Friends, I like to think that I have a black belt in strong-willed parenting. My oldest child is one for the record books. He’s loving, he’s kind, and he’s a joy to be around. Unless he’s ready to lock horns, at which point all bets are off and it’s game on. Parenting him has been a joy and a challenge. And after doing life with him for the past 10 years, I feel like I know at least a thing or two about how to handle him and maintain a relative amount of peace in our household. I have even managed to keep my own sanity, which as you may know is no small feat when you have a headstrong child.
Here’s the main thing I want you to know, dear fellow strong-willed parent: despite the way it looks, your child’s intentions are not usually to cause you stress and grey hair. They don’t want conflict. They’re just passionate. Passionate towards their wants, their needs, their strengths, their desires. Yes, that strong will that sometimes scares the daylights out of you, it is baby passion in the making.
And here’s the good news: passionate people make great adults.
They are the innovators and creators of our world. Quite honestly, you are raising a future leader, and what seems so exhausting now can truly become a thing of beauty with age and maturity and guidance. As long as we play our cards right as parents.
No pressure or anything.
And because I know the pain and the stress and the heartache of taming the wild will of a passionate child, I want to share with you five hard-won insights into how to manage their will, temper their passion, and guide them into becoming the greatness that they are destined to be.
1. Lead them wisely.
There’s this great little line in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the mother of the bride says that while her husband is the head of the household, she’s the neck, and the neck tells the head where to turn. True for husbands. True for strong-willed children. If you gently guide them towards the decisions that work best and don’t push them, you may just get what you want. Instead of preparing for battle, prepare for peace. Go in with options that you can live with and are attractive to your child. Give them the chance to figure out what works best for them within the confines of what works best for you. If they think it’s their choice, the result is often peace.
2. Pick your battles.
I’m sure this is nothing new to you. Parenting experts across the board will say this about even the most mild-natured child. In order to preserve sanity, you must pick your battles. But with a strong-willed child, you’re going to have to take it a step further. Drop your standards. Nope. Drop them lower. Think of it this way, if it isn’t dangerous, immoral, or going to drive you insane, let it go. My son has this habit of dribbling his basketball in our house all of the time. Annoying, yes. Dangerous, no. Can I live with it? Yes. Discipline problem solved.
3. Find their passion.
As your willful child grows, you’ll most likely begin to see tendencies come out, whether it’s a proclivity towards art or a passion for dance, it will become apparent. If it’s not, seek it out. Explore options. If you can channel that passion wisely, you may begin to see some of that resolute spirit move towards their passion and away from driving you crazy.
4. Be like Elsa and let it go.
In third grade, my son refused to wear pants. He would not put anything on his body that covered his entire leg. Each and every day he chose shorts. Even when it was freezing. Once even in the snow. And I had to just let it go. The amount of fighting that it would have required to get pants on his body was not worth the reward of having his legs covered. Here’s the great thing about letting it go, though, he wears pants now because I didn’t push him on it. I won because I let myself lose. It’s not just about the battle, parents; it’s about the war. Sometimes you have to let it go to get it back.
5. Remember to laugh, and to love.
This should go without saying, but I know in the heat of the moment it’s really hard to remember. When your child is yelling like a demon has possession of their very body because you won’t let them eat Pixie Sticks for dinner, it’s difficult to laugh. And sometimes even to love. But try to remember the big picture. Take a deep breath. And laugh. Give them a hug. At best, you’ll take them so off guard that it will diffuse the tension completely. At worst, you’ll feel better, and sometimes that’s a win in and of itself when you’re a parent.
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