5 Tips for Raising a Strong-Willed Child

Tips for Raising a Strong Willed ChildFrom the beginning {literally the very beginning, like in utero}, we knew we had a Strong-Willed Child on our hands. The ultrasound tech took one look at our twins swimming around and said, and I quote, “You’re going to have your hands full with that one.” While her brother was content to just hang out and float, she was intent on moving around, kicking her brother’s amniotic sac, and sitting on my interior vena cava. Just making her presence known. And it pretty much hasn’t changed a lick.

She’s a fighter, that one. And for that I’m glad. I believe her strong-willed personality has served her well in her young 4 years. But it has also given me a fair amount of grey hair and wrinkles. Not to mention the times I’ve wanted to bash my head against the wall because it would be less painful than jumping into the ring with her again.

{If y’all have read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of disclaimers, so here it is :: As a rule, I’m not a huge fan of labeling children {ie: always referring to one as the feisty one, the shy one, the fearless one}. Sometimes I think it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if said often enough. However, the Strong-Willed Child {SWC} is one label I can get behind because it’s been validated by family therapists and experts around the world. Moving on…

Here’s where I’m going to be really honest. I don’t have this one figured out. Not even close. But I have figured out a few strategies that work for our family and several suggestions and resources that fellow SWC parents have clued me in on that I can’t wait to try {Thank you, my LHM friends!}.

And by the way, having a SWC is NOT a bad thing. Challenging, yes. But there are many a days I thank my lucky stars that I have one. Strong-willed children are incredibly self-motivated {you can’t teach that!}, disciplined, have natural leadership capabilities, and are less likely to succumb to peer pressure in their young adult and teen years. So in NO WAY do I want to “break” my child of their strong-willed child. Instead, I want to harness and guide that inner force. And right now, I’d sure like for everything not to be a power struggle and resist the temptation to mix up a White Wine Sangria at 10AM. Kidding, Mom.

Tips, Resources,  & Encouragement for your Strong-Willed Child ::

1. Routines & Rules ::

Simply having set routines in place and rules that remain constant {and that your child can understand} can help mitigate the power struggles between you and your child. Mine CRAVES routine, so I’ve  noticed a dramatic spike in fit-throwing and undesirable behavior this summer. Consistency is key here. Same rules, all the time. “The rule in this house is we brush our teeth every morning after breakfast. If you get that done quickly, you may have time to watch a little more Sofia before church.” The end. And move on.

2. Say “Yes” As Often as You Can ::

I have to admit this one oftentimes goes against my nature. But it’s important for our kids to hear “yes.” As a wise mom recently said to me, “Save the ‘no’s’ for the really important things.” I mean, really? Who likes to hear “no, no, no!” all day long. I sure don’t. If she wants to wear her princess dress and purple rainboots to the grocery store, who is she hurting? Just say yes and avoid the conflict. Or use the delayed “yes” when you would typically jump to say “no.” “I see that you want to play with blocks. That’s great! You can play with your blocks as soon as you put away your dishes and wash your hands.”

3. Realize the Part You Play ::

I am a Strong-Willed Adult. Formerly a SWC if you will. I don’t like to lose. I don’t like to be told what to do. And I certainly don’t like feeling that I have a 4 year old running my life. So admittedly, I can absolutely lose my mind. I invite power struggles in when I should let things go. Learn from my mistakes. Take a deep breath. Remove yourself from the situation if you can. I can’t necessarily control how my toddler behaves, but at 34 years old, I should certainly be able to resist throwing a temper tantrum. {Also examine where you are at the moment :: Are you hungry? Are you stressed? Are you tired? If so, you are more likely to make non-sensical statements or irrational decisions that you may regret later. Take a step back, go eat a Snickers in the pantry, call in Daddy for reinforcements, whatever you need to do to regain control of yourself.}

4. Offer Choices ::

The SWC rebels against authoritative commands because they like to be the ones to make decisions that affect them. Right or wrong, they don’t like submitting to someone else’s will, especially a parent. This one works really well in my house, as long as I am okay with the two choices I offer. End goal in mind. For example, if said child is going to school and they need to have their hair up, try this :: “Today’s a school day! Would you like for Mommy to do pigtails or 2 braids for you?” Nine times out of ten it works. I guarantee you if I said “Q, come here. I’m going to put your hair in a ponytail,” she would run away screaming at the top of her lungs and throw herself against the door in a fit of rage.

5. Listen to Your Child ::

Oh, this is a hard one too. In the heat of the moment, the last thing a parent wants to do is hear what their child has to say about the situation. But this works wonders. Sit down with your child and simply {in a non-accusatory} way ask them why they don’t want to do something in particular. You may be surprised by the answer and it could provide great insight on how you can avoid the drama the next time. {It should be noted that if the situation is already out of hand, you may need to wait until both parties are calm, cool, and collected to have this conversation. Quinn and I often chat in her bed before nap or bedtime.}

Bonus ::

Praise! Praise, praise, praise when your child exhibits the proper responses. It may seem like overkill and a little cheesy at first – but it works wonders. “I LOVE the way you asked me that question, you said it so kindly and Mommy appreciates that!” Your child will smile ear to ear, and I guarantee they will remember that next time. {And for a SWC, I really don’t believe you can go overboard with the praising. I’d rather have a child with a healthy self-esteem instead of one that rages at me unprovoked in the grocery store.}

Y’all. This list could go on forever. Being a parent of a Strong-Willed Child is NOT easy…but it is doable! And it CAN be so rewarding!  I’ve learned so much about myself during this experience. And all those times I feel like I’ve failed, I’m thankful for another day to try again.

So let that be my encouragement to you :: don’t give up! Your relationship with your SWC may seem tenuous at times but it can be such a fulfilling one. I love seeing the pride on my little girl’s face when she makes the right decisions and when she masters a task that she’s been working on for weeks. Those SWC’s are determined to make things happen, and when channeled correctly, they will…in amazing ways.

Just for fun, a few book titles that may be of help to you ::

James Dobson :: “The New Strong-Willed Child”

Foster Cline & Jim Fay :: “Parenting with Love and Logic”

Hal Edward :: “Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool”

 As mentioned above, this list is by no means all-inclusive. Let us know what you think! Do you have a precious Strong-Willed Child? What are your coping mechanisms? What techniques have worked for your family? Any books or articles you can recommend? We’re all ears in this village of mommas!


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Meagan is a Dallas native who has lived in the Katy area for over a decade. She kicked a soccer ball all the way to Louisiana to attend college at her family’s alma mater of LSU, where she promptly fell in love with a Texas Aggie in Baton Rouge for an internship. After swimming back to Texas following Hurricane Katrina, Matt and Meagan fell in love with the Houston area and now couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Following several years of infertility, their miracle twins Ryan and Quinn were born in June of 2010. She believes there is nothing better than a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio, a large Sonic Diet Coke, sushi take-out, Girls Nights Out, and a mindless book to curl up with. Besides playing chauffeur and catering to the whims of her children, Meagan also is the Co-Owner of Houston Moms Blog. You can keep up with Meagan at The Clanahan Fam and on Instagram @meaganclanahan!


  1. Hahaha I loved the first paragraph. Because that is my son. Stubborn and strong willed since conception. He would never be awake when the doctors wanted him to be moving in my womb and I would just shrug. He was stubborn then and only more so when he was born. I love him to death, and I know that as he grows his stubborn strong willed nature is going to take him places. I’m much more passive, I have strong willed tendencies but he takes it to a whole new level. All the things you have listed are things I have learned through the last four years of his life as well. Routine is key, I cannot stress how thrown off my little one gets just by missing a nap or going to bed late. It seems ‘simple’ for other parents to do these things but for me the fall out is one or two days of tantrums and tired.

    The one thing I found is that with SWC comes a biiiig temper and quick lows. I don’t know if it’s the same with all SWC but with mine, he gets SO angry so suddenly when things don’t do what he wants them to. I found that deep breathing, calms him down much more quickly than anything else. We breathe together. Then talk about the problem and I remind him he can always ask for help. He doesn’t like to do that. That’s one of the hardest parts for me is knowing I can help but I try not to swoop in because I know he needs to try and I want him to learn how to ask those around him for help.

    Thank you for the article! I smiled while reading it thinking.. yep that’s my daily life right there.

    • Amen, Christi! I think all my friends thought I was crazy when I would cut playdates short or not do late dinners with the kids — and it’s all because my sweet daughter would be a HOT MESS for the next day or 2. We need routine & she definitely needs sleep. {And so do I from a patience factor!}

      Great tips on the breathing for sure. We’ve started working on that one and I heard Q huffing and puffing away after school yesterday when she really wanted to freak out. But yes, we escalate QUICKLY around here. One minute it’s fine, and the next… well. 🙂 Thank you for reading & commenting!

  2. Thank you for posting this! Your first paragraph made me laugh because that’s exactly how my son was. Stubborn since conception. He would never move enough for the doctors and slept through every appointment I had no matter how they tried to wake him up. And it has been the same for the last four years. All your points are certainly things I do in my daily life, with the aid of helping his impressive temper calm down. Deep breathing works well for my four year old so that we can reassess and talk about the problem at hand. SWC are definitely interesting but yes simple things can turn into the biggest power struggle. I have to be careful how to address all the things that come up.

    Thanks for this article!

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! It popped into my email at the most appropriate time – after having a tough afternoon with my SWC. My little Evelyn gives me a run for my money on the daily so these tips were great to read and I can’t wait to try implementing them!

    • Thank you so much for reading, Lori! They can definitely wear us down, huh? Always good to know we aren’t alone in the crazy {good & bad!}

  4. This describes my almost 3 yo Scarlett exactly! I tell people daily that I haven’t figured out how to parent her yet. She is my youngest of 4 and I feel like everything is a battle. These are great tips and I’m putting some into place immediately!

    • Ha, Jenn! I’m not sure if we will ever figure out how to fully parent these precious ones 😉 But we can certainly try! Thanks for reading & good luck, momma!

  5. Loved this!!! Especially the white sangria at 10 am…I have this thought most weekend mornings!!! But my very favorite thing you said is ” for every time I think I have failed, I am grateful for the opportunity to try again” yes!!! I am so thankful for my strong willed girl who reminds me so much of myself and wouldn’t trade her for an easy, complacent child any day!!


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