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Jinnae Anderson: Parenting a strong-willed child: From chaos to calmness

Can you believe that Thomas Edison was dismissed for being a slow learner after only three months at elementary school? His mother stepped in, teaching and guiding her high-energy, curious, determined son every day. She fostered his gifts and the seemingly-unlimited imagination that went on to produce the light bulb, the phonograph, and many hundreds of other items that we use every day. Edison was the type of person who refused to stop — even, for example, after failing thousands of times to invent the light bulb. Strong-willed? Challenging? You bet!

Children like Edison can be challenging because of their intrinsic qualities: Their strong wills lead them to be self-motivated and self-confident, with a high value on learning for themselves. They believe strongly in their own ideas and stand by them no matter who disagrees — even if it’s their own parents. It can be exhausting.

How then does a physically — and emotionally — exhausted parent help to nurture their child’s positive qualities while managing the, well, exhausting ones? In other words, how do you help a child who desperately wants to be in charge of themselves and who is therefore prone to power struggles, arguments and outright rebellion? Read on for six tips for bringing more ease and understanding into parenting your strong-willed child.



1. Keep in mind that these children feel compelled to make their own decisions; their integrity feels compromised if they have to submit to your will. Fighting this fact will just wear you out. Instead, go with the flow by offering them as much control as you can. A powerful way to do this is by offering choices. If you have a strong-willed toddler you might ask, “Do you want to wear the red socks or the blue socks today?” If it’s a 10 year old it could be, “Are you planning to do your chores or your homework first?” Offering choices allows kids to make their own decisions — and, since you’re the one doing the offering, you can make sure the choices fit within your value system. If they’re allowed to choose, strong-willed kids are usually happy to cooperate.

2. Never tell your strong-willed child what to do (except in emergencies). This eliminates the main cause of power struggles. You still need to parent, so what do you say instead? Try phrases like these, spoken just once and in a calm manner:



It’s cold outside! If it was me, I would wear a jacket today.

I take kids to the park when they get along well.

You’re welcome to play video games as soon as your chores are done.

I allow kids who pick up their toys to keep their toy privileges.

These are statements that express expectations and what you would do or allow, as opposed to you directly trying to control your child. They can be followed up (empathetically) with consequences, if necessary.

3. Your child wants to call the shots, so allow them to do some shot-calling! Have a family meeting to decide on the morals, values and rules within your family. Let your child provide lots of input into what they feel is important to the family, and incorporate some or most of it. Decide together on how following or not following rules can be rewarded or discouraged. Write it up (or draw pictures, if your child is pre-literate) and post it somewhere where everyone can see. Call new meetings for changes when it’s appropriate. Making sure that your strong-willed child is on board guarantees success in enforcing the rules — and kids who feel in charge of themselves will have less need to be oppositional.

4. Let them make mistakes. These kids want to learn things for themselves, and they would rather test limits than just accept what others say. If refusing to pack a lunch makes them a little hungry for a day, they will learn about the need to pack a lunch — no parental reminders needed. Be empathetic as they struggle so that the blame falls on their behavior rather than on you. Strong-willed children learn experientially, by doing, so relax and allow life to teach them — within reason, of course.

5. To repeat: Strong-willed children will test your limits. Over and over. Expect it, because that’s how they learn and grow. If you can accept that this is not an attack on your authority but rather a necessary and important facet of your child’s personality, it will be easier to stay calm. Expecting the resistance will avoid wear and tear on your relationship, and enable you to maintain your peace of mind even when the going is tough.

6. There is one thread weaving through these points that makes all the difference: The relationship between you and your child. As an adult looking back at his success, Edison said, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.” Cultivate a close relationship with your child by enjoying good times, good talks, and good connection. No one can be the perfect parent; what’s most important is that your child knows how much you love and value them. The bond between you and your strong-willed child will shape every interaction you share. These kids can become the thinkers, scientists and leaders of the world. Let your relationship be the foundation that supports them to achieve their highest potential.

Jinnae Anderson is the parenting specialist for Nevada County Superintendent of Schools

KNOW & GO

WHAT: Nurturing Parenting 8-Week Series for parents and guardians of school-age kids

WHO: Teacher Jinnae Anderson, Parenting Specialist for Nevada County Superintendent of Schools

WHERE: Zoom calls from the comfort of your own home

WHEN: Morning session Wednesdays 10-11:45 a.m., Jan. 19-March 9

Evening session Thursdays 6:30-8:15 p.m., Jan. 20-March 10

COST: Free to Nevada County parents and guardians

MORE INFO: Email janderson@nevco.org or call 530-238-5608

Strong-willed children will test your limits. Expecting the resistance will avoid wear and tear on your relationship, and enable you to maintain your peace of mind even when the going is tough.
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