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10 Signs You Are Raising a Strong-Willed Child

Although all kids can be strong-willed sometimes, a truly strong-willed child exhibits certain characteristics consistently. Also referred to as “spirited children,” strong-willed kids' temperaments are often evident from the minute they're born. 

Being strong-willed isn't the same as being a "bad kid." Strong-willed kids are simply determined to do things according to their own terms.

While their sheer stubbornness can be admirable at times, it can also be downright frustrating. It's hard to convince a strong-willed child to do anything they don't want to do.

Here are the 10 most common characteristics and behaviors of strong-willed children:


1. They Exhibit Intense Angry Outbursts 

While all kids throw temper-tantrums, strong-willed kids exhibit intense anger that doesn’t subside for a long time. They have low frustration tolerance and they struggle to express their anger in a socially appropriate manner.

You're likely to find a strong-willed child stomping his feet, throwing himself to the ground, or showing you how loud he can yell. And sometimes, you might have no idea what even set him off in the first place.

Parenting strategy: Acknowledge your child's feelings.

Angry outbursts are often used as a way to ensure other people understand the extent of their distress. Validate your child’s feelings by saying, “I understand you’re upset that we can’t go to Grandma’s house right now.”

Even if you think your child's behavior is overly dramatic for the situation, don't minimize his feelings by saying, "It's not a big deal." When strong-willed kids feel heard and understood, they feel less compelled to prove to you how bad they feel.


2. They Demand to Know Why 

One of the worst things a strong-willed child can hear is, “Because I said so.” They want to know why they can't play in the rain or why it's a bad idea to jump on the couch.

While you might be tempted to say, "I don't know," or "Just because," those types of answers won't satisfy your child. You'll need to share why it's a safety, moral, social, or legal issue if you want your child to stop arguing.

Parenting strategy: Provide a brief explanation.

While it’s not helpful to provide a lengthy explanation, a description of the underlying reason why you’ve set a certain limit can be helpful. For example, say, “We can’t go to the park today because it’s snowing out and the playground equipment will be unsafe,” will help your child understand that your rules aren't simply an attempt to torture her, but there's a valid reason behind them.


3. They Can Argue Forever

Strong-willed kids don’t give up when they disagree. They love to engage in power struggles and their stubborn persistence often tires people out.

They're great debaters who are good at finding loopholes and exceptions. So don't be surprised when your child recalls that one time you let him eat ice cream for breakfast or the one time you justified lying because you didn't want to pay for the ticket into the zoo even though he was too old to get a free ticket.

Parenting strategy: Give one warning and follow through with a consequence.

Sometimes parents avoid giving strong-willed kids consequences because they don’t want to deal with the aftermath. But strong-willed kids need to develop an understanding of when their behavior crosses the line.

Offer a single warning such as, "If you don't stop arguing right now, then you won't be able to watch TV for the rest of the day." If he doesn't stop, follow through with a consequence. Negative consequences, such as removing privileges or time-out, can increase your child's motivation to follow the rules in the future. 


4. They’re Bossy

Strong-willed kids have a vision in their mind about the way things should be and they’ll often orchestrate ways to turn that idea into reality. They have no problem telling their peers where to stand or how to behave and they’re not shy about telling adults what to do.

Parenting strategy: Call for a do-over.

When your child says things like, "Give me that toy," or "Stand over there," make him practice stating his needs in a more appropriate manner. Say, "That's not how we ask for something. Try again in a kinder way." Have conversations about the importance of being respectful and discuss how other children are likely to feel about him when he's bossy to them.


5. They Refuse to do Things They Don't Want to Do

Don’t waste your energy trying to convince a strong-willed child to do something she doesn’t want to do. Nagging, begging, and rationalizing isn’t likely to get you anywhere. Strong-willed kids will dig in their heels and refuse to budge.

Parenting strategy: Offer two choices.

Strong-willed kids are more likely to comply when they feel like they have some choices in the matter. So rather than say, “Clean your room now,” ask, “Do you want to clean your room now or in 10 minutes?” Giving her a choice can help her feel more empowered and reduce her need to control everything (just make sure you can live with either answer).


6. They’re Impatient

Strong-willed kids want to do everything according to their timetables. They hate waiting in line at the grocery store, they don’t like waiting for their turn when playing a game, and they aren’t interested in sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. They don’t want to waste a second waiting for someone else.

Parenting strategy: Encourage problem-solving.

Waiting is a part of life and it's important for your child to learn how to cope with waiting. Plan ahead and help her see that she has options by asking questions like, "What do you want to bring with you to do while we wait in the waiting room today?" Whether she decides to color or play with her favorite toy, make it clear that she has options in how she handles the situation.


7. They Make Their Own Rules

Strong-willed kids aren’t interested in hearing your opinion about when it's time for bed. Instead, they’re likely to insist they’ll go to sleep when they’re tired. They prefer to make their own policies and set their own guidelines rather than follow an authority figure's rules.

Parenting strategy: Avoid making too many rules.

Too many rules will overwhelm a strong-willed child and reduce her motivation to comply. Focus on the most important rules only. Avoid power struggles over minor issues and allow your child to face natural consequences whenever possible.

For example, if your 10-year-old insists she doesn’t want to wear a jacket to the store, avoid getting into a battle over it. If she’s cold, she may choose to wear a jacket in the future.


8. They Insist on Getting What They Think They Deserve

Strong-willed kids struggle to understand the difference between a 'need' and a 'want.' Whether they want to play outside in the rain or eat a hot dog for breakfast, they’ll claim they need to do it.

They're also very concerned with fairness. Even when things are going their way, they'll often insist they're not getting their fair share.

Parenting strategy: Use rewards more than consequences.

Use a reward system, like a token economy system, to reward good behavior. Just make sure you make the parameters for earning rewards abundantly clear ahead of time.

A reward system leaves the choice up to your child. Say, "Clean your room and earn time to watch TV. If you decide not to clean your room, and you don’t get to use your electronics." A token economy system will give your child a chance to earn privileges without feeling punished.


9. They Ignore Warnings They Don't Want to Hear

Tell a strong-willed child to 'be careful,' or 'use walking feet,' and if she’s not interested, she’ll simply ignore you. Strong-willed kids are good at using selective hearing and they easily tune out anything that doesn’t suit their needs.

Parenting strategy: Stick to your word.

If you tell your child to do something and she ignores you, step in and address the situation so she knows that you say what you mean and you mean what you say.

If you say you’re going to take away electronics privileges for the day, it’s essential that you follow through with that limit. Then, your child will learn that you aren't wasting your words on empty threats.


10. They Move at Their Own Pace

Tell a strong-willed child she can go to the park and she’s likely to move like a bull in a china shop in an effort to get out the door. Tell her to get ready to go to the grocery store and she may dawdle for an hour. Strong-willed kids often eat fast and talk fast but then move at a snail’s pace when doing something they aren’t interested in doing.

Parenting strategy: Make your expectations clear.

Strong-willed kids are famous for saying things like, “But you didn’t tell me that!” Whether you’re headed to the library or a neighbor’s house for a visit, set your expectations ahead of time. Make it clear what constitutes acceptable behavior and discuss the consequences of breaking the rules ahead of time.

Say, "I expect you to be ready in 10 minutes." Explain what will happen if she isn't and then make sure to follow through with consequences if needed.

The Positive Aspect of Raising Strong-Willed Kids

Before you start thinking that your strong-willed child is destined to become a menace to society, keep in mind that his attitude might actually be an asset at some points in his life. In fact, a 40-year study published in Developmental Psychology found that kids who break the rules become some of the highest income earners as adults.1

And while money isn't everything, knowing that your strong-willed child can use his power for good might give you some solace. Strong-willed kids can be great leaders who aren't afraid to stand up to the things they believe in.

So while you'll likely encounter many challenges along the way, raising a strong-willed child can also be an exciting adventure. The key is to find ways to help your child channel his energy into something positive, rather than crushing his spirit.

6 Biblical Reasons Why You Need to Teach Your Children Boundaries


It’s often said that we teach others how to treat us. We teach others how to treat us through the way we treat ourselves and through the type of treatment we accept from others. This is as true for adults as it is for children.

As parents (or other caregivers), it’s our job to teach our kids to treat others well by teaching them about boundaries, including such lessons as how to speak to people politely, why it’s important to keep your hands to yourself, and why you shouldn’t take what isn’t yours.

In addition to instructing our kids on how to respect others, it’s also a parent’s job to teach kids how to assert their own boundaries so that others know how to respect our kids, too.

Scripture tells us that Our Father, like any parent, wants His children to have a bright, hopeful future and live peacefully with one another (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). To help us achieve that, God gave us the Bible as a “roadmap on relationships” to follow and impart to our children.

Here are 6 Biblical reasons why it’s important to teach your children to have healthy boundaries.


1. Boundaries Teach Children to Be Responsible

Scripture says that each person is to carry his own load or, in other words, take charge of his own responsibilities (Galatians 6:5). For children, these responsibilities vary by age.

The littlest ones may only be responsible for listening to Mom and Dad, and not hitting or throwing—all early lessons in respect (boundaries with others) and self-control (boundaries with self). As children grow, so do their responsibilities to include such things as getting themselves ready for school, doing their homework without reminders, and keeping their rooms and other areas of the home clean.

Accomplishing these daily tasks is essential for children to establish their own identity and role in the household apart from their parents. Further, giving children age-appropriate tasks gives kids the opportunity to learn how to do things on their own, i.e., practice carrying their own load.

This lesson in independence and responsibility will become crucial as children move on to college, enter into adult relationships, and join the workforce.

2. Neglected Boundaries Teach Children Consequences

The Bible warns us that, sooner or later, we all reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Children who don’t meet their responsibilities or who expect others to complete their tasks for them eventually feel the consequences of their negligent behavior.

A child who doesn’t do her homework risks getting low grades and missing an opportunity to learn; a child who pushes his chores onto others risks losing privileges at home and having loved ones develop resentment for him.

It’s important for parents to let children experience the consequences of dodging their responsibilities. Teaching kids to carry their own weight or suffer the consequences doesn’t make parents the “bad guys” or “overly strict.”

Rather, it shows that parents understand that giving kids age-appropriate responsibilities in the present bolsters the chances of those kids practicing positive life habits in the future.

3. Boundaries Help Keep Children Healthy

Scripture declares that our body is a temple within which the Holy Spirit resides, so everything we eat, drink, and do should be for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 6:191 Corinthians 10:31).

Every adult knows that the state of our physical health impacts our outlook and self-esteem. Despite this truth, practicing the boundary of self-control is one of the toughest things for adults to do, let alone children!

Left to her own devices, what child wouldn’t spend most of the day eating cookies and chips and binge-watching TV? Parents wind up feeling ignored when they remind kids about the benefits of healthy eating, face-to-face conversations, and sufficient sleep.

When this frustration sets in, the Gospels help parents explain the importance of self-control in terms that even a child can understand: God loves us down to the very hair on our head and wants us to keep our bodies healthy today so that we can have a happy future tomorrow (Luke 12:71 Corinthians 6:19Jeremiah 29:11).

4. Boundaries Help Keep Children Safe

The Bible is clear in its warning: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Children lack the emotional maturity and life experience to see the “red flags” that identify certain people as “bad company.” Because of this, parents have to instruct children on what specific behavior is and is not acceptable.

Moreover, parents should encourage children to be unafraid to assert these boundaries as a sort of “personal property line” that mustn’t be crossed.

There’s no question that a child’s immediate physical and emotional safety is a parent’s top priority. To keep children safe, parents can set down rules (i.e. boundaries) to keep “bad company” at bay. For example, depending on the child’s age, parents can:

 - Insist on meeting the person(s) your child is spending time with;

 - Check social media accounts and cell phone messages;

 - Discuss internet safety frequently;

 - Link family cell phones with a location and alert app to monitor your child’s whereabouts;

 - Encourage kids to say “no” and stick to that “no” when they feel uncomfortable or scared;

 - Enforce curfews; and

 - Not allow little ones to answer the door or the telephone.

5. Boundaries Teach Children to Respect Themselves

Each of us is a child of God, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). In teaching children to honor all of God’s creations, parents need to emphasize to children that this includes honoring themselves.

How a child views and acts towards himself is vital not only because it reflects the child’s self-worth, but it also tells others how they can treat the child as well. Therefore, if your child tends to put himself down, this may well signal to others that they can mistreat your kid too because he’ll tolerate or even expect the demeaning treatment.

If your child exhibits a pattern of undervaluing herself, it’s never too late to encourage her to have higher self-esteem. Start by reminding her that she is made in the image of the Most High God (Genesis 1:27). Then, ask your child what she wants for herself, what she thinks God and her family want for her, and how that compares with the way she treats herself and allows others to treat her.

Any concerning responses can be addressed through improved boundaries with herself and/or others.   

6. Boundaries Teach Children to Respect Others, Wisely

When it comes to teaching kids how to interact with others, even children know the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). This high bar is intended to be a lifelong endeavor given our human nature toward selfishness and envy.

Luckily, Scripture guides parents on how to teach children to respect others, and also on how to teach kids to exercise sound judgment when faced with people who behave in ways that the Bible forbids.

The Bible reminds parents to teach children to respect the boundaries of others by acting humbly and considerately, and by acknowledging the authority of their elders such as parents, teachers, and coaches (Romans 12:101 Peter 5:5).

As much as God wants us to teach our children to honor others, He also wants our kids to steer clear of people who might pull them away from Him. This means that raising children to have healthy boundaries includes working with them on how to spot and avoid the bad influences in this world.

Specifically, parents should discourage their children from befriending people who do such things as:

 - Profane the Bible (Matthew 7:6);

 - Are prone to wrath (Proverbs 22:24);

 - Are sexually immoral (1 Corinthians 6:18);

 - Lie, cheat, or engage in substance abuse (1 Corinthians 5:11); or

 - Give foolish advice (Proverbs 14:7).

When we teach our children to have healthy boundaries, we arm them with a better sense of judgment as they go out into the world and face different people and situations. This good judgment helps our kids have more peaceful relationships with themselves and with those around them.

A child at peace has the skill set to, in turn, grow into an adult at peace, spreading this sense of harmony to others, as God intended (Proverbs 22:6).

Dolores Smyth writes on faith and families. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth




I came across this quote from author L.R. Knost not long ago and it has become my mantra for calming meltdowns, tantrums and anything in between.

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it is our job to share our calm not join their chaos.”

Tantrums are a completely normal part of child development. It’s how our little ones express themselves over anything from discomfort to simply not getting what they want. But that doesn’t mean it’s not exhausting, frustrating and down right chaotic to try and diffuse them. Sometimes the response that our children need the most is the hardest to offer in the moment. In my experience, the most effective method for disarming a tantrum is a calming, positive approach. Here are 5 Simple Tips for Taming Tantrums that may help to deescalate meltdowns and preserve your sanity.

1.) Remain Calm

It is entirely true that children feed off of our emotions. If we treat a child’s tantrum with fierce anger and frustration it is possible to intensify the tantrum rather than mitigate it. Try to remove all emotion and focus on yourself, especially the guilt or embarrassment which can heighten feelings of overwhelm (remember, every parent has been there!) Your child isn’t trying to give you a tough time, they’re having a tough time.

2.) Use Positive Language Alternatives

Avoid the use of “no” if at all possible and try these positive language alternatives.



3.) Try a Calming Diversion

Does your child have a favorite book or comforting blanket? Offering these items could help console a child during a tantrum. Other tools could be a calming jar (such as these), relaxation activities such as deep breaths or yoga poses, essential oils, and songs. When the meltdown occurs in a public place without access to these tools, try removing them from the environment in which the situation began. If your child runs, throws or hits during a meltdown assess surroundings to ensure safety before approaching.

Hugging is an excellent use of diversion, but always ask if they need a hug beforehand. Studies have shown that proprioceptive input through hugging is extremely helpful for regulating the senses and helping tame a tantrum. Something as simple as a tight squeeze can provide a sense of calm & return your child to the moment.

4.) Observing and Learning

Is there a pattern or trend for where these tantrums occur? Say, in the toy section at Target or when deciding on what to wear in the morning? Research indicates that events leading up to a tantrum can be critical to whether or not it actually occurs. Noticing where and when your child is likely to have a tantrum is essential in diffusing or avoiding it altogether. Maybe bypass the toys next time at the store, or offer options on outfits in the morning so your child feels in control. Another thing to keep in mind is choosing battles wisely. Ask yourself this question:

Will this decision impact my child down the road?

Examples: Something like, wearing a helmet on the tricycle could potentially have long term effects and is probably a battle to be fought. Forcing a child to hug a relative before they leave (and thus inducing an incident) is likely not life altering. Maybe have a conversation later about hugging and why we show affection instead of ensnaring yourself in an emotionally escalated situation.

5.) Consistency and Not Caving

A sure-fire way to keep the tantrums coming is to cave or give in to the tantrum. For example, if a child melts down in the candy aisle begging for a lollipop, giving her the lollipop will underline the negative behavior and reinforce it for next time. If the child is denied the lollipop repeatedly, it’s possible for them to learn that a tantrum in this particular instance will not get them what they want. Be consistent and confident with your choices as you know best for the child, not vice versa.


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