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Appreciating The Joys & Challenges of Strong Willed Children

By March 30, 2016June 3rd, 2019No Comments

If you’ve been a parent for more than one minute, you know parenting is a challenge. If you have the joy of a strong willed child, you have a greater challenge.

Years ago I heard Dr. James Dobson tell the following story of a rather unruly, and probably strong willed, child. I’m going to paraphrase the story. (To read the entire story as told, click here.)

“…. Perhaps the best example was a 10-year old boy named Robert, who was a patient of my good friend. My friend said his pediatric staff dreaded the days when Robert was scheduled for an office visit. He literally attacked the clinic, grabbing instruments and files and telephones. His passive mother could do little more than shake her head in bewilderment….

Robert arrived in the dental office, prepared for battle. “Get in the chair, young man,” said the doctor. “No chance!” replied the boy.

“Son, I told you to climb onto the chair, and that’s what I intend for you to do,” said the dentist. Robert stared at his opponent for a moment and then replied, “If you make me get in that chair, I will take off all my clothes.”

The dentist calmly said, “Son, take them off.” …

“Now, son, get in the chair,” said the doctor. Robert did as he was told, and sat cooperatively through the entire procedure. When the cavities were drilled and filled, he was instructed to step down from the chair.

“Give me my clothes now,” said the boy. “I’m sorry,” replied the dentist. “Tell your mother that we’re going to keep your clothes tonight. She can pick them up tomorrow.”

… The next day, Robert’s mother returned to retrieve his clothes, and asked to have a word with the dentist … “You don’t know how much I appreciate what happened here yesterday. You see, Robert has been blackmailing me about his clothes for years. Whenever we are in a public place, such as a grocery store, he makes unreasonable demands of me. If I don’t immediately buy him what he wants, he threatens to take off all his clothes. You are the first person who called his bluff, and the impact on Robert has been incredible.”

Strong willed children come into the world believing they are in charge. Always. Your job as the parent is to teach them otherwise.

Being strong willed is not a negative trait. In fact, it is a beneficial trait when you know how to point it in the right direction. That’s the tough job of parenting.

The challenges of raising strong willed children are:

  1. They continually test their boundaries. My husband and I were blessed with two very strong willed children and one sort of strong willed child. We quickly learned that you didn’t simply draw a line in the sand,  which simply meant “JUMP” to them. We needed to build a cement wall, reinforce it with rebar, top it with razor wire, electrify the wire, and the child would still try to climb it. Sounds like a crazy example, I know, but this was the mental image I needed to reinforce positive boundaries with these children. I learned they would challenge those boundaries every time. If the boundary moved even an inch, they won the battle for control. But if the boundary didn’t even wiggle, then they would calm down…eventually.
  2. They need consistency. This is really hard parenting. Consistency. I don’t even want to be consistent in my own life half the time, yet I needed to remain consistent in my parenting at all times. When I caved in to the whining (I hate whining) or continual pushing against my unwanted answer, my kids were more out of control. The great lesson I learned: Consistency created calmer children. Weird. My kids tested my consistency all the time. All. The. Time. They needed consistency to know that their little world was safe. Who knew?
  3. Everything is a battle. Naptime. Clothing. Food. Potting training. You name it, the strong willed child will figure out a way to turn it into a battle. Cynthia Tobias, in her book The Way They Learn, gave great insight into this phenomenon. Strong willed children are willing to “fight to the death” to win in a confrontation. Susanna Wesley, addressing defiant behavior in a child, said, “…the subjecting of the will is a thing that must be done at once, and the sooner the better! For by neglecting timely, correction, they will contract a stubbornness and obstinancy which is hardly ever after conquered ….” Therefore, if you are going to parent your strong willed child effectively, you have to be willing to win the battle by pointing their will away from defiance toward positive behavior.

The joys of raising strong willed children are:

  1. They know their mind and are not easily manipulated by peer pressure. I love this about my strong willed children! A strong willed person, child or adult, is difficult to sway to your desires. You need to provide compelling proof for them to change their mind. While this can be frustrating in parenting, it stands the child in good stead when it comes to peer pressure.
  2. They are usually very curious. About everything. Favorite words are often “why” or “how come”. Watching the world through my strong willed kids’ eyes was enlightening. Everything was worth exploring. There is always something new to learn. Life is exciting. Challenges can be overcome. Fun!
  3. They are dependable. If my strong willed children say they will do something, they follow through. There is a high sense of honor in them. I believe that is part of their DNA because honor is tied to their will. I trust these children to be true to their word.

“I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.” Florence Nightingale

If you have the privilege of rearing a strong willed child, I commend you. I know there are days when you want to run away. I’ve been there. And I’m praying for your strength for this day.

Take some time for yourself today, sweet momma, to recharge. Find a way. We all need a break from our routine.

Then, in the midst of today, remember to capture the extra-ordinary in the ordinary. It really is there.


  • Kirsten D Samuel

    I empower Christian wives to discover they are seen, loved, and heard. These women find the freedom to be who they are beyond their partner’s struggles, and find hope that there is a life worth living.