Parenting a strong-willed child is not easy, but I’m going to tell you something wonderful. Even though you may not feel it at times, you’re lucky. You see, I understand. If you’re the parent of a strong-willed or otherwise challenging child, it’s easy to feel that you’ve got the rough end of the stick. Whereas other children seem remarkably easygoing, yours pushes the boundaries of everything, albeit in different areas. If they’re offered one cookie at the party, many will likely take the plate.
Strong-willed children have lots of positive attributes.
But instead of wanting to drown your head in the kiddie party punch bowl, I’m going to tell you that having a “challenging” child is actually something to get excited about. That’s because challenging children or strong-willed children have a lot of traits that, while totally horrible when they’re little, can add up to be very useful when they’re older.
Here are a few possibilities for you to get excited about, depending on your child’s personality.
Attribute #1: Tenacity
So when it comes to parenting the strong-willed child, you know, for one, these kids hold on. I mean, really hold on. They’ll think of every way in the book to defeat you, then grit their teeth and hold on some more. This is a very useful skill when they’re mature. It means that whatever they try, they’ll hold on and keep trying to the bitter end. When you want to bang your head against the wall after three battles in a row, relax with thoughts of great entrepreneurs or artists, or if you’re still annoyed, a lawyer that simply won’t give up.
Attribute #2: Innate leadership abilities
Challenging kids often learn not to be backward in coming forward. They are more likely to put themselves out there with differing opinions and not be afraid of challenging the status quo. If they are handled correctly when young, they can make good leaders in later life. Perhaps they’ll be the next Prime Minister and you’ll get to sip a glass of wine amongst luminaries at 24 Sussex, or perhaps you’ll be filled with pride as they fight for the oppressed.
Attribute # 3: Super achiever gene
These challenging kids never seem to stop. They are into everything all the time and simply can’t sit still. They demand that something happen all the time and get very unhappy when they’re asked to wait something out. Their impatience is annoying when they’re little, but the drive to get something done gets to be a big bonus when they’re older. It’s just important to show them the benefits of slowing down and smelling the roses; otherwise, they can turn into workaholics. These super achievers can be terrific entrepreneurs. Think nice spas and boatloads of cash.
Attribute #4: Dramatic traits
Yes, we’ve all seen them—those drama queens of both sexes who have to be “in” or part of everything. They want to take the spotlight, and life seems to resemble the constant drama of a stage play or TV show. While they might be dramatic now, yes, they’ll most likely continue to be dramatic, but that could make them a terrific singer, actor, or entertainer. Maybe you’ll be like Adele’s mom or meet some great actor of the day at a post-production Hollywood party.
Attribute #5: Sensitivity
If you have a challenging child who’s super sensitive to everything—clothes, food, who looks at them and in what way—it’s probably enough to drive you up a wall. But remember something: they’re sensitive and aware, which means that if handled correctly when young, they’ll be able to show great empathy toward other people and their feelings. That means they might make wonderful therapists, nurses, doctors, or social workers. As you lie in bed drained of all emotion, think of your son or daughter’s empathy towards others, creating warmth and kindness everywhere they go and with whomever they touch.
Attribute #6: Super shyness
If you’ve got a child who’s super shy, don’t panic. While they’re not challenging in the strong-willed sense, they come with their own innate reluctance to join in socially. They may be withdrawn now, but the time they spent sitting on the periphery of the group is not lost. What are they doing? Well, they’re observing, and they’re learning to like their own company. They’re introspective, and later they might make great scientists, musicians, or librarians, or do well in anything that requires an interest in solitary study. When you can’t take any more of them hiding under the table, think of their creativity waiting to explode in fabulous works of art, music, or any other endeavour.
Parenting the strong-willed child: It’s all in knowing how to handle them.
So now that you have an alternate narrative for the frustration that you sometimes feel, I should explain how to parent a strong-willed or challenging child. Now you’ll note that in some of the personality traits above, I’ve mentioned the words, “if handled correctly.” Now that’s an important aspect to keep in mind because, whereas you can get away with a lot of parenting mistakes generally, parents of challenging children often have to be even more on the ball.
Challenging children, particularly those that push the boundaries, don’t tend to thrive in an atmosphere of democracy. To be honest, no child does, but that’s another story. In your strong-willed child’s case, that’s because their inner desires by definition push them into conflict with other people, and once they’re comfortable engaging in conflicts, it’s very difficult to get them to give up.
The key to parenting the strong willed child.
The key to parenting these kids is the same as it is to parent any other child—just more of it. Whereas some kids will happily accept your pinkie finger, strong-willed, challenging kids will likely take your arm. So that means you need to have a calm, consistent, and unflappable attitude in the face of their more stressful behaviours.
It also implies that you must be the captain of the ship at all times.Whereas with a laid-back child, you may be able to get away with the odd moment when you don’t press your point (although it’s a fine line), with a challenging child, every time they face your authority and you back off, you will make your life more difficult. That’s because challenging kids must know who the leader is. They demand it, and they won’t stop demanding it until you make it abundantly clear. You see, they are driven to push, and that means you have to firmly, kindly, and lovingly make your stand, even though it might be three o’clock in the morning and you can hardly keep your eyes open. You will also need to build in recovery time because challenging children can wear you out.
Parenting the strong-willed child: Stay strong and keep the end goal in mind.
When it comes to parenting the strong-willed child, I think the greatest piece of advice I can give you is to think of Holland and its dikes—the big earthen walls that keep the sea at bay. There’s an old Dutch fairy tale that features a little boy who notices water trickling through a hole in the dikes. Knowing that without plugging the hole, the water would pour through and devastate the town, the little boy held on all night in increasing agony until relieved in the morning by people alerted by a passerby. He knew that he was responsible for the fate of the town.
In the same way, you have to plug any holes that emerge in the face of your child’s challenging behaviours, hanging on until you are relieved by their maturity. Don’t worry, it will come eventually. It’s the same when dealing with the growing pains of any child, but immeasurably more difficult with a strong-willed one. It’s a tough job, but one day you’ll be able to watch those same traits that drive you nutty today blossom in adulthood. I believe you’ll think it was worth waiting for. For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.
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