5 Smart Ways to Discipline a Strong-Willed Child

Even though you are the parent of the house, it can sometimes feel like you are powerless against your child – especially if your child is strong-willed. It can be difficult to control these kids, especially when they seem to challenge and push every boundary you set.

Disciplining a strong-willed child may be difficult – but not impossible. You’d need to have the proper mindset and meet them head-on with respect. Give them power every now and then, and allow them to make choices. Stick to routines, and never forget to set boundaries. 

This article will first outline the different signs of a strong-willed kid. It will then discuss five smart ways how to discipline a strong-willed child that can hopefully make your life significantly easier.

Signs of a Strong-Willed Child

  1. Stubborn

little boy with arms crossed

Perhaps one of the first signs that you have a strong-willed child on your hands is stubbornness. Being stubborn does not necessarily mean that they disagree with you all the time. However, it means that they won’t back down when they do disagree.

A stubborn child is someone who is difficult to get to do things, especially if those are things they do not yet understand. Aside from taking care of their child, a parent’s job largely involves telling kids what to do. This makes it especially difficult to be a parent of a stubborn kid.

Optimistically, you can perceive this stubbornness as an early sign of a great debater. You might even be inclined to see this trait as an early sign of someone who stands firmly on their beliefs. However, that does not take away the fact that these children can be difficult to deal with now.

  1. Argumentative

It is perfectly understandable for children to question things around them. However, it can be tiring for parents when their children question every single thing. An argumentative child would question every order, demand, and task given to them without fail.

One of the reasons why these children lean on being argumentative is because these strong-willed children like challenging boundaries being set upon them. They would find loopholes and exceptions and find satisfaction in getting their way.

  1. Demanding

little boy making sour face at a park

Children want many things for themselves. However, there is a fine line between wanting things and being demanding. If your kid stops asking you for things and begins demanding, you know you have a strong-willed child on your hands.

Being demanding means asking a lot from other people. Parents are already tired from their busy schedules and parenting that having a demanding kid would simply add more load onto their shoulders.

  1. Impatient

Lastly, not only do strong-willed children want a lot, but they want it all now. They want their demands met immediately. They want their questions answered right away. If there’s a word to describe these kids, no word better describes them than impatient.

How to Discipline a Strong-Willed Child

  1. Show Them Respect

mother holding her little girl

One of the worst things you can do to a strong-willed child is to strong-arm them. It is typical of parents to get frustrated with these kids and simply resort to “do what I say,” “because I said so,” and so on. While this strategy may work on more compliant children, it can possibly backfire on you.

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If your child is as strong-willed as you think, giving them ultimatums is not the way to go. For them, this is simply another thing they would challenge. This cycle will keep giving them the power to keep being stubborn, argumentative, and so on.

Thus, you need to take away their power and show them respect. Even if they are just children, nothing in the parenting handbook says that you cannot treat them like adults. If they want to question everything, try and answer whatever you can.

By doing this, you take away their momentum from escalating the situation into something more aggressive. You will also be showing them that they do not have to be so aggressive all the time.

Show them respect by telling them why you want them to do something, how it benefits them, and such. These kids want a lot of information. It can get tiring, but this is one of the ways that can possibly defuse them. By letting them in on some information, you take away the wall they want to break down.

Showing them respect like this also achieves another important thing: it shows them that you lead by example. By respecting them, it tells them that respect is a two-way street. This would encourage them to show you more respect as well given that you are showing them respect in the first place.

Lastly, showing respect also means responding calmly to their outbursts. Do not give them the satisfaction of getting a reaction from you. Children are quite influential, meaning a calm demeanor from you can potentially get them to calm down as well.

  1. Allow Them Some Power

mother and little girl at the beach

Oftentimes, strong-willed children will argue and demand to have their way be done. It can be difficult because as a parent, you already know what is best for them, and sometimes what they want is not the best for them.

Despite being counterintuitive, you have to give them opportunities to have their way. This will hopefully teach them how your way was right all along.

An easy example would be bedtime. A typical bedtime for a toddler would be between 6:30 to 7:00 PM. As an adult, you understand why it is important for them to keep their bedtime. However, it is common for toddlers to resist their bedtimes.

If your strong-willed child demands to stay past their bedtime, give it to them. Let them do what they want. However, make sure to keep the same schedule the next day. Chances are they will wake up groggy and feel tired the next day. An experience such as this can let them figure out why they should not sleep past their bedtime next time.

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Another easy way to allow them some power is to give them control over little things in their lives. For example, you can give them authority over what they want to wear, how they want their hair done, and other things that would not really have a significant impact on their lives.

Understandably, there are some things that are non-negotiable. For example, their safety should always be prioritized. No matter how much they argue and demand, they cannot ride the car without their seatbelts buckled. This also extends to their diet as you need to ensure they are getting proper nutrition.

Giving them a little bit of power typically satisfies their need for control. As long as their control does not infringe on their safety and well-being, you should be fine allowing them some power.

  1. Give Them Choices

little girl wearing star dress

Strong-willed children are notorious for not wanting to do what you want them to do. A great trick many parents do to actually get their kids to do what they want is to simply give them choices.

Similar to allowing them some power, giving your kid choices gives them the illusion of control. It simply needs some cleverness on your part to get them to do what you want them to do.

For example, if you want your child to go upstairs, you can simply tell them to do so. However, that might incite a situation since you know they do not like being told what to do.

So instead of telling them to go upstairs, you can phrase it as if you are giving them choices. “Would you want to walk upstairs all by yourself or would you want to be carried up?” Something as simple as this can work wonders. Even though you are giving them the illusion of choice, both options end up with them upstairs.

This is something you can practice. For example, you want them to take a bath. Instead of directly telling them to take a bath, you can say “would you want to play after your bath or would you want to watch a movie after your bath?”

The illusion of choice is an incredibly powerful trick that can help you avoid arguments as they think they are getting what they want but in actuality, you are still getting them to do what you want. It can be a little sneaky but parents have to do whatever works for them.

  1. Have Daily Routines

little girl reading at a couch

It can be difficult as a parent to tell your children what to do, especially if they are strong-willed. They would perceive your authority and would probably challenge it. Another great way parents can get their strong-willed toddlers to do what they want is to have daily routines.

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Most parents would already probably have daily routines for their children to keep their life in check. Having daily routines is an excellent way to have a framework which you can pattern your lives around. It also makes it easier to get kids to do things when it is the same schedule every day.

Additionally, having daily routines can also help discipline a strong-willed child. Since these children would typically argue with an authority figure (like a parent) when asked to do things, it can be easier to get them to do things when those tasks are in their daily routines.

Daily routines can take the place of an authority figure in the household. For example, if 5:00 PM is bath time, then it is a task set by the routine. It can feel as if the routine is asking them to take a bath at 5:00 PM, not you.

In essence, daily routines would make it seem like the tasks they need to do are not coming from you, but rather from the schedule itself. This takes away heat from you and can potentially avoid an argument.

Furthermore, daily routines will eventually help them form habits. Eventually, they will no longer question why they need to do certain tasks because they already know those tasks are always done at those certain times. Outside of the daily routine, you can still let them feel like they have control.

Lastly, it is important to remain consistent with your daily routines. Understandably, there will be times when you will need to move things around. However, you must understand that a change in routine will probably be questioned by your strong-willed child.

  1. Set Boundaries

mother feeding her baby

It may sound confusing as most of the methods suggested above have been leaning towards giving in to your strong-willed children. However, it should already be set in stone that parents should always set boundaries.

While there are things you can give in to, you must be sure of the things you cannot compromise on. As mentioned above, safety and wellbeing are prime examples of aspects of their lives that you cannot compromise on.

Another area where you can set boundaries is when they are demanding. When they want something, how do they say it? Some parents would only consider giving in to some demands if the child asks for something nicely.

You cannot give in when your kid is being disrespectful because it would give them the idea that being disrespectful is a viable option for them to get what they want.

You must set boundaries on what you as a parent are willing to give in to. This is important as these are things that could stay with them until they grow up.

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