Tips for parents with strong-willed children

Do you know of a strong-willed child?  Is it impossible to get your child to go to bed?  Does your child struggle with taking directions from you?  If you’ve answered yes to these two questions you may be dealing with a strong-willed child.

Parents of strong-willed children are often left feeling frustrated.  They spend countless hours feeling guilty for vacillating between feelings of dislike for their children and questioning what went wrong to create such a child.

Children who are classified as strong- willed tend to be overly independent, stubborn, screams, has increased temper tantrums, demands attention,  is sassy, and can be aggressive.  As they become older, parents may report behaviors such as defiance, disrespectful and even verbally and/or physically abusive.  However, these same children when channeled appropriately can become kind, nurturing, are fast learners, and display leadership qualities.

The question is how do we promote more compliance and create a calmer environment from children that are stubborn or strong- willed?

Theresa Boswell, LCSW  a therapist at the Aurora Behavioral Health Center at the Aurora Women’s Pavilion offers a few quick practices to help a parent get on the right track:

  • Try to structure the child’s play as much as possible to avoid moments of unobserved frustration.  It is important to observe the child trying to make sense of their world, in order to assist them with the correct way to respond to challenges.
  • Physically interact and play with your child.  It is easy to become distracted in our busy day to day lives where we allow our children to entertain themselves with the ills of technology and media.
  • Ignore inappropriate behaviors.  Children will often engage in behaviors that are annoying, disrespectful and bad-mannered.  If the behaviors do not pose a physical threat to yourself or your child, ignore them.
  • The most important thing we can do to diminish stubborn behaviors is to “catch them being good” and reward those behaviors.  Rewards are often viewed by parents as paying a child to do something that they should naturally be doing.  However, social rewards are the most effective rewards.  Social rewards involve praising a child for good manners, acknowledging sharing with a smile, and a pat on the back for working hard.  These are the rewards that children yearn for and that parents most often take for granted.

There are many ways to begin to alleviate those frustrating behaviors displayed by a child.  It is important for parents to understand that you cannot create a strong -willed child.   Unfortunately the combination of one’s environment and a child’s temperament can influence problematic behaviors from strong- willed children. Specific situations such as divorcing parents, alcoholism within the family, inconsistent responses to behavior problems, and overall family stress can trigger strong-willed behavior in young children.

The most difficult challenge for parents is to recognize that they may need to change how they are responding and interacting with their child.  Problematic behaviors can be exacerbated through inconsistent interactions and attending to inappropriate behaviors.

If you’ve recognized any of these behaviors in a child and want further resources on how to deal with strong-willed children, contact Aurora Behavioral Health Services for outpatient counseling or access to the Child and Adolescent Day Treatment Program.

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs.  If you or someone you know needs help, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.

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4 thoughts on “Tips for parents with strong-willed children

  1. My (now 23 year old) son was a strong-willed child and we just rolled with it. When he was a teenager he was strong-willed enough to leave a party when alcohol and drugs were being used. In college he was strong-willed enough to continue training on his own after his college swim team was cut and became a state chanpion. When his grilfirend gave him the “internship or me” ultimatum he was strong-willed enough to say the internship was the key to his furture and there would be other girls……I look at being strong willed as a positive, you just need to be sure to teach them to be polite too.

    • Thanks for your comments Karen. I can tell you are very proud of your son. As Dr. Boswell states, “channeled appropriately can become kind, nurturing, are fast learners, and display leadership qualities”. Sounds like your son is an example of this!

  2. My son has been “strong willed” for quite some time. He is 9, almost 10. He started seeing a psychologist at about 3 or 4 as he was sooo much to handle. We still struggle every day. It is definately a challenge. He now see’s a psyciatrist whom we love and has actually been diagnosed with ADHD, OCD and Tourette’s. Also may have an underlying mood disorder. Behavior modifications are constantly being addressed. He is very smart and loveable. Very artistic and loves working with his hands. He definately thinks a bit different. He has great manors. He just has a lot of trouble being appropriate. (personal space, noises, etc) Because of this, he doesn’t have many friends either. We take it day by day. I couldn’t do it any other way.

    • Thanks for sharing your story! Connecting with a psychiatrist you are comfortable with is a great resource to help both you and your son. It is nice to hear that some of the interventions have been helpful to you.

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