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10 Tips for Parenting Your Strong Willed Child

“Strong-willed children often grow into strong-willed adults who become world leaders, world shapers, and world changers. Parenting them peacefully is not only possible, it’s imperative because sowing peace in their hearts now while they’re in our care will grow a future of peace later when the world is in their care.” LR Knost

Strong willed, stubborn, spirited. There is no denying that raising a child with a strong will can be a daily challenge. It can seem that there is a power struggle about every little thing, from brushing teeth, putting away toys, getting out the door, buckling their seat belt to sitting down to eat a meal.

But there are also ways to work with spirited children rather than against them. There are ways to connect with them and invite cooperation, rather than demand obedience and hand out punishment.

Remember, these are the children who will be leaders, who will stand up for what they believe in, who won’t let others take advantage of them. These are the children who are often intelligent, and creative, and passionate. These are the children who will change the world, so long as we guide them in the right direction by setting respectful limits and avoid dimming their inner voice.

I know. I have a very spirited 5.5 year old who teaches me this day after day.

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Here are the things I strive to do every day to invite cooperation:

1. Positive Time Out or Calm Down area: Using time-outs as punishment is ineffective in helping children understand their behavior choices and making positive changes.  Together with your child(ren), create a nurturing space for any family member to use when they are experiencing difficult emotions.  Brainstorm things they would like in this space that can help them calm down.

Examples: putty, bubbles, music, stuffed animal, essential oils, fidget items, blanket, a favorite book, bubble timer, stress ball,  etc. When they are upset, ask them if they would like to use this space to help cool down.

2. Limited Choices: Children crave a sense of power and control in their lives.  By giving them limited choices throughout the day, this allows them to feel some control and can help prevent power struggles.  

Examples: Would you like to use these bath toys or those? Would you like to do your math homework or read first? Would you like to get strawberry toothpaste or mint?  Would you like carrots or broccoli with your dinner?  Would you like to do it on your own or should we do it together?

3. Create routine charts.  Think of the times your children have the most difficulty during the day.  For many families, this can be during morning routines, completing chores, and getting ready for bed.  Have your child help you list all of the steps included in the routine, put them in order, and create the chart.  Depending on your child’s age and interests, this can be typed, drawn, or use pictures of your child completing each step.  Start referring to the chart each time the routine is completed for smoother mornings, chore completion, and bed time.

4. Make meaningful connections.  According to Adlerian Psychology, children (and adults!) crave a sense of belonging and significance.  When this emotional need is not met, you are going to see it in your child’s misbehavior.  Schedule special time, 1-1, without distractions (put the phone down, forget about your to-do list), with each child, each day.  This can be as simple as a few minutes together in the morning after waking, a few minutes when they get home from school, and a few minutes before bed.  It does not need to take hours or cost money.

5. Either, or: This strategy can be used when your child is not doing what you have asked.  It essentially gives them a choice about what will happen, thus giving them power and decision making.

Example: Either you can turn the TV off now or I will do it for you.

Either you can solve the problem or I will be putting the toy in my closet.

6. Connection before correction: Kids (and adults) do not listen or reason when they are upset! You do not always have to address the misbehavior in the moment.  Usually when parents try to, it escalates the situation, makes everyone more riled up, and the parent gets tuned out.  Instead, try connecting with your child FIRST, and then addressing the misbehavior when everyone is calm.

7. Prime: Just because you know what is expected in a certain situation, does not necessarily mean that your child knows what is expected of them in new situations or at places they have not been recently.  Before going, involve your child in a discussion on what they are allowed to do where you’re going, what they are not allowed to do, and what will happen if they don’t stick with their agreement.

8. Use Humor: Humor can help everyone lighten up! Remember to laugh, have fun, and enjoy your kids while also being sensitive to situations when humor is not appropriate.

Example: Here comes the mommy monster to get the stinky kids who need to take a bath! Here comes the tickle monster to get the kids who aren’t picking up their toys!

9. First, then: Structure a “First, Then” Routine so that the task the parent would like the child to get done is followed by a desirable activity for the child.

Example: First you need to pick up your toys, then you may play outside.

First you need to finish your homework, then you may go to the park.

The “Then” should not be a reward or a bribe.  It is something you would normally allow them to do!

10. Use mistakes as opportunities to learn - focus on solutions: Instead of focusing on blame and punishment, focus on solutions to problems.  With your child, brainstorm as many possible solutions to a problem, and then pick one everyone can agree on.  By focusing on solutions rather than blame and punishment, you will be helping your child learn how to solve their own problems and do better in the future!

Gina Meadows