Signs you are raising a strong-willed child


It can be frustrating to deal with strong-willed children because they do not listen and do not like being told what to do.

Strong-willed children want to learn things for themselves rather than accept what others say.

This results in them repeatedly testing the limits.

They are also more likely to have their own preferences as to what they want and how they do things. They possess a strong determination to achieve something and are persistent in their efforts to do so, which is a positive trait necessary to overcome future obstacles they may face in adulthood.

Unfortunately, this can be perceived as stubbornness, i.e. they don’t listen or follow instructions, and defy any kind of changes even if it’s for their own good.

Due to this, parents and kids may end up at loggerheads with each other over many different issues.

Parent-child power struggle

Between unmet expectations that children will always listen to their parents and the harsh reactions and discipline that follow parents’ frustrations, it is inevitable that power struggles will happen.

It’s easy to lose one’s temper when dealing with a child who is unwilling to listen to what you say.

However, there’s a danger of not helping the child learn, and worse, increases negative behaviour and oppositionality if you engage in a power struggle with him.

Getting overly emotional may also lead to parents doing or saying things they regret later on.

We keep our power by staying calm so remind yourself who is the adult.

If you’re open to new perspectives and ways of responding to your child in challenging situations, then half the battle is already won.

Understanding the needs and drives that underlie the behaviour of your strong-willed child and responding to them instead of what is on the surface will be the other half.

Sometimes children appear stubborn because they feel hurt from not having their opinions heard.

ALSO READ: How to motivate your kid and help them to succeed

No to blind obedience

The idea of a child doing exactly what you tell him to all the time may seem great, but blind obedience is unhealthy.

It is better to teach him how to be sensible, considerate and co-operative.

Breaking a child’s will by forcing obedience is counter-productive in the long run as it will leave him open to be manipulated by others who may not have his best interest in mind.

One of the most important approach to help strong-willed children listen is by working with them as opposed to against them.

This changes the dynamics of how you can work together.

Connect with your children and tune in to their needs.

By seeking to understand them, you can start seeing things from their point of view.

This provides an opportunity for validation and also enhances empathy.

At the same time, allow your child to experience “real world” consequences as logical consequences can be a more effective teacher than nagging and scolding.

Most people don’t like being told what to do, and this is especially true for a strong-willed child.

They are likely to dig their heels in if they feel they are being ordered around.

ALSO READ: Pneumonia: One of the top five deadliest diseases for children in Malaysia

Turning household chores into games can be one way to make the stubborn child come around. — Photos: Positive ParentingTurning household chores into games can be one way to make the stubborn child come around. — Photos: Positive Parenting

Here are some creative methods you could try to get them to come around:

Turn chores or routines into games

Play beat-the-clock to see who finishes first or who gets the most done e.g. “Let’s pack up and see who can collect the most toys”, or “Lights will be off at 9pm. If you hurry, then we may have time to read two story books”.

Ask for help

Make young children your “special helper” to complete a task while for older children, appeal to their sense of altruism. This can encourage them to be more caring and considerate.

Positive approach

Use encouraging, supportive words rather than threats. Instead of “We are not going out until you finish your food”, say “As soon as you finish your food, we can go out”.

This way the focus is on what to do to achieve the goal.

Play the “yes” game

Ask questions that will prompt your child to answer “yes” a few times in a row to help break down the resistance.

For example, if the child refuses to leave the swimming pool, say “You love to play in the water, yeah? Next time, we should invite your cousin along. Would you like that?”

Your child will also feel heard and understood when you focus on common grounds.

Offer options

Rather than giving an ultimatum, parents can start the process towards what they wish their child would do.

To end play time, you can ask: “Do you want to put your toys away yourself or should I help you?”

Then move on to the routine of packing up and leaving while providing two options at a time along the way e.g. “What goes in first? The duck or the blocks?” or “Which box should the train go into, the red or green one?”

It isn’t easy dealing with strong-willed children.

They have a lot of potential but require tons of patience and creativity for parents to successfully deal with them.

When you find an effective way to channel their persistence in the right direction, it helps them achieve their potential of growing into highly self-motivated individuals.


Dr Yang Wai Wai is a clinical child psychologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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