Connecting the Generations-Surviving a Strong-Willed Child

We were standing in the checkout line at the grocery store when 5-year-old Lisa picked up a candy bar and asked if she could have it. I said, “No.” She asked again. I said, “No.” When Lisa asked a third time the grocery clerk looked at me and said, “She’s persistent.” I replied, “Just wait; I’m pretty sure she’s not done.” Lisa asked me at least six more times for the candy bar. By the time we left the store (without the candy bar!) the clerk was shaking her head in disbelief.

Strong-willed or spirited children stretch their parents; there should be a club for parents of these children. There we would share stories and strategies, nod in understanding, and comfort each other with kind words, compassion, and large mounds of chocolate. We would meet every night, just so we could face the next parenting day with a modicum of hope.

Strong-willed children tend to see the world differently than most people – independent thinkers, highly creative and intuitive. They don’t set out to be “bad” or “difficult” but often get that reputation because in their quest to understand the world, they challenge rules, especially those that don’t make sense. I used to tell Lisa, “You’re right, it doesn’t make sense but that’s the rule and we are going to follow that rule. When you are grown up you can choose to do it differently if you want.” Now that she’s 22 years old, Lisa makes sound decisions and plays by the rules, by choice.

Self-control, delayed gratification, and respect are skills most strong-willed children should learn. Along the way, it’s important to help these children stay in touch with their strong sense of self.  Set goals; call upon their creativity, and inspire them to want to do the right thing (whatever that happens to be).

If you have a strong-willed child, work to maintain a strong and loving parent-child relationship based on honesty, trust, and mutual regard. Go out of your way to share a good amount of love and affection; it’s the glue that will hold you together when you are negotiating one more detail of life together.  Trust me, I know; I’m in the club, as a survivor.

Amy Sluss, RN, is an author and family-life specialist. Her recently released Coming of Age Series helps families address the important yet sensitive subject of sex and sexuality. If you want to teach your kids healthy attitudes about sex check out her workshops and home-study courses.