Strategies for Parenting the Strong Willed Child

“Strong Willed” kids often have terrific gifts that can develop into leadership qualities as they get older.  One of the primary parenting challenges can be the ease with which you can find yourself in a power struggle! Your focus needs to be less on compliance and more on giving your child the practice in verbally expressing her point of view, leading to a discussion of how her ideas will affect others’ feelings and to problem solve in advance.  Here are some strategies that can be helpful in developing new positive behavioral patterns:

  • Carve out time each week to just have fun with your child.  Shared pleasurable experiences are the “glue” for your relationship and your child’s ability to become more flexible in discussing his feelings and ideas with you. Ultimately, you want to discipline through relationship, not punishment.
  • Consistency in daily/weekly routines, sleep and eating patterns are cornerstones to your child being physiologically regulated and coping better.
  • Make sure your child has regular physical outlets, ideally 3xs (or more) per week so that she is not continually building an accumulation of stressors that lead to explosive interactions and inflexibility.
  • Talk in advance about what is coming up in the day or week. It is really hard for your child to be flexible once he is in the middle of doing something that isn’t agreeable to him.  Talking in advance allows for emotional expression and problem solving to occur before the situation becomes a challenge.
  • Plan and negotiate in advance! This gives your child a chance to build verbal negotiating and flexibility skills rather then becoming obstinate.
  • Listen and Empathize with your child’s perspective.  Encourage her to talk about her feelings and problem solve around them. Try to see the situation through her eyes.
  • Give your child ways to have control.  Let him be in charge of many of his activities.  Allow him to have leadership opportunities, both in and out of your home.
  • Give choices! So your child feels she has some control, and thus allowing her to relax and be more flexible.
  • Create predictable, consistent boundaries and stick to them.  You may want to start with developing “house rules” (a short list) with your child and post them somewhere in your home.  Develop the rules thoughtfully as to how they impact all the people in your home.
  • Focus on feelings not on complianceTake the time to hear what your child has to say.
  • Positively praise when your child uses good judgment and is flexible around other’s needs and feelings. We often forget to do this one!

Kiegan Blake is an Occupational Therapist, Behavioral Specialist and Director of Maui Center For Child Development. For more information, please call (808) 873-7700.