have a strong-willed child, but they really don't - they just have a child with certain preferences.  Others have no idea what it is like to have a strong-willed child, and they are the ones who like to dole out advice to the rest of us, saying things like "Well, if you just do this..." or "I don't let my child get away with that," or they assume that we as the parents are doing something wrong.  I'm all for receiving advice and help, but when someone who has no clue what it's like to have a strong-willed child starts rattling off what they would do, it's a little like a non-parent giving a parent advice.

Because we have one child who is not strong-willed, I know what life is probably like for everyone else.  He is a happy kid, he makes decisions relatively easily, and he goes with the flow.  You give him two choices, he will pick one - maybe begrudgingly, but he'll do it.

Yet the other child will fight tooth and nail about every decision, all day long.  This mama is tired out.  With meltdowns almost every day over clothing, lunch choices, homework, bathtime, dinner and bedtime, I know I am developing some new grey hairs.

We try to give him as many choices as possible.  If it is cold outside, we tell him he needs to wear pants, but he can choose whatever shirt he wants.  This child will fight with us for 2-3 hours, crying and screaming, over his desire to NOT wear pants, but wear shorts instead.  If we give him a choice between what we want for him vs. a punishment, he will always choose the punishment. This child is not swayed by any punishment whatsoever.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when you know you have a strong-willed child.  The simplest decisions turn into all out wars.

Yesterday I went searching for insight, for help, for anything I could find on what we can do better as parents to handle our spirited child.  I came across this broadcast on Focus on the Family that was so encouraging and so helpful, that I had to come here to pass it on.

Surviving the Strong-Willed Child, Part 1 of 2
Surviving the Strong-Willed Child, Part 2 of 2

You can also buy her book called "You Can't Make Me," and read an excellent excerpt here.

Cynthia Tobias gives a very accurate description of a strong-willed child, and says that these children make some of the best leaders and responsible adults. They just need all of their energy channeled into a positive direction.  She gives practical tips on what parents can do.

Now, granted, today we tried to employ some of these tips, and still found it hard.  Micah had a field trip and needed to wear his school t-shirt.  When it came to the shorts, he wanted to wear a pair that were dirty, which he has already worn 3x this week (due to this same clothing issue).  We told him he could choose between 2 other pairs we knew he liked, but he refused.  He chose a punishment instead, and went to school in the dirty shorts.  After over an hour battling this issue, he had to get to school or be late.  Now, I know many readers are immediately thinking "well, you should have done this or this or this," but trust me, we have tried many, many options. This is life with the strong-willed child.  So, the morning was difficult, and I am ready for a nap at 9:15am.

Why do I share all of this?  It is hard to admit when things are real...when things are hard.  Yet I know that so many of you share this struggle. We love our children so much, and it hurts to be in constant battles with them.

I have always been encouraged by other parents who are now "on the other side" and can empathize, knowing how hard it is.  Leave me a comment and let me know if you also have a strong-willed child, and what resources (if any) you have found helpful.

You can also read my past post about the Strong-Willed Child, along with 2 excellent book recommendations here.


  1. I raised a strong-willed child and now I have a grandson who is the same. Have walked in your shoes and do know what you're going through! The good news is my strong willed child grew up to be a wonderful person, awesome teacher, and loving mommy! Most of the time we don't see God's big picture. Hang in there the journey will be complete one day and you will look back with loving eyes!

  2. Thank you for writing this post! I found it from "googling" strong willed children! I can definately relate with our 2 and half year old daughter and was looking online for other mom's who have strong willed children so I won't feel so "abnormal." I also know what it is like to feel so tired from all the battles! Hang in there and thank you for the encouragement. I just started reading "Setting Limits with strong willed children" Love it so far it was recommended by our ECFE progrm.