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Parenting a Strong-Willed Child

Amanda Young, LPCC-S, LCADC, Clinical Director of Mary Kendall Community Services
April 3, 2023

Do you know a child who is self motivated, spirited, courageous, persistent, a leader, and a go-getter who is unaffected by peer pressure? If so, you probably are in the presence of a strong-willed child. These children are often described as "stubborn" and "difficult to manage" because of their outright push against doing what others want. These “spirited” young people know what they want, and are not easily swayed by peer pressure or by how others want things done.  

What are characteristics of a strong-willed child?

Characteristics of a strong-willed child include:

  • Selective hearing/ignoring warnings
  • Demands to know "why"
  • Stubborn arguing
  • Bossiness
  • Refusing to comply
  • Impatience
  • Making their own rules  
  • Moving at their own pace
  • Low frustration tolerance and trouble expressing anger in appropriate manner  
  • Assertive – they have a vision in their mind about how things should be and often orchestrate ways to turn the idea into a reality

Within the mental health profession, we often see strong-willed children labeled as “bad children.” There is no such thing as a bad child; in the case of strong-willed children they are simply determined to do things according to their own terms.

How do I parent a strong-willed child?

If you are caring for a strong-willed child and are feeling at the end of your rope, check out the list of suggestions for communication. And remember,  a strong-willed child will lead a very successful life as an adult. They will distinguish themselves with skills such as such as determination, passion, conviction, leadership, perseverance, collaboration, and enthusiasm.

  • Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings.
  • Provide a brief explanation.
  • Give one warning and a consequence.
  • Call for a Do-Over – have your child practice stating a need in a more polite manner.
  • Offer two choices.
  • Encourage problem solving.
  • Focus on the most important rules & avoid power struggles; utilize logical and natural consequences.
  • Be proactive – reward positive behavior whenever possible.
  • Make expectations clear.

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