Parenting & Motherhood

The Good, Bad & Ugly of Raising a Strong Willed Child

February 20, 2017
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A Continuous Battle

Here we were again. Another day of seemingly constant battles. Feeling desperate, I glance at the clock. 9:00 am. Only nine in the morning and already we’ve had three knockout battles. Only nine in the morning and I’ve already begun crying, dreading another day of seemingly constant tantrums and battles of wills. Only nine in the morning and my regular mantra of Lord, help! has escaped my lips more times than I can count. Only nine in the morning and I can only guess what will bring on the next crisis.

When I first became a parent, I naively felt like I had things pretty much under control. After all, as one of nine children and having spent years of babysitting, nannying, and finally educating children I had received a wellspring of hands-on experience in the duties of caring for, teaching, and disciplining children. Motherhood felt like a natural fit as I saw the fruition of my greatest dreams come true. In fact, as we prepared to leave the hospital with our newborn baby girl the nurse commented that we were two of the most comfortable first-time parents she had ever seen.

Raising a strong willed child brings you to your knees like nothing else. In those moments when I feel at an utter loss, or worse those moments when I fail, I go to my Heavenly Father begging for his grace and wisdom. And in the process, I'm forced to battle with my own demons which prevent me from loving and disciplining my child the way he needs and deserves.And even though there were struggles during that first 18 months, most especially with juggling the challenges of motherhood while working full time, that confidence largely continued. My daughter was an easy baby. She rarely had tantrums, began conversing with us early on, and actually asked to be put to sleep when she was ready for naptime or bedtime. I don’t mean to imply that she was/is perfect, but I understood how to guide and discipline her, rarely feeling I was “in over my head.”

My Little Fighter

And then 18 months and a few weeks later we were blessed with our precious son. Each child is completely unique and it became apparent early on that he would be radically different from his sister. Almost instantly our little man showed signs of his great determination. He could break out of a swaddle (no matter how tight) by the time he was three weeks old; he rolled over for the first time at 2 months and was walking at 9 1/2 months old. He remains a bundle of passion and energy, wholeheartedly entering into every emotion he feels and occupation he undertakes. This means he can be the greatest of lovers, the most delightful bundle of giggles and fun, or (more frequently than not) a tirade of anger and frustration when things don’t go his way. His little body is literally overcome by his emotions, having to be expressed outwardly in some way what he feels inside. When he’s happy, he is continuously hugging and kissing and when he is angry or frustrated he has to strike out at someone or something–even if it’s himself.

Though not even two years old, our son lives by one philosophy: If I try hard enough, it will happen. I’ve seen this time and time again. A few weeks ago he continued to try to climb up the slide for nearly twenty minutes without ceasing until he eventually succeeded. If someone closes a door on him, he will continue to run into it like a battering ram until it either opens or he is physically removed. When put in timeout, he throws out his arms and says, “Why?!” And much to his mother’s horror, we’ve already had to transition him into a big boy bed to prevent him from breaking his neck while climbing up and throwing himself down from the crib. He has no fear; nothing holds him back from achieving his goals.

How to Channel instead of Stifle

For me as a parent, this is both awe-inspiring and terrifying all at the same time. I remind myself over and over again that his determination, strength of character, and passion will all be tools that will enable him to succeed in adulthood. That if I can teach him to channel his intensity, rather than trying to stifle it, he will soar. That these are the qualities which distinguished the great leaders of our past.

But therein lies the rub, for it is my job to help him positively express these emotions and qualities; to help him positively channel his emotions. How can I get through to him when his anger engulfs him? How can I communicate more effectively with him, helping him understand the ‘why’ behind the consequence or decision? How can I prevent my own temper from flaring when I feel overwhelmed and grow tired of the fight? In those moments when I desperately want him to just comply, rather than question and struggle.

What Strong-Willed Children Reveal

Perhaps the hardest thing of all about having a strong willed child is what it reveals about us, the parent. Nothing brings out your own hidden vices like a child, especially a strong willed one. There is no room for selfishness, pride, and impatience when raising children; no place to hide our secret vanities. They inevitably come out when we are tired and emotions are flying high. And our children learn far more from these outbursts and ways of dealing with stress than anything else we tell them.Raising a strong willed child brings you to your knees like nothing else. In those moments when I feel at an utter loss, or worse those moments when I fail, I go to my Heavenly Father begging for his grace and wisdom. And in the process, I'm forced to battle with my own demons which prevent me from loving and disciplining my child the way he needs and deserves.

And though I’ve jokingly said, “He’s either going to break or make me,” there is truth to this statement. Raising a strong willed child brings you to your knees like nothing else. In those moments when I feel at an utter loss, or worse those moments when I fail, I go to my Heavenly Father begging for his grace and wisdom. And in the process, I’m forced to battle with my own demons which prevent me from loving and disciplining my child the way he needs and deserves.

As I shared in my earlier post Toiling in the Vineyard, raising children whatever their natural disposition isn’t easy. We are all works in progress and–because of our fallen nature–we are all born with certain inclinations toward sin. Maybe it’s more obvious in your strong willed little one, but it’s there in us all. And truth be told, though I have my moments of feeling defeated and overwhelmed, I wouldn’t have my headstrong boy any other way because then he wouldn’t be my boy. And though tempers can get ugly, and we have our bad days, the good far outweighs the bad. We’re helping each other get to heaven, and that’s what it’s all about.

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  1. Very encouraging to hear. Coming from a large family myself, I've always hoped/planned on many children. But sometimes my two just seem so overwhelming. It's always great to hear from people who were once in my position and went on to have more.

  2. You can count me in too! My oldest is my strong willed. Nothing has challenged me more than her. She too has the philosophy "If I try hard enough, it will happen." This is especially true with challenging what she is told to do. It drives me bananas when she doesn't comply! I fight my own demons every time not to let my anger and frustration overtake me especially when I'm tired. I find myself begging for grace on a daily basis. The strong willed child leaves no room for slacking in your faith. It is a constant necessity to frequent the sacraments, especially confession and of course constant prayer! Even with these things I still fail very often. I'm glad I'm not alone as well.

  3. Yes, exactly!! My second was also my strongest willed and most challenging (now I have 5 and they are all challenging in their own way)! Definitely a tool for sanctification.

  4. Your post totally reminds me of when I was a young parent too! My first was an angel baby, and my second daughter was autistic with sensory issues. Not exactly the same as what you are going through, but the struggle was as challenging. The first few years were extremely hard. The good news is that raising my youngest has made me stronger, given me direction and purpose in life, and built my faith from that of a mustard seed to the strong, beautiful relationship with Jesus I have now. HE is your real support through this. That said, get all the help, rest, nutrition, support you can. (Don't skip nutrition, it will help you!) And then be in the Word as much as your little one lets you 🙂 Wishing you peace!

  5. I think that's why we struggle against our strong willed children so much…because we are fighting ourselves as much as them. It's definitely difficult, but beautiful at the same time. I'm glad to know that has been true for someone else too. It's always nice to know that you're not alone.

  6. This: "Perhaps the hardest thing of all about having a strong willed child is what it reveals about us, the parent. Nothing brings out your own hidden vices like a child, especially a strong willed one." I've found that to be so true in my own mothering journey. Thanks for sharing your struggles and insight with the rest of us, Audrey!

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