Looking for tips on parenting your strong-willed child? Spirited, Strong-willed… these kids can be difficult! These parenting ideas will help you and your child live in peace.
How To Deal with a Difficult Child
Parenting a strong-willed child can be both difficult and rewarding. I remember when my daughter was younger and I first learned the word ‘spirited’ because a babysitter had used that word to describe my daughter. At first, I didn’t really know what that was, but after looking into it I realized… oh, yeah… that’s SO her!
For years I sat there listening to the advice of friends and family around me. Everyone had an opinion that would make her more well-behaved. She needed more discipline, she needed a firmer hand, more structure, more consequences. But what my strong-willed daughter really needed was a strong mom.
It turns out what I was doing wrong, was listening to those other moms.
Every kid is extremely individual and so the way they are parented should be too. The helpful advice of my friends often made situations worse when I tried to implement their parenting strategies. It took me years to realize that I needed to find what works best for my daughter. And before I could do that, I had to truly see her as she is… a strong-willed child.
I’m here to tell you, there is hope! Every tantrum, every argument, every eye roll, and all the yelling, can be turned around.
First things first, take all that advice you’ve gotten over the years and forget it. Every person who has tried to tell you how to raise your spirited child… screw them! Every bad look you’ve gotten for letting your child throw a temper tantrum… erase it from your mind.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s move on!
You might also enjoy: The Parenting Skills You Need for Raising a Strong-Willed Child
Characteristics of the Strong-Willed Child
Spirited kids can be demanding, argumentative, emotional, and impulsive (I see you nodding your head to all of those things). But they can also be very intelligent, funny, loving, and sensitive. Strong-willed children are full of big emotions. They love hard, but they fight hard also.
Parenting the Strong-Willed Child
The key to being a good parent to a strong-willed child is maintaining that unique spirit of theirs. Encourage their strong abilities, but keep them grounded enough to not let their emotions run wild.
A childcare professional once told me “Spirited kids always end up being leaders. It could be the leader of a major corporation or the leader of a gang… it’s your job as a parent to guide them down the right path.” I mean, no pressure or anything, right?
Tips for Raising a Spirited Child
Let them make their own choices
Spirited kids have strong ideas about what they want. Telling them what to do and how to do it will only make them more frustrated, which will come across as anger and frustration. Let them make choices as often as possible. Just be there to help them make the right ones.
Don’t give them too many choices
So… which is it? While strong-willed kids need to be a part of making more choices, they also get overwhelmed if there are too many choices to make. Instead of leaving them to their own devices, give them 2-3 choices and let them make their decision off of that.
Give them predictable routines
Strong-willed kids need routine. They thrive in it. I’ve learned many times over that if I switch up the routine, if we go or do something new, it’s best to talk about it the day or two before. Springing things on them at the last minute incites panic in a spirited child and will throw their behavior into chaos.
See also: Guide to a Stress-Free Morning Routine with Kids
Don’t try to reason with them
Strong-willed kids know the rules and they know what’s expected of them. Every time they break a rule or act out, it’s for a specific reason. Trying to reason with them or explain what they did wrong will get you nowhere. It will only increase their bad behavior because they are getting your attention.
Redirect their attention
When you can see a situation starting to get away from you, redirect them. Often times, focusing on one thing that is getting them frustrated will just escalate to a point of no return. Recognize when this is starting to happen and redirect them to a different topic.
Stick to your guns
Strong-willed children will test you, and they will not give up if they are not getting what they want. If you tell them something, stick to it. Breaking your word even once will make a spirited child test you even harder the next time.
Don’t nag them
A spirited child only needs to be told things one time. If they don’t do what you asked or break a rule they know exists, they already know what they did wrong. They just want to interact with you as much as possible. So the more you nag, the more they get your attention and the more they escalate. Say something once to them and leave it at that.
Take time and listen to your child. Whether it’s about their day, or why they got into a fight with their friends. A strong-willed child will communicate until they feel like they have been heard. If you try to cut them off, it will only frustrate them more. They need to be heard. Listen to what they have to say, and communicate back with them.
Pick your battles
Strong-willed children will often need to test their own abilities. Let them wear a wacky outfit to school, let them go out in the cold with no jacket on. In some instances, they will just need to learn things for themselves. Chalk this up to their intelligence. They can’t be told how things work, they have to figure it out. So pick your battles, and learn to let them do some things that make you cringe.
Always use positive parenting
If you are unfamiliar with positive parenting, check out this book. It’s a lifesaver in learning how to parent your strong-willed child. It teaches you to ignore the bad and reward the good. Spirited kids thrive on positive reinforcement, so positive parenting is crucial to a happy and well-behaved strong-willed child.
Stong-Willed Children are Passionate
If you haven’t noticed by now, anytime you yell at your spirited child, they yell back, their anger gets worse and the situation elevates. It’s critical as a parent to a strong-willed child to try to stay calm even in the most intense situations.
They are also very eager to please. Give them a compliment or praise on a job well done, and they will go out of their way to achieve more.
Raising a spirited child can often be exhausting and difficult. But the passion and love they have can always outshine the negatives.
If you can survive their childhood, remember that they often grow up to be self-motivated adults who often become leaders. With every tantrum they throw, remind yourself you could be raising a future CEO or President.
I absolutely love this article! I have two boys who are very strong willed, I can totally relate to these scenarios and highly agree with all your tips!
You say this in the beginning of your article “The key to being a good parent to a strong-willed child is maintaining that unique spirit of theirs. Encourage their strong abilities, but keep them grounded enough to not let their emotions run wild.”
I could not agree more!
When I was a very new mom going through these roller coasters trying to figure everything out AKA how the heck I was going to survive my SWC 🙂 all of the articles I read really made me feel like I was an outcast in the parenting community. I mean I couldn’t be the only one with a SWC right?
Anyways my point is I really enjoyed your article and admire your parenting style. I look forward to reading more from you. Beautiful and informative article, thank you!
Thank you for your kind words! I think in the beginning, we let other moms and other advice dictate how we raise our kids. But after a while, it becomes really plain to see… every kid is unique and the way we raise them has to be unique too. Not every kid fits a mold. And the sooner we start doing what’s best for our kids, and not other moms, the happier we all are!
Amy Webb says
Gosh, I can totally relate to this! Both my boys are strong-willed and I use many of these tips. Thanks.
I can totally relate to it and the tips you have given are rally well working as I am already using many of these my highly spirited boy.
I just read this article while looking for advice to raise my strong willed toddler. She s only 1.5 years but she is very very strong willed. I feel exhausted as my husband is overseas and only comes once a year. Lately I found myself yelling at her and getting mad at her but I thought I maybe hurting her personality at such a young age by doing that. But many say we must correct them right away.
Your article helped a lot to clear my mind. I really want the best for my daughter and don’t want to paint a negative image or get her frustrated. Again thanks a lot your article gave me a new perspective. I was thinking either she must be a very stubborn toddler or I must be doing something wrong or i was not a good mum. Again thank you!
Oh my gosh, you are NOT a bad mom! But I know what you mean, I felt the same way. You just have a strong-willed child. And they need a different type of discipline than other kids. Even at this young age, focus on your positive parenting. Reward and acknowledge the good behaviors, ignore the bad. It’s hard at first. But I promise you… it will work in time! Strong-willed kids LOVE To please!
Are you sure you didn’t write this about my daughter? Scary…we even both reference the leader of the world or a gang!!! A friend of mine told that to me a long time ago and it has stuck with me so today to see it in your blog made me laugh! I LOVE the term spirited and I will use that moving forward! Great article 🙂
This! I’ve been struggling with my 4 year old daughter for like her whole life and I couldn’t quite put my finger on our situation but this spells it out exactly. Thank you for writing this!
Oh Mama thank you so much. I am a solo mother of a beautifully SPIRITED 3.5 year old. Most days lead me to my knees in despair. The only thing I can keep doing is reminding myself of the above tools. And that we will get through it.
Desperate Mama from the UK
Oh girl I feel you! solo mom here too. Remember the higher her temper gets, the lower yours needs to be and you’ll even each other out. Its tough, but you can do it!
One question. What do you do when your spirited child doesn’t do as they’re told
You say , say it once and then leave it but what do you do when there’s something that needs to be done?? I have an 8 year old daughter who is so strong willed, yet very sensitive just how you describe who ends up upset after Iv shouted at her.
With spirited kids, it’s important to remember NOT to shout (even though it’s hard sometimes!) because when you accelerate your emotions, they will accelerate theirs higher. So after you’ve said something once and they don’t listen, they get a consequence. Keep it short and simple. “Rule broken… you’ll need to sit quietly in your room now” and you’ll most likely be met with a lot of resistance and crying. Don’t explain, don’t bargain, just keep repeating “Rule broken”. Spirited kids resist at first, but ultimately they want acceptance and praise. So when she calms down, you praise her for calming down. Keep the punishments low and the praise high.