What I've Learned From Parenting the Strong Willed Child!

Parenting has a way of changing you, and most definitely humbling you; and when it comes to parenting a strong willed child? It can be the hardest thing you ever do in your life. There are many tears of frustration and concern as you wonder if the child will ever turn out right.

I’m still in the trenches of parenting a strong willed child, but I’ve learned a few things over the years that I want to share with you. This might be a little different than other child training advice you’ve read but it’s gleaned from real life experience as I’m raising 6 children.

Do not (I repeat – do not) expect to train a strong willed child into submission at a young age. 

I’ve probably lost a bunch of you already. You may have you read the parenting books (and there’s a lot of them) that talk about training your child’s will from the age of infancy. One of these books suggests that the proper age to begin training your child to obey you is 6 months (!) and that if you follow some simple exercises which are designed to break (!) the child’s will they will learn to obey your every word.

I don’t read those books now. 🙂 Seriously. I honestly don’t believe that even my 2 year old should be expected to sit through 2 hours of church service without a struggle. I’m not saying some 2 year old’s can’t do it, but my strong willed child? That’s not a fight I’m going to take on.

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When you are parenting a strong willed child you need to pick your battles carefully.I’m not suggesting you only make them behave part of the time, but some battles are not worth it. When our strong willed child was very little (under 2) we read the books that told us to train the child to come to us. The books told us this was one of the battles we must win and we took it – hook, line, and sinker. We put this child at the end of the hallway, knelt down at the other end and said, “Come to Mama! Come to Papa!” over and over and over again.

This child just stood there.

For almost an hour. 

Here’s the saddest part of that whole episode – it made us angry. The child had defeated us and the books we were reading told us that was not an option. If the child discovered that we could be broken with enough patience and tears, then there would be no end to the reign of their terrible will. What nonsense.

Sadly, we kept parenting by how all the books told us to do it for a number of years, instead of getting on our knees and asking God for guidance and direction. We finally threw the books out with all the “perfect methods” and started parenting our children in a way that more closely mimics the way the Lord parents us.

We’ve never looked back.

Do not (I repeat - do not) expect to train a strong willed child into submission at a young age.

Don’t Think The Perfect Age Is Coming!

I used to think if I could just hit the next stage. Surely by the time this child reaches ____ it will get so much better. We won’t have melt downs, and the stubborn behavior will be gone.

There is no perfect age. Even adults have adult melt downs (can you relate to frantically going into your room with the door shut and some chocolate in your hand? The children are strictly forbidden to talk to you for 5 minutes?!). While I believe gentle perseverance will help to bring you to better days with your strong willed child, the age at which those days arrive will be different for every parent.

Books Are Helpful, But They Are Not Your Master

People ask me for child training book suggestions, and I honestly can’t recommend very many anymore. Why?

I’m not saying that books on child training can’t be helpful, but anyone who has successfully raised even one child to spiritual maturity would have to confess that it was by the grace of God that it was done. Do we have a role to play? Without question; but what I’m trying to say is that the most successful parents are those that lean most heavily upon the daily grace of God to instruct them as to how they can win their child to Christ. This will undoubtably look different from family to family, but one thing will remain the same – the parents will win them sacrificially and not by force; which brings me to my next issue…

Parents should seek to raise their children up sacrificially and not by force.

You Can’t Spank A Strong Willed Child Into Submission

Again, many books will say if you just spank a child enough, or consistently enough, they will break and obey you.

You must be so very careful with this. I’m not going to dive into this issue very much (it’s one I’ve never felt comfortable talking much about online), but I will say I believe you can easily commit child abuse if you think your strong willed child can be spanked into submission.

I won’t trifle with the world’s definition of what constitutes child abuse, but let me say that even one swat in the wrong spirit is abuse in God’s eyes. No doubt, the scriptures speak to the issue of spanking, but I believe that very little of the spanking that goes on could pass as scriptural chastisement. This goes back to what I was saying earlier. The question must be asked – are we trying to conquer them or win them?

We are not perfect parents – far from it. The creative child training program we sell called Character Badges was actually created from the desire we had for loving, consistent training in our home. We already knew how easy it was to heap words of scolding and discouragement upon our children, which is why we focus not just on the behavior that needs work, but also upon praising and rewarding the good behavior!

Character Badges is a creative child training program

 

 

23 Comments on What I’ve Learned From Parenting the Strong Willed Child

  1. I have 2 strong willed, I lost one to a lifetime of trouble,he’s been in & out of prison,the other is a hard worker very mindful of what I say. I didn’t raise them different I raised them the same. I read James Dobson’s book, Raising a strong willed child.Good article!!! Thankyou, not an easy task!!!

  2. Thank you for sharing. It’s a relief to hear that we’re not alone in our parenting struggles. I’ve often wondered “maybe we didn’t start young enough” or “maybe we didn’t do things right”. But, while I’m sure we did things wrong, fact is we have a very stubborn child, so maybe doing things differently as a toddler wouldn’t have changed a thing.
    I tire of hearing parents who have mild, calm children who don’t give them much trouble talk bad about other’s parenting. And don’t get me started on those who are not yet parents! Some talk about how well their future kids will behave. I usually keep my mouth shut, but I just want to say “Until you’re a parent, you have NO idea!” The same goes for a stubborn, strong willed child…until you have one, you have no idea how tough it is! Sorry for the rant. lol I’m just saying I completely agree with you. Thank you for the reminder to simply seek the Lord, and to focus on praising good behavior. Those must be the most overlooked, and yet THE most important parenting tips ever.

  3. Well done, Caroline! I’m sure this was not an easy post to write, as it runs counter to a lot of parenting advice in fundamentalist circles. I’m in total agreement with you, as a mom of (currently) seven. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula, except for modeling your parenting after the character of Jesus Christ and praying that you are following His will in everything. Truly, truly a breath of fresh air – to find other bible-believing parents who don’t believe that parenting needs to be an exercise in authoritarian control. Bless you!

  4. I love what you shared here today. Amen! I think it’s so easy to get stuck in some author’s writings/books/advice and try to follow it all to the T. Each child is different, each home is different. That’s why I think God gave us principles, not an A-Z list to train each child exactly the same. I pray for God’s wisdom and the Holy Spirit to guide our ways. I really love Sally Clarkson’s books and writings because she avoids trying to tell you there is a formula to raising a child, instead win their hearts to the Lord and be living example of Christ yourself.

  5. What is your definition of a strong willed child? One that is hyper and doesn’t sit still or a child that is defiant to their parents? The Bible does give children two commands, 1. To obey their parents Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:23 2. To honor their parents Matthew 5:14, Exodus 20:12. Also, there are many instructions on how we the parents are to train and teach our children. We are to correct them in love, they need boundaries, they need to be taught about God and His Word and many more. I could add the verses for you, if it would be helpful. The earlier you teach them it is so much easier. It is like a weed with a small root that is easy to pluck, but the older the child gets, it is harder to weed out the bad behavior. I am afraid that mothers will read this article and do nothing about their strong willed children and life will be miserable for them and those around them. You are right, there is not a book written by man, that is a the ultimate guidebook. The answer is only in God’s Word and He says plenty about parenting…even the strong willed chilled. None of us are perfect parents, but we do serve an Almighty God and we need His wisdom to do this hard thing called parenting.

    Blessings,
    Mother of 4, including a strong willed child 🙂

    • To me a strong willed child is one that is stubborn and not easily given to instruction. We firmly believe in training from a young age, but just because you start training and teaching a strong willed child from a young age does not mean they will instantly be this model child by the age of 5. It takes much determination to keep going and to help the child see how God wants them to behave.

      • No, but they must be in the process of becoming a Godly child. Your article does not suggest that at all. I have seen a two year old be in a tug of war over an off limits item with a mother and the child won. Is that strong willed or the child not properly submitted to its mother? Your post may encourage mothers who are not training their children to think that everything will turn out okay when they do not guide their children to obedience.

        P.S. I will still enjoy reading your future blog posts 🙂 This has been on my heart lately and I am just trying be iron sharpening iron 🙂

  6. I’m so glad you wrote this post. I feel so sad when people feel the need to hit their children even when deep in their hearts they feel God whispering to them that it’s the wrong choice because they are pressured by a book, by friends, or by culture to do so. We have two strong-willed, highly sensitive children. We always set boundaries with them, even from a young age. But we make them very basic–only about behavior that harms others. As they get older, we have added boundaries and rules as they can understand them. But the thing we have done most is try to understand our children and see them as Heavenly Father does. I’m quite sure our loving Father is not looking down on us in a quest to dominate us, control us, or subdue us. He wants us to come humbly and willingly to Him with our hearts as well as our actions. We have never spanked either of our (VERY) strong-willed children and they are both regularly complimented for their obedience. I don’t take credit at all–only by the grace of God, like you say, can any of us raise children to His glory rather than for the sake of our own ego/glory/pride, which I think is what sometimes leads parents to try to dominate their children.

  7. I wish I could write more right now, but suffice it to say this post was VERY helpful, VERY encouraging, and VERY realistic. Thank you, Caroline!

  8. Well written. Good for you, and bravely done. I cringe when I hear the phrase “braking a child’s will” or “breaking the child”. There are enough broken adults in this world without breaking the spirits of the children too. Some children are naturally more inquisitive, forgetful, or just stubborn. As adults, that tenaciousness will be a gift if channelled the right direction, and that is what parents’ role is – to channel and encourage the energy and inquisitiveness for good purposes. If you work to remove the inquisitiveness that leads to inattention or slow responses when interrupted, and remove their tenaciousness, you will be left with a shell that does not think for themselves. Cute obedient robots look, well, cute as children but are not going to be the most productive, competetent adults. I say this with years of experience as my children are all in their 30s now. Love conquers. Remember the story of the sun and wind, and which one could make a man remove his coat the easiest! Sunny ways, love, kindess, wise teachings, good examples and a gentle touch. You are doing a very good job raising your lovely family.

  9. Such wise words. I have only two children, one with a very strong personality. But the upside is that I don’t think he will ever bow to peer pressure. 🙂 We are seeing too that we need God’s grace and his guidance on how to parent our children. Every time I think a certain book will be the answer, it never is.

  10. Thank you for such an encouraging article. I started out parenting my oldest (strong-willed) by these particular books you refer to and eventually realized this does not work for our family, especially our oldest. Oddly enough one does not need to be stronger, tougher, harder on the strong-willed child but instead gentleness and lovingkindness brings about better results. Thank you again for the encouraging article!

  11. I follow positive parenting which focuses on forming a positive connection with your children based around love and respect. It highlights the need to understand age appropriate behaviours and encourages you to draw limits and boundaries in a loving way. When your child feels loved and that you understand them they are more likely to want to please you (or at least that is my experience). It is a very different approach from the ones in the books you mention and may go too far the other way for you however there may be elements of it that you would appreciate.

  12. I appreciate your softer approach in compared with some of the more prominent fundamental ones. I’m thinking that your children are all pretty young yet. Having the perspective gained from time really facilitates more circumspect discussion on this topic. It would be great if you could host a mother or some parents who could speak from more experience, with children who are past the teen years. It could be just me, but sometimes it seems so presumptuous of mommy bloggers to be offering all this parenting advice when their children are so very young yet. Not that your thoughts are invalid, but your advice comes from a yet immature perspective and isn’t tempered with the diffidence of one who has SO many more years of childrearing ahead. Admittedly I’m not the age of the typical mommy blogger, so maybe this is just a generational thing! Iron sharpening iron, as the earnest woman posted earlier! Your blog is still lovely.

    • Our oldest is 12, so we have not hit yet the teenage years yet. I typically only share parenting advice when it comes to younger children, but I felt this really had a lot to do with the young years as well. There is so much training out there about training your child to have instant obedience at the age of 2. I’m not against that at all, I’m striving for children that obey me the first time. However it’s just a lot harder when you have a strong willed, stubborn child. So in that sense, I felt ok to go ahead and share what I did. It’s just what my husband and I have learned so far, and we have 6 children. I don’t talk about teenage years at all since we have not gone through it. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

  13. Thanks for writing this! It’s a touchy subject for some. My husband and I have been very encouraged by the Child Whisperer Solves All Your Problems (by Teaching You to Ask the Right Questions), for anyone looking for a book to help them.

    • I second the setapartmotherhood.com The blog is by Leslie Ludy and very Gospel centered. Thank you for this post. My oldest daughter is very strong willed. Thankfully the Lord got a hold of her heart and she is strong willed for Him now at 18 years old. Thank you for being courageous enough to speak on spanking. I love what Norm Wakefield says. God’s Word commands us to spank, but we must trust His Spirit to change their hearts. After a spanking, whether their attitude has changed or not, I will often pray with my children and ask the Lord to change their hearts. I trust that He is working in His time to bring them to salvation and sanctification.

      • Thank you for this comment, I really like your approach to spanking! Thank you for the blog suggestion, I really like Leslie Ludy and didn’t realize she had this blog!

  14. This is a really difficult issue. As you said, there IS no book (except the Bible) that is the definitive guide to parenting, and as parents, the only sure way to raise our kids for God is to seek His face. The details will doubtless look different for each family, but I firmly believe Scripture is clear in the teaching of spanking, reproof and instruction – all of which are equally important and often combined when discussed in the Bible. I agree that spanking in a spirit of anger, or just to “get my way” as a parent, is sinful, but I am unsure if your answer for that is simply to not spank? If that is the case, I would have to disagree. Either way, the strong willed child takes a much more time-intensive commitment, and a lot of prayer. We cannot ever spank our kids into the Kingdom of God, for sure! Neither can we expect our toddlers to graduate from tantrum-throwing to perfection. They will graduate (as do we, as adults) from one sin -issue, to a different sin-issue.

    Anyway, that kind of turned into a little mini-post of it’s own, so… sorry about that! Keep on pressing on to God!

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