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How To Handle A Strong Willed Child

Do you have a child who just wants to say no to every request? Who seems to live to 

defy every sound coming from your mouth that implies action on their part? Who just 

takes stubborn to a new level? Well, it may be that you have a strong willed, and likely intelligent, child, who is exercising their autonomous tendency, or desire to think for themselves, by choosing an oppositional response to your request. So, whether it be their boredom with routine and the mundane, or a way to exercise their confidence, I find they tend to have leadership mentalities and value that, in children, when exhibited. 


​​So, a great approach is seeing the strength of the behavior versus the detriment. By 

focusing on such, positive reinforcement, even when accompanying the converse, will be 

easier to see and implement. This is because you are working WITH their strength than 

against it...and as we know when you go against someone who is strong willed, or strong 

in their mind, it can be “hell or high water” before they may relent...and when it comes 

to a time constrained world, many of us do not have time to engage in power dynamics 

with anyone, big or little. As a result, keeping an archetypical example in mind to apply, may be a help in mitigating the next power struggle that looms on the horizon. In this case, your child may not be interested in buckling their seatbelt. You explain why it is safe to buckle 

their seatbelt and find, instead of the WHY motivating them, it bores them or they tune 

out or flat out resist your pleas and explanations. What do you do? 


One option to consider is giving them a choice. They are natural leaders, it often seems, 

so to give them a choice is a way to work with their strength and desire to maintain a 

sense of control over themselves and/or their environment. Since safety is an issue in 

this instance, the request needs to be framed in the form of giving them a choice and 

must comply with the safety issue at hand – which is to put their seatbelt on, so they 

may be transported safely from Point A to Point B. 


In other words, the end result means their given choice must move them forward to 

comply with the safety requirement or result in the safety concern being removed as the 

core issue. Therefore, in this case, a choice (on your part) may be to articulate the 

child’s choice by presenting their options; and, in a succinct manner, so it is clear what 

you are saying and requiring of them. One option, the child may choose, is to put their seat belt on and proceed to said destination; or, not put their seatbelt on and NOT proceed to said destination, while concurrently losing the privilege of going, another privilege, toy, etc. Since planning a day, for me, includes articulating that along with the “boring” stuff to do, there will be an activity planned a child should truly enjoy as part of the itinerary, I am sure to 

include that information within the explanation of proceeding to said destination (or 

converse of NOT going to said destination). And, often, THAT information will be 

enough to see the right choice made and the child comply with the safety issue at hand. 

Another consideration, while implementing this option, is to not offer any emotions that 

may trigger a response and either escalate or perpetuate the power struggle. Display of 

great emotion may falsely convey a loss of control, or strength, on the part of the parent. 

This can destabilize the dynamic very fast if there is any loss of respect, concern about 

feeling trust or safety in the presence of the parent, or loss of clarity in the messages 

conveyed to the child if emotions are allowed to reign over the dialogue underway. 

Further, this establishes a model for who is in a position of authority and how 

authority should be utilized for the good of all involved, when a parent takes a more stoic, but supportive, approach to difficult situations and power struggles. 


So, as an overall theme, the idea of working with the situation, identifying the strengths of a 

strong willed child, clarifying options that will still work with the requirement at hand, 

but offer a sense of autonomy to a strong willed child is a great option to consider and 

utilize when needed most! 


Stay open, willing to learn new ideas, and let’s grow together! Evita E. has been a happy customer of Nanny2U, is mom to an Autistic Angel and now is writing, doing photography, videography and creative content, with every available moment in a very dynamic and busy life!

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