9 Strategies for Parenting a Strong-Willed Child

Strong-willed kids require a slightly different approach to discipline.
Ariel Skelley / Blend Images / Getty Images

Raising a strong-willed child tests the patience of even the most laid-back parents. Strong-willed kids like to do things according to their own desires and according to their own timeline. The key to parenting a strong-willed child is often about working with your child's temperament, rather than trying to force her to be different.

Here are some strategies to help you parent a strong-willed child without breaking her spirit:

1. Acknowledge Your Child’s Feelings

Strong-willed kids are very emotional. They can be calm one minute and in a fit of rage the next. They throw temper tantrums and exhibit outbursts to make sure other people understand the extent of their distress. Validate your child’s feelings by saying, “I understand you’re upset that we can’t go to Grandma’s house right now.”

2. Provide Brief Explanations

Saying, “Because I said so!” to a strong-willed child will only make things worse. While it’s not helpful to provide a lengthy explanation, a description of the underlying reason why you’ve set a certain limit can be helpful. For example, say, “We can’t go to the park today because it’s snowing out,” will help your child understand that your rules aren't simply an attempt to torture her, but there's a valid reason behind them.

3. Avoid Making Too Many Rules

Too many rules will overwhelm a strong-willed child and reduce her motivation to comply. Focus on the most important rules only. Avoid power struggles over minor issues and allow your child to face natural consequences whenever possible. For example, if your 10-year-old insists she doesn’t want to wear a jacket to the store, avoid getting into a battle over it. If she’s cold, she may choose to wear a jacket in the future.

4. Offer Choices Whenever Possible

Strong-willed kids are more likely to comply when they feel like they have some choices in the matter. So rather than say, “Clean your room now,” ask, “Do you want to clean your room now or in 10 minutes?” Giving her a choice can help her feel more empowered and reduce her need to control everything.

5. Praise Good Behavior

Provide specific praise to reinforce compliance. Rather than saying, “Nice job,” say, “I really like the way you put your shoes away right when I asked you to.” Pointing out the behavior you appreciate can increase the chances your child will repeat those behaviors in the future.

6. Use More Rewards than Consequences

A token economy system reduces a lot of conflict. A reward system leaves the choice up to your child. Say, "Clean your room and earn time to watch TV. If you decide not to clean your room, and you don’t get to use your electronics." A token economy system will give your child a chance to earn privileges without feeling punished. Grandma's rule of discipline can also be an effective way to promote good behavior.

7. Stick to Your Word

Strong-willed kids love to argue. But if their nagging, begging, and pestering wears you down, you’ll only reinforce their negative behavior.  If you say you’re going to take away electronics privileges for the day, it’s essential that you follow through with that limit.

8. Make Your Expectations Clear

Strong-willed kids are famous for saying things like, “But you didn’t tell me that!” Whether you’re headed to the library or a neighbor’s house for a visit, set your expectations ahead of time. Make it clear what constitutes acceptable behavior and discuss the consequences for breaking the rules ahead of time.

9. Follow Through with Consequences

Sometimes parents avoid giving strong-willed kids consequences because they don’t want to deal with the aftermath. But strong-willed kids need to develop an understanding of when their behavior crosses the line. Negative consequences, such as removing privileges or time-out, can increase their motivation to follow the rules in the future.