Does this sound familiar? You are helping your child get ready for school. You mention that it will be much colder today, so they need to wear a warm coat. Your child protests. They don’t want to wear a coat; they insist that they will not be cold. You try in vain to explain the ins and outs of weather forecasting to explain that it is, indeed, much colder than the previous day. They continue to resist wearing a coat. Finally, in desperation, you give in and allow them to make their own decision (but you secretly tuck their coat into your bag). As you leave the house for the walk to school, your child suddenly realizes how cold it is and begins to shiver. They finally admit, “I’m cold.” You turn to them with a glint in your eye and hand them their coat from your bag.
If this sounds like an experience that could have happened in your home, you might be raising a strong-willed child. Strong-willed children often have a bad reputation for being disobedient, stubborn, and ill-tempered. In reality, they react to the world in a different way from other children. They tend to be adventurous, fearless, but also highly reactive to their environment, and, of course, have very strong opinions about everything.
Let’s delve into the inner workings of strong-willed children and try to understand their unique approach to the world.
Strong-Willed Children are Experiential Learners
You might say that all children are experiential learners, and that is true to a certain degree. However, strong-willed children really like to figure things out on their own. They might go along with someone teaching them for a while, but soon enough, they want to experience it themselves. This explains why strong-willed children sometimes struggle in school settings. They don’t want to just watch a science experiment; for example, they want to do the experiment themselves.
This quality of strong-willed children also rears its head in daily interactions as well. Just like the coat example above, strong-willed children often do not “take your word for it” when instructed to wear a coat or do things a certain way. They need to know “why” things are done a certain way and, in many cases, experience that “why” for themselves.
This quality can be frustrating for parents, but it can also be an amazing learning tool. Strong-willed children tend to respond to natural consequences. For example, if your strong-willed child doesn’t see why they can’t wear sandals on a long hike, allowing them to wear sandals and experience the uncomfortable consequences will almost always end the footwear struggle in the future. Once strong-willed children experience the consequence first-hand, the lesson really sinks in and they usually no longer struggle with the rule.
Strong-Willed Children Bring Out Different Qualities in Their Parents
This idea often catches parents off-guard. We sometimes tend to think of parenting as a one-way street in which we make choices that influence their development. However, what science tells us is that our children are constantly influencing us as well! That’s right, depending on their temperament, different children evoke different responses from us. This may be, for example, why you tend to get along easier with one of your children than another. One child, based on their temperament and interaction with you, might evoke different responses from you.
Some research has indicated that children with a highly reactive or “difficult” temperament (the label researchers use for “strong-willed”) tend to evoke harsher or insensitive parenting practices. This may be because strong-willed children tend to demand more responsiveness and involvement from parents. However, don’t lose hope! This line of research also shows that how parents react to their strong-willed children has a great deal to do with how they interpret their behavior. In other words, if a parent interprets their strong-willed child’s reactive behavior in a negative light, they are more likely to experience stress and thus respond less positively to their child.
All this really means is that by trying to see your strong-willed child’s behavior in a more positive light, you can totally change the dynamic of your relationship. Although strong-willed children may elicit different responses from us, we also have the ability to consciously try to interact with them in a positive manner.
Strong-Willed Children Have Strong Opinions
If you are raising a strong-willed child, you know this quality is very evident, often from an early age. Strong-willed children tend to have very strong opinions about how things should be, and they are not likely to change them. Although this can be frustrating at times for parents, it can also be a very good quality.
Due to their fiercely held opinions, strong-willed children can also turn out to be great leaders as adults. New research shows that strong-willed children who defy parental authority and are less obedient are more likely to end up having more career success and earning more as adults.
Strongly held opinions can also aid children when dealing with common challenges like peer pressure. Strong-willed children may be less likely to “go along with the crowd” in social situations. Having firm opinions about what is fair and right might serve children well when experiencing pressure to do something unsafe or illegal.
They Have Great Potential
Above all, strong-willed children provide perhaps the clearest example of how every child is an open book full of possibilities. If seen through a negative lens, strong-willed children might be viewed as defiant, difficult, or troublemakers. However, seen through a more positive lens, strong-willed children can be viewed as adventurous, determined, and brave. As with every child, strong-willed children are full of potential. With guidance, support, and patience, strong-willed children can grow up to be amazing adults.
The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.