how to earn the respect of your strong-willed child

strong willed childOne of the greatest gifts that God ever gave me is my strong-willed kids.

Now I didn’t always think so.

As a people pleaser (now recovering), I spent many years just wanting them to be “good.” I didn’t like how they challenged my image. I gave in when I should have stood firm because I looked to them for validation. I was uncomfortable and resentful when their behavior pushed me to be tough and set boundaries. The conflict and pushback made me want to run and hide.

So I often offered second, third and fourth chances, when I should have simply given consequences. Took on responsibilities that should have been theirs, simply to keep them happy with me and avoid the turmoil.

I was able to get away with this — for a while.

[Tweet “When strong-willed children come into adolescence it can be like lighting a powder keg. Kaboom! “] Too much permissiveness just blew up in my face.”

They loved me, but they didn’t respect me. So my influence was compromised greatly — just at the time that I needed it the most. It made for an incredibly difficult and painful few years.

But God used it for my — and their — good. I was forced to see the damage my parenting style was doing to my kids. I had to rely on God’s help and guidance like never before.

I had to gain their respect — an uphill battle when you’re starting in the preteen years. So, mom, whatever mistakes you’ve made with your strong-willed child, I’ve probably made more. And yet I’ve seen God “redeem the years the locusts have eaten.” So many times I thought, “It’s too late,” but as I continued to do the right things for my kids, I saw progress. Slow, but steady progress.

I’m not going to lie. It’s been hard work. I had to ask God to help me have a long-term perspective in my parenting — because during this time, the short-term took a lot of courage and involved a lot of angry battles.

However, today, I have imperfect, but solid, healthy relationships with both my kids. I found these three methods very valuable:

Be firm, but stay under control

When they were younger, I set unhealthy patterns. I’d give in over and over and then the resentment would build up and I’d let loose on them with angry words and hollow threats. I was really mad at myself for not being stronger, but it’s always easier to lay the blame on someone else, isn’t it?

To turn things around, I had to take the emotion out of my parenting. I had to acknowledge that I was the one who really needed to change. I was the grownup. And so each day, I asked for God’s strength to be able to stand firm — calmly. I messed up a lot a first. Then, I’d do great for a while and then have a blowout. But as I persevered, I was developing better habits. And as I got calmer and more rational, my kids did, too. It was likely throwing a bucket of cold water on a fire.

Be consistent, but flexible

Here’s what I’ve found: Whenever I tried to start a new healthier boundary or pattern with my kids, they pushed back — a lot. But when they saw that I meant business and that I was serious about enforcing a boundary or routine, it didn’t take very long for them to accept it and not complain.

We think our strong-willed kids want us to just give in and back down. But I’ve found that strong-willed children respect strength. When you stand up to them and show resolve and consistency, they usually see you with new eyes. You think they want their own way, but really they want boundaries.

Be loving, even when they’re being rotten

Strong-willed kids have a lot of strong emotions. They can be difficult. But I think they need to know that we love them no matter what. That they’re not a “pain” that we’re just putting up with. That it’s not just about rules and getting them to “behave.” It’s because we love them and want what’s in their best interests.

At times, I’ve found showing them love — a hug or an “I love you” — when they’re being difficult can be very disarming. It tends to break down walls.

It’s taken time, but I’m not afraid that my strong-willed kids won’t like me anymore.

I have their love and respect. They have mine. And that’s much more valuable for all of us. 

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  • Thank you Melinda for sharing this idea..I feel Im going through the same thing. just realised recently that’s its time to change my parenting technique n have been searching for ideas… Your technique will use for sure…


  • Sometimes we make the mistake of going the other way- being too rigid. I think God molds character in the parent as much as it does the child through the parenting experience. Thanks, Melinda!

  • great tips…especially “be loving, even when they’re being rotten” This is so true. When Dino is at his maddest and says “you;re a bad mom” or “I’m going in my room and not coming out till you’re nice to me” I just smile and say I still love you and not going to give in because I love you.

    Though when he’s a teen…I may have to try something else.

  • All wonderful tips! My most strong-willed child and I have been butting heads since she was one and a half. That was the last age at which she would let me choose her clothes without a massive meltdown. At five she locked herself in the bathroom for an hour because I tried to make her wear a yellow shirt to kindergarten. The temptation to be violent with her has been strong many times.

    She’s nineteen now. We still butt heads. But I’ve learned to pick my battles better. I’ve learned to respect the ways we’re different and ask myself how much what I want matters. Is it really important or just a difference of opinion? And I’ve seen how her strong will is such a strength for her. She absolutely will not compromise her principles for anything. Of all my children, she’s the least likely to be swayed once she’s made a decision, no matter what I or anyone else say. Luckily, she’s wise and a very good person.

    It was frustrating when she was young, and still is when is causes me grief, but it will help her so much in life to stay true to herself. I’m grateful for that.

    Happy Sharefest, a day late. Great post!

  • These are good reminders. I know that I need to be more consistent, but sometimes I just don’t have the energy. These are good reminders to keep me in line :o) Visiting from SITS. Cheers!

  • Great tips, as I can totally relate to this so much. Glad you posted this! Stopping in as a new follower from SITS ShareFest Saturdays here and on Google+. Have a great weekend!


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i’m melinda


I’m a woman who was radically changed when the God I thought I knew since childhood opened my eyes to the overwhelming depth of His love for me. I love speaking, writing, and pointing women to the Father so they can experience for themselves the healing power of His incredible, captivating love.

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