Misbehaviour And The Strong Willed Child

A strong willed child will have you entering a level of parenting you didn’t know existed.

My BFF and I each have a strong willed child. I’m often thankful she is having a similar parenting experience because being a parent of a strong willed child can be a lonely place. But again, thankfully, we have our weekly playdates where we can talk about the parenting advice from moms with “easy-going children” and we can laugh and laugh and laugh.

Cry it out? Snickering.

Calm down corners? Chortle.

Take away toys, tv etc? We’re rolling on the ground with laughter.

Sure, strong willed children have a myriad of desirable (and often enviable!) traits. And they typically grow up to be extremely successful blah blah blah, but as I’m sure lots of parents will admit, you always feel like you’re one parenting decision away from either raising a Mendela or a Mussolini.

Rethinking defiance in the strong willed child.

Before my child was even a year of age she was shaking her strong willed fist at the world around her. I did what other newbie parents did and called it “defiance”. Which I now understand is unfair. Especially in todays world, I associate the word defiance with an oppressor and the oppressed. Was that the relationship I wanted to have with my kids? Not at all. I want my children to view their family as a team who works together, not a hierarchy. As a parent, I would rather be a team coach than a dictator.

In reality, what I had called “defiance” was a child who hadn’t yet been taught how to express her opinions properly.

Are they struggling to handle something difficult?

The strong willed child is typically creative thinking, a problem solver, and confident. Which is awesome! Unless they are unsure of how to do a task or activity.

Think about it this way. Many adults have a difficult time trying new things for fear of failure, looking “stupid”, or the potential hit their ego may take. Now imagine living in a world where almost everything you do is brand new because you’re a toddler and lack experience.

I’m 32 years old and when learning to sew this past Christmas, I pricked my fingers about a million times, swore countlessly, flung fabric to the floor at least once and didn’t think twice about my release of frustration. And I’ve had decades of experience learning to control my emotions and behaviour.

When I came to understand my strong willed child’s tantrums and meltdowns as a reaction to fear of failure (such as when potty training), or being unable to communicate a difficult feeling (like being scared or confused), or frustration at being unable to solve a problem independently, I was able to tackle the behaviour from a compassionate and positive space instead of an angry and frustrated one. I was also able to then give my child tools to help her through her behaviour rather than labelling her as defiant or uncooperative.


The Great Sharing Debate.

I find it hilarious that the concept of “sharing” is such a hotly debated topic amongst young parents today. And as is common of the internet age, I think it comes down to people getting to hung up on word choice.

When I truly listened to both sides of the sharing argument (as I did the other day in a thread about the topic which prompted the idea for this post!), I came to realize the moms participating in the thread were having one argument but about two different concepts but were calling both “sharing”. Those opposed to “sharing” were arguing against forced sharing and pro-sharers were actually talking about taking turns. Both terms fall under the umbrella of sharing but when you really think about it, they are two different things.  For example, you share a cookie but I would argue most people don’t take turns with a cookie.

But you know what, those mothers against forced sharing? I would bet all of them have at least one strong willed child.

Parents of strong willed children quickly learn that asking a child to share their things simply because you said so at some arbitrary time, creates way more problems than it ever solves. And zero lessons are learned. That’s a lie. I learned some pretty serious lessons. Like how long a 3 year old can hold a grudge.

However, I also learned that I can get the results I want (ie. my child shares) and my child can learn to be a contributing member of society without either of us looking like an asshole.

Choosing different language.

Instead of sharing, we talk about the importance of everyone having a “fair turn”. The key word being fair. When you have twins, your world revolves around perceived “fairness”.

What makes “taking turns” work over “sharing”?

Taking turns implies several things that little kids are quick to pick up on. Sharing is open-ended, a turn has an implied beginning and end time. It also suggests to the child that even after their turn is over, it will shortly be their turn again. Taking turns also gives the shared control back over to the children and allows them to demonstrate their own problem solving, patience skills, and empathy.

So how do you make this work to minimize conflict and behaviour issues?

Arm your children with the proper vocabulary.

  • “May I please have a turn with […]”
  • “You can have a turn when my turn is done.”
  • “Can you let me know when it’s my turn?”

When is a turn over you ask?

This is a great opportunity to problem solve with your kids! In our home, we have defined a turn by roughly 15 minutes (or the length of one Thomas the Tank Engine story as this was how it began LOL). 15 minutes is a long time for a child. But it gives the children space to problem solve on their own and end their turn early if they wish.

Have children under 3? Simply redirect them to another activity while they wait for their turn.

When we adjusted the behaviour expectations of sharing and changed the wording, we got much more cooperative children. We also had significantly fewer tantrums.

What role have I been playing in the “misbehaviour”?

Here’s the hard pill to swallow for a lot of parents; admitting your own fault in your kids behaviour. I’m sure my husband would agree that 7/10 times if our strong willed child is exhibiting undesirable behaviour it was probably our fault.

There are three HUGE ways in which my husband and I contribute to perceived misbehaviour in our strong willed child:

  • Poor word choice: a strong willed child is like the Twitterverse. Be careful with every. single. word. you say and no takesie-backsies.
  • Not giving enough choice: this type of child needs to feel in control of their life, and rightfully so! Providing a sense of control over their own lives can be as simple as allowing them to pick out their own clothes and choosing what they eat. It can also mean looking the other way when they decide they don’t want to wear a coat (even if it’s a little cold), not batting an eye if she wants to wear two dresses at once, and allowing them to wear their shoes on the wrong feet.
  • Not enough quality one-on-one time: This one can be tricky but it makes a big difference in behaviour. My easy-going child is easy to satisfy in this area. He is happy with routine things (like the bedtime routine) counting toward quality one-on-one time. With my strong willed child routine things are the standard and does not count toward the quality one-on-one time she needs with each parent. Remember attention is attention. Your child will do whatever they can to get it whether its positive or negative.

Do you or your partner work long hours? There are lots of ways to make special moments with you child each day.  My husband uses Snapchat to send our kids funny faces and cute messages. A 5 minute Facetime during a lunch or dinner break can go a long way as well.

Focus on personal growth.

Shortly after my children were born I read the book (affiliate link), The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali. This book was life-changing. It helped me realize that most “problems” I had with parenting my children were actually my projection of my own issues with my parents and how I was parented. It helped me see how the parenting choices of previous generations affected my own parenting and sense of self. Most importantly, how to overcome those to stop any negative cycles of behaviour. It also completely changed the way I communicate with my children and the language I use with them. You can purchase the kindle version here.

Dr. Shefali also has two other books, Out of Control, and The Awakened Family.

At the end of the day, correcting my child’s behaviour actually begins with correcting my own behaviour and expectations.

Do you have a strong willed child? What are your biggest struggles?

Chat soon,


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