Strong-willed children are prone to power struggles. They’re outspoken and fiercely determined. As parents, it’s hard to face their challenging behaviour patiently. But in order to raise strong-willed children successfully, we must encourage cooperation while maintaining their spirited nature. This is how.
Rationalizing with my strong-willed daughter is no easy feat. At all. A perfect example was this weekend.
“I have the best idea of my life!” Her big eyes danced as her face filled with joy.
I’ll admit her enthusiasm piqued my interest, but I knew I could in for it too…
She stopped just long enough to tell me, “I’m going to set up a celebration for kids!”
That weekend, our patriotic plans were rained out. We were supposed to celebrate Canada Day in Ottawa, but the weather had other plans. 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. Instead, 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 to create the perfect ‘storm.’
Sensing opportunity, my five-year-old grabbed every carnival-like toy we own. She solicited the help of her brother. In no time, they set up our t-ball set, this miniature and incredibly loud version of whack-a-mole, frisbees, and lawn games. 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 broke it to them. Because of the weather was still dreary and we live at the end of a very quiet street, they likely weren’t going to get a lot of foot traffic.
With iron-clad determination, they soldiered on. Their calls for patrons echoed outside.
They waited for much longer than I would’ve imagined, 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.
The warnings did not help at all.
“No one is here yet,” her voice elevated with persistence. “We need to wait!”
In the past, this could have turned into an unending power struggle. But, I’ve come to anticipate this type of backlash.
Parenting two very strong-willed kids I am starting to appreciate how much their ideas mean to them. They have a plan laid out in their heads. Then, I come in and explain it’s time for school or bed. And they’re either furious or crestfallen. They oppose my warnings with a ferocity I both admire and dread.
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.
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 patriotic festivities. 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.”
Related reading: Why this is the foundation for all good behaviour
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 or devastated with my interference. That doesn’t change what is expected of them. It just means I respect that is isn’t easy.
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.)
Don’t negotiate when it’s not negotiable.
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. Punishment increases obedience but decreases their desire to cooperate with you long term. Research has shown that children who are punished have lower levels of moral reasoning. Meaning, they rely on external control to comply. Children who trust and feel respected by their parents are more open to listening to them and cooperating with them because they want to.
Strong-willed children can be a source of struggle but they are also a tremendous source of joy, vision, and enthusiasm. By integrating these techniques, my parenting has been smoother, my kids have been more cooperative, and we’ve been happier too.
For more great strategies for parenting a spirited child, check these out!
For another great resource, check out this post on ‘How to End Power Struggles with your Child.’