Strong-Willed Children: How To Nurture This Quality

My journey learning how to balance the needs of a powerful child


I learned early into the first week of Motherhood that my tiny 7lb daughter was going to be a challenge. She began her life on her own agenda, setting her own rules. I will forever remember the nights we were awake from midnight to 5am, because she simply didn’t want to sleep. Instead, she wanted to hear the sound of her amazing lungs for hours on end.

It wasn’t until about a year later that I officially knew, this girl is going to dominate one day. No joke, the other day, I was trying to explain to her the importance of waiting until someone is done talking and not speak over them. It was a lesson intended to be about respect and I thought I had done a pretty good job explaining, until she responded with, “But.. I’m the winner Mom.”

Some people call such kids strong-willed, others call them stubborn. I call them powerful, which as an adult, is such an amazing quality to have. So how do you parent a powerful child and teach them respect, while not squandering their spirit?

It is an incredible balancing act. Though can I by no means say I have mastered this challenge, Harleigh has taught me a slew of lessons in her three years. While these tips may not work for every child, they have drastically helped us. I have learned more about what she needs to thrive, and not feel the need to over power me.

Give Them Options:

Harleigh has a really tough time being told directly what to do. I can ease her frustrations by letting her make her own decisions, to a certain degree. For example, if its bedtime, she gets to decide which pair of jammies to wear. She also chooses which book we get to read as we lay down in bed. Giving her these options lets her feel like she is in control.

Advanced Notice:

I have found it is super helpful to give a “two minute” signal when its time to change activities. She needs time to process that we will be doing something new. If she is coloring or playing with her toys and I suddenly take her away to go to the grocery store, she puts up a big fight because she wasn’t done with her activity. Instead, I use the timer app on the iPhone, set it to two minutes and let her press the start button. That way, she is in control of when the countdown starts and has adequate time to wrap up whatever she was doing in her own way.

Explain Your Rationale:

These so-called “strong-willed” children have the need to understand everything. If she can’t find the logic in why I ask her to do something, or tell her not to do something else, she simply disregards the ask. It can be super frustrating to hear myself tell her to do the same thing 10 times in a row, I’m not a huge fan of this. I started following up every command with a reason… “Harleigh, don’t put that tiny toy in your mouth because Mama is really worried you will choke on it.” “Harleigh, can you go put your shoes on so we can go to the store, then the park after?” These simple explanations have drastically reduced her responding with the silent treatment or the 5 “why’s.”


There have been several times where Harleigh just needs me to hear her out, to listen to her side of the story. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my daily needs, that I forget she is a person too, albeit a tiny one, but with real needs and often pretty good logic. Taking the time to understand her perspective, instead of responding with demands, has really helped improve our relationship. Its pretty amazing to hear her opinions while she is speaking her mind. Now, just because she gives a good reason for something, doesn’t always mean she will get her way. However, she at least feels like she got the opportunity to express her concerns in a healthy way.

There’s a ton of other lessons I’ve learned, and some that I’m sure have yet to come. The four listed above have been the most impactful so far in our journey together. If you are blessed with a “strong-willed” child, I hear you. They can be challenging, but they will also change the world some day.

Until then, I will just keep learning and trying my hardest not to squash the beautiful spirit of my Harleigh Rose.

– Mama of Roses –

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