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Strong Willed Child Parenting Strategies

What constitutes a strong-willed child or a spirited child?

For better or worse, a strong-willed toddler has a strong sense of independence. While this can manifest as being confident, self-assured, and determined, it also means a dose of stubbornness, difficult behavior, strong opinions, and defiance.

Strong-willed kids are persistent beings; once their mind is set on an action or behavior, it can be a great challenge to divert their attention. As any parent or teacher knows, dealing with these strong-willed kids isn’t easy.

Challenges of Parenting a Strong-Willed Childstrong

The biggest challenge of parenting a strong-willed child is that they are remarkably persistent in their pursuits and aren’t keen on being redirected. They are passionate beings and often live at full throttle.

The constant power struggles of raising headstrong children often frustrate and overwhelm parents.

Raising a strong-willed child is hard work.

child with hand drawn muscle

Why is My Child so Strong-willed?

Strong-willed behavior has its roots in a child’s temperament.

Temperament refers to the innate tendencies, personality traits, and behavior styles a child is born with.

Temperamental difficulties such as high reactivity mean a strong-willed child’s emotions are more intense than other children’s. At the same time, they have a hard time controlling their big feelings due to underdeveloped emotional regulation skills. As a result, younger children are more likely to act out during difficult times.

Strong-willed kids need to learn the tools to deal with their tantrums.

A strong-willed temperament is associated with disruptive behavior later in life. These spirited kids have a more difficult time adapting to transitions. They have more mood fluctuations and stronger persistence when they want things their way.

Should Parents Be Concerned If They Have A Strong-Willed Child

While temperament is part of the problem, the interaction between a child’s temperament and their environment leads to behavioral problems.

Difficult temperaments often result in unhelpful parenting styles and techniques. One of the most common is the ever-present power struggles.

A strong-willed child’s unbelievable persistence often leads parents to cave in because they are tired or frustrated.

As a result, strong-willed children learn to push boundaries in all sorts of creative ways because it feels good to get their own way. It can become too easy to focus on the negatives of having a spirited child, but the very same temperament traits that lead to challenges also have a host of benefits.

Benefits of Being Strong-Willed

Their persistence and spirited nature are key

Once a child learns to harness their persistence and stubbornness, the sky is the limit. Strong-willed children tend to spend more time problem-solving than their counterparts, and it’s that very unshakable will and high spirit that bring the world great leaders, thinkers, and innovators.

They are less likely to give in to peer pressure

They are more likely to stick with their belief system and less likely to cave to peer pressure.

They are more successful

Research has shown that a willful child is more likely to be successful in adulthood than their peers​1​.

They respond better to environmental influence

Children with difficult temperaments are more differentially susceptible to positive changes in parenting than other children, meaning that they respond more favorably to interventions and positive parenting strategies than other children​2​.

They teach us: Their determination and means of interacting with their worlds host a plethora of lessons for anyone involved. They constantly challenge us to pause, reflect, and reroute how we see the world.

Parenting a Strong-Willed Child

Choosing effective parenting methods when you have a headstrong child can be challenging. While it may seem easy to assume that adopting an authoritarian style over the child and demanding respect may be effective, this isn’t the case.

Even though yelling and punishing may seem like easy ways to stop children’s behaviors, they are not necessarily good.

This type of disciplinary method reinforces your behavior negatively, meaning the more you yell at your child, the more likely you feel like doing it in the future, which ultimately harms the parent-child relationship.

When a child has behavioral problems, engaging in over-disciplining a child becomes easy. This can look like a constant stream of punishment and ultimately lead to poorer emotional regulation and more behavioral problems in the future​3,4​.

Early experiences for children with temperamental difficulties shape later behavior, so it’s vital to find effective ways to work with your child’s temperament​5​.

Strong-willed children don’t like to be told what to do; they are primarily guided by their own will. Therefore, seeking obedience from a strong-willed child can be a futile path. Instead, focus on nurturing emotional regulation, building a trusting relationship, instilling confidence, and encouraging your child to develop self-discipline and social responsibility.

If your child believes that you want what is best for them, they will better trust your guidance. There may be many tests along the way as they push your limits, but you can learn to work with each other in a way that brings out your child’s positive qualities and reduces negative behaviors.

Parenting Strategies On How To Raise A Strong Willed Child

1. Give your child space to learn

How to parent a strong-willed child?

Strong-willed kids are experiential learners. They don’t want to be told what to do; they want to experience it and decide for themselves.

Take this approach – unless your child is in imminent danger, allow them to learn some of these lessons rather than trying to control their behavior.

2. Attending to your Child’s behavior

A good teacher praises good behavior and corrects negative behavior. Simply pay attention to your child’s behavior and praise or comment on appropriate behaviors.

Attending helps you learn a lot about how your child interacts with the world. Letting your child know you are paying attention to their behaviors is reinforcing. Comments such as “You hung up your coat!” demonstrate to your child that you are observing appropriate behavior and will increase the number of interactions you have that aren’t related to discipline or instructions.

3. Reward your Child

In addition to offering intrinsic motivation, such as praise for good behavior, strong-willed children also respond well to being rewarded with activities they enjoy or physical rewards such as hugs and kisses.

Choosing activities that you can do together, such as playing a game, will increase your positive interactions and serve as a powerful source to encourage making good choices in the future.

4. Pick Your Battles

Be selective over what you bother to address. When disciplining your child, focus on the worst/most dangerous behaviors first and work your way down as behaviors improve.

Learning to selectively discipline your child will improve their cooperation, whereas fighting with and punishing your child may undermine their desire to protect their warm connection with you.

5. Positive Parenting

Strong-willed children are often struggling for respect and autonomy. By offering your child respect and empathy, you will help your child feel understood.

Communicating that you understand why something is important to them and offering a compromise to their position can be a great strategy that allows the child to feel in control. Using inductive reasoning can also help them adopt more appropriate behavior.

Implementing appropriate use of time-ins and time-outs will also help your child learn that appropriate behavior has rewards.
Overall, structuring a relationship that clearly sets boundaries but also offers flexibility and respect for your child’s needs fosters positive parental relationships and improves outcomes for children.


  1. 1.
    Spengler M, Brunner M, Damian RI, Lüdtke O, Martin R, Roberts BW. Student characteristics and behaviors at age 12 predict occupational success 40 years later over and above childhood IQ and parental socioeconomic status. Developmental Psychology. 2015:1329-1340. doi:10.1037/dev0000025
  2. 2.
    Mesman J, Stoel R, Bakermans-Kranenburg MJ, et al. Predicting Growth Curves of Early Childhood Externalizing Problems: Differential Susceptibility of Children with Difficult Temperament. J Abnorm Child Psychol. January 2009:625-636. doi:10.1007/s10802-009-9298-0
  3. 3.
    Snyder J, Cramer A, Afrank J, Patterson GR. The Contributions of Ineffective Discipline and Parental Hostile Attributions of Child Misbehavior to the Development of Conduct Problems at Home and School. Developmental Psychology. 2005:30-41. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.41.1.30
  4. 4.
    Weiss B, Dodge KA, Bates JE, Pettit GS. Some Consequences of Early Harsh Discipline: Child Aggression and a Maladaptive Social Information Processing Style. Child Development. December 1992:1321. doi:10.2307/1131558
  5. 5.
    van Zeijl J, Mesman J, Stolk MN, et al. Differential susceptibility to discipline: The moderating effect of child temperament on the association between maternal discipline and early childhood externalizing problems. Journal of Family Psychology. 2007:626-636. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.21.4.626


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *