Strong-willed kids are the type of kids who balk when they are told, “Get dressed!” These kids also cannot take “no” for an answer, and when their demands to go to the park or watch a video are not met, they can tantrum for a good long while. They also talk back and can get quite angry. Parents who have strong-willed children are often at a loss of what to do.
Here are some fundamental changes in your approach that can make a big difference:
1) Balance your authority with their independence:
Our goal as parents is to teach our children enough life skills so that they can manage one day on their own and be productive members of society. Strong-willed children already have a large dose of that independence, and it should be recognized as a strength. Remember that many of our Gedolim (revered rabbis) were strong-willed and, in a sense, mischievous. It is a sign of good character, creativity and persistence.
Many times parents think that we need to subdue our children and always make them listen to what we say. This is not the case. We should cultivate a child’s independence within reasonable limits. It does not necessarily have to be at the expense of maintaining our authority as parents in our homes. But sometimes it does mean loosening up a bit.
2) Let them make decisions:
Strong-willed children like to be in charge and want a say in how they run their day. Helping kids to problem-solve and schedule their day will give them a feeling of freedom, something they desperately crave.
It is helpful to say, “Dinner is at 6 p.m. What do you think would be a good schedule for you before then? What will work for you if want to play outside, watch a video and also play with your legos?”
This also slowly teaches them how to take charge of their time and responsibilities.
3) Be positive:
Try to view all of their behavior in a positive light. It is easy to see the bad. To really be effective with a tough kid you need to always look for the good in every interaction.
For example, if he has given you a difficult time getting into the car to go to school, but he did get into the car, you want to focus on what he did in the end.
Instead of: “You gave me such a hard time getting into the car this morning, it took you forever and you kept on crying and misbehaving,”
say: “You got into the car, you did not want to go to school, you were so sad and upset about going to school, but you did it anyway. That is called being flexible and following through.”
4) Teach them to speak respectfully to you:
You do want to spend some time teaching your child to speak your respectfully to you. So when you are both calm, you can discuss the hurtful things he says: “When you’re mad, can you tell me ‘I am mad,’ instead of, ‘I don’t like you’? ”
“When you are mad, is there something you can do instead of saying you are going to break your toy or throw it? That is not safe. I would love to hear your ideas.”
Managing strong-willed children can be challenging, but it can be done. Hopefully you will be able to reap the rewards when they are truly on their own.
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.