Training the Strong-Willed Child

Mothering is a challenging and ever-changing set of responsibilities! One day, you are feeding and changing a baby, and the next you are wrestling a toddler so you can get their shoes on and make it to the store before it closes. One day you’re teaching your child to read, and the next you feel like reading their minds is the only way you’re going to really communicate with them.

However, perhaps one of the biggest challenges in motherhood is raising the strong-willed child. The strong-willed child will pitch a fit if even the smallest part of their day doesn’t happen the way he or she wants it to. The strong-willed child will be the one leading their friends at daycare hands first into a pit of mud, or making a game out of screaming the loudest.
So yeah, they can be a little tough.

Sweet moms, start by taking a deep breath. This isn’t anything you did or didn’t do. This is your child’s innermost feelings thoughts and desires coming out with zero restraint. It is the infancy of their personality. It is something to be trained, not tamed.

The moment we begin to fear our child’s strong-willed behavior is the moment we take our eyes off what they could become and put them on what we wish they already were.

Today’s strong-willed child is tomorrow’s CEO, tomorrow’s lead scientist, tomorrow’s pastor or teacher. The energy they put into every fight is an energy that, when channeled correctly, can be used to fuel world-changing endeavors.

They’re tough, but they aren’t un-trainable. They’re tough, but they’re not a mistake.

Think about the moments when you wish you could tell someone exactly what you were thinking, but you know that you have to slow down and exchange your angry words for thoughtful explanations before you go anywhere near them. Now, imagine having never been taught the self control to make that happen.

Yikes.

But, that is exactly where your strong-willed child is experiencing! They have a flurry of emotions, ideas, and desires but no training on what to do with them. Our responsibility as parents and leaders is to take steps to provide the training they need. There are a number of ways we can help our strong-willed children without backing down on our discipline or our convictions.

Slow Down This is the first piece of advice I’d give any parent, especially of a strong-willed child. You set the pace for this discussion, and for it to get anywhere, you both have to be thinking clearly.

Slowing down takes the boil of emotions to a gentle simmer and makes the situation less explosive. You can slow things down by saying, “I know you’re upset right now, but I want to hear it from you. Can you take a few breaths and then tell me what is going on?” or maybe “You sound really upset. Can you think for a minute about why you’re upset? I’ll think with you.”

Especially for younger children, understanding why they are upset can be a step in the right direction. Once they know why they are upset, they are more open to other options and they feel more understood.

Empathize “I know this was a long day for you.” “I know you don’t like to eat broccoli.” “I know splashing in that mud puddle looked like fun.”

“The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.” Psalm 103:13

God sets an example to us by hearing us out, but responds with truth, like a father. Strong-willed children are determined to be heard almost as much as they are determined to be right. But, by showing that you hear and empathize with your child, you level the playing field. You show them you care, but also that you are in control right now. You access that healthy level of fear while making sure that your child feels your compassion toward them.

Give choices The choice could be between two or three different shirts or different ways of cleaning up a mess. But I know there are some times that you cannot compromise. You must go to the store, or you must take a bath. Your child still has a choice to make.

Instead of a choice between a few favorable outcomes, stress that your child has a choice about how they respond. “You can cry and scream and be sad about going to the store, or you can take a few breaths and Mommy will try to make it fun for you.” “You can stay in the car with me and cry and be sad, or you can take a few breaths and calm down so we can go back into the restaurant and eat with Daddy.” I will usually add, “I hope you choice to come and be happy with me, because I love to have fun with you!”

Inevitably, there will be times when your child chooses to stay mad, and that is where discipline comes in. This brings me to my last point.

Be consistent If you say there will be a punishment, make sure it happens. Don’t resort to empty threats because they will figure it out. But, just like rules without relationship leads to rebellion, consequences without training leads to the need for more consequences.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11

Helping your child grow spiritually is a process that comes in seasons. Like tending a garden, there will be seasons where different flowers and different fruits grow, and the garden looks different. The important thing is to realize the difference between a weed and a flower that needs to be trimmed.

No matter how strong-willed your child, thank God that He has given them a unique gift! Thank Him that when properly trained, your child will be a strong leader, innovator, and world-changer.

Resist the urge to drown their desires and emotions, and instead focus your efforts on training them to use their will for the glory of God! For all the work you put into your child, know that you will reap both a physical and an eternal reward! There is nothing you sow that will not yield a harvest.