A strong-willed child is both an incredible gift and an incredible challenge. Namely, getting a strong-willed child to cooperate is no easy feat. Find excellent positive parenting strategies to diminish power struggles and get your strong-willed child to listen and listen well.
“I have the best idea of my life!” My five-year-old’s eyes danced as her face filled with joy.
My daughter’s enthusiasm immediately piqued my interest. Anytime my kids get creative, it fills me with wonderment and appreciation.
She stopped just long enough to tell me, “I’m going to set up a celebration for kids!”
That weekend, our patriotic plans were greatly thwarted. Despite it being our nation’s birthday, the skies opened up and our capital city was hit with torrents of rain. It was disappointing to tell our Canadian-flag-clad kids that we couldn’t head out to participate in all of the planned festivities. After a week’s worth of rain, my husband and I agreed that the idea of being knee deep in mud with three young children wasn’t our idea of fun. So my husband offered to take our two patriots to a movie while I took care of the baby.
Once home, the rain tapered off just enough for my daughter to see opportunity.
Excitedly, she grabbed every carnival-like toy we own. She solicited the help of her brother. They set up our t-ball set, this miniature and incredibly loud version of whack-a-mole, frisbees, and lawn games. Soon, they had a face painting station and coloured ice for sale. To the uneducated eye, it might look like a very disorganized yard sale. To my daughter, it was coming together perfectly. She was finally getting what she had been waiting for.
With the front door open, we could hear them cry, “Come to our fiesta and get your blue ice! Blue ice for sale!”
Then they waited and waited and waited. At some point, I did break it to them that, being at the end of a quiet street on a dreary day, they likely weren’t going to get a lot of foot traffic.
With iron-clad determination, they persisted.
They waited for much longer than I would’ve imagined. They were convinced that kids would come at any moment. Sadly, no one joined in their fun. Just before dinner time, I gave them the heads up that soon it would be time for them to clean up.
When dinner was ready, just as anticipated, my daughter was demonstratively frustrated that I was interfering with her plans.
“But no one is here yet!” Her voice escalated. “I’m not going anywhere until kids come to celebrate!”
I’ve come to expect backlash, upset, and willfulness from both my two older kids. You see, my kids are determined visionaries, born leaders, impassioned souls, sensitive, and fierce. And while my strong-willed children are my greatest sources of joy and fascination, they are also my greatest challenges. Navigating the emotions of strong-willed children can be incredibly challenging. When you have to get a strong-willed child to cooperate, it can feel like you’re entering into a battle each and every time. These children have an unrelenting determination and a whole slew of emotions that come as a result of things not going their way.
[Related reading: Parenting a Strong-Willed Child: The Key to it All]
Fortunately, I have experience at my side. Additionally, doing research has helped me discover effective strategies to promote cooperation in strong-willed children. I will admit, it takes a tremendous amount of patience to parent them. However, I’m noticing our power struggles aren’t as all-encompassing as they once were. Below, you will find some of the most effective strategies I’ve found for getting a strong-willed child to cooperate.
End Power Struggles and get your Strong-Willed Child to Cooperate
Whenever you can let your child know what is expected beforehand and have her agree to your expectations.
It’s hard to always get out ahead of my children and their imaginations, ideas, and plans. However, when I can set out expectations in advance, I find my strong-willed children listen better. And if they fail to cooperate, it is easier to discipline them when they don’t because they have already heard and agreed to the rules.
Think of it from our own perspective. If I know what my boss expects of me, it’s so much easier to meet her expectations. Also, if I have broken away from protocol, I understand being reprimanded.
Connect, then direct.
Using my example above, I can apply this principle as follows. Before I ask my children to clean up their lawn party, I can show appreciation for what they’re doing. For instance, I could say, “I love what you’ve set up. Both of you are playing so nicely and have been so creative.”
(Below is an affiliate link for an online parenting conference. If you choose to purchase the recordings, I will get a small commission.)
In an online parenting conference, family therapist Susan Stiffelman advocates using this technique because we feel more motivated to do what is requested of us when we feel connected to the person making the request.
Make sure he feels heard.
This is especially true in the case of my son. If he feels like his fun is interrupted, he cannot move on until I’ve acknowledged how he feels. When it comes to both of my kids, I try my best to let them know they’re allowed to feel frustrated, annoyed or any other emotion. That doesn’t change what is expected of them. It just means I respect that is isn’t easy for them.
Direct don’t request.
I’ve made this mistake more times than I can count, but I’m learning. If we ask a strong-willed child to cooperate, the answer more often than not will be no. As a result, it is much more efficient to politely tell them what to do. For instance, “It’s time to clean up, please” is much more effective than, “Can you clean up?” (Find examples like this here.)
[Related reading: Positive vs. Negative Language and the Impact on our Children]
When I start negotiating with my strong-willed kids, I enter into a power struggle. Two of my favourite strategies to avoid power struggles are:
- to wait as long as it takes for their cooperation, and
- to give them two options with the same outcome.
The former works the best when there is an experience they are looking forward to that they cannot participate in until they listen to me. For example, my kids have to clean up before we go to the park. And I will make a point of waiting as long as needed for them to comply.
In a case where they aren’t motivated to move onto the next event, I love giving them two choices with the same outcome. Why? My kids feel like they are in control and they agree to what you’ve directed them to do.
Because I want my strong-willed children to listen and cooperate, I need their trust and motivation. Research has shown that children who are punished have lower levels of moral reasoning. Children who trust and feel respected by their parents are more open to listening to them.
These strategies are wonderful ways to diminish power struggles and encourage your strong-willed child to cooperate.
For more great strategies for parenting a spirited child, check these out!