Deal with Strong Willed, Determined, Child without Breaking Spirit

determined-strongwilled-boyParents of strong willed children have my sympathy and congratulations. Why? Once upon a time, I was one of those smart, willful, independent, children. Then, I grew up and became the parent of a strong willed child. Thank heavens my mother was a good teacher and let me in on her secrets! If you didn’t have the benefit of being or learning to deal with an independent, strong willed child early on, you can relate to this parent’s call for help and the suggestions provided. – Kit

Question: I am the proud parent of two beautiful boys one is 8 and one is 3 almost 4. The oldest is a well rounded extremely intelligent child. My youngest is equally intelligent but outrageously strong willed. My most pressing question is how to deal with his strong willed nature without breaking his spirit. Everything is a confrontation and or a stand-off. Fits are a daily occurrence and quite frankly, I’m at my wits end. HELP!!!!!

Signed: Losing It

Answer: Dear Losing It,

The terrible twos last long after age two. There is the terrible threes, and terrible fours…The thing to remember is that at this age children are learning to exert their independence, and this sort of behavior is age appropriate, and an expected stage in development.

When a baby is born, it is so connected to mother it is difficult to differentiate the two as separate entities. When baby cries, mother feeds. If baby doesn’t nurse when expected, mother becomes engorged and uncomfortable. We call this stage symbiosis, when ones need flow into the other and vice versa. As the baby grows he will slowly begin to see himself as his own being. Around age two/ three this becomes especially apparent. Hence the exertion of control and words like “No!”, and “Mine!” become all too common.

This sort of struggle for independence, showing parents how grown up they are, and the increased need for control repeats itself during the teen age years. Beware! This is an unsophisticated version of what lies ahead!

I have to say I am impressed with your desire to deal with his strong will without breaking his spirit. Here is a good trick for 3 year olds.

Give him choices. Always let him feel that he is in control since he is making decisions for himself. So if it’s an argument over clothes in the morning let him chose between the blue or black pants. He cannot pick the light blue summer shorts, but he can decide between the blue or black winter pants. Make sure both choices acceptable to you. You get an end result that serves your purpose, and he feels “really big”. This helps you avoid arguments, and it’s a win- win situation. Make sure to offer choices so that it does not turn into a stand-off.

If you find yourself already engaged in a confrontation, although not ideal, you can still salvage the situation using the same technique. “Either you can walk out with me, or I will carry you out. Either way, it’s time to leave.” Once he feels that it’s up to him, nine times out of ten he will make a good choice.

(Incidentally, this technique works on husbands as well. If you let him feel like he is making the decision, he won’t accuse you of nagging. Men are more likely to follow through when they feel like this was their plan.)

Another important thing to keep in mind, is that if you are feeling frustrated, your three year old is definitely picking up on it, and milking it for what it is worth. If you feel overwhelmed, it’s ok to leave the room for a few breather moments before returning to deal with the issue at hand. It’s also important to invest in some “mommy time”, so that you can replenish your reserves, and have enough energy to deal with your young and active children.

Good luck with your ‘little man”!

Odelia Schlisser is a life coach with a Masters Degree in Sociology and a Masters Degree in Education, and is trained in Family Therapy. She currently lectures Psychology and Behavioral Science in Mercy College and has spent the past several years counseling children, teens, parents and teachers.


  1. Danielle Ohliger says:

    Has anyone considered that her youngest son may be autistic (more specific HFA or Aspergers Syndrome)? My 1st pediatrician told me my son was “strong-willed” but when he was 5 years old and having meltdowns and the “strong-willed” behavior became increasingly worse — we found out he was HFA/AS, this could be what she is dealing with also!!!!!!! Couldn’t you just let her know that maybe she should start asking questions about autism.