3 Practical Action Tips for Parents of Strong-Willed Children

Editor’s note:  This post comes from a resource created by renowned pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker, exclusively for Ziglar Family.  For more from Dr. Meeker, check out her video from our most recent 7 Day Challenge

Trying to parent strong-willed children can often be enough to make even the most patient parents lose their cool. How do you parent a child who challenges you at every turn? How do you teach them to listen to you and obey you? If you have a willful child, you may feel like your relationship has become defined by wins or losses, fatigue, and guilt.

It doesn’t have to be that way!  Here are 3 practical strategies you can employ to help successfully navigate those parenting waters when they start to feel a little too choppy!

1. Agitation and Anger: Keep It under Control!

There’s nothing easy about being measured and calm when children make us agitated, angry, and upset. We’ve all felt it. But we parents must show our children that we are disciplined and in control regarding how we speak and act towards our kids.

We show our kids we are in control by taking charge of them, so that they begin to know what living a controlled life feels like.

As they mature, we can gradually transfer our control over to their own responsibility for self-control. As they assume more control over time, they’ll begin to feel more self-confident, and that’s when you’ll know you’ve done a great job as their parent!

2. Behavior: Don’t Take It Personally!

Never take your child’s behavior—or misbehavior— personally! Many parents worry that it feels as if they have to discipline their children all the time. They feel like they’re somehow missing out on good relationship with them by doing so.

This is not true. Your child’s behavior has nothing to do with how she feels about you. She’s just in a very tough stage of life.

As a kid, she isn’t thinking about you, nor should she be! If you continue to be firm and affectionate, I promise you’ll build a strong relationship with her over time. You might feel like she hates you right now, but she doesn’t. She’s just trying to figure out who’s the boss.

By establishing your authority, she’ll feel safe and loved even if she doesn’t know and express it!

3. Discipline: Know When It’s Appropriate and Be Consistent!

When it comes to strong-willed kids, it’s important to know the difference between a willful act of defiance and age-appropriate misbehavior.

Let’s say you have a seven-year-old son. One day he decides to take his toy trucks out into the street in front of your house to race them. You know it’s dangerous for him to play in the street, but he just thinks it’s fun. He’s not doing this out of defiance; he’s simply acting his age.

However, if you told him, “Don’t play in the street,” and he did it anyway, that’s a willful act of defiance, and that calls for serious consequences, something like not allowing him to play at a friend’s house after school if that’s what he really loves to do. Every time he defies you and tries to play in the street, make sure he knows he can’t go to that friend’s house that day.

Remember, discipline for every willful act of defiance, not for childish behavior.

Now, disciplining strong-willed teens is exhausting. They begin to look and sound like adults, but don’t be fooled. From a cognitive standpoint, they’re still children, so you must still tell them what they can and cannot do. Set clear boundaries and limits for them, and make certain they understand what those are.

And you must also be very clear about the consequences that will follow if they cross the lines. When your teen breaks the rules, you must discipline him and then stand your ground.

Teens can be master manipulators. They’ve learned over the years to know how to pull your strings, but don’t cave to this.

A final thought…

Whether your child is a toddler, a tween, or a teen, there is one common thread that ties all of the tips and strategies together: Be consistent. 

Children need to know what to expect because it helps them make informed decisions. As they grow, they learn that certain behaviors consistently lead to certain outcomes, and as a result, they will begin to stop and think before they act out.

Are you parenting a strong-willed child? What are some effective tips and strategies you use in your household?  Share your ideas below!   




  1. John Navarro January 7, 2018 at 7:10 am - Reply

    The Love and Logic principles have been huge for us and our two kids. Keep up the great work!

  2. Tina January 7, 2018 at 8:33 am - Reply

    Strong willed children do not allow consequences to bother them. They have immunity to any and all consequences. I have not found any parenting advice helpful and that is consistent.

    • Dr. Meg's Teammate January 16, 2018 at 7:37 pm - Reply

      You are so right about Strong willed kids being like Teflon in that so many discipline approaches don’t stick. But even Teflon cooks a delightful meal. So, as hard as it is, our strong-willed kids are begging us to find what will cook for them. It may be something traditional such as taking away screen time–I like five screen sticks a week each for 30 minutes of time that they earn or lose– or paying a weekly salary only when chores are completed, or may be something you’ve never even considered that beautifully matches your brilliant child. You can do this!

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