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What on Earth Can You Do About a Strong-Willed Preschooler!

written by: Debbie Roome • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/5/2012

Strong-willed preschoolers display a number of characteristics including dominance, assertiveness and independence. Parents often struggle to maintain appropriate control of these children, even at a young age.

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    Spotting the Signs

    Parents of a preschooler often say that signs of his strong-willed character were apparent as a small baby. As the child grows, he will test his parents repeatedly, making life hard and challenging in many ways. The following are typical signs of a child that has a strong will:

    • Independent and desires to do everything for himself
    • Persistent and stubborn
    • Unpredictable
    • Argumentative
    • Determined
    • Does not respond to discipline
    • Dominant and assertive
    • Frequent temper tantrums
    • Outgoing
    • Bossy
    • Back-chats adults
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    Staying Consistent

    Consistency is vital in parenting strong-willed children but this is not as easy as it sounds. In many cases it may seem preferable to give a nagging child what he wants. It can also bring a tantrum to an end when the child is in a public place. Unfortunately, giving in to these types of behaviors reinforces the negative actions of the child and he will come to expect a positive outcome when he engages in them.

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    Tips That Work

    There are a number of ways that parents can help their children to reach their potential without smothering their natural temperament. Here are some basic ideas to consider:

    • Strong-willed children do not like being told what to do. Where appropriate give them choices between wearing a red or yellow shirt or eating an apple or an orange.
    • Allow time for the preschooler to dress himself and tie his own shoelaces. Their sense of independence means they prefer to do things like this on their own.
    • If the situation involves danger, step in and be the boss. The child may resist but it is essential that he knows that his parents are in charge.
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    How Parents Should Respond to Blatant Rebellion

    It is the nature of any child to test the boundaries. A strong-willed child will push boundaries to their very limits. Parents need to step in and act decisively in these cases. The child is subconsciously asking who is in charge, who is going to win?

    A suggested response to misbehaviour is time-out. The parents need to set aside a space in their home that has a chair and no forms of entertainment in sight. The child should be put in the chair and told he will remain there for five minutes as time-out. If he continues to scream, kick or cry, the time period will be extended.

    Time-out works well when used to remove a preschooler from a situation where they have been over stimulated. When the child is finished their time-out, treat them normally and praise the good behavior that may follow.

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    Strong-Willed Children Need Love

    All children need to know they are loved. This is especially true for strong-willed children as they may spend a lot of time in conflict with their parents. Mothers and fathers need to communicate that the child is special and loved for who he is. It is important to separate the behavior from the child.

    It is challenging to raise a strong-willed child but with careful planning, thought and consistency, parents can bring out the best in their son or daughter and raise them to be future leaders and entrepreneurs in society.

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    Resources

    Parenting the Strong-Willed Child, Rex Forehand & Nicholas Long, McGraw-Hill, 2010