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Parenting a Strong-willed Child


Many parents suspect their strong-willed child is deliberately trying to drive them crazy. Difficult to discipline and seemingly impossible to motivate, these children present unique, exhausting, and often-frustrating challenges to those who love them. Cynthia Tobias knows a thing or two about raising a strong-willed child (SWC). Not only was she a SWC herself, but she reared twin boys, one of which was the quintessential SWC. In addition, in her role as an author and educator, she’s helped thousands of parents and educators learn how to bring out the best in their SWCs.

Cynthia says you see SWC everywhere. At first glance, strong-willed children might seem like they’re just stubborn, defiant, difficult and augmentative, but that’s not actually the definition of strong-will; those words describe bad behaviors as a result of strong will. “Strong will, in of itself, is a very positive trait,” Cynthia says. “A strong-willed person is not easily daunted or discouraged, holds firm convictions, and doesn’t often accept defeat. A person using strong will in positive ways is fiercely loyal, determined to succeed, and often extraordinarily devoted to accomplishing goals.” The firm convictions, high spirits, a sense of adventure—all the makings of a great adult, are wonderful qualities, and Cynthia wants to help parents bring out those qualities in their children, in a positive way. So how do you bring out the best in the SWC? Cynthia offers the following suggestions:

Top Ten Tips for Bringing Out the Best in a Strong-Willed Child of Any Age

1. Value my ability to see the world from a unique perspective. Find ways to appreciate and make the most of my strengths, even when I annoy you.

2. Remember, we need compelling problems to solve, not just chores to do. Don’t be the “big boss.” I’ll respect your authority more when you tell me the point.

3. Ask for my input; keep me in the information loop. Give me some ownership in the process and the outcome.

4. Protect our relationship—you won’t get much from me without one. Respect and value who I am, and I’ll cooperate with you most of the time.

5. Smile at me more often. Keep your sense of humor and try to smile, even when you don’t like me.

6. Don’t let me push you around, but don’t push me around either. Don’t be afraid to stand up to me; just don’t run over me.

7. Speak to me respectfully, but firmly. Use your voice wisely; it’s a powerful resource.

8. Choose your battles—don’t sweat the small stuff. Decide what’s really worth it.

9. Give me some control over my own life and circumstances. Allow me to share control without surrendering your authority.

10. Remind me how much you love me. Find subtle ways to keep reminding me your love will always be there.