What are some ways to parent strong-willed children?

Welcome to parenting strong-willed kids. I’m so glad that you are part of the fraternity and the sorority, because, you know what? We have some strong-willed kids. In fact, we had four children: we had four strong-willed children. 

You know what? There are some things you need to know. In fact, if you capture these three things, you can actually figure out how to bring the best out of your strong-willed children. 

The first thing you need to know—this is very important—strong-willed children are a gift from God. They are not a curse from your parents, although your parents may get a real kick out of watching this kid in action. They are a gift from God. You have a chance to raise a leader. So, don’t look disparagingly on them. They are a gift. 

Now, the second thing you need to know about strong-willed children is weak-willed parents. You’ve got to be strong, too. You say, “Oh, but they are relentless!” Yes, they are relentless. That’s why they are strong-willed. But you’ve got to be tough and strong and clear. 

There’s a third thing, though, that you need to know about bringing the best out of strong-willed kids, and this is probably the most important one of all. And that is this: strong-willed children want some say as to what is going on in their life. That is the most important thing. And this is where we get into trouble, because we think that the way that you deal with a strong-willed child is you resist every thing they want. No, no, no. They just want some say. And so, if you don’t give them some say, then they are going to ramp it up. 

Now, you are the parent. You have the authority. You are setting the agenda. They just want some say. Let me give you an example. 

Let’s say you want your eight-year-old son to take a nap. You’re going out that night, and you say, “You’re going to take a nap, because it’s going to be nightmare if you don’t get some sleep.” 

He says, “I don’t want to take a nap.” 

“Well, it’s non-negotiable. You have got to take a nap.” 

“Well, all right. But I’m not going to sleep in my bed, I’m going to sleep in sister’s bed. And I’m not going to take off my pants and put on my pajama bottoms. I know you say I sleep better, but I don’t want to do it. And I’m not going to cover up with grandmother’s afghan. I couldn’t care less how much love she weaved into it. I hate it.” 

And what that does is that sets three buttons off on you, and you fight him on all three of those things. You say, “No, you are going to sleep in your bed, and you are going to take your pants off and put on your pajama bottoms, and don’t talk about my mother that way.” 

How long does he want to fight on this? The duration you want him to take the nap. 

Now, step back, step back, step back. What is it you want this kid to do? You want him to take a nap. Who cares where he sleeps? Who cares whether he takes his pants off and makes a turban out of them? Who cares what he covers up with, as long as he takes a nap? You have the authority, you’re the parent. He’s taking a nap. He just wants to define some of the conditions. He just wants some say. And when you realize this, you diffuse the whole thing. You work with them instead of against them. 

Listen, you have got to draw boundaries around a strong-willed child. Otherwise, they will take over. But you can draw those boundaries and still make it peaceful. In the process, you get to do something that is a real privilege. You get to raise an extraordinary person, a person that can grow up and lead in the future, and a person that can go out with a great life and make a huge difference. 

Don’t give up. You’ll be fine.