Why It’s Great to Have a Strong Willed Kid

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Parenting a strong willed child can certainly be a bit tiring for the parents. A mom once told me that it feels like her preschooler digs in her heels about little things simply because she enjoys the battle. “Socks? Are we really discussing the importance of wearing socks in the freezing cold?” That mom is certainly not alone.

This is a common gripe among parents of strong willed children. No matter the logic and reason behind your boundaries, they always seem to find a way to argue their own ideas.

Rest easy, exhausted parents of future debate champions everywhere, as it turns out, that stubborn streak that causes your little one to argue every point you make just might come in handy down the line.

Recent research published in Developmental Psychology shows that stubbornness is actually a predictor of future success. The study followed 700 kids for decades, beginning at age 12 and following up in middle adulthood. Researchers looked at a variety of non-cognitive personality traits (such as academic conscientiousness and entitlement), including defiance of parental authority and rule breaking. In the end, the kids who broke the rules and didn’t listen parents at 12 were the most successful at 40.

Does this mean that we should aim to raise a generation of kids who ignore authority and fail to play by the rules? Of course not. But it does mean that we can stop worrying when those strong willed little ones dig in their heels over minor things.

What might feel like an endless cycle of debates over things like food, shoes and clothing choices are actually good practice for asserting their needs later on in life.

You know that saying, “the squeaky wheel gets fixed?” Try to think of your stubborn child as a squeaky wheel … the kind that has a strong competitive spirit and isn’t afraid to ask for a raise.

How do you channel that strong willed energy into something positive? Try this:

Inspire leadership:

Strong willed kids aren’t afraid to walk away from negative situations and stand up for other kids. They are natural leaders!

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Encourage your child to be a leader in the classroom, on the field, and just about everywhere else by including others, making good choices (even if that means flying solo sometimes), and discussing their thoughts with their peers. Strong willed kids have a tendency to want to be right above all else. When we help them practice working through their thoughts and ideas with others, they learn to turn stubbornness into leadership.

Let them learn through trial and error:

Strong willed kids are experiential learners. You can tell them that it’s cold and they need coats, but they might not agree with you until they actually step outside into the cold air in nothing but a t-shirt.

Remain calm as your strong willed child pushes your boundaries and makes similar “mistakes” over and over again. He needs to learn through experience, and nagging will only lead to highly-charged negative interactions.

What do you think?

Why It’s Great to Have a Strong Willed Kid

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about helping parents enjoy the ride, she provides parent education and simple strategies to take t ... More

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1 comment

  1. Profile photo of Damilare Damilare says:

    Katie! I am loving your write ups! This one is really good and came just at the right time. I have a strong willed 8 month old and you have just taught me to see her behavior for the best.

    Thank you!

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