Expert Parenting Advice
Practical parenting tips and advice from experts around the world

How to get strong-willed children to cooperate

The two keys to dealing with strong-willed or stubborn children without yelling or threats.

A newsletter subscriber recently emailed me, asking:

I've tried so much different parenting advice, but they don't work with my boys. I think these "positive" parenting tips only work for passive kids, not for strong willed and stubborn boys.

In fact, the truth is the complete opposite. Trying to be authoritarian or enforcing your agenda with strong-willed children will make it even more frustrating to get them to cooperate.

Now, I have two very strong-willed and stubborn kids, so when I interviewed Judy Arnall, a brain and child development specialist and a master of non-punitive parenting and education practices, I asked her about this.

Judy said:

Well, with strong-willed children, they’re born with, and they keep that temperament, through their whole life. It takes a little more working out things with strong-willed children and a lot more “yeses” on your part.

They exhibit very strong preferences. And that’s a good thing. That’s a trait that you want to protect. I always say that parenting strong-willed toddlers is like parenting a teenager. You’re just getting practice a lot earlier.

Really pick your battles when you have strong-willed children.

Judy Arnall

In addition to picking your battles when you have strong-willed children, the other key to remember is that it is even more important with strong-willed children to understand their viewpoint and make it clear to them that you consider what they think important.

Otherwise, if you only try to enforce your agenda, they are going to fight back, leading to lots of frustration, yelling, and bad feelings.

When I interviewed Jennifer Kolari, she shared three important listening techniques that you can use to understand your children's viewpoints, and show them that you consider their viewpoint important.

These three techniques are part of her C.A.L.M technique, which is a technique that she developed "to deeply attune to what your child is feeling, and to work very hard to understand what they’re saying and what they’re feeling, instead of trying to convince them that you’re right."

This technique works especially well with strong-willed children, because it is designed to show them that you consider their viewpoint important.

And using the four steps of this technique not only helps you get your kids to cooperate more, but it also helps you calm down and feel more connected with your child, even when they are being difficult or stubborn.