Lady Ponder

A blog for the real and contemporary woman


My child is strong willed, and NO, I will not smack it out of him

Some children, like my eldest boy is born into this world with an incredibly strong will and unconquerable spirit. At times its difficult, I will not lie, and parents like us and children like ours are judged very harshly by others who knows absolutely nothing about such a temperament, and how to raise these gifted children. YES GIFTED…….

Strong willed children like my eldest are sensitive, loving souls with such an intense desire to learn and explore. They are uniquely gifted, but in their young years utterly challenging.

My boy would be completely happy, and within a matter of seconds explode in a fit so violent that it’s just about impossible to calm him down. Foot stomping, screaming, body stiffing episodes. At times he has become so frustrated that his behavior555 would spiral completely out of control. At such times he wildly hits everything and everyone within reach, including himself.

Turns out, his behavior is not necessarily a direct result of my parenting, and it doesn’t mean my boy is “bad,” either. Michael Potegal, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist, has spent the latest part of his professional career studying tantrums and how and why young children have such brutally emotional explosions. And what has he learned in that time? That their outbursts are as normal a biological response to anger and frustration as a yawn is to fatigue.  Yes sure some kids (like mine) measure at the more extreme end of the weighbridge, but either way it is completely normal for ANY toddler.

In my house there is a lot of screaming, kicking, biting, scratching and some more screaming and crying. (And yes naturally there are consequences for all of them), but it’s not always as straight forward as you might think. You see “strong willed” children are often deeply misunderstood at such a young age, and everyone (apart from the parents of such children) seem to have the answers.

Your kid might be obedient, and drop whatever they are doing and quail at just the sight of your strict eyes, they might “know their place”, and comply with your every demand, and I am truly happy for you, and respect your parenting style which has worked wonders for your unique child. But my child has a different character and temperament. My child is not the same as yours, and cannot be raised the same as yours, or how your parents raised you.

For parents of strong-willed children there are rows of books lining bookstore shelves with instructions, about how to break their will, how to subdue their spirit, and how to force their obedience. I myself have read many of these books in a desperate search for answers on what am I doing wrong.

portrait of a boy sitting on a chair, puckering his lips

There is absolutely no doubt, that parenting a child with the gift of a strong will is a constant exercise in patience, self-reflection and trust. It’s a challenge having a child who seems to challenge everything, and I am still learning that there are ways to work with them rather than against them to preserve and nurture their unique gifts.

Authoritative, Valiant, Gutsy, Independent, insistent, determined, stubborn, challenging, rebellious, persistent, Nonconforming and bold.

These words are often used to describe my child. These are also words used to describe world leaders, CEO’S, entrepreneurs, innovators and world-class sports sensations:

…See where I’m getting at?

What an incredible loss of leadership, passion, and insight this world suffers when parents follow the retributory parenting practices suggested by most.

Strong willed children have their own ‘inner world’ of thoughts and plans and problems and worries and hopes and dreams that are occupying their time and attention constantly, so a lack of cooperation is often simply the result of having a different agenda than we do. Getting some insight into that ‘inner world’ is key in guiding and growing them respectfully. And that takes a lot more effort and time than what corporal punishment does (with all respect to those who it works for). Don’t get me wrong, I am not totally against light corporal punishment, but for strong-willed children it would do more harm social-development-14than any good.

I continuously work to find a balance between setting limits with my richly spirited child while not limiting their freedom to stretch and grow and develop into the person they were created to be.

It helps me to remember the following:

  • Listen with your heart. Listen ‘between the lines’ to what your child is communicating through their behavior.
  • Don’t take non-compliance as a personal insult. A strong-willed child is very much their own person with their own agenda. Focus on inviting cooperation instead of demanding obedience.
  • 4 years old is very, very little, make sure the expectations for this age are reasonable.
  • “No” is not a complete thought. It is a command. It doesn’t teach, it tells. If you want your child to learn to think like an adult, take the time to explain your adult thinking.
  • Helping your strong-willed child learn to speak kindly means speaking kindly to your child as well as offering guidance when they are frustrated, rude or difficult.
  • Put away your boxing gloves so your child will (eventually) feel safe putting away theirs. When you battle with your child, you may win a battle or two, but you will lose the ultimate treasure…your trust relationship. Remember, you’re the adult in the relationship, but that doesn’t give you the right to overpower your child; it gives you the responsibility to empower your child.
  • Make sure to let your child have a voice in determining the limits so they feel like they have some control over their lives and so they feel some ownership over the limits. Children are not ours to shape as we like, they are born very uniquely, and we are here to teach them, not to change them.
  • Limit the number of limits. Spirited children are often stressed children simply because of their own intense emotions and reactions to things, so set them up for success by keeping your limits few and clear and by maintaining them consistently.
  • Strong-willed kids aren’t just being difficult. They feel their integrity is compromised if they’re forced to submit to another person’s will. If they’re allowed to choose, they love to cooperate.
  • Stay firm and friendly, once you have lost your temper, it’s a losing battle, and sends the child to a place of frustration, fear and sadness.
  • A strong, strong rhythm and unhurried life is really key with the three and four year old.
  • The main reason that children become unglued over seemingly small events is that developmentally they cannot handle the circumstances they find themselves in, and the emotions they experience at that stage.

I am by no means suggesting abandoning all reason and discipline, to the contrary it is extremely important with these children to have clear limits and boundaries, and to not deviate from them, but the traditional approach simply doesn’t work .

Strong willed children become self-motivated and inner-directed adults; they go after what they want and are almost impervious to peer pressure. As long as parents resist the impulse to “break their will,” strong-willed kids often become leaders.

Not only can we parent these gifted children with gentleness and respect, but the gifts we get in return are priceless, so I for one thank God every day for this very special, beautiful strong-willed spirited child of mine.


anger outburstsAngry childdifficult toddlerStrong willedTantrumsToddler

Cindy Breet • September 11, 2015

Previous Post

Next Post


  1. Ronel September 11, 2015 - 3:19 pm Reply

    Great article. I myself have a very strong willed little man. Although only 4 years old he is already the leader in his daycare group. So proud. Also very angry at myself for feeling like a failure of a mom when people judged me as a parent and my little man’s “outbursts”. Luckily I opened my eyes and realized early enough what great gift God gave to him and me. He is my little Mr Personality 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *