When my kids were young, I would sometimes wonder what I had done wrong when child after child was born into our family with a hefty dose of strong will. I would longingly observe other families whose children seemed so mellow and easy to please. My kids were “spirited.” They were often disobedient. They were constantly testing my patience. It was their way or the highway – or at least a lot of screaming and other such nonsense if I did not grant them their way. I began to wonder if strong will was a genetic trait.
One Sunday, I was out in the hallway at church with a particularly fussy Andrew, who was about three years old at the time. While he was screaming, a sweet elderly woman came up to me and said: “Your kids are so cute.”
I glanced down at my screaming toddler and wondered if she was talking to the right person.
“They have some spunk,” she went on, “which means that they will accomplish great things.”
I told her that I hoped she was right, and she confidently assured me that she was. Quite honestly, I was a little stunned at her timing. She had seen me come to church week after week and watched me struggle with my rambunctious children. She knew that I spent more time walking the halls while trying to keep them quiet than actually sitting in the meetings. I did not understand why she had picked that particular moment to tell me that my kids were full of potential.
I did understand, however, that she was no ordinary woman. She was a woman whom everybody admired. She had raised five amazing children of her own. She was quiet, but when she spoke people listened because she was the personification of wisdom.
I wanted to be just like her. And, here she stood, telling me that things with my kids, which felt completely overwhelming at that time, would turn out OK. Did she know of the inner struggle that I often had – wondering why I even attempted church – wondering what I could do to teach these little ones? I desperately wanted to believe her. But, how could she be so sure? She didn’t really know MY kids.
As I walked away and pondered her words, my heart filled with hope. Although I was struggling, I had to believe that she knew something that I didn’t know. I think she knew MANY things that I didn’t know. And, maybe; just maybe, she was the answer to my prayers – a sweet assurance that this stage would not last forever, and that my seemingly impossible children had come to me with strong wills because they would NEED them to accomplish great things later in life. I found comfort in that.
I have looked back on this experience many times since then. I have thought about her words as I have struggled through many difficult stages with my kids. I have thought about them as I have watched difficult stages fade into sweet stages of understanding and growth. I have thought about them as I have witnessed unreasonable children grow into thoughtful and self-motivated teenagers who are using their strong wills to strengthen themselves and others.
There is now no doubt in my mind that this sweet woman knew what she was talking about that day so many years ago. She knew, as I am now learning, that strong will in a child is nothing to fear. It is a BLESSING.
Of course, those children require guidance. They need strong and patient leaders (parents) who gently, but firmly, remind them that they still have much to learn – that their way is not always the best way. They require parents who can teach them how to channel that strong will into useful pursuits, which sometimes seems daunting in and of itself.
There have been times in the midst of raising such a child when I have felt like I was teaching a brick wall. There have been times when I have felt like I was going backward instead of forwards. There have been times when I have desperately wanted to throw my hands in the air and scream, and times when I have done just that.
But there have also been moments when I have felt like I was the student instead of the teacher. There have been moments when I have sat back and watched, in awe of the drive and conviction that is coming from that same child. In those moments, I have seen small glimpses of the greatness that is within them – the greatness that is still in the process of emerging from its cocoon.
With my oldest child being only 15 years old, I know that I still have much to learn, and years to go until I see the full outcome of my work. I know that no outcome is guaranteed, despite my efforts. But I have come to trust in the words of my elderly friend, whose knowledge and wisdom far exceed my own. They keep me going when times get tough.
Perhaps you can gain strength from her words also. May you rely on them, as I have, when you can’t quite see the forest above the trees. May you rely on them when you wonder if the life-altering transformation from caterpillar to butterfly will ever occur. May you lean on them when your patience is continually tested to the very extreme, and when you are fairly confident that one more day of this frustration will break you.
Trust my wise elderly friend. She knows.
This post was featured in the Huffington Post, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Globe, Power of Moms, and The Snapmom
Rachel Brown says
This is so true and that was a wise woman who assured you that day at church. I have two strong willed children..a boy and a girl. Their strong determination which almost killed me when they were two has been a very positive trait in their adult years. They are both committed Christians, always helping others sacrificially and are VERY determined to complete their many goals no matter how difficult!
I really needed to hear this. I have four strong-willed young adult and teenage children as well as two strong-wlled grandchildren. There are times when I am able to deal with them and handle things appropriately and other times I don’t do so well. There are constant battles with the smallest request. I think that I am stuck between the thoughts of disrespect and defiance vs them being strong willed. It just seems as though I have to always be two or three steps ahead of each one of them. They all have very different personalities and it can be quite exhausting. When I was younger, it seemed like I could deal with them better, now they really frustrate me and I find myself focusing on them and their issues. They know what to do, but just won’t do it when asked. Only want to do things when and how they want to. They will do them, but its when they get ready. Lately, I been blowing up or shutting down. But I forgt the things that use to make them chill. SILENCE…CONSTANT PRAYER (instead of focusing on issue), and NOT GIVING THEM A RISE OUT OF ME. This is encouraging to me because I do see that they have great potential. My children drive me crazy, but they mine and I love them. They are smart, quite resourceful and a blessing. Oh wow, now that I was able to vent a little, I can get back in there and be Mom and Grandmom….whew…thanks 🙂
Thank you for this post, iam raising a strong willed two year old boy. Iam a single mother, sometimes I feel like locking myself in my room and never to come out.
Thank you so much for this! I cried reading it. I came across this article by googling how to deal with a strong willed child. Received an email from his teacher (my son is in first grade) and was looking for some ammunition to help the teacher understand my child. Thank you. I will try even harder now that I have nope from your wise elderly friend.
I’m so glad it was helpful! Hang in there!
Oh man, I just needed to hear this tonight! Amazing!
Although I’m about two years late to this post, I needed it too! I have a strong willed 3 year old and some (many) days seem like a battle ground at our house. I, too, have often wondered what I did to “deserve” the stress and struggle, the day in and day out battle – then of course I feel guilty because I truly do love my boy. It can be so daunting sometimes!!! I also wondered if I was crazy or our parenting was horrid. We let him make choices when applicable (and ones we can live with), set clear boundaries and are always checking one another (we discuss this and our days and parenting a LOT) to make sure we are being consistent yet fair. I literally want to curl up and cry some days – just the smallest things can warrant a battle (which I often decide not to partake in). It’s overwhelming and tiring. I prayed that God would show me something that would help me understand my son and myself and my job a little better and this was the first post I came to! Thank you 🙂
I’m so glad it was helpful for you. Hang in there! I can tell by the little bit that you just told me that you are doing better than you think.
Norma Jean Boyd says
Thoroughly enjoyed this article from the beginning words to the end, then I looked to see if there was more. I have always looked at the referring term “terrible two’s’ as being the time of curiosity in children looking for their future. It breaks my heart when parents, teachers, care givers, grandparents, etc., fail to recognize the talented spirit in these children and attempt to stop the curious growth with ignorance or punishment rather than teaching the children. My only belief in correct discipline is with methods of teaching. Thank you for this wonderful story.
Diane Joao says
I really needed to hear this. Thank you so much for posting.
I was one of those children. Teachers either channeled me and my energy or loathed my existence.
I’m now a physician. It was a long uphill battle to the end of my training- but I had the skunk and stubbornness to do it.
I now have 3 boys much like myself. They drive me crazy. And make me proud. All at the same time.
What would you tell the teachers now if a teacher of your first grader emailed you saying that he is an amazing student but doesn’t want to do as she says (specifically she said to sit and he wouldn’t ).
Oh man, thanks for this. I’m not a mother but rather a nanny of a VERY head strong 4 year old girl. Discipline hardly ever phases her and she barely listens until I’ve said something 20 times. She just does what she wants, and with parents that are justifiably absent both working and taking care of another child with a terminal illness, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who tells her no or holds her to a set of rules. It’s endlessly frustrating to watch her eyes glaze over when she’s getting in trouble. But that resolve she has, her fiery personality, her precocious attitude will be the thing that keeps her from giving in too easily to her peers. It will be the thing that gets her through her first big heartbreak. Her strength will lead her to conquer this world with a mischievous smile. Haha I love her even though she makes me insane. I should try harder to remember this on the days when I want to lock myself in the bathroom and throw away the key.
amanda, try reading Danny Silks Loving OUr Kids on Purpose, AND Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. The first is a christian book, one tool of many in parenting (and caregiver) toolbox.
Playful Parenting is a secular book written by a child psychologist, so there are some things to weed out, but I found it very useful with my 4 year old (essentially using play to get them to communicate their feelings etc.)
These resources may help you- but of course be clear with parents about things you are trying, as they may be for or opposed to them. 🙂
Norma Boyd says
I like your honesty in saying how you some times feel distraught; yet, you are recognizing the spirit with in your little student. Best of luck in your future with this child and others. Remember you might be the only teaching disciplinarian that some of these children will ever have.
Amanda – love this and I may just quote you… “Her strength will lead her to conquer this world with a mischievous smile.” Describes my youngest to a T…
Bonnie Zahn says
I am the mother of a VERY stubborn girl who never seems to listen to me. She wants to be a lawyer and what you said in this article made me sure she could be one. I thank you for this.
It’s true. My kids are grown and they were fairly happy, compliant kids and have done well. I felt bad for my two friends who had such strong-willed kids. But, those strong willed kids, now in their late 20’s, are doing great, great things! I’m as proud of them as my own kids!
The days are long but the years are short. Keep going. You’ll be so glad and so blessed!
I have one of those. She was born that way, is now 30 and a trial lawyer. We always knew the Lord had big plans for her. She could argue with the best before she was in school. It was a struggle, but as I look back, I miss the time all the children were at home, wonder at their uniqueness, and praise God that they are who they are. PS The lawyer and I are best friends.
Thank you for writing this and sharing your wise woman’s words of encouragement. I have been in the same boat and know I will be there again with my 8 and almost 6 year-old very spirited and very cute kids. I, too, have “desperately wanted to throw my hands in the air and scream” and done just that. Most of the time I realize I am the student. I will remember the words of your friend and your reminder here. Thank you.
Thank you for this encouraging piece about looking for and recognizing the beauties that lie in our strong willed babes. My son has his own agenda and knows how to turn on the tears whenever something does not go according to his plan. I have my share of difficult days, and with him only approaching his 2nd birthday, I am certain the worst is yet to come. I appreciate your honesty, but mostly I’m grateful for your encouragement!
Having strong willed challenge is more work, but its a blessing bc they aren’t going to grow up as pushovers….they ll be able to stand up for themselves and others, they aren’t going to give in to peer pressure, etc…..(:
Thanks for this article. I am the mother of a VERY strong willed almost 8 year old. He has ADHD on top of it. I try to pick my battles and only force him to do the things he absolutely HAS to do, and give him safe flexibility with the rest of it. That said, there have been many times when we both end up in tears over the battle to the things that must be done (homework!). He struggles in school with getting his work done and following rules (stay in your seat, no talking), but I just signed the paperwork to have him tested for the gifted program. At least he has a teacher that can see past his stubborn side and recognize the bright little boy behind it. At times I LOVE his confidence and strong will because I know it means that he will stand up for what he wants and needs and won’t be afraid to go for it. My strong will was squashed when I was a child and now I’m an anxious mess, afraid to speak up for fear of upsetting someone or getting in trouble. I just hope I can foster it properly and he grows up to be a confident, successful adult and not a spoiled brat who does whatever he wants at the expense of others.
Thank you all for reading! I am so glad that we can find strength in numbers to deal with the challenges of such strong willed and amazing children.
I rarely post on articles. But I needed to say thank you for posting this! I needed to hear this. I have four very strong willed children and debating a 5th! This really hit home for me. Your article brought me to tears! This is a new perspective to look at my children. I sincerely needed this paradigm shift. Thank you for sharing!
I have three of them( 7,5,3 years old) and have been questioning my parenting skills a lot! My eldest started ‘ arguing’ things before he could talk properly. If I tried to help him on something he would refuse and keep trying different ways until he figured it out. My second, we joke, is a lawyer in the making because she has a counter argument for everything now she is into writing notes to her classmates to instruct on proper ways to do things…because she knows. The youngest is just as opinionated as his siblings. Yes, we already have lively discussions at the dinner table, not mentioning the temper tantrums in early ages.
How can people get their children to contently sit and smile at church when one of mine is commando crawling under the pews trying to make his way out???!!! I want to believe there is some genetic link to this. Right? Please tell me so.
I SO needed this today! As a mother of 2 very strong willed children, and a former teacher, I constantly ask myself (and my parents) what I’m doing wrong. Someone reminded me once that the best qualities in adults (tenacity, independence, free-thinking, adventurous etc.) make for very difficult parenting. Hoping to one day see this is true. Thanks for writing this.
This was truly beautiful.
God sent you to write this for all of us mommas or strong willed kids. I have 2, that I homeschool, and while I know it is the right choice, my HEAVENS it is hard sometimes! I keep praying that God knows what he is doing with these 2 and one day I will understand 🙂 I am printing this to keep for always! Thank you and God Bless!
Thanks, Kendall. Kudos to you for homeschooling. I can’t imagine how tough that must be. Keep up the great work!
Maria Fisher aka Hereditary Insanity says
Thanks so much for posting this. I have a strong-willed 7 y-o daughter and while her spunk is one of the things I like most about her, it also creates the most discord in our house. My 4 y-o son has always been the “easy” one — obedient and eager to please, and my husband just doesn’t understand how one kid can be so easy and the other one can be so difficult. It makes sense because my son takes after him, my daughter after me. My hub thinks there’s something wrong with our daughter because she’s so strong-willed. He just doesn’t get it. I shared your post with him today. I hope it gets through to him. I’m pretty confident that it will. Thanks again.
You mean I’m really not doing anything wrong?!! I just said to my husband last night “why is it that none of our 3 kids listen and everything is a battle? ” best blog post of all bloggers posts 🙂
Thanks, Kim. Glad you enjoyed it.
Thank you few this wonderful, well-written and enlightening article. I have one very strong-willed little girl who tests my limits regularly. I had a similar experience at church, however it was the priest who approached me. She told me how much she liked my daughter and that God had chosen me as her parent. I teared up a bit and thanked as her timing was impeccable. That one statement put everything in perspective and I recall it with each difficult moment.
Thanks, Maggie. Sometimes all it takes is for somebody to tell us that things will turn out OK. I am so glad that you were also able to have that experience with your priest. Perspective is everything!
This article is funny yet true. I know because I was that child. Oh my god! I still remember my mother running after me and tugging her hair at her complete wits end. I was so stubborn and determined she always asked “What am I going to do with you?” My great grand mother told her countless times “Leave that baby alone. She’s going to grow up and be something. Just watch. That fire is going to take her far.” 20 years later my mother realizes what she meant because she looks at me daily and says “Never imagined my screaming stubborn and smart mouth four year old would turn into this.” So no worries with your little ones they’re going to do great in life. My attitude has kept me going and made me so determined. I graduated high school with high honors and now I’m a Nursing student in college. Even though high school years are troubling as well just know that it all gets better and we so worth it at the end.
Awesome, Simone! You are living proof that strong will is a blessing. Keep up the great work.
Thank you for posting this as i have a very very very strong willed 5 year old.Everything is a battle with him to him wanting be at the door first to get outside to getting him to try and eat veggies . To boot he still has pee pee accidents wven at school.He throws some whopper of a tantrum he throws things yells .Ive been wondering if i messed up some hoe as a parent seeing i stayed home to raise them until school started .I now see some light at the end of a very long tunnel lol .I can now see really great potential in his futur
Some people say “stubborn,” but I prefer “determined.” A trait is what we make of it. My kids aren’t pushovers when they feel they are right or when they want something. While it may be challenging, I’m sure it will aid them when they are older (dealing with peer pressure, for instance).
That’s the joke I have with my very accomplished sister. Every time I describe someone as stubborn, I think of her and add determined. My oldest son with the 4.0 GPA in college is very much like her. It has taken me his whole childhood to learn to be as strong as he is. Not only is he strong-willed, he has had and continues to have struggles that have made him even stronger.
While I agree to a point, you are also saying “Good children fail”! I have seen both through my years some very strong kids who did very well as some behaved kids did also and some strong kids who did not as some well behaved who did not. So, after all my years of watching children grow up this set’s a tone in my ear as I have seen many laid back kids grow up to be leaders.
thank you. I needed that today. Everyday. My 7,7,4,2 year olds all are so independent and bossy and well strong willed I often wonder where did I go wrong! I don’t have twins they’re Irish twins so till march they’re the same age. But they’re telling everyone they are twins! Just throwing that in there. 🙂
Leanne Strong says
I have Asperger Syndrome, and I’m not sure I’m strong willed, but I know I’m not very giving in either. I will NOT put up with people being mean to my friends! I have a hard time accepting feedback the way a compliant person would. When I was younger, I even had a hard time being nice to people when they were bending the rules (I was 18 when my school speech therapist talked to me about bending the rules, and after that I knew it was ok) Especially the rules of society. In kindergarten, my teacher told my parents, “Leanne keeps saying no. She’s so disagreeable.” And my parents said, “it’s a good thing she knows how to say no.” But they did some things that implied that they were trying to change me.
When I was in middle school age, I would be mean to teachers and peers who were bending the rules, or were doing things differently than I was taught and expected to do myself.
When I failed 2 of my regents exams (I was born and raised in Upstate New York), I didn’t give up on earning a regents diploma, and settle for a regular high school diploma. Instead, I decided to retake those 2 regents exams in August (New York State schools usually start school in September, and get out in June).
This is exactly what I need right now because, to be honest, I feel like I can’t remember the last time I had a good “Mommy moment.” Did you yell at your kids and lose it? I certainly do and that’s not how I wAnt them to grow up or remember their childhood but my patience are shot. Our children are 2, 4, and 6 and we are expecting again and due in August. I want to feel like a good Mom and I want to enjoy my kids but it feels like I constantly nag them and get angry and frustrated, especially when our 4 year old treats me horribly by screaming at me, telling me I’m mean, telling me to go away, etc. and throwing tantrums worse than our 2 year old. They are great for everyone else and they never act up for anyone else. This is great, but can’t they do this for me? I have been feeling like I don’t even want to be a mom anymore (not that I can change that) when really, all I want in the world is to be a good mom.
I can totally relate to this, Barbara. My kids are really close together, too. I also had four by the time my oldest was six, and those were exhausting days…especially when I was dealing with the “blessings” of a strong willed child. They didn’t feel like blessings back then, for sure, and I often felt overwhelmed. I wondered why I had chosen to spend my life taking care of little people who did not seem to be learning anything that I was trying to teach them. I totally get it…and yes…I have lost my cool with them for sure. I promise that you are doing better than you think you are. The trenches that you are in right now are extremely challenging, so give yourself some credit. Now that my kids are older, we deal with different challenges, but I don’t feel like they even compare to the ones that I faced when my kids were the ages that your kids are now. This, too, shall pass. I promise. So, hang in there and know that you are NOT alone in your struggles. One day you will see the fruits of your labors, and those strong willed children of yours will turn out just fine. Best of luck with the new little one. *Hugs*
Thank you so much for your response Lynnette, you have given me much hope!
Let me add my thanks to the chorus. I’m the father of an amazing, infuriating seven-year old who wants to be 15. I’ve spent so much time worrying about what might be wrong with her and trying to keep my temper in dealing with the defiance, the doing things behind our backs, the accusations of treating her like a baby, and the anger that I’ve forgotten the truth: she’s amazing, just in a challenging way that’s not what I had in mind. But as you and others have pointed out, our SWCs are their own people, perhaps more so than any other child. My ten-year-old daughter is a compliant people pleaser, but I worry that when she gets older people will walk all over her and take advantage of her. I NEVER worry about that with my youngest. Thank you for reminding me that we’re all together in this, and that our beautiful, intelligent, amazing kids will be fine. As will we.
Meg Taft says
Beautiful story, true and inspiring. Thank you.
thanks i spent the night crying about my strong willed child who wont even change for his peers! he seems so rude! I to had a lady at church tell me they were so cute and I said but look at them they never sit still in church and wont do as they are asked. she said boys just wear there sin on there selves, be thankful as there is nothing hiding!
I also went to a parenting session that started with the strong willed child will fight to get you the sunny room in the retirement village!! i just need to hang in and hope they get there in the end! k
This is so true. My daughter now 32, was pretty strong willed. I remember her arguing with me about how the car AC worked when she was 4! But I saw as she matured, it gave her the confidence to stand up for her(our) values. Later she moved overseas to North Africa and I saw that strong will serve her well. I think it was Dr. James Dobson that said, “Shape the will without breaking it.”
Thank You Lynn for this post when I absolutely needed it. I am the mother of a 7 year old strong willed girl who has an opinion about everything in the world. I have sleepless nights thinking about her and this post will help me to get through by every day struggles…But when they yell, scream and be disrespectful (even after time outs consequences…)how do we handle it? I am afraid she will not learn that it’s not appropriate to talk to your parents this way..
Julia M.L. Whitehead says
What a sweet and helpful post. Congrats on all the shares.
Maggie Zam says
I’m so glad I stumbled upon this unexpectedly… Thank you for sharing this! My child has started the transition from sweet child to strong-willed and determined to get things her way. This is definitely the reminder I needed that we are on a great track. Thank you!
This is certainly very nice to read 🙂
I’m just wondering… did your children also behave well as soon as they were away from home? Mine are absolute angels when at the kindergarten and they save all the worst tantrums for parents. It can be very frustrating sometimes.
YES, Maya. They have always behaved better at school or church, and are model students. Apparently they use all of their energy behaving in those settings and let their guard down when they get home. Lucky me! Frustrating, indeed!
shirley beautiza says
Hi Lynnette.. that is just a beautiful story you have shared.. and inspired mothers like me to just take it easy sometimes ya…
Lynnette, thank you so much for this encouraging post! I came across it today while desperately searching for resources to cope with my high-intensity, strong-willed 3 year old. I was wondering, is there a book or any other sort of resource you can personally recommend for parenting strong-willed little ones? I aim to do this well, but some days feel like an exercise in futility (I’m sure you understand!). Thanks! Meghan
Hi Meghan. Yes, I know exactly what you mean about feeling like your efforts are an exercise in futility! Oh, how I know. When my oldest (the most strong-willed of the five) was young, I read many books about parenting and discipline that recommended all sorts of methods for teaching kids to behave. I don’t remember reading any specifically about parenting the strong-willed child, but I tried all sorts of methods from time-out to rewards for good behavior and nothing seemed to work for long. I finally discovered John Rosemond, who quickly became my parenting expert of choice. His philosophy is rooted in common sense (how parenting had been done for generations) rather than psychology (where you need an expert to tell you what to do). At first I was skeptical because it was a very traditional approach that contradicted all of the psychological methods that were definitely the norm. But in desperation, I gave it a try and found it to work better than any other method that I had tried. It helped me to develop the confidence that I needed to be consistent in my discipline, and helped me to realize that consistency and strong leadership was exactly what my kids (especially the strong-willed ones) needed most from me.
While my parenting philosophy has evolved a bit over time, and I don’t read parenting books anymore because I try to focus on my own intuition, most of our core parenting techniques and values were heavily influenced by John Rosemond’s ideas. His methods are not specifically for strong-willed children, but they worked wonders for our strong-willed kids. If you are interested, I would start with “The Well-Behaved Child,” which gives some concrete ideas on how to squelch misbehavior. If you are interested in delving into his philosophy, my favorite book is “A Family of Value.” It gives a really in depth look at where he is coming from, as well as the three core values that every child needs to learn (and some ideas on how to teach them): respect, responsibility, resourcefulness.
Anyway, I hope that helps. Good luck with your little one and feel free to contact me anytime.
I am on a trip with my strong willed children and it has been difficult. I am exhausted. I needed some comfort and encouragement to get through the last few days of our trip and came across your posts about strong willed children. Thank you! Your words were exactly what I needed.
Thank you. I found your post on just the right day. My little girl is only 15 months and already I feel so inadequate and challenged by her strong will. I realize that it has only just begun, but your post is refreshing and encouraging. I know she was born for greatness and I want to parent in such a way that brings out the best in her. Blessings!
Hang in there, Jennifer! Like you said, she WAS born for greatness, and you are going to be awesome at facilitating that. Thanks for reading.
Paloma - Bebes e Crianças says
Congratulations for the content, I accompany you and I love it!