Communicating With Kids

10 Phrases to Keep Handy When Raising a Strong-Willed Child

Inside: Learn 10 powerful ways to communicate with your strong-willed child. Plus, my number one secret for raising a strong-willed child and gaining the cooperation you truly want.


When my dad was a little boy he used to hold his breath until he passed out. And my grandmother would call the doctor–mind you this was the 1950s–and the doctor would say, “Well…let him pass out. He’ll be fine!”

My dad loves to tell these stories.

Decades later, my dad still takes pride in the fact that he was a strong-willed child. I’ve heard the stories of him passing out as a child hundreds of times from both my dad and extended family members.

Apparently, this was truly a remarkable (and terrifying) Smurf-like sight to see.

This is all to say that…

When my husband and I ended up with two very persistent and strong-willed children, we did not enter into any genetics argument about where they got that characteristic. Because, like my father, I too have a tendency to persist until I’m Smurf in the face.

Raising a strong-willed child to listen.

Getting kids to listen is hard enough all on it’s own. Then you add in a few tablespoons of stubborn, a half cup of persistent, and a dash of never give in and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a power struggle (followed by a sour taste in your mouth).

Related: 31 Printable Affirmation Cards for Kids — They’ll Actually Use

Learn 10 powerful ways to communicate with your strong-willed child. Plus, snag the number one secret to raising strong-willed kids and gaining the cooperation you truly want.

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Here’s a secret that helped me.

The key to getting a strong-willed child to listen is to get on the same side or team. Because once you’re on the same side, the communication door swings wide open and you can now step over to the ever elusive — team cooperation.

If this sounds intriguing, stick with me and give a few of these phrases a try when raising a strong-willed child.

1. “I’m wrong! To you, that’s not the way it happened.”

I know you might be thinking, “I’m not saying I’m wrong because I’m not wrong.” And I’m smiling right back at you because I feel you. However, the fastest way to get on the same team is to simply stop fighting on the opposite team.

You’re not necessarily saying that your point of view is wrong. You’re instead saying, “I’m wrong! To you, that’s not the way it happened.” Then pause and give your child a chance to share more about their experience with you. 

If your child doesn’t share more, you can dive right into how the child might see the situation.

2. “You’re determined, persistent and you never give up.”

Kids desperately want to know what they are doing right. And the more we name what a child is doing right, the more we connect the child to their inner greatness.

How awesome would it be to know that you’re determined, persistent and never give up? Or better yet…that you always finish what you start. Or…that you have a lot of courage to keep fighting.

Naming what a child is doing right can help them pause, take a breath, think “yeah, she really gets me!” and see that you are both on the same side. 

boy swinging in swing wearing fall weather clothes

3. “You know exactly what you want to tell me, but I’m not getting it right.”

If you regularly find yourself thinking, “My child just doesn’t listen to me,” I’ll bet that your child is thinking the exact. same. thing.

Using this phrase, you can quickly get on the same side as your child.

You could also say, “It seems like I’m missing something here. There’s something really important to you and I’m not sure what it is. I’m listening.” Or you could say, “To you, it doesn’t seem like I ever listen to what you have to say.”

4. “You are willing to fight for what you want / believe in.”

Strong-willed kids are very passionate (especially strong-willed toddlers). And that’s a really good thing! Into adulthood, fighting for what you believe in regardless of everyone else disagreeing is valuable. These are the world changers! These are the kids with grit and a willingness to try and try and try again.

In the short-term, using a phrase like this can help your child recognize what he or she is doing right even when you don’t agree. You can follow up with, “You want to {blank} and I’m not okay with that. Hmmm…there must be something we can do.”

5. “This is not going the way you want.”

When something isn’t going your child’s way, more than anything they want to feel like someone gets what they are experiencing. Your boundary remains, but your child knows that you understand his or her anguish over it (even if it seems small or inconsequential to you).

You can follow up with wants and wishes and even grant your child’s desire in fantasy.

6. “You are wanting me to change my mind.”

When kids continue to persist or even escalate, they want you to change your mind. They hope through more pronounced communication (through words or actions like hitting, biting or kicking) that you will shift your boundary.

Naming exactly what the child is doing and putting it out there helps the child feel heard and understood. This opens up the possibility for you to start problem solving solutions together that would work inside your boundary.

Learn 10 powerful ways to communicate with your strong-willed child. Plus, snag the number one secret to raising strong-willed kids and gaining the cooperation you truly want.

7. “I did {blank} and you really didn’t like that.”

Nothing is more validating than to have a person come right up to you and say, “I did something and it annoyed you.” So gratifying, right? You can nod and respond, “Yeah! I am really annoyed!”

Sometimes all kids need is for the other person to know and say that they’re frustrated, angry, sad, upset or annoyed.

8. “I can tell you want to be more in charge.”

Kids LOVE to be in-charge. An easy follow up to this would be come up with more ways the child can make more decisions within your boundaries. “There must be some more decisions around here that you can make.”

You can create a choice in just about any situation. You could also create a game (during a time when everyone is calm) where you play in the child’s room for 15-30 minutes and he or she decides what you play and how you play (within reasonable boundaries, of course).

For an older child, this might mean the child chooses a game, activity or outing that you do together.

9. “Show me.”

You can also help a strong-willed child feel in charge by saying, “Show me,” and let the child teach you how to do something. Your child may show you how to put on your shoes in the morning. Or show you how to pick up the toys.

It’s the perfect opportunity for you to follow up and say, “You know all about putting on your shoes (or picking up the toys) You taught me that!”

Another way to help kids feel more in charge is to use a visual routine. Kids see all the steps needed to get themselves ready in the morning or to prepare for bed in the evening or to set up for a meal at the table. They’re in charge of getting the routine done and you create the routine that’s within your boundary. And…you don’t have to nag them the whole way through it. It’s a game-changer!

Learn 10 powerful ways to communicate with your strong-willed child. Plus, snag the number one secret to raising strong-willed kids and gaining the cooperation you truly want.

You can incorporate “Show me” here by saying, “Show me how to follow your morning routine. You know all about this, and I’ll bet you could teach me something!”

10. “You want to experience this first-hand for yourself.”

All kids have 3 basic needs: power, connection and experience. From the experience side of things, kids know they have this body and they want to learn all about what they can do with it.

You know all about what it’s like to stir pasta in a boiling pot of water on the stove. Kids don’t, so they want to try it. You know what it feels like to jump on a couch or bed. Kids don’t, so they want to try it.

Whatever the scenario, you can follow up and say, “Hmmm…there must be a way for you to experience this in a way that I’m okay with.”

Bonus: “I’m here. I’m listening. Tell me everything.”

Imagine for a moment that right in front of you is a very angry barking dog. How would you respond? Would you yell back, hit or prepare to fight?

What if you knelt down and laid the back of your hand out? To let the dog know you weren’t…a threat. That you were safe to be around. That you really were on the same side.

Sometimes strong-willed kids just need to know that you’re not a threat. That you’re on the same side. And that going to extremes like holding your breath and turning Smurf-like blue isn’t even the tiniest bit necessary.

Yes, even strong-willed parents and strong-willed kids can find ways to be a team, and together problem solve through all sorts of various life challenges.

These phrases can help.

And I promise, turning into a Smurf is not required.

Two young boys play in a pile of fall leaves

Many of these phrases and ideas were inspired by my work in Language of Listening®, the parenting framework that I use and teach to parents. To learn more about Language of Listening, grab the free printable below and receive future Language of Listening insights to your inbox.

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This post comes with a free printable to help you remember these phrases. I always have the hardest time remembering these things. This printable simplifies it!

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5 Comments

  1. I just wanted to say, these phrases work on a not-strong-willed child too. My daughter has never been one to throw long drawn out tantrums but these phrases will shorten a five minute blow-out into a 10 second one. As soon as she feels listened to, everything calms down, and it blows my mind how simple it is when I remember to do it! Thank you for sharing these with us.

  2. Thank you for all of your ideas. They are helping me in real time to help communicate with my young children and with my college students that are having difficulty with decisions made by their teacher!

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