Parenting A Strong-willed Child…ON YOUR OWN

My mischief maker.

I feel as though there should be a “DUM DUM DUUUUMMM!” in the title of this blog post.  Parenting a strong-willed child can, at times, be scary and hairy.  Single-parenting a strong-willed child can, very often, move you to take a long hard look at the possible upsides of alcoholism.  For those of us who can’t afford the drink, there’s gentle parenting.  One of my new favorite Facbeook pages, Family Focus Movement, posted an article this morning about strong-willed children, one of many that I’ve seen floating around about gentle parenting.  According to this article, “A strong-willed child exhibits passionate defiance when his desires are denied, often testing the limits of a parent’s patience. In most cases, a willful child possesses a strong sense of entitlement, causing him to react with stubbornness and argumentativeness when his will is challenged.”  This perfectly describes my 34-month-old daughter.  My family thinks she rules my house, because my reaction to her behavior was “on hold” until I was secure that I know how to properly react, without causing emotional damage to my  amazing little person.

Logan is defiant.  If you say “red”, even if she wanted red in the beginning, she will change to blue just so as not to go along with you.  She DEMANDS to help with household chores: fighting Sissy for the broom, dragging chairs to the kitchen sink to do dishes, screaming to take the vacuum cleaner from my hands; she cannot process when we say politely that we do not want help, just protests and protests and protests and protests.  I usually just stop and look at her.  I think to myself, “Why isn’t she understanding me?  I’m being kind, and patient.  Why can’t she see that I don’t need her help.”  After months of working on this gentle parenting, I know why.  When Logan screams, “I DO DISHES RIGHT NOW MOMMY, I NOT MAKE MISTAKE!”, she is saying to me, “Mommy, this is what you and Sissy do, and I want to be like both of you, and be around both of you.  I am small but I feel like a big girl, and I can help you without doing it wrong.  I’m so proud of myself, and I love it when you’re proud of me, and I want to show you how I do it so you can be more proud of me.  I’ve already made up my mind that I need to help you and I cannot think of any reason why I shouldn’t be able to, since I am a big girl.”  This is what I think of when she’s going against me, and not just about helping with chores.  When she wants something her sister has, and I say it’s not her turn, I know her shrill, piercing cries mean, “This is SO unfair!  I usually get what I want, especially from Sissy!  You normally help me to get the things I want!  I am so upset that I can’t play with that toy, it looks so fun, and I don’t have one!”  This is not to say that I suddenly think every behavior my daughter displays is acceptable.

What it means is that I feel as though I finally know how to react.  When I do this, speak as my daughter in my own head, think about how the situation looks from two feet high, I can respond in a way that takes into consideration all that she has “said.”  I can feel secure that I am not reacting in a way that only “shuts her up,” but lets her know that I care for her and that I am trying to understand how difficult being a toddler can be.  This is where the vodka calls.  As a single mom, I never thought I’d have the time necessary to devote this much attention to my toddler’s every action.  With a strong-willed child, just about every interaction requires the parent to pause, and strategize, and pray, and cry…wait, the last two may just be me.  Sorry.  Back to all of us – it can and does get better, and easier to enact.  First of all, I actually did pray for the patience to remember to STOP and think about why my child is doing, not what my child is doing. So whomever you believe in, ask him/her/it for help.  I educated myself, which gave me the resolve to keep at it and not get discouraged if I had a setback.  Once I learned just how fragile children are (something I remembered anyway), and started to appreciate how critical understanding our child’s point of view is to responding to them in the most loving way possible, I wasn’t going to settle for anything less than success.  Or vodka.  But again, vodka costs U.S. dollars so I went with success.

Finally, I started doing it.  At first it was weird, like, “Um…Logan, I uh – well okay, you’re screaming and spitting right now so you must be kinda heated, huh?  Oh, um- heated means -well, that’s not important, what’s important is that, oh, ow- please don’t throw the remote, mommy’s head is sensitive -”  Awkwaaaaard.  I kept at it.  I started to arrange my day so that I was doing things Lo would want to help with, when I knew she’d be preoccupied or napping.  It would be nice if I could walk slowly through every household chore, but I am two parents in one, and sometimes, I just need to get things done.  I’ve mastered the arts of redirection and distraction.  I get on my knees, speak more softly, ask questions that show I understand, “That is a really nice toy, isn’t it?  Do you want to go see if we have one like that in your room?”  I am firm, but I am kind.  I don’t spank, EVER.  I don’t yell.  I don’t sound cross.  I remain even, even when I’m letting her know a certain behavior is unacceptable.  “Logan, I know that you are mad at Sissy, and it is okay for you to feel mad, but we cannot hit.  Why don’t you ask her if you can take turns playing?”  And she gets it.  Not always.  Not nearly always.  In fact, most times, she still wants what she wants.

The difference is, the screaming has stopped.  And my frustration has lessened.  And Ryleigh’s (my eldest) resentment has lessened.  The entire household is more peaceful.  Taking the extra time necessary to be gentle has, in the long run, given me more time to be a parent.  I can go sit on my bed for 5 minutes without hearing a melt down happen, because when I’m gentle, my children follow my lead, and are better able to resolve their issues together.  It is frustrating in the beginning, especially when there’s no one around to help you or listen to you vent, and some days you may not reach your goals.  Don’t stop trying.  Your children will appreciate when you apologize and get back on track.  In the past 6 months I have noticed a big difference in the way my children and I communicate, and in our bond, which was already very good.  I’m not done.  We can do it, parents.  Here’s to staying on the wagon.

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Categories: Gentle Parenting, Single Motherhood


I'm Kimberley, work-at-home single momma to two girls, Ryleigh, 9, and Logan, 3. The Single Crunch is the story of our journey from a lifestyle saturated in mainstream ideals to an organic existence, and learning to love each other, ourselves, and any living thing, unconditionally. I'm passionate about breastfeeding, unschooling, single parenting, writing, grief, childhood abuse, childism, and natural living. I write about all this and whatever else moves me, which is a lot, and I throw in some funny on the regular. I'm humbled and grateful to have you reading, thank you. I hope something here will help you in any way.

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17 Comments on “Parenting A Strong-willed Child…ON YOUR OWN”

  1. March 29, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    I love this! Excellent post and description of gentle parenting in action – we can do this! Thanks for the encouragement, xo

  2. March 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Oh yes… one of the biggest lessons I learned is that escalating to their level doesn’t make things any better. I’ve learned to step back and literally look at the situation like I was watching a show, just so that I don’t get sucked into that vortex of craziness. One thing I want to teach my strong-willed child though is that strong wills are awesome! My kiddo will likely be very determined. When they’re kids they just have to learn how to control it so that it’s acceptable (no rude demands) but I think strong-willed kids get a bad rap when really this trait has so many positives.

    • March 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      Oh I’m so happy you wrote that! To be honest, my child’s strong will doesn’t even really bother me most times,but I know I have to teach her how to control herself. I love that she is so intelligent and stands up for herself so well. I am not trying to strip that from her, but exactly as you wrote, she just has to control it and learn to channel it as she grows. Being strong willed has so many positives, I completely agree

  3. March 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Wonderful post!!!! I have a strong willed child and a husband who works opposite shifts of me. NOT the same as single parent, but I share some similar issues.
    I commend you SOOO much for this. I am still trying (and often failing. I get angry and yell and I wish I didn’t.)
    In one way its nice to be a single parent: I am having a lot of trouble getting my husband fully on-board with the gentle, empathetic approach.

    • March 29, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

      I’ll bet that’s probably as tough…you have a partner but still have to do it on your own so often. Kudos to you both for making it work, I know it must be hard working opposite hours. Thanks for the support…it is VERY trying, I struggled with patience so much in the beginning and with yelling. I know what you mean about getting your husband on board, my ex parents differently from me as well, but as you wrote, at least we’re in differen households. Keep offering your husband info on the benefits of it, and you just keep on doing it. Maybe when he sees how much diff your child reacts to you, he’ll change his stance. :) Much love.

  4. Erin O'Brien
    March 29, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Thanks, this is great!

    • March 29, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

      Thank you for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed it. xoxo

  5. April 6, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    This is such a helpful reminder. Reminds me of something I’ve been doing. I have been thinking about what need my daughter might be trying to meet. (Four needs: Relationship, fun, competence, autonomy) As a toddler, she often seems to need opportunity to build competence. I have started to notice that when I slow down and identify why she is choosing to do this thing I think is ridiculous at exactly this time and is throwing a fit about doing it right now it is usually about competence. I usually end up marveling at what she’s doing.

    P.S. How is every post you write so great to read?

  6. April 6, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    Sheila, you are so kind. And as always, I’ve learned something, yay! My heart skipped a beat reading about the four needs. About to look into it for myself. There’s always so much to learn about how our children operate. So many keys to unlock the doors to their fulfillment, easily accessible to us if we just try. Thank you thank you thank you. xoxo

  7. Candace
    May 1, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    When did you figure out your child was strong-willed? My daughter is 11 months and I am pretty sure she is – already throwing mini-temper tantrums and screams (not the crying kind) for attention – was your daughter this way early on? And if so, how did you respond when she doesn’t understand what you are saying? Btw, excellent article and my hat is off to you for practicing attachment parenting as a single mom – you are AMAZING!! :)

    • May 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

      Thank you so much Candace! :) I knew VERY early on that my daughter had a strong willed personality. Even when she was about six months old, she was determined and would set her face at you to mean, “I don’t like this!” She’s always been contrary. She is stubborn and demanding. I write this all with love lol. It’s just who she is. I do feel that even an 11-month-old can understand us somewhat (if we speak in a way they can), but also feel that because of their age we just have to learn to let a lot go. Pick your battles. Try to understand WHY she wants something or wants to do something, and ask yourself which is going to have the more detrimental outcome: you denying her, or her going through with it? Often I was trying to get my daughter to do things just because that’s what I wanted or felt was right. Now I’ve learned that I have to go along with what my children want also. Hope this helps.

  8. Kaye
    May 1, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    WOW!!! I have been praying for patience for two years about my strong-willed angel…..I feel like I finally have an answer. I have known all this time that my yelling and nagging at her was to no avail and probably counter-p)roductive to my goal of raising her right but I didn’t have any idea how to change it. Thank you so much for posting this =) I only hope that it is not too late to begin this (she is turning 5 in a week

    • May 1, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

      Kaye, it is NEVER too late. Thank YOU for being a loving mother looking for answers. I am so glad this post has helped you and the other mothers I’ve heard from. Much love to you. Thank you for commenting. P.S. I didn’t find AP till my eldest was 5. She’s soooo happy with our family now. :)

  9. Black Mamba
    May 2, 2012 at 4:58 am #

    Excellent timing. I’m struggling to not yell when my DD puts the breaks on and decides to ignore my requests for X,Y & Z. I just had a pep talk with myself yesterday about this. When I hit my low points, I stop and remember a casual friend whose child didn’t make it to her fourth birthday and I realize how lucky I am to even have this problem. I know eventually this peaceful parenting adventure will pay off. It’s just good to have the encouragement. Love your site!

  10. LT
    May 2, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    It is a tough balance when there are competing needs and perspectives. I am so happy that you have found a way that you feel works better for you.

    An attachment parenting style can sometimes turn into a child-focused approach to parenting. This can be great because in the before little or NO attention was given to the children’s perspective, but the danger is that we swing the pendulum too much.

    Adults should not ALWAYS be modifying their lives to accommodate the children. This is not good for adults, who have needs that are just as important, and not good for children, who need to learn to live in a world as it is (each individual child is not the center of its own universe, but instead they are interdependent with the world).

    My first child would rarely cry and my second child is most of the time even-tempered, but sometimes I have needed to put a boundary up to say this is how much of me I can give you and this piece I can not. I can hold you and comfort you in dealing with being upset, but now is not a time for nursing or you need to have your teeth brushed.

    Thanks for the post.

  11. March 21, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    To staying on the wagon!

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