Surviving The Strong-Willed Child

Surviving The Strong-Willed Child -

Surviving The Strong-Willed Child –

I used to laugh when my mother-in-law, Darlyne, told me how my husband was a strong-willed child. That was until our daughter turned out to be exactly like her dad.

Darlyne used to tell stories about when John was a baby. She said he’d crawl to the nearest electrical outlet and want to stick his finger in it. She’d tell him no, gently slap his hand, pull him away, and yet he’d return. She’d do that over and over, trying to hinder him. She’d turn his attention to something else, trying to distract him. Finally, she’d give up, and she’d have to cover the outlet.

“But I learned as he grew that his strong will benefited him in the long run,” Darlyne told me. I believed her.

A scrawny high schooler, John was told he’d never make it in the Marines. So he joined. He not only made it, but he graduated top of his class. In the military, he stayed true to God, even when alcohol and women were readily available to him. All through life, he has lived as a man of honor and excels in his work. His strong will has taken him far.

This, of course, wasn’t comforting as I dealt with my own strong-willed child. Leslie was a sweet baby doll her first year of life, but things changed once she turned 2. She’d have tantrums if she didn’t get her way. She would hide behind me and refuse to talk when people approached her. If I gave her a blue cup, she wanted the red one. If I offered a cookie, she’d want a cracker, and vice versa. Each day was a battle—my will against hers. There were days I loved my child but didn’t like her that much.

The parenting class Growing Kids God’s Way helped a lot. I can’t remember everything that was taught, but here are some things that I stuck to along the way.

I narrowed my daughter’s choices.

Instead of offering a blue cup and her demanding a green one, I’d offer both colors and let her pick from those two. Of course she’d then want the red cup, but I didn’t give in. She had to pick between the two. This worked for clothes, snacks, and other things. I’d still give my daughter a choice, but I’d limit those choices. After a while, the battles stopped. She soon understood that I wouldn’t give in to her whines.

I prepared her for interaction.

If we were going to church, I’d explain possible things that could happen, such as people introducing themselves or commenting on her pretty dress. I’d role-play the correct response with her. And then I’d reward her when she responded correctly. I soon discovered that with some instruction, my daughter not only responded correctly, but she soon came out of her shell and became a chatterbox.

I stood by my word.

Even if my daughter disagreed or challenged me, I didn’t give in. I learned that giving in was showing her that a bad attitude would get her what she wanted—and that’s not what I wanted to reward. Once that no longer worked, she discovered that behaving well got her the best results.

I focused her strong will on positive things.

Academics, piano, and friendships – I gave her the tools to excel in things she was good at, using her will as a benefit. And when the going got tough, she dug in.

I focused on filling her love tank.

My daughter is a quality time and gifts person. She gets excited when I bring her a pack of gum or her favorite lip gloss from the store. She loves when I take her to coffee or when we go to lunch. As we spent time face-to-face, my daughter opened up about everything she was dealing with. She even confessed to some areas that she struggled with. I discovered that she wasn’t as strong as she liked everyone to believe. When I filled her love tank, her will weakened, and we built a bond that has remained for years.

Those are a few simple things that helped me.

As the months passed, my daughter’s attitude changed and I enjoyed her more and more. I also discovered her strong will did help her excel. At 22, she lives with two roommates in the Czech Republic, and she shares her faith with teens in a place where 90% of people are unchurched. When her peers are still in college, she already has her degree and moved on to mission work. Her will pushed her through four years of college by the time before she was twenty-one. Her will has helped her adjust to a new country and find ways to push through spiritual barriers in this former Communist land.

Looking back, I’m appreciative that God made her who she is for a reason. With a will like that, she’ll be able to do many things for God’s glory! I can’t wait to see what else God has in store!


God, THANK YOU for my strong-willed child! They have a valiant sense of strength. I’m honored to have the opportunity to instill valuable character traits in them. Guide my patience, my parenting tools, and my own sense of strength.


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  1. Leigh Ann Skipper says:

    Thank you!! This was very much needed today.

  2. My daughter is four, with an invincible will. My parents raised three strong-willed daughters, and I’m frequently calling my mom for consolation. I keep reminding myself that her strong will and analytical mind will be a benefit to her some day, though they make the early years such a challenge. Your example brought tears to my eyes as your 22-year-old daughter is an example of this point, and I am starting to discover ways to connect with my own daughter. Filling her love tank is so hugely significant around here. She’ll go weeks without a nap despite her tiredness, until I discovered I have to lay down with her at nap time until she falls asleep. I’m hoping this doesn’t last forever, though I cherish the bond. It’s obviously something she needs right now.

  3. Thank you! This was just what I needed to hear right now!

  4. I believe I have 3 currently on my hands and one more on the way that I do not expect to be any different. This is a great reminder of what we need to be doing as parents to love our children well and let them be who they are without letting it get out of control. Thanks for this!

  5. Excellent post – one I can related to. The more I stick to my word, the more my child trusts me.

  6. “When I filled her love tank, her will weakened, and we built a bond that has remained for years.”

    I really appreciated this, Tricia. Thank you!

  7. This brought tears to my eyes too…it gives me hope..I’m really struggling right now. Nothing is easy with my son..never..ever. He is 2 and very “spirited”..the new word for difficult. I always say…someday these traits will serve him well…maybe he will be a determined physician..or perhaps a dogged champion of the poor. Ah..but right now…it’s so very hard. I’m 45 and I am weary. But God hand picked this child for me and I am here for him always. You see, we adopted him after 10 silent and dark years of infertility. I firmly believe the reason we had such a long road to be parents was because I was meant to be Aiden’s mommy..and he wasn’t ready yet : )
    Thank you for this..I sit here typing with tears streaming down my son is so challenging..and I feel every ounce of his upset. But again, you have encouraged me. I can’t thank you enough.

  8. Thank you for posting, I found it to be an encouragement

  9. I am just realizing lately that my middle daughter who is 7 is quite strong willed. I’m a pretty relaxed parent that while they were growing up and even now I give them lots of choices. They’ve always been able to pick out their clothes no matter how mismatched, which helps when we do have a special occasion where I care more, like Christmas or family photos and I can say, you always pick, today I get to pick. Anyway, I have been having problems with her not being willing to do a task such a piano practice or homework. She simply says No. I can have a her in time out, for 7 minutes and she comes back with No still. I’m not sure what I can do to change her bad attitude about the stuff that needs to get done.

    Thanks for any help!

    • Reward her for finishing tasks! Even small rewards are very motivating!

    • My son is very strong willed, some call it oppositional defiant disorder. It has been rough to say the least. He is now 17. When my son was younger someone suggested we use a “yes/no” jar. Each time we asked him to do something and he did it a yes would be put in a jar on a piece of paper, if he refused or did not get it done then a no would be put into the jar. Then when it came to the times when he wanted something, like to go to a friends house ,watch tv or a movie, be taken to the store, have a cookie etc… We would draw out of his yes/no jar for the answer. This helped to teach him that he is accountable for his actions and the way he handles things in the here and now can affect him in the future.

      • That is a really good idea and something I am going to implement! My strong willed son is 12 now and, some days, as argumentative as ever. I think a yes/no jar would really help him see his own behavior in a new light.

  10. Thank you so much I n ended this to boost up my mood. I’ve been having a hard time with both my girls!!!

  11. Chamaine Bjornson says:

    Thank you! This was so encouraging for me to hear. My husband and I have two young, beautiful, smart, and strong willed children that challenge us on a daily basis to prove we are the parents God has created us to be. On the rough days, I wonder if any of us will even survive, let alone get it right.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been thinking a lot about Godly parenting and believe you have been part of my answer. Did you take that parenting class at your church or was it through another organization? If through a different organization is it still offered (I realize that it was many years ago so if you have no idea I understand)? Again,thanks for sharing.

  13. Thanks for the post. I am almost 4 years into this with a beautiful and amazing little lady. I don’t give in. Battles continue. I am glad your techniques worked for you. My little one is iron. Someday, I pray, polished iron. I am exhausted but oh well. She has an iron will but I have iron love.

  14. I can totally relate to this. I have one very strong willed child. The others have their areas where they become strong willed but it’s not all the time like my redhead. It can be so exhausting. But like you said, he is a determined kiddo and he’s going places. Once as a toddler, I told him to stop doing something or he was getting a spanking. He turned his little diapered butt around, put his fists in the air, and said, “I will fight you” in this growly voice. I about died trying to hold my laughter back. Ahhh… May we remember those moments 🙂

    • Hi Melinda. Your comment made me laugh! I am deep into the terrible 2’s…and let me tell you, they are terrible. Thanks for making me smile
      I hear three is much worse..ugh.

    • Ok, this was an awesome comment, I also have a “terrific two” who did not become terrific at two..LITERALLY the day she was born she was “H’angry”…ie hungry & angry about it simultaneously & has never stopped. She would throw down for food any day of the week & at least 6 times each day of the week. She turned two in Sept of 2014 & this being Dec. 17, 2014 can I just say nothing has really changed. All the advice for strong willed kids I generally laugh at b/c most of it is NOT APPLICABLE to my particular “blessing” I have found small choices are helpful & spending time doing fun things helps when the battles come, we both have loving positive experiences to pull from in the midst of her “moments” (that feel like eternity). Don’t assume 3 is worse, I have 2 strong willed girls the oldest is 6 & 1/2 & she is not nearly the terrorist my youngest is lol, but 3 wasn’t bad for her at all. You never know what you will get but God’s grace is sufficient even when I find myself flooded w/ tears b/c I feel insufficient as a mother of such a STRONG IRON WILLED child…I know He is even when I am not. Thanks for your story again, it definitely sounds EXACTLY like my 2 yr old. Blessings & Merry Christmas!

    • Oh my! These kids are going to be great leaders some day!

  15. This explains my daughter pretty well. Although, taking her out and trying to spend quality time with her never goes as planned. She usually defies me and runs off or grab things when I tell her no. We’ve left several places with her kicking and screaming (she’s got some pipes) hysterically. I’ve tried talking, spanking, guiding, timeouts and everything to make her stop and listen but none have gotten through to her. She is 3 1/2

    • Constance Washington says:

      Are you sure not talking about my grandson ? I dread going to the store with him because I’m not sure what is about to happen. He will run off and then throw a fit if I put him in the cart or in a stroller. He says I am a big boy. I put him in time out, everything I can think of and he wears me down.

    • Brittney, spend 5 – 10 minutes a day playing something she wants. Let her take the lead. Praise her, comments on her good ideas, and repeat what she’s doing. “You are playing with your doll,” etc. I think this will really help. When she gets her turn sometimes maybe she’ll let you have a turn, too!

  16. wow! So nice to hear that I don’t think I’m the only one going crazy with this beautiful “phase” our little babes go through!! I was/am a strong willed girl/woman myself and remember clearly my mother joking with me before I had children by saying, “you just wait. Your daughters (cause of course she knew I would have 2!) will be just like you”. Ahhhhh! She was right!! My 2 1/2 year old is a tornado! Anything doesn’t go her way it’s the end of the world even if I just by habit simply turn on/off a light switch. “No mommy! I do it!!” I’m very blessed she is strong willed and independent like me but wow this age is a challenge for me for sure! Very uplifting post and other comments!! Thank you!

  17. Constance Washington says:

    Thank you so much for the insight about strong willed children. I wish that I had this information when my son was growing up. He is 23 and still strong willed. He has two beautiful boys and one is very strong willed. I understand know that he just wants to be respected and appreciated. He wants to be listened to. Narrowing his choices will help with the struggle over breakfast and what to wear. I want them to grow up and use that determination to please God and be willing to step out on their faith.

  18. Amanda Kelley says:

    I am so glad I came acrossed this post! I have a very strong -willed, 8 year old girl. Your post gives me hope. God Bless you!

  19. Becky Carlan says:

    we have two strong willed…..a five and two year old. The five year old throws tantrums and whines when she doesn’t get her way, despite the fact we’ve never given in. We remind her that this has never worked, but can’t seem to end the tantrums..she also has a flair for the dramatic. Little sister is following in her footsteps. What do you recommend? Also, I assume for the “filling the love tank” you are referring to the love languages…where can I find this info?

    • The thing that works great is to praise every little thing they do right. The more you do this the more they’ll want to do good things. Right now she (they) get a lot of attention from the drama. Encourage positive behaviors instead through praise!

  20. Melissa Brown says:

    Hello Tricia, I am so very blessed to stumble across this post (including all of the other awesome and caring comments from concerned parents) as we are hitting a stage with our beautiful strong willed 4 year old daughter. She has always been very strong willed since she entered this world (and from a strong willed momma I love her strong,unique sense about her), but she has now for a few months been having some frustration and I do think some has been my doing. Before having her I worked with abused children as a social worker and (already being a bit of a pushover) I’d see what these angels I would work with had gone through and I vowed that I didn’t want to be harsh or negative in any sense with my daughter. Well with that being said,I think I’ve been maybe a little too easygoing with her and am now trying to correct my wrongdoing. I absolutely love the tips you haven given, and really appreciate your words for other parents out there. Thank you so much,it’s nice to feel like you’re not the only parent going through this. Melissa

  21. As the mom to a strong willed child, I appreciate this post. I love how you mentioned that a strong will is helpful as an adult. So true!

  22. I was a strong-willed child and did my best to drive my parents insane. I laughed when I read this, though, because, like your daughter, I graduated University with honors at 20 years old and am living in the mission field, and have been, now, for almost 2 years. I love doing the impossible and things people say can’t be done. I love conquering things.

    What scares me though, ha ha, is that my husband is also strong-willed and also did things everybody said was impossible. So our chances of having a strong-willed child of our own are high. So I’ll get payback for the times I made my mom cry.

    But I totally agree with the advice on this blog! When you get close to your strong-willed child, you get “on their side,” and it gets harder for us to fight. My parents didn’t discover this until too late, and my dad, especially, always had a fight on his hands if I didn’t want to do something or I wanted something that he didn’t want me to have.

    Thanks for the post! Congratulations on the strong-willed child! Here’s to hoping she always has a good fight to fight!

  23. I saw this article on Pinterest & decided it would be a good read. I’m so glad I read it! Thank you so much for posting this! A lot of the comments you made about your daughter and the relationship you had with her when she was young mirror what I am dealing with now with my daughter. I’m definitely going to try the techniques you used!

  24. My oldest daughter had such a strong will when she was little! Some days she had ME in tears as we fought against each other, and she held her ground. Then one day our Minister’s wife, who was a good friend, told me that she believed God had given my daughter her strong will because He was going to use her life in a wonderful way some day. That little girl has grown up to be my friend, and she is now in Bible college training to be a missionary. She has grown so much in her walk with the Lord, and she is blessed with a boldness to share her faith and connect with people. Next weekend, she is going on her first Missions trip. I am so excited for her. She will be spending time with children who didn’t grow up with the blessings that so many of our children know….the love of a parent, and having someone there to feed their self esteem, protect, and believe in them. I am so thankful for her strong will and backbone because NOW I can see that God was raising up in her a born leader. Sometimes tough times are blessings in disguise:)

  25. THANK YOU! I needed to hear this! My 5yo is EXACTLY this. I used to try to break her strong will. That worked against all of us. We are working “together” a lot better since I stopped trying that. This article brought me to tears. God has blessed us. God is good all the time.

  26. This comes at a perfect time. I have two strongwilled daughters, four and six. Our six year old, M, is generally willing to listen, and follow instructions, and has done very well in school despite her leader tendencies being labeled as “bossiness” by her teacher. Our four year old, A, is going to be the end of me one of these days. She has so much energy, and knows exactly what she wants and when she wants it, and if things don’t go acording to her plan and routine, she acts out in every way possible. My husband and I have actually considered having her evaluated because of late her behavior has been more than I can handle some days-he is disabled, and I am typically working or volunteering every day of the week while she is at daycare. I was pretty strong willed as a child, but in a different way than our four year old (though my dad still laughs about karma)-my mom, when I describe any of A’s wild antics of the week, will laugh, or offer commiseration, but since the child is different hasn’t been able to offer more than an observation that most of her stunts seem to come down to power struggles-she wants all the power to do as she wants of course, and we won’t let her. It is nice to read, even a year after the post, about someone else’s experiences with a strong willed child, and the successes. I know they are both going to face a lot as they grow up, and that their strength will be a blessing to them as mine has been to me. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

  27. I know you wrote this a while back but I am just reading it. This is something I’ve been realizing and praying about my 22 mo old daughter is SO strong willed. The tantrums and doing the opposite of everything I say is almost a daily routine for us. Even with all that though I still see how good and smart of a girl she is. She amazes me. I have recently started praying that God would show my husband and I how to parent the way she needs it and I am praying her strong will will be used for His glory! I constantly am praising her for her good choices (hugs,high fives,etc) saying that makes God and mommy and daddy so proud!! It’s so encouraging to here the story of your daughter. God and you are surely proud!

  28. Thank you for this. I have 2 children. My son (14) was and still is so easy. He goes with the flow. My DD (5) however, is VERY strong willed! Even though at times I struggle with it, I know that she will not be a push over type of child! She will stand up for herself and is determined to be self sufficient! Thank you for the ideas on how to handle certain situations!

  29. thank you, thank you, thank you for this article! My 2 year old daughter is strong willed and as exhausting as it can be, she will do amazing things one day! I constantly work with her and as tiring as it can be sometimes, it is so rewarding being able to see such determination in her. Such great advice. Thank you!

  30. Really needs to hear this today as my two year old boy is bulldozing our home! Thank you. I always have in the back of my mind that his strong-will would be one day channeled for his benefit, but it’s hard to remember on days like these. Again thank you for sharing!

  31. This is my child! (sometimes I wonder what I have done to deserve this?!? lol) But that strong will is what keeps her going with Cystic Fibrosis. She weaned herself off the ventilator WAY, WAY, before she was suppose to be off. She then came home from the hospital weeks before they said she would. She has managed to always do everything the doctors said she couldn’t do, This is a helpful article, I learned some of these tricks before I read it bc I would rather manipulate the situation than fight. However, I laughed out loud over the colored cups! This very thing happened to my husband yesterday. I must say that I just love where your little girl ended up, very inspiring and thank you for the prayer.

  32. THANK YOU for your encouraging words!!! My son (5) has a strong will. And – I´M FROM CZECH REPUBLIC :-)!!!

  33. Just because someone doesn’t believe what you believe doesn’t mean they are “unchurched”. Yours is not the only religion or believe system so try to be a little more tolerant. Have a nice day.

  34. thank you for sharing! I have a strong willed 4y/o who would drive me to the limits of my sanity!!! Slowly I am learning, with God’s help, to deal with him and to correct and redirect him with love and not anger.
    When he hears there are some people who do not know God or who do not believe in God, he will say “I will go and tell those people God exists and He is alive!”. Reading what you shared made me realize that his strong will will carry him to fulfill that same mission!

  35. Thank you so much for these tips! My 11-month-old daughter is very strong-willed (more than a little like her mom!), and I know from my own experiences that those qualities will serve her well when she’s older. But right now, raising her and teaching her is hard!

  36. thank you! this is so very encouraging. I was a very strong-willed child growing up. and even though I KNOW that having a strong will turns into a blessing if guided, it still can seem daunting and weary-worn and tattered. Because the Lord gifted me with two strong willed blessing girls. the variety God can create with strong will is a testament to his love of uniqueness.
    The girls are close in age (2 and 4) The four year old is independent (my moms nickname for her is “miss independent”) she always has to do it herself, no matter how hard. and she usually does. If she wants to learn something, she will. If she doesn’t that mountain will not move. The 2 year old is all about standing her ground. she will do this or that or have this or that she is an unmovable Force. she will stand firm thru it all;
    These girls will one day have obstacles to face and this stage is not so fun. but I know God gave them each differences in Will, because he know just what they need to make it in their lives. (Just as God knew I needed the strong Will of Independence to make it thru the struggle of having cerebral palsy, which can make every day tasks hard. but growing up I ALWYS had to prove that I could do that. so I taught myself to sew and knit the way I needed to. I had guidance, I just figured out how to do it the way I needed to. ) And seeing thru new , refreshed eyes (just reading and writing this, I see my sweeties (who are still up at midnight tonght lol) with more under standing. 🙂

  37. Jessica says:

    I am strong will too. The behaviours your daughter exhibited in her early life was similar to mine but no one understood me.
    However, it worked for me because
    1. I have been able to live with one man (my husband) for over 22 years despite serious threat of divorce from peers, friends and outright rejection by family even though the time we started this relationship, we were not christians.
    2. I have coped with 3 difficult boses succefully
    3. I am excelling in my christian raise because my focus is on Jesus and never on the leader or the ministry and I resfused to be distracted by the ‘bad guy’ attitude.

  38. Thank you for a wonderful story, inspires me to have patience and believe in my kids. They are 3 now twins, very strong-will also. I pray that God will guide us in his path. Is such a great feeling to read when people talk about God and their faith. God bless you.


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