Who’s the Boss? 8 Tips to Stay One Step Ahead of Your Strong-Willed Child

Written by Debra Luben, M.D. on May 14, 2016 9:30:00 AM

Do you often feel like you spend all your time in tests of wits and endurance with your child? Do mealtime, bedtime and bath time turn into ugly power struggles? 

Strong-willed children can be exhausting and call upon every last bit of parenting patience you can muster. They can be stubborn, difficult and turn a peaceful home upside down. 

There Is a Bright Side


While I can’t deny these realities, I’d like you to consider another view of these kids. Their behavior often is driven by the desire to be right and in charge of themselves and decisions affecting them. 

Willful children often:

  •  Are self-motivated
  •  Know their minds
  •  Become leaders

Resist peer pressureHow to cultivate the positive traits of your willful child while keeping peace on the home front? The trick is to set limits, while respecting and understanding your child’s perspective.

Peace Is Possible


These tips may let your strong-willed child stay true to themself, while allowing you to get the behavior you want. 

  •  Pick your battles. Don’t sweat the small stuff and learn to walk away from power struggles.
  •  Put your child’s willfulness to work. Provide activities that exercise decision-making skills and control, like make-believe and building.
  •  Give positive feedback and never belittle your child for being who she or he is. If you need to give negative feedback, be sure it is about the action and not a personal attack.
  •  Be consistent about consequences.
  •  Rely on routines and rules to avoid arguments.
  •  Give your child room to choose – or at least feel like they’re choosing. Strong-willed children like to feel like they are independent and in charge of themselves. Direct orders make them balk.
  •  Be aware that many strong-willed children learn by experience. Just telling them something doesn’t always sink in.
  •  Listen calmly, repeat your child’s words and try to understand how your son or daughter is feeling. Try to see their point of view and respect it – even though you might ultimately not let them have their way. Remember respect goes both ways.   

Having a headstrong child is not a sign you are a bad or weak parent. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if it gets to be too much.


Is your child strong-willed? How do you handle it?


Dr. Debra Luben is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus clinic. Her clinical interests are centered on preventive medicine and wellness.



Topics: strong-willed children, how to handle a strong-willed child, tips for parents of strong-willed children

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