My wife and I are blessed with two strong-willed children. I don't say blessed lightly or sarcastically. While parenting strong-willed kids is challenging (parenting, in general, is challenging, am I right?), I'm excited for what the future holds.
So what makes a child strong-willed anyway?
Don't all kids strive for independence and push boundaries? Don't all kids test how far they can push their parents to get what they want? Yes, this is a normal part of childhood. All kids test boundaries to see how far they can go. It's how they discover safety and security. Strong-willed kids just exhibit these traits more consistently. This doesn't mean they are "bad kids." They're just determined to do things their way.
Strong-willed kids are passionate and courageous. They're natural-born leaders. They desire to learn on their own terms, questioning what they're told. They test limits, want to be in charge, prize independence and live life with the gas pedal to the floor.
As parents of strong-willed children, we have to balance parenting without breaking their will. I want my children to be successful, independent adults who care about and positively influence others. My job is to help prepare them for that future and to give them the environment to grow into who they're meant to be.
Here are five ways to strengthen your relationship with your strong-willed child.
1. Help them learn through experience.
Strong-willed kids want to learn on their own terms, not just from our experiences. They want to experience it for themselves. Let your child explore what they like. Let them push beyond what they think they can do. Encourage them along the way. With two strong-willed kids, I've learned that failure isn't the end. It's just a stepping stone to understanding what works.
2. Offer explanations as to why.
My daughter's teacher told us the other day, "I've realized I can't just tell your daughter not to go beyond the playground fence. I have to tell her the fence is there to keep her from getting hit by a car." Saying "Because I said so" doesn't suffice for a strong-willed child. They want answers and reasons. Knowing this, you can offer an explanation before they ever ask why. Slowing down and explaining the why behind decisions can help you avoid power struggles.
3. Stick to your word.
It's crucial to do what you say you'll do. My son may forget much of what we tell him, but he never forgets what we say we'll do. To be honest, we've become wise with our choice of words. We don't offer too many specifics because we aren't the type of people who stick to specifics. We are more free-spirited when it comes to plans. He's not. He wants the details, and he will hold you to those details. And if I don't do what I said I would do, he's crushed. To help your strong-willed child, be sure to follow through on what you say. If something derails your plans, explain what happened and how you can handle it together.
4. Offer choices.
Remember, strong-willed kids desire to be in control. This means when we want something done and we only offer one choice, they'll push back. It's their nature. They aren't necessarily being defiant. So the best thing to do is present two choices. If cleaning their room feels like a power struggle, present some options. You can clean your room now, or you can play for 30 minutes and then clean your room. Either way, the room must be cleaned. They can choose the time frame. When possible, offer your child choices so they have a say in the decision-making process.
5. Listen to them.
Strong-willed kids have desires, thoughts and knowledge they want to share. You, as the parent, may well know best, but they have opinions and beliefs they feel strongly about. Ask your child for their input. Get their views on a family decision. Including their ideas and opinions in family discussions makes them feel valued and heard.
Parenting a strong-willed child may require constant adjustment. Take the time to learn about your child's needs. You have the opportunity to help your strong-willed children grow into the natural-born leaders that they are.
Mitchell Qualls is the operations director at family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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