Parenting Techniques for a Strong-willed Child

By Susan Revermann
Your strong-willed child needs to feel like she has some control.
Your strong-willed child needs to feel like she has some control.

Raising a strong-willed child can make your days seem especially long and difficult. Before throwing in the towel on parenting, take another look at your options. There are some techniques that can help alleviate the stress of raising a strong-willed child and help you keep a shred of your sanity. Don’t give up yet -- there’s work to be done.


As children get older, their sense of independence also grows. The strong-willed child is a perfect example of someone trying to show that he has control over his life. Instead of fighting this, make it work in your favor. Offer choices instead of demands. The choices should be two equally favorable options, you get what you’re shooting for either way. For example, you can offer the choices, “Do you want to wear your jacket or carry it?” or “Do you want to pick up your toys before your snack or after?” By offering plenty of choices throughout the day, your child will feel more in control and independent, helping to avoid a power struggle with you.


You need to establish a set of rules for your child to follow. It may be hard to believe, especially with a strong-willed child, but children want and need structure. This way he’ll know what is expected of him and what is not okay. Brainstorm with your child to come up with a list of rules and write them down. If he doesn’t agree with the rules, you should compromise a bit. Make sure the rules are tied with rewards and consequences so it’s not a surprise when he goes in time out for breaking the rule “Be respectful to others” when he’s picking on his sister. Once you’ve agreed on the expectations, rewrite the list in simple terms and hang the list in a place where he will readily see them, such as the fridge door.


The best defense for parenting a strong-willed child is to have a good offense. One of the most powerful things you can do to encourage positive behaviors is to reward that behavior with praise, recognition, smiles, hugs, kisses and attention. The Department of Pediatrics at John A. Burns School of Medicine points out that these are the most effective types of rewards. They also advise you to be mindful not to reward negative behavior, as this will reinforce that kind of behavior. Giving your child what he’s whining for shows him that is how he gets what he wants instead of showing positive behavior to get the item. For rewards to be the most potent, you need to reward immediately after the behavior and be consistent.


Although punishment may sound scary, it doesn’t have to be. The John A. Burns School of Medicine suggests mild punishment in the form of time out, natural consequences and logical consequences for misbehavior. If you’re dealing with a child between 2 and 12 years old, you can use a time-out. The Nemours Foundation says the length of the time out should be one minute for every year of age. Time outs are effective because it removes him from activities that he enjoys and stops the negative behavior from continuing. You can also verbally discuss the issue with your child. Get down to his level, look him in the eye, use a firm voice and name the undesirable behavior. Don’t make this an hour-long lecture; keep it short and to the point. Natural consequences work themselves out, such as being mean to his friend will end in the friend not playing with him. Logical consequences are logical, such as taking television privileges away when he throws the remote control at the dog. The Nemours Foundation states that you shouldn’t use physical punishment methods.