I used to laugh when my mother-in-law, Darlyne, told me how my husband was a strong-willed child. That was until our daughter turned out to be exactly like her dad.

Darlyne used to tell stories about when John was a baby. She said he’d crawl to the nearest electrical outlet and want to stick his finger in it. She’d tell him no, gently slap his hand, and pull him away, yet he’d return. She’d do that over and over, trying to hinder him. She’d turn his attention to something else, trying to distract him. Finally, she’d give up, and she’d have to cover the outlet.

“But I learned as he grew that his strong will benefited him in the long run,” Darlyne told me. I believed her.

A scrawny high schooler, John was told he’d never make it in the Marines. So he joined. He not only made it, but he graduated top of his class. In the military, he stayed true to God, even when alcohol and women were readily available to him. All through life, he has lived as a man of honor and excels in his work. His strong will has taken him far.

This, of course, wasn’t comforting as I dealt with my own strong-willed child. Leslie was a sweet baby doll her first year of life, but things changed once she turned 2. She’d have tantrums if she didn’t get her way. She would hide behind me and refuse to talk when people approached her. If I gave her a blue cup, she wanted the red one. If I offered a cookie, she’d want a cracker, and vice versa. Each day was a battle—my will against hers. There were days I loved my child but didn’t like her that much.

The parenting class Growing Kids God’s Way helped a lot. I can’t remember everything that was taught, but here are some things that I stuck to along the way.

  • I narrowed my daughter’s choices. Instead of offering a blue cup and her demanding a green one, I’d offer both colors and let her pick from those two. Of course she’d then want the red cup, but I didn’t give in.  She had to pick between the two. This worked for clothes, snacks, and other things.  I’d still give my daughter a choice, but I’d limit those choices. After a while, the battles stopped. She soon understood that I wouldn’t give in to her whines.
  • I prepared her for interaction. If we were going to church, I’d explain possible things that could happen, such as people introducing themselves or commenting on her pretty dress. I’d role-play the correct response with her. And then I’d reward her when she responded correctly. I soon discovered that with some instruction, my daughter not only responded correctly, but she soon came out of her shell and became a chatterbox.
  • I stood by my word. Even if my daughter disagreed or challenged me, I didn’t give in. I learned that giving in was showing her that a bad attitude would get her what she wanted—and that’s not what I wanted to reward. Once that no longer worked, she discovered that behaving well got her the best results.
  • I focused her strong will on positive things—like academics, piano, and friendships. I gave her the tools to excel in things she was good at, using her will as a benefit. And when the going got tough, she dug in.

Those are a few simple things that helped me.

As the months passed, my daughter’s attitude changed and I enjoyed her more and more. I also discovered her will did help her excel. At 18, she is a student leader at church, and she shares her faith with people others often overlook. When her peers were graduating from high school, she’d already finished her first two years of college.

There are times, of course, when my will still doesn’t match hers, but I’m appreciative that God made her who she is for a reason—and with a will like that, she’ll be able to do many things for His glory!

{Editor’s Note: Tricia first shared this amazing wisdom with our MomLife Today readers when it was first published on July 23, 2014.}

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  1. AllieZirkle says:

    I just found your article after reading Jessica's post today. What a great article on strong willed chilred!

    What an inspiration – a former teen mom. Me too 🙂 I've never met a successful former teen mom so I appreciate reading your bio. I have 4 – 12, 7, almost 3 & almost 1.


    1. It’s so great to connect with you. I’m thankful that God gives teen moms second chances. 🙂

  2. Natalie Tan says:

    I'm really encouraged by your sharing about your girl who is strong willed yet successful in life. I have a 2 year old girl, she is strong wllled, she creates fights with me and my hubby everyday by saying" I don't want…." in almost everything we ask her to do. I have no choice but spanking her, but she still will not bow down to our request. I cried many many times, why God had given us this difficult child while other kids are pleasant. Because of her attitude and energy draining fight with her, my hubby insisted to have only 1 child,. My heart sank when I heard that, I wish to have at least 2 children, because I myself is only child.

    1. You should read “You can’t make me, but I can be persuaded” by Cynthia Tobias. It has great insight in dealing with a strong willed child.

    2. Also remember to fill her love tank first! Give her time and attention and see if that helps!

  3. Your post blessed me and encouraged me. I too have a strong willed kiddo. She just turned 10 and everyday is something. If I say the sky is blue it’s red. And so on. I can see Gods hand in her life already though and that encourages me for the future. She stops to love on senior citizens and homeless people. She shares her heart for the Lord and prays for and with people. She is courageous and loves life with an amazing amount of joy and child like faith. My advice would be to slow down, look at the things your kid loves and gets excited about. Usually a strong willed child has their own agenda which makes it hard for us over scheduled mom who are in a hurry and on the run. But when I let my daughter sing and dance and stand on her head to do math or spelling (we home school) I am letting her learn and be who she is the best way she can. It’s hard I’m not gonna lie but I don’t want to just fight her to have my way; I want God to have His way in her and that means ME getting up everyday and getting in the word and reflecting who He is throughout the day so she can see God in her mama. Then when I spend time with the Lord I can see Him in my daughter as well.