Raising a Strong-Willed Child

Last Sunday, we had the opportunity to listen to Meaghan Wall, Special Needs Pastoral Leader at Stonebriar Community Church, share from her heart the challenges she has faced raising two strong-willed boys, while recognizing those tendencies in her own personality. As adults, we learn to yield our will to our spouse, our boss, and most importantly to Christ. But how do we take children—with the force of a super hero—and shape them, mold them, and turn their heart to God without breaking their spirit? Meaghan’s Straight Talk aimed to answer that question.

A recent study of 35,000 families by Dr. James Dobson found that there are nearly three times as many strong-willed children as compliant children. Nearly every family with multiple children has at least one strong-willed child. Birth order has nothing to do with it; temperaments of children tend to reflect that of their parents, so if you have a strong will, it is likely at least one of your children will follow suit.

The hallmarks of children with strong wills include:

  • They feel a strong need to control their environment and schedule
  • They challenge authority figures and rules, looking for inconsistencies
  • They tend to have a very physical reaction to loss of control in a situation

I recently stood in line with a girlfriend and her six-year-old daughter (who I will call “Eva”), who determined that standing in line was not part of her plan that day. You could tell Eva was off to banner day, her hair all over the place—obviously the mark of bedhead without a comb—and she wore a red tank top, a purple tutu with orange shorts underneath, and yellow rain boots. As Eva escalated into full meltdown, I marveled at my girlfriend’s composure and determination to push through. There were several times I thought, “Let’s do this another day.” But my girlfriend reminded me that she needed Eva to recognize her authority. Meaghan discussed a similar approach when raising a child with a strong will.

Regardless of the strong-willed child’s age, the strategies for parents are very similar:

  1. Develop and maintain a schedule, especially when your children are young. Children feel more in control when they know the plan for the day.
  2. Pick your battles. Not every test of wills is worth a war. Eva’s wardrobe choice was clearly not on the list of battle-worthy items that day.
  3. Allow your child to make age-appropriate choices that help him or her feel in control. And make certain they are choices that you can live with. Eva could stand or sit on the floor while we waited in line, but she could not leave.
  4. Have a strategy going into what you know will be a tough situation. Meaghan shared a story about taking her boys to Six Flags, and how she made certain to have a support system in place that allowed her to leave if one of the boys has a meltdown.
  5. Be on the same page as your spouse and be there to back each other up. As your strong-willed child tests boundaries, he or she will take advantage if one parent is a softy. There is a scriptural basis to ground your authority over your children. For example, 1 Timothy 3:4-5 states that a father must have proper authority in his own household, and be able to control and command the respect of his children.

If you are raising a strong-willed child and looking for hope and help, we encourage you to read “The New Strong-Willed Child” by Dr. James Dobson, which has tips and advice for raising children from birth through teen years. We also encourage you to develop a support system of family and friends who can step into the gap and back you up when the day is long. If we can help you with that, feel free to contact us at childrens@stonebriar.org.

Christine ClarkAs Ministry Coordinator for the Family and Children’s Ministry at Stonebriar Community Church, Christine Clark has a passion for supporting parents and helping them gain confidence and tools to be spiritual leaders in their homes. She is blessed to be the mom of a middle school son and married to her college sweetheart for more than 20 years. She is also an avid sports fan who loves all things football, especially in the fall in Texas.

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