Is your child always testing your limits? Congratulations, you are probably the parent of a strong-willed child! You might think that she is stubborn and difficult. But, you may also want to consider that she is curious and self-motivated. Strong willed children are brave and not afraid to try new things for themselves. Parenting a strong-willed child is about learning to let go a little, and figuring out how to see things from your child’s point of view.

Here is some advice to help you parent your determined and spirited child:

  • Don’t get into power struggles
  • Giving choices
  • Let her experiment for herself
  • Controlled independence
  • Emotions and behavior are always side by side
  • Helping using her words
  • Empathy



girl dressed as a fighter

Don’t get into a power struggle. Strong willed children often try to argue everything that you tell them to do. Pick your battles. Be creative. Tell them “I understand how you feel, let’s work this out”. Negotiation skills are important in adult life. Strong willed children “know what they want”, so you can teach your child how to explain why she needs it to be that way. It helps if they feel understood. Example: “I hear you don’t want to take a bath. Can you tell me why?” One mom recently told us her child was afraid she would go down the drain with the water. The mom would have never known if she hadn’t asked “why?”

toddler at the beach chosing between toys

Giving choices to your strong-willed child can help with cooperation. Strong willed children don’t like being told what to do. Don’t intimidate them. Punishment usually doesn’t work. Strong willed children don’t obey because you are bigger and stronger. They will only obey because they understand and trust what you are saying. Remember that you are raising someone who doesn’t like to be influenced by someone else. For an example, when it’s time to go to school, you can say “what do you want to put on first? Your pants or your shirt?” In that way, your child can feel he made some choices about getting dressed.

toddler looking out the window

Strong willed children love to learn, but they don’t necessarily like being taught. They are curious. Let them experiment for themselves.

If your strong-willed child feels he is in control, he will cooperate. Give him “controlled independence” saying things like: “It’s bed time! What do you need to do?”. This also teaches your child responsibility. Having routines and rules helps them to know what to do without you having to tell them to.

internet meme with twin babys written "and the mom said... we're going to sleep in our own room tonight!"

Having a strong-willed child means that emotions and behavior are always side by side. You must be an emotional coach and teach your child how to deal with his/hers “big feelings”. Connect with him so he can learn though influence and modeling, and not through punishment. If she/he crosses the line give him love and patience, set the example. Show your child that you can control your emotions and don’t create a push-back situation.

A great question to ask is: “Can you tell me more about your feelings?”. Remember to teach your strong-willed child to express herself using her words. Not only when you are in a power struggle, but always. Listen to what she has to say. She needs to know that you care about her opinions.

father and toddler son sitting on the grass looking at the sky, son is pointing with his finger

The key to parenting a strong-willed child is empathy. Try to see things from your child’s point of view. Keep in mind that your strong-willed child has determination. He is adventurous and will do impressive things in the future!

Wrote by: Marilee Hartling & Paula Boscardin

Need help parenting your strong willed child?

Marilee’s passion is help parents adjust to the joys and challenges of parenting their infants and toddlers.