Supporting the strong willed child – our future leaders

defiant strong willed childrenAbout the strong willed and defiant child

A strong willed child is a child who challenges the rules where a defiant child seems to have difficulty with any authority over them. A strong willed child can be enticed or persuaded to follow the set rules and at times, these children may require a gentle push. A defiant child however will react against a direction if they do not wish to do something and do not always care about the consequence. They see things as black or white and react badly if they feel you are trying to control them or make them do something they do not wish to do. Both these type of children want to learn things for themselves rather than accepting what others tell them, so they test the limits. They need to feel in charge of themselves, and will sometimes put their desire to be right above everything else. These children have a lot of energy, can be challenging and are often determined Where does the child learn these behaviours? Often one parent, or significant person in that child’s life, displays similar behaviours. The child often learns these behaviours by watching, hearing and copying. If the child’s home is conflictual, they see this life as completely normal and learn to react to their wants and requirements by being argumentative, disruptive and aggressive.

Connecting with your child

We do not want to squash their strong mind, we want to direct it and have them learn what they need to conform to live in this world of rules and boundaries; otherwise they will certainly struggle through their life.

  • The way to manage these children peacefully is to explain clearly your expectations and the consequences.
  • Discuss the consequence with them so they understand and depending on the age of the child, have an agreed consequence so they feel they have some say.
  • Modelling appropriate behaviours is one of the best ways a child learns to develop different behaviours and responses.
  • Parents can compromise instead of having the child respond exactly the way they demand. Strong willed children can learn essential compromise skills when flexibility is used.
  • These children respond well to being kept busy in both body and mind.  Asking for their help with general duties such as unpacking or packing the dishwasher, setting the table or folding clothes aids this.
  • Praise them when they behave appropriately.


Try to avoid

Strong willed or defiant children often love an argument as it gives them the power they seek. While they may object loudly at first to your direction or request, they can quickly learn the consequence of their behaviour. Children usually only continue to place effort into something if they obtain something out of it. If we separate and ignore them when they behave badly, they do not get the result they are after. If this is consistently undertaken and the child does not like the continued consequence, they often change their actions – as long as they know how to act differently or better. Arguing with any child is rather futile and pointless. They do not have the capacity to understand adult logic or reason.


  • While we are often proactive in letting the child know what we do not want them to do it is more important we demonstrate and explain how we do want them to behave.
  • Do not to argue with them, clearly and slowly tell them what it is you require of them and offer them choices.
  • Always ask them to show you how clever and grown up they can act. These children often love a challenge.

defiant child

  • Consequences

    • Both parents must have the same agreed rules, boundaries and consequences.
    • Both parents need to sit with the child/ren and explain the rule, boundaries and consequences clearly to them in an age appropriate way so the child can easily understand.
    • Discuss and agreed the consequence with the child, particularly with the defiant and strong willed child. Children, especially strong willed and defiant ones can react badly if they believe their consequence is unjust, unfair or they did not know the consequence was going to be given. These children need to be informed as they react badly to these types of surprises.
    • If the child makes a poor choice then it is imperative you follow through with the consequence you advised would occur.  If you do not follow through the child will never believe you and will gain more power to defy you.
  •  The way we say things

    • Use the when and you words

      • So saying – “when you do this, you can do that.”  Always give directions with a sound of fairness and authority.
    • Giving strong willed and defiant children notice of an impending end to an activity

      • This can also assist them to manage their behavior or disappointment. When you are at the park, you can advise, ‘three more slides and it will be time to leave’ or ‘this will need to be the last story before we turn out the light to go to sleep’. By advising the child in advance, they are prepared and have time to process this end or change to the activity.
    • Say yes in a way to achieve what you want and to reinforce positive behaviour.

      • This works very well when out in public or when shopping with our defiant or strong willed child.
      • ‘Yes’ is a great word and can be used to our advantage. Saying yes can deflate a situation because it is a pause word.  When a child hears yes, they have to stop to hear what you are saying yes to. That being said, we should not say yes to things we do not agree with or never want to give our children. We need to say yes to the part of something to appease their demands. When they ask for a treat from the shop, you can reply with “Yes, I can hear how much you would like that treat now, and, yes, I will think about it for you.”
      • By saying yes, the child feels they have a chance of receiving what it is they want. If we advise them they may achieve what they want if they behave or stay close to you while shopping or for whatever reason you tell them, the child usually confirms. I suggest parents provide the treat approximately every three times so that the child never really knows when they may receive it. As long as it is a small item such as a book, toy car or colour pencils. If we say No to the child, this often just escalates their behaviour and this is precisely what we all want to avoid.
    • Give your child two choices

      • This gives them the feeling that they have control of their life and they understand the consequence of their choice.
      • By giving your child a choice, it can assist them to feel they have in fact made the decision. E.g. “You can choose not to pack up our toys like I asked and miss out on your show OR you can pack up then come out and watch your show. It doesn’t bother me which one you choose sweetie. What do you choose?” Always remember to place the one you want them to choose last so it remains more in their mind.  By giving the child two choices, the child believes it was his/her decision and the child will feel good because they were allowed the opportunity to choose themselves.
      • Choices are a great way to guide the child towards the choices you want them to make while allowing the child to believe it is their choice. If the child however makes a bad choice, allow them to own this. Tell them how disappointing their choice may be, as they may now not get to watch their favourite show, but that it is Ok.
      • You can hope next time they will make a wiser choice. If not, no problem, just ensure you are prepared for the fall out and tantrum. We need to place the choice they really want so they are enticed to do the job we request. If they are young, then get down and offer to assist them so you can get the job done together, maybe use it as a competition to see who can pick up the most blocks fastest.


The upside

Children that have strong wills can develop into very strong personalities, we need these types of people in our society, and they often become our leaders. We just need to guide and direct them when are young and certainly set some firm boundaries for them otherwise their life can be very conflictual. Most strong willed children want respect and want to feel understood.  Remember they are a child and do not yet possess adult logic so try to understand it from your child’s perspective; it may assist you to identify what it is they are after.   Enjoy your little person and keep them busy, they may be our future Leader.



Fiona Thiompson says:

Love this. I have a very strong willed child so will certainly use all the tips and advise. Makes me feel I can take control which is very comforting. I will absolutely stop arguing with my child now. It never gets us anywhere but angry. I love these ideas, so logical and I can really see them working well. Thank you so much.

Judith-Rose Max says:

So pleased you like Karen’s suggestions, love to hear how they work for you, Fiona Thiompson and Vicki!

Vicki says:

Thank you. Makes so much sense. I read Karen’s book Who Runs Your House, the kids or you as well. She is filled with amazing advise. So glad she is on your site. I will be watching regularly.

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