Note to Parents of Strong Willed Children

Parents of strong willed children are the leading inquiries I get in my practice.  The parents often feel stressed, overwhelmed, and beaten down.  The biggest worries are that they are doing something ‘wrong’ which is leading to the outbursts and tension at home.  Many admit to feeling they lose their temper and leave from exchanges feeling like they failed as a parent.

Strong Willed children are very intensive in personality.  They generally struggle with following rules.  Essentially, they are not compliant just for the sake of compliance.  Ironically enough, they are often the rule enforcer with others–the very rules they do not tend to follow themselves.  They tend to be very emotionally perceptive and can be experienced as emotionally volatile.  They are leaders, not followers, and the struggle for most parents is balancing creating safety/structure without breaking their child’s spirit.

Does this sound familiar.  Read below to see if your child matches the below description.  If so, it is quite possible that you have a Strong Willed Child.


10 Common Patterns and Characteristics of Strong Willed Children

  1. Perceived to be bossy or controlling: Strong willed kids are very vocal about what they want and how they want it. They tend to  ‘police’ others and monitor that others are following the rules–the rules they do not tend to follow themselves. They are leaders v. followers and prefer to be in charge of most interactions.
  2. Resistant to directives:  They tend to do what they want to do.  Strong willed kids are often labeled by others as ‘defiant’ and tend to be perceived as willfully non-compliant. Though the behavior can definitely appear like this, I feel this is a mislabeling of them.
  3. Intense emotional outbursts:  Strong willed kids tend get very rigid and stuck on how they want things to be and get very upset when it does not go this way.  These kiddos often are prone to explosive anger outbursts and can act aggressively.
  4. Perceived to be argumentative: Strong willed children challenge everything and everyone. They do not inherently respect authority or authority figures. Some parents describe their child as having to ‘have the last word’.
  5. Prone to power struggles:  These strong willed personalities struggle when they feel unheard or cannot have their way.  They tend to fight with anyone and anything.  They can also appear to be bully-like towards peers (even parents). They are competitive and want to ‘win’.
  6. Highly sensitive.  My experience has indicated that everything impacts strong willed kids on a heightened level and they respond accordingly. Small things seemingly upset them more than other kids.  This can even show up on a sensory level.
  7. Agitate if rushed or not allowed their own pacing: Strong willed kids hate being pushed or rushed in any manner requiring them to comply with another person’s expectation.  They often transition poorly especially when highly engaged in whatever they are doing or if they are asked to do something they do not want to do. This is a common time when explosive behaviors and/or power struggles appear.
  8. Out of box thinkers:  Strong willed kids tend to create new. This is birthed out of their challenging every system and forging new paths through them. They do not follow the herd and are less concerned about conformity. As a result, they are often amazing creators and can commonly show up as very gifted and talented.
  9. Experiential Learners:  Strong Willed children prefer to be in charge of their experience. They often resist and argue feedback from others.  My observation is that they tend to learn by doing and having an experience–even one they are discouraged from choosing.  It is actually through doing what they are coached not to do, the consequences that rise, that they determine for themselves it was not a good idea. Sometimes they even choose to repeat the experiences causing great distress to the parents.
  10. Impatient and Impulsive: Strong willed kids often move quickly.  They are quick to lose their patience and act out in impulsive manners.

If in reading this list, you have identified your child as being strong willed, please know that these children are often misunderstood.   What can look as ill-intended behavior is not what it appears to be. Many parents express concern that their strong willed child ‘defiant’ behavior could result in long term struggles with others.  Most notably, by the time I meet with a parent, they often feel defeated in their role.  There can be a sense of helpless and even guilt, assuming the struggles are reflective of their ability to parent and perceived ‘fails’.  This is not at all the case. I coach parents on how to navigate these situations and bring about more harmony and peace at home. There is hope.  Strong willed children are leaders.  The struggle as a parent is raising them, creating structure while honoring their strong spirit, AND keeping your emotional well-being as the parent.

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