Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

Shaping Your Strong-Willed Child

Shaping Your Strong-Willed Child

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Kendra Smiley's book, Aaron’s Way: The Journey of a Strong-Willed Child, (Moody Publishers, 2004).

Don’t despair if you have a strong-willed child, with intense opinions and a demanding nature. Although your child’s determined attempts to control his or her own life can frustrate and exhaust you as a parent, there’s hope. You can come to understand your child and learn to shape the will without breaking the spirit.

Here’s how you can help your strong-willed child:

Focus on the positive. Keep in mind that your child is a gift from God, with great potential. Realize that a strong-willed temperament can be a strength just as much as a weakness. Know that a strong-willed child can apply his or her determination to something as noble as finding a cure for cancer, or as destructive as organizing a crime ring. Recognize that the key lies in directing your child’s strong will toward positive purposes rather than negative ones.

Discipline wisely. No matter how hard the battles become you and your child become, never give up. Understand that your child doesn’t hate you; he or she is just more persistent in testing you than a more compliant child would be. Know that your child longs for you to provide consistent, firm, and loving discipline, because that provides the security he or she needs. Realize that a strong-willed child needs discipline even more than a compliant one. Never discipline in anger; ask God to help you calm down before you punish your child for bad behavior. Choose your battles wisely, considering what truly matters and what doesn’t affect your core values. Be as clear about instructions as you are about consequences. Always follow through; never make a threat you can’t keep. Ask God to give you the patience you’ll need for the long journey of raising your child, and take heart that your efforts to discipline will pay off eventually.

Recognize the tender child underneath the tough behavior. Remember that your child, like everyone else, wants to be loved, appreciated, and respected. Ask God to help you see your child as He sees him or her. Catch your child doing something right as often as you can, then encourage him or her to keep it up. Affirm your child through your words and actions; show him or her regular affection. Be your child’s advocate in challenging situations at school and elsewhere. Help prevent him or her from being mistreated or ridiculed. Surround your child with adults who understand and encourage him or her; limit your child’s contact with adults who discourage him or her. When helping your child deal with a conflict, don’t always assume that your child is either right or wrong. Instead, carefully evaluate the situation to search for the truth, and discuss it honestly with your child.

Know that you’re not alone. Understand that a strong-willed child isn’t an anomaly. Recognize that plenty of other strong-willed children exist, and get to know the parents of a few of them to support each other.

Give your child responsibilities. Remember that strong-willed children are born leaders, with exceptional abilities to solve problems. Give your child as many responsibilities as you can that are appropriate to his or her age, such as pet ownership, household chores, and a paper route or other part-time job. Show your child that you respect his or her abilities.

Listen to your child. Encourage your child to express him or herself. Show a genuine interest in his or her thoughts and opinions as you discuss them together. Converse with your child about whatever he or she is interested in – not just what interests you.

Motivate your child. Encourage your child to ask you questions about any subject, and do your best to answer them honestly. Help your child discover passions and develop talents in order to contribute to the world. Affirm your child to give him or her confidence to continue thinking creatively. Urge your child to take risks to pursue dreams.

Be a good role model for your child. Ask God to help you live with integrity so your child respects you. Know that your child is constantly watching you to see if you’re living up to the core values you’re trying to teach him or her.

Pray for – and with – your child. Daily ask God for patience, wisdom, guidance, and blessings for your child. Help your child see his or her significance in God’s eyes. Encourage your child to connect with God often through prayer.

Envision your desired destination. Ask God to show you the vision He has for your child’s future, and what specific and measurable goals you and your spouse should set to help your child get there. Don’t share your parenting strategy with your child, but celebrate with your spouse when you achieve successes along the way. Help your child seek God’s plans for his or her life and set his or her own goals. Teach your child to come to conclusions about what actions will be the most beneficial as he or she moves closer to those goals.

Previously posted May 26, 2006

Adapted from Aaron’s Way: The Journey of a Strong-Willed Child, copyright 2004 by Kendra Smiley. Published by Moody Publishers, Chicago, Ill.,

Kendra Smiley is a popular conference speaker, and hosts a daily radio show called Live Life Intentionally. She is a regular contributor to Christian Parenting Today and Hearts at Home magazines. Kendra is the author of five books, including High Wire Mom, and Empowering Choices. She and her husband live on their family farm in Illinois.