When we talk about a strong willed child we tend to think in terms of loud and forceful behaviour that doesn’t conform to society.  The parenting catch cry for these children has been ‘don’t break their spirit’ and out of fear of that happening we let these children continue to be loud, forceful and to some degree disrespectful of society around them.  No child’s spirit should be broken – that really isn’t the issue (unless you are a bully-parent).  Our catch cry should be Build the spirit of the strong willed child.

The difference comes as we understand the word ‘spirit’.  Usually we see their attitude and their passion as their ‘spirit’ but that is only the outworking of their spirit.  Everyone’s actions come out of their heart – how you live out your heart will be shaped by your personality – and in this case these strong willed people will live out what is in their heart with passion, force, and strength.

The role of a parent with any child is to teach and train their children’s heart so that they can run their unique path that is ahead of them.  A strong willed child left to their own devices will be as selfish and self centered as the weak willed child – the heart is the issue.  It is our job as parents to teach and train the hearts of our children – in the way in which they should go.

  • A strong willed child need to be other’s centered.
  • A strong willed child needs to show self control.
  • A strong willed child needs to be responsible.


And when we teach the heart – they can do those things with a strength and passion that others may lack.

The way we teach the heart is by identifying a moral truth, belief, or skill that is missing and defining what it means, why it is important and how it looks.  We then need to put that into practice.  Remember what the heart believes affects our actions.  Toddlers and pre-schoolers especially need to see truth in action for them to start to understand, though older children need to see truth in action to accept it as truth otherwise they see hypocrisy.

Teaching heart issues to the strong willed child is no different than teaching it to any other child – we need to model, teach, practice and expect – but the journey through these different steps will be different – and that is the whole reason we talk about the strong willed child.  Parenting them is exhausting and confronting.  But it is important that we first understand that it is the heart we are teaching, not conformity.  We don’t want to change who they are in terms of their passion and strength for life – but we do want their heart to be towards God and other people.


Understanding the Strong Willed Child

When we understand the strong willed child we can start to think through heart focused parenting strategies that will help this individual child.

1—They want to be in control.  The strong willed child wants to be in control of his own life and this is where most the conflict comes from.  From a Christian perspective – God will use a strong willed person, but He still expects to be obeyed.  So it isn’t about just letting a strong willed child be the boss of his own life, regardless of his desire to be the boss, he isn’t.  The thing is, if we take our role of authority with an iron rod our strong willed child reacts – strongly!  We back down, and they take control.  Not a win-win situation.  Instead we need to be firm, but gentle. The best way to establish this in our home, and in the life of our little strong willed person, is to be intentional and consistent.  A strong willed child will take advantage of your indecision so you must think ahead of time and be prepared to live that out – even at personal cost.

2—They want to choose.  Every time we expect obedience we are giving our children a choice – will I or won’t I obey?  It is helpful to articulate this choice to the strong willed child.  You have a choice – you can obey me, or not obey.  When you obey you will be doing the right thing (whatever that is), but if you choose to not obey then this is what will happen (insert consequence).   Our children have the choice but they cannot choose the consequences.

3—They need to be real.  Strong will children are experiential learners – they need to see the truth of what you are saying.  So show them.  Show them the dangers, show them how to act, show them tangible examples of the abstract things you want them to understand.

4—They want to be independentI can do it – is the mindset of the strong willed child – even if they can’t!  This attitude should be a trigger to a parent to make sure that we are teaching them the skills to do it.  Now, they may not in all honesty be able to do it yet but if they can we must be diligent to push their skills.  It is important for us to discern between physical skills and moral choices.  They may not have the moral capacity to go shopping on their own, though they have the physical capacity to walk by themselves.


Parents of the Strong Willed Child

Parents need to be

  • Intentional – you need to know what is an appropriate expectation on your child and always be stretching then to learn new things. You need to know what your boundaries are – what is your line in the sand – the absolutes.
  • Consistent – Consistency creates a sense of routine and that way the routine is the boss, not you.
  • Discerning – choose your battles.  We need to know what is important, why it is important and not budge.  But not everything falls into this category.
  • Refreshed – In the early years a strong willed child is exhausting, both physically and emotionally. You need to make sure that you find time to sleep, eat, and refresh.


We need to stop seeing the strong willed child as a threat to our parenting, or as a child that needs to be fixed, albeit with kid gloves out of a fear of ‘breaking’ them!  These kids are little people who are determined to be self-governing – we just have to give them the moral understanding and the life skills to do so.

Over to you

What has worked for you when it comes to your strong-willed child?


  1. Ruthie Gray

    Wonderful post, Belinda! I totally agree. Yes, parenting the strong willed child is exhausting and confronting (and I HATE confrontation), yet SO necessary. God sure did teach me this in the teen years. Wow.

    And now, my strong-willed child has her own strong-willed child! And we are doing it all over again – and I needed these reminders. Consistency and confrontation are key, as well as firmness and gentleness. We have a ways to go with the Tornado, but he is learning, thanks to his parent’s learning consistency is key.

    Thanks for linking with us again at Tuesday Talk! Tweeted and Pinned!

    • Belinda

      Thanks for sharing this post Ruthie. You mentioned Gentleness – this too has been a key. It seems like any intense reaction on our behalf intensifies their reaction. Gentleness in our voice and our actions.

  2. Wendy

    Thank you for linking up with us on Hip Homeschool Moms! Two of my children are very strong willed, and it’s a great point you make about not thinking of these children as if they need to be “fixed” or as a threat to our parenting! I hadn’t ever really realized that I’ve often thought of them in just that way. I’m so glad you shared this article with us! I found it to be very helpful and encouraging.

    • Belinda

      I’m so glad Wendy – thanks for stopping by and sharing some of your story.

  3. Elizabeth

    How would one handle this situation…I have a 3 1/2 year old girl. Everytime we go to the store to “look” She ends up throwing massive fit when we leave, in the car, till we get home….I’ve stopped taking her to the store for a while, I’ve spanked her, I’ve tried explaining thing ahead of time to prepare her…nothing works. Same thing happens most of the time when it’s time to leave someone’s house. Also we went to the zoo a couple days ago and she whined, complained and threw fits almost the entire day…made trip miserable. I never give into her fits, but she continues to have them. Help, I’ve read so many parenting books, but nothing helps.

    • Belinda

      hi Elizabeth – tantrums are so confronting as a parent aren’t they! We know we shouldn’t give in and yet we want them over and done with quickly! There are so many variables in a young child throwing tantrums but I’ll give you a few quick thoughts.

      * I think in terms of discipline you are probably onto it. We can’t talk to a child who is screaming. So we need to remove them to a safe place, possibly even stay with them while they get it out of their system, and then we need to talk to them appropriate ways of communicating whatever their gripe is. Sometimes there is no other answer – our answer is always going to be – time to go, or ‘no’. and they have to learn to live with that. While they are learning this though there are a few things we can do to reduce the whining and tantrum.
      * One of the biggest reasons why children this age cannot accept ‘no’ is because for most things they make their own choices. So when we come in and say no it is confronting for them. Ask yourself how many little choices has she made through the day – and though they may be age appropriate choices, if she cannot handle her parent making a decision (time to go) or saying “no” to her then she isn’t morally ready to make those choices. In which case I’d start directing her day – she wakes up and she has to do the activity you ask of her, she gets the food you say, the clothes to wear that you say, the activities through the day are diverse but directed by you. this takes a lot of work but it gives you an opportunity to deal with her ability to accept authority and learn to obey without whining.
      * Deal with the first, the very first, sign of any whingey whiney attitude. It may be that she can’t say good morning cheerfully, or can’t thank you openly for breakfast – when we let them know first thing that their attitude isn’t right, and send them away to find a happy heart then it often changes (not always but often) the rest of the day.
      * Become consistent with dealing with whingey voice and tantrums. For our little 4 yo (very strong willed child) my response is always: you have a choice to find a happy heart, happy voice or you go to your bedroom till you find it. She does not like this choice! but it is consistently the only choice she has when she has a bad attitude.

      You cannot reason with this age child – they are self focused – and have limited ability to see the bigger picture!

      Here are three other blog posts I’ve written that may help you.
      What to do with Tantrums
      Helping our Children with Disappointment
      Inappropriate Verbal Behaviour

      I hope all that gives you something to think about – as you know there is no quick answer, but we can work on things – little things slowly chipping away at it.


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