How to shift your relationship with your strong-willed child from fights and power struggles to connection and cooperation
If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably know that labels and definitions are amongst my notorious foes. Each day I see, in person, the effects of labels and definitions on children and adults and help them reverse and overcome the consequences of labeling. My feelings could very much be the reason for which I didn’t consider my child as “strong-willed” until very recently, and he is almost four years old.
Your Strong-Willed and Spirited Child
I often hear these labels through my practice as a parenting coach; “I need help with my strong-willed child,” “I can’t get through to him,” “he doesn’t understand me,” “nothing I do helps him listen.” I hear the frustration lingering through these parents’ words, they are so eager to find a way to lead an easier and more enjoyable life with their children, but nothing they do seem to work.
As time goes by anger and frustration, impatience and the lack of clarity impact their life, parenting, and relationships – because when we can’t seem to “make it” with the most important people in our lives – our children – it will affect every other aspect of our lives.
What’s the Problem With Labels and Definitions?
When our words stem from frustration, they start smelling of it; they pass the energy that we carry within us forward, and into the person who we are referring to. When “strong-willed” is said with exasperation, it becomes a label, and labels control the child’s free will and autonomy. Whether the child embraces the label as given, and whether he tries to do anything he possibly can to prove us wrong – he is controlled and ruled by the label. He no longer sees the light he – himself – shines upon the road, but rather – the outline or the indication to life offered to him by that external label.
Children often operate, behave, and even feel per the labels they are given.
Strong-Will – What is it All About?
We are all born strong-willed — every single person. Our strong will is our survival instincts; it teaches us what meets our needs and what doesn’t, our will allows us to embrace what makes us feel good and to stay away from what doesn’t.
Our strong will prevents us from following people and ideas out of peer pressure and the fake need to please, and allows us to stay true to who we are, to what we believe in, to our own values.
I want to ask you a personal question; are you strong-willed? If you are, you know how far this quality has gotten you. If you aren’t -you probably wish you would. You are probably wishing for the clarity to define your own needs and the courage to strive to have these needs met; you probably wish you were stronger in following your dreams and in fighting for what you believe in.
When we put it this way – is being strong-willed a “negative” trait? Or is it something we need to learn how to manage for our benefit?
Who is a Strong-Willed Child?
Strong-willed children (and strong-willed adults) are those who would fight longer and stronger for what they really want and need. They are less likely to “give in” or “give up” to the will of of others. They are fierce, insisting, brutally honest. They won’t follow orders or succumb to the general hierarchy. They would never do anything just because someone tells them to. They are funny and smart, sharp and quick. They are quick to understand, quick to respond, quick to decide, quick to act. They are leaders.
“Morality is doing what’s right, no matter what you are told. Obedience is doing what you are told, no matter what’s right” — H.L. Mencken
So, is your child strong-willed?
To me, all children are strong-willed. And with this understanding – we, parents, have two options: we can either work to break their wills, make them more manageable, easier to handle, more agreeable. Or we can nurture their strong will, make sure they never lose it by connecting it to the values that WE wish to instill in them.
Nurturing Your Child’s Strong Will
If you’ve managed to feel any of my words, and to imagine your child’s strong will as a crucial impact on the future of this world (no less!), here are 6 life-changing tips to turn your relationship with your strong-willed child into a relationship everyone will enjoy, while nurturing this incredible quality he was born with:
- Understand how strong-willed children build trust: the first person a strong-willed child will ever trust would be himself. For us, parents, this means that they will not just believe us that the chair is high or that the book is heavy – they would need to check it themselves. This is when we begin to power struggle – a battle of wills if you will. So don’t; don’t. Take into consideration that experiential learning is the most beneficial learning process. Want to learn how to build your child’s trust in you? Click the link.
- Understand that autonomy is the strong-willed child’s most prominent need: we all need and seek autonomy, but strong-willed children will surpass all our expectations. Don’t tell them what to do – help them reach the necessary conclusions on their own. You would save yourself the fights while nurturing your child’s decision-making abilities.
- Understand how counter-will works: counter-will is an incredible mechanism we all share that, just like our will, is meant to protect us from coercion. Counter-will is THE reason for which whatever we say is always met with a “NO!”. Here’s a great video I made for you to understand how counter-will works, and how important it is with strong-willed children:
- Understand the importance of authenticity for your strong-willed child: remember that it’s never a question of who is right and who is wrong. Your child doesn’t have to agree with you – ever. He does have to, eventually, do what you ask him to do – but he is entitled not to be happy about it. I know that this sounds scary, but you can and should encourage the expression of these feelings. This is how we all learn that life is not only made of the nice and the fun stuff, but we can always feel how we feel about the obligations that we have.
- Understand the importance of acknowledgment for your strong-willed child: as I said before – he doesn’t have to agree with you, and you – don’t have to agree with him. We can all agree to disagree and still do what our schedule/routine/rules abide us to. How? By acknowledging each other’s feelings with no judgment and with sheer curiosity. The need to be seen and heard, authentically, for whatever lives within us is one of our most prominent needs. When other needs can’t be met – meeting this need will save us tons of heartache.
- Discipline through connection: for their strong integrity, needed honesty, and strong values, strong-willed children will not agree to be threatened into or punished into the desired behavior. If you choose this path to child discipline, you will probably build a massive wall of defiance and resistance between you and your child. Instead – remember – there is always something that your child wants more than <whatever it is that he wants at that moment> and that is to be good to and for YOU – the person he loves most in the whole wide world. Once you begin using your relationship and your connection as the moral compass for your child to follow, you will soon realize how incredible your strong-willed child is, and how easy and enjoyable it is to parent him.
My Strong-Willed Child
I opened this article saying that I never even considered Ilay to be a strong-willed child until recently. And it is only my parenting approach that allowed my to build such a strong bond with him while nurturing his strong will and maintaining my own peace of mind and standing up to my own values.
You see, since the day he was born I treated him, his feelings, and his needs with the utmost respect. I considered him to be strong-willed before he knew that his will was strong, and I only saw it in an empowering light.
Now, at almost four years old, he is opinionated, smart, strong, honest, loving, warm, compassionate, cooperative, listening, and when he isn’t – he doesn’t have to be. And we respect him and overcome every hiccup without having any affect on our relationship.
Want to learn how this is done and practiced in real life? My life-changing course that teaches you how to build strong relationships and strong attachments with your children begins is a few days – sign up to make sure that you are there! Just follow this link 🙂
You’re also warmly invited to join my life and parenting support group on Facebook where I share many secrets on connected living and parenting.
Hope to meet you soon!