7 Ways to Help a Strong Willed Child
Updated: Nov 4, 2017
My kids are fun, energetic and tenacious.
I get to parent 2 children who will spend hours exploring across country on their bikes, will create games out of an empty space and can find silence hilarious. Their tenacity and independent thinking are great for adventures, problem solving and making the most of their environment. But brushing their teeth? Sitting quietly? Tidying away toys? Frankly, I may as well be asking them to single handedly clean Buckingham palace, in the dark - at least that is what you would assume, given their reactions! And whilst I am a huge champion of peaceful parenting - peace is the last thing that springs to mind when I eventually crack and hollar, “Clean your teeth!!!!” Seriously, even my husband grabs a toothbrush.
The truth is, this world needs a generation of tenacious, passionate people who act justly when no one else does, who love mercy when society says just love your self, and who are prepared to walk humbly, in friendship with their saviour — when their generation will tell them it’s foolish. Those of us with strong willed kids are on to winners, it may not always feel it, but we really are. However the earth also needs a generation of spirit filled, tender yet equally tenacious parents to raise these incredible children. Whilst it can feel at times over whelming, a mums gift to her strong willed child is to help channel their determination, not shrink it! So here are a few ideas, from one exhausted mum to the next, on how to help our wild yet wonderful kids.
1. Don’t put in unnecessary boundaries.
God has created us with free will and a whole earth of potential. In the garden of Eden he kept it simple, go and enjoy yourselves, just avoid this tree.When Jesus commissioned the disciples he gave them principals to live by, and then sent them out with a simple go. A strong willed child will kick against always hearing the word “No," but if you give them a strong “yes” the no will often loose appeal. Let them try new things, voice their thoughts, take a few risks whilst they are young and you are around to help them navigate their way through the damage. When setting boundaries ask yourself, is the end goal righteousness or safety, if not, consider whether it is a boundary you really need to make.
2. Offer choices, it makes them feel empowered and respected.
I was recently looking after a little girl in an indoor play area, who refused to wear socks in the soft play (they weren’t pink). Other children and a member of staff began getting very stressed about the child’s lack of compliance and came to find me to deal with it. Very aware that I didn’t want a big stand off, I decided to help the child feel a sense of positive authority over their own body, “Sweetheart, would you like to pop your socks on and run inside the soft play, or keep them off and you can run around the outskirts of the soft play?” It was a genuine question, either option could be good fun, and suddenly the main object was not socks but location. She looked at me, picked up her socks and said, “I’ll play here.”
3. Humans mirror, be careful of your own behaviour!
A strong willed child who is confronted by a stubborn parent will likely greet them in the same manner. Are you giving your children breathing space, is the day set only to your pace, have you given room for other members of the family to explore what they love, try out new things and contribute their own ways of doing things? Many battles are saved when a child feels as though they are equally respected. Tenderness and flexibility can melt the heart of even the strongest will!
4. Master the sad face!
Much like the mirroring, if a child’s behaviour is met with anger, you can expect things to escalate pretty quickly. It is far easier for a child to respond warmly to a parent who is feeling sad about their choice than one who is angry. Anger can place a child into fight or flight mode, whereas a sad tone and face gives them the responsibility of repairing the broken trust.
5. Let your child negotiate!
Relationships need to offer both parties room to change the others mind. We see God give opportunity to Abraham to persuade him to save Sodom, he allows Moses to change his mind about leaving the children of Israel and sending an Angel instead. It is not a sign of God’s weakness but rather his dedication to building connection and friendship with his children. Aside from the relational benefits, allowing your child room to articulate their thoughts, form an argument and convince someone of something whilst in a safe environment, will give them the tools to use their determination and tenacity well in later life.
6. Don’t negotiate with terrorists!
At times my children will know how to keep me talking for so long I am completely baffled and loose sight of what I am trying to achieve. If my kids are being rude or aggressive I’ll simply say, “Come back and chat to me when your heart is kind” and walk off. They may follow me (and usually do at first), shouting all the way, but they have learned that nothing new will happen until they speak to me with a kind heart.
At times I may think my kids have reacted impulsively or irrationally, but when I take the time to dig deeper and chat things through, I can often discover a well intentioned heart with poor execution. Connecting with our kids and really listening to their thoughts and reasoning is a powerful way of demonstrating, “I love you, and I am on your side!”
Wherever you are in your journey of raising strong willed kids — keep going! Keep looking for creative ways to engage your children, to raise their empathy and to train their independent minds. I pray you will, in fact, I know you will. After all, their strength and tenacity is probably a gift they’ve inherited from you!