If you have a strong-willed child this question has probably popped into your head many times. While other kids happily comply, your child has to ask “why” or challenge the most simple command. You may even feel a sense of guilt because you dread when this child will walk through the door after school. You prepare for the battle that will happen during the evening until bedtime. Take heart! These feisty characters are the future movers and shakers of the world. The behaviors that make them difficult to raise are the very traits that help them remain resilient when facing adversity. Here are five tips to guide your strong-willed child (SWC):
Choose wisely: When your child decides to challenge you make sure to ask whether winning this battle will matter in a week, in a year? Is this a non-negotiable issue that relates to safety, security, or a child’s well-being. For instance, is having a matching outfit every day for school going to make a difference in your child’s ability to function in the world? A possible solution may be to load the dresser with clothes that are able to mix and match then let your child choose from the bunch. This way when it comes to important issues that matter in the long run, you can take a stronger stance. An example may be if your child talks back with disrespect to their teacher. You can let them know that you will have a short conversation about the situation then set the consequence. No bargaining, no arguing, just a firm decision that the behavior will not be tolerated under any circumstance. This way your child can share their thoughts and also know you mean business.
Lighten up: It is so hard to keep your cool when a SWC begins to have a sassy attitude! However carefully used humor can go a long way to heading off a battle of wills. This takes being mindful of your urge to react quickly and slowing down to consider how to lighten up the situation. If your child tries to boss you into buying them overpriced basketball shoes, here are two different options. You can use the standard answer of “When you are the one working and paying the bills then you can buy all the expensive shoes you want.” or a second alternative would be “Nice try…I thought you were serious for a minute!” then smile and walk away. Sure your child could go on the offensive, but you have kept your cool and given them a way out of an argument.
Ask questions: Now there are two kinds of questions. One set of questions will set your SWC off and lead to anger. These questions have a tone that indicates blame such as “why do you always have to argue with me!” Other questions give your SWC a chance to explain what is going on in their thinking and build relationship. Questions asked with a tone that indicates caring and interest can go a long way to giving your child a chance to think and explain through their actions. For example “Is that what you wanted to happen?” is a great way to start a conversation if something negative has occurred at school. This allows your child to think through and state what they were thinking when they responded a certain way. When you ask questions make sure to give your child plenty of time to talk and don’t feel like you have to jump in with answers.
Follow through: How many times have you threatened a consequence to your SWC and they look definitely at you and refuse to comply with your request. Keep things simple by following the “if-then” sentence structure. You can tell your child “If you pick up your toys in five minutes, then we can go to grandma’s for ice cream. If you don’t pick up your toys in five minutes then we will stay home.” Then walk away and let the child decide how to respond. Don’t bargain, don’t argue, don’t keep talking about the situation. If the child does what is asked give a praise and follow through with the reward. If they don’t, then follow through with the consequence without discussion. The fewer words the better as your actions speak the loudest when it comes to setting expectations for behavior.
Keep connected: Strong-willed kids know they can be a pain to their parents. The constant conflict often makes them doubt if their parents love them unconditionally. Make sure to frequently connect with your child by saying you love them and praise their positive behaviors. You may need to take time to cool down and think through how to respond when they are defiant. Remember that you are modeling for them how to have good relationships even when someone is not acting the way you want. Some of these strategies will work better than others depending on the situation. Guided by your patience and persistence, your strong-willed child will develop into an adult who is aware of their strengths and able to work well with others.