Parenting your Strong Willed Child

Parenting a Strong Willed Toddler: 10 Tips to End Power Struggles. Free Printables Included.

If you are reading this you may think. ” Great! Maybe this is going to tell me how to parent my strong willed toddler so they will listen!” or “Maybe this will be the solution to the meltdowns!” or “Dear God, PLEASE let this work!”

Parenting a Strong Willed Toddler: 10 Tips to End Power Struggles

You may just be looking for a way to help them learn certain skills or improve upon behaviors that are less than desirable. Or you could be like me. Trying to prevent your three year old from burning the house down and putting you in the nut ward.

They Say Every Child is Different.

Here is the truth. My first child is NOTHING like my second. I have always been able to talk with him and basically redirect his behavior or attitudes, even as a toddler and preschooler. Sure, he had his bad days. He was challenging at times. But not day in and day out like my second boy.

My first son basically made me think I was a parenting whiz. I felt sorry for other parents who had kids with problems they felt they couldn’t solve. I felt so lucky and blessed. I thought I had all of the right answers.

Then came boy #2. He brought a swift and abrupt end to my golden parent era. I have been brought to my knees and humbled by raising my second child.

Parenting your Strong Willed Toddler: 10 Tips to End Power Struggles

Many things I said I would never do, say or be. . . well I have done, said and been “those” things.

Then came the realization, I KNOW NOTHING. Anything I thought I knew, well I don’t!

He is a runner. He is a daredevil. He is a biter. He has made his older brother and sister bleed. Sinks overflow in our home. The dog is NEVER safe. If he is quiet, you HAVE to FIND HIM! My own mother recently sent him back to me fter keeping him one day and literally said “What will you do when the new baby gets here?”

Do You Have a Strong Willed Toddler?

According to,  if you identify some or all of these characteristics in your child, you may have a strong willed toddler. Paretning your Strong Willed Toddler: 10 Tips to End Power Struggles

  • Intense Outburst– Low frustration tolerance and extended tantrums. They struggle to express their anger in a socially appropriate manner.
  • Demand to Know WHY– They want EVERYTHING explained to them.
  • They Can Argue Forever– They love to engage in power struggles. Are stubbornly persistent.
  • They are Bossy– They have their own agenda and don’t mind letting you or their peers know.
  • They Refuse to Do What They Don’t Want to Do– Nagging, begging or rationalization will get you nowhere with these kids.
  • They are Impatient– They want things done on their timetable. 
  • They Set Their Own Rules– Ignore others boundaries, rules and refuse to follow under someone else’s authority. 
  • Insisting on Getting What They Think They Deserve– Struggle to understand the difference between a need and a want. Very concerned with fairness, especially when it pertains to them. 
  • Ignore Warnings They Don’t Want to Hear-Selective hearing. Tuning out those things that do not serve their needs.
  • Moving at Their Own Pace– Be it fast or slow. 

Advantages of Strong Willed Children.

You may think you are raising Dennis the Menace. However having a child with a strong will can be a great attribute. Children with a strong will are not easily swayed or pressured. They stay the course. They are committed. They like to dig their heels in and take a stance. They are not afraid of using their voices to get their point across or stand up for what they believe in. 

These children often turn into our future leaders, advocates, entrepreneurs and  innovators. Raising them to get to that point is the challenge. 

How can we teach them to use these qualities for good? How can we teach them to channel their extreme energy into goodness instead of crushing them and losing our minds at the same time?

Parenting a Strong Willed Child: 10 Tips to End Power Struggles.

1. Use Simple Commands.

Strong willed children have short attention spans and an agenda of their own they are ready to get back to. 

Give them direct and short instructions to follow so they do not get overwhelmed. 

2. Set Clear Expectations. 

Let them know exactly what you expect from them and what they can expect from you at all times. 

Have a consistent routine and schedule they can follow so there are no surprises. This will eliminate many power struggles for transitions and activities. 

3. Give them Plenty of Time.

Strong willed children, toddlers in general, are on their own timetable. Allow for transitional time and create margin in your schedule for the unexpected. 

If you need to leave the house or an activity at a certain time, help them get ready and give them advance warnings. 10 minutes before and 5 minutes before. This will allow them to wrap up what they are currently doing and prepare for the next activity. 

4. Give Choices. 

Too many choices can overwhelm children this age. Give 2 choices both with the same outcome. 

Such as ” Sweetie, Would you like to eat lunch on your red plate or blue plate today?” or “Would you like to wear your rain boots or sandals to the grocery store today?”

5. Pick Your Battles.

My mother always told me to pick my battles.  Save the power struggles for when it really matters. 

Does it REALLY matter if Sara Jane wears her new red bow on the fourth of July with her new red/white/blue dress? Does it REALLY matter if Jack refuses to wear pajamas to bed and instead falls asleep with his undies on his head? Ultimately, No.

What DOES MATTER is if my child is holding my hand in the parking lot of a store to prevent him from running away from me and possibly getting hurt.

6. Natural Consequences.

Sometimes strong willed children learn best by experiencing things themselves. As much as is safe and possible, allow them to experience the world around them in a way that allows natural consequences to be the teacher. 

7. Consistent/Immediate Consequences.

When #6 is just not possible, make sure that however you are choosing to deal with the current situation is immediately following the offense and is consistent. Again this lets your child know what to expect from you. Also if you put off dealing with the offense, young children will not make the connection between the two events

8. Set Them Up for Success.

Do not have unrealistic expectations of your strong willed child. Know their limitations. Know your own limitations. Understand the triggers.  

Try to set them up for success by making sure they are well rested, have had healthy filling meals and are getting enough time to play to burn off energy. 

9. Praise and Focus on a Job Well Done.

There will be many things your toddler may get in trouble for or need correction for. When they do something well or show improvement in an area make SURE to point that out to them. However, don’t just say “Good Job!”. Tell them EXACTLY what you are proud of them for. Example:  “Great job picking up your blocks when Mommy asked you to!” It is more likely if the positive behavior is pointed out to them, that they will repeat it in the future.

10. When Meltdowns Happen.

WHEN and not IF a meltdown happens, because it WILL HAPPEN, let it happen if you can. 

While they are flailing and screaming, assess what could be wrong . Are they hungry? Are they tired? Have they played enough today? Have I spent enough time connecting with them? Assess the basics FIRST.

If all of these have been met and you are simply enforcing a rule or boundary they are not happy with, DO NOT allow yourself to get sucked in. As hard as it is, the more you react emotionally the more power your toddler knows they have over you. 

Remain calm, check on them frequently and let them know when they are done you guys can talk about why they are so unhappy. If it escalates or this is a frequent occurrence they may need to be removed to an area where they can express their feelings but not so it is interrupting or harming others.

When all else fails . . . 

I have recently found myself at the end of my rope with our 3 year old  strong willed toddler. I found myself not even enjoying being around him because it has been SO difficult to parent him day in and day out. It has sucked every ounce of mental and emotional energy I have.

None of the other parenting methods I have tried seemed to be working with him. Mostly they have focused on correcting the negatives. 

Then I thought to myself “What if I tried to focus on the positives?” “How can I put him more in control of the outcome of HIS behavior?” How can I channel all of that crazy wild energy instead of trying to crush these terrible behaviors?”

That’s when I came up with  . . . 

Positive Behavior Charts and Printables for the Strong Willed Toddler That Actually Work!!

The idea behind the first chart is that you will start each day with a clip in the middle of the chart on *Let’s Start Over*, if your child is making great choices clip up according to the positive behavior shown. If they are displaying negative behavior, clip down. This is a great way for children who are visual learners to see exactly where they are at that day. If they reach all the way to the top they earn a reward! If they clip all the way down to the bottom they would lose a privilege. 

Parenting your Strong Willed Toddler: 10 Tips to End Power Struggles.

The idea behind the second chart is when the child displays the behaviors listed they can place a sticker in the circle. When they reach 4 stickers in a row they can earn a small reward or privilege. This shows them they are in charge of the outcome of their actions. 

Parenting your Strong Willed Toddler: 10 Tips to End Power Struggles.

In a matter of DAYS since implementing this new method we have had several small successes and less meltdowns!

That is such a big WIN for us! After weeks of tears (from him and I), yelling, time outs, and failure, we are finally finding something that may work!

Try these out! Let me know if you too have a strong willed toddler. Did the charts help? What other methods have you found that work well?

Tubby Todd

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