Ask the Experts—Help for Raising a Strong-Willed Child - MetroFamily Magazine
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Ask the Experts—Help for Raising a Strong-Willed Child

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This month’s question: My daughter is so strong-willed, no matter what I say, she always does the opposite. How can I encourage her to follow the rules and guidelines of our family and beyond?

Even at a very young age, children can be taught that good decisions result in positive consequences, and conversely, bad decisions result in negative consequences.
Understanding positive and negative consequences is an important lesson for children to learn about the world. I would recommend that you develop a series of guidelines for your child with both positive and negative consequences explained. Let her make her own decisions, separate from your influence or emotions. Then, as the parent, be responsible for carrying out the consequences.

Teach her that her world can be easy or difficult, depending on her decisions. It’s also helpful to incorporate her responsibilities or privileges into her decision-making process. If she behaves maturely, give her mature, age-appropriate privileges; if she behaves immaturely, respond with appropriate loss of privileges.

Donnie Van Curen, M.A., LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist with Counseling 1820, LLC. 405-823-4302,

Strong-willed kids can challenge even the best parent’s skills. Trying to change a child’s behavior is a process and requires consistency and plenty of patience. Choose one or two behaviors that your daughter exhibits that you want to change and work on those behaviors.

Talk with her and explain the consequences of each behavior and what you want her to do instead. Choose a consequence you know you can consistently enforce, is realistic, and appropriate for the child’s age and that particular behavior. If she is in school or a child care program, discuss how her behavior will be handled by her teacher and the importance of everyone following the rules at school because they are meant to protect and help everyone learn.

Another way to deal with “bad behaviors” is to find ways to show your child a more appropriate behavior that still fulfills her need for independence and is an outlet for her energy. For very young children, re-directing the child’s attention can be an effective means of changing behaviors.

Tamara Walker, RN is a talk show host and speaker in Edmond.

This is a tough topic to handle in a short column; whole books and programs have been developed around this issue! If I were to sum up my professional thoughts, I would say this: A strong-willed child is dancing to a different tune than the children who follow directions easily. There are many good characteristics of having a strong will. She will not be taken advantage of easily. She is probably willing to take the consequences for her behavior. A child who obeys easily doesn’t like consequences, so tries harder to avoid them, but a strong-willed child is strong enough to take the consequences.

My advice is to continue to discipline her, even if it doesn’t seem to change her behavior. But if you discontinue the discipline, she will take over the house and do whatever she likes, whenever she likes.

I would encourage you to try a new type of discipline for two weeks at a time. Figure out what tune she’s dancing to, find what is important to her and what motivates her. When you discover her tune, you will be able to motivate her in the behaviors you want to teach her to engage in or abstain from.

Devonne Carter, LCSW, is a Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Edmond. 405-326-3923, .

Our Readers Respond:

  • Give her two choices that you are comfortable with and let her decide for herself. Then she will feel like she has some control and you get your desired outcome.
  • I’d say if she is off the chart with her oppositional behavior, then you might be looking at something where you need professional help.
  • She needs to feel empowered! She should have mandatory chores, because she’s part of the family. With privileges of being such a grown up come responsibilities.
  • Pick your battles, for one. Let her have some choices that she feels she can really make. Then, you have to law down the law on the non-negotiable things. You have to look at how you really feel about everything, and, if something is not that big of a deal, don’t waste time and energy on it.

Thanks to Tara T., Leah M., Sarah T. and Kathy W. for your feedback!

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