Big Emotions

Your Strong-Willed Toddler: 3 Shifts to Turn Defiance Into Cooperation

I stood in the elevator looking down at my strong-willed toddler on the floor. He sat up, swung his head backwards and let out another ginormous “WAAAAAAAA.”

When the elevator stopped on the third floor my heart skipped 3 beats before sinking into the abyss of anxiety in my stomach. The doors opened to another family needing to ride the elevator. As they stepped on, the look on their faces said. it. all.

A little girl wearing a hat and smiling.

Their jaws opened wide enough to fit a softball.

For a split second, I imagined gently placing my hands under their jaws to help close their mouths. This was—after all—a toddler crying in an elevator, not an elephant walking a tightrope.

But I knew this was a moment, as a parent, to employ a sliver of leadership and self-control, not to act like a child myself.

I knelt down to my toddler, waited until our eyes locked, and said a few calm but firm words to help get us through floors 4 through 8.

As the elevator reached the 8th floor, I picked my son up off the floor, half-smiled to the gawking onlookers, and confidently marched to my apartment door.

What parents of strong-willed toddlers should know.

Parenting a strong-willed toddler is tough work. You feel like there is nothing you can do to turn your defiant or spirited child into a cheerfully obedient little person.

You feel embarrassed by the onlookers and wonder if it’s only your kid that is prone to power struggles.

It’s exhausting, and maybe you’re feeling a bit of an angry mom because each day is an ordeal. You’re clinging to a gazillion different positive affirmations to convince yourself this is all going to be fine.

It has to be fine, right?!

A beautiful post of encouragement for moms of toddlers. Parenting toddlers. Motherhood.

Some days you want to grab a bag of miniature Reese’s and hide under the comforter in your master bedroom.

This is your happy place and your twenty-one-year-old-self has no idea who you are anymore.

But I know you.

I know you because I am just like you. And, my friend, there are three things that you must absolutely, without a doubt, know about parenting a strong-willed toddler.

You are raising a natural born leader.

According to a 2015 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, stubborn children who defy authority are more likely to become academic overachievers and high-earning adults.

In fact, rule breaking and defiance of parental authority was the best non-cognitive predictor of higher income later in life. 

Strong-willed kids are not easily swayed.

They are the ones who will become business owners and emergency room charge nurses and school principals and police commissioners. The children who were once prone to power struggles will become trusted leaders in their communities.

And here’s the thing…

Raising a leader requires extraordinary parenting. Your child doesn’t just need a normal amount of patience and guidance from you. He needs extraordinary patience and guidance.

Learn two important words that can help tame temper tantrums in length and intensity. Plus, how the toddler brain works and why tantrums happen.

Inside, he has all these powerful feelings, thoughts and ideas swirling around like a vegetable medley, and he has no idea how to turn the heat down from a boil to a simmer.

Raising a natural born leader means your child needs you. Yes, it’s trying and exhausting. But the work you are doing is laying the foundation to help your child craft those leadership skills and put them to good use one day.

Setting limits is all about helping your strong willed toddler discover ways to channel all the intense emotions and passions.

Here are some step-by-step approaches:

You don’t have to apologize.

Unless your child is harming another person in some way, you don’t have to look at people and apologize for your kid’s big feelings or temper tantrum.

When your kid is laying on the floor of Target crying because he wants a toy and you’re not going to buy it, there is no need to apologize to gawking people who need to put a softball in their mouth.

You don’t need to apologize for making another patron’s shopping experience uncomfortable. That’s their issue because they haven’t gotten the memo: The best moms are the moms with the screaming kids.

You’re the mom doing the hard work. You’re the parent not giving in. You’re the one teaching important life lessons.

This is not an easy job and there will be tears. Carry on, mama. Don’t apologize for being a good mom and doing the hard work.

If you are struggling with guilt as a mother, here are some places to start:

“Strength” training is a powerful parenting strategy for teaching your child.

It’s easy to—by default—to get stuck in the negative cycle of trying to make your child listen and having them fight tooth and nail every step of the way.

One way to get out of this cycle is to name the positive part about what the child did right in each and every situation. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

This is what I call STRENGTH Training in parenting. And it goes something like this…

Instead of…”You are such a picky eater. I don’t know why I even bother to make meals for you.”

Try…”You didn’t like any of the food on your plate at dinner tonight, but you tried at least one bite of everything. You found a way to try it even though you didn’t want to.”

one simple way to end dinner time battles FB

Instead of…”Why aren’t you sharing? All these toys don’t belong to you, you know! Give your sister something and quit being so selfish.”

Try…”You didn’t want to share your toys with your sister. But you found a toy that she would like to play with and you gave it to her. That shows that you care even though sharing is hard for you.”

Instead of…”I’m so tired of fighting you at bedtime every night. You need to go to bed and quit your whining all the time.”

Try…”You didn’t want to go to bed. You wanted to stay up with mom and dad. You got all your frustrations out and then you were calm. You found a way to calm yourself even though you were really angry.”

The idea of STRENGTHs comes from Language of Listening®, the 3 part parenting framework I use. To learn more about using Language of Listening, click here to subscribe and receive posts on how to use it.

For more on STRENGTH training, check out these posts:

Strong-willed kids are amazing.

When you’re in the elevator and your kids are on the floor crying and you think you’ve failed, remember this: defiant kids are actually the best thing ever.

Your child is the one who will turn down the little blue pill at a high school party. Your child is the one who will stop a friend from drinking and driving.

And it’s your child is the one who will start a small business and grow it into a billion-dollar company. Your child is the one who will parent with patience and guidance even when she wants to hide under a tent in the master bedroom with a Reese’s.

Your strong-willed toddler is filled with greatness. You just have to find it, draw it out, and allow it to shine.

Print this free toddler listening checklist.

This post comes with a free printable checklist to help with toddler listening. I always have the hardest time remembering these phrases. This printable simplifies it!

Here is a sneak preview…

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    3. Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!

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65 Comments

  1. My daughter, Alanna, is smart and sensitive. She just turned four and even using your wonderful guidance I fear I destroying her spirit. She is strong and definitely opinionated. She also just wants everyone happy. How do I teach her to be kind and still make the choice that won’t leave her hurting and unhappy? We are struggling with a combination of shyness and determination. How do I teach her that her choices, are her’s? That saying “I don’t want to play right now.” is okay? My family wants to test her for being gifted but……I’m worried. Is it the better thing to do? Will it give us more guidance? I love your guidance. It has helped us so much. Is there something more I should be doing?

  2. I am so glad I came across your post! I don’t even know where to start it’s like you are talking about me in this post. My daughter is 2 years and 3 months and man does she drive me crazy. I had to go have a read at your recent article about why Mom’s yell. She is the cutest little thing but when she throws her tantrums I want to run for the hills they are exhausting and draining.

  3. I’m currently in the midst of raising my strong willed 2.5 year old daughter while my husband is deployed and oh my goodness this article and the comments saved me from ripping my hair out. So thank you, I appreciate you!

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