Strong-willed children


"May I take your hand?"

We were leaving the library, and I wanted to make sure my 4-year-old didn't get away from me in the parking lot.

The question, posed as a request, really was a command, only she didn't know that.

She was quite willing to slip her palm into mine as she hopped her way to our van.

The scene could have been quite different.

Let's say I told her, "Give me your hand right now young lady before you get hit by a car!"

She probably would have done anything except put her hand in mine.

Even though she knows I'm the authority, she doesn't want to be forced to obey. Obedience is a choice.

Ah. Life with a strong-willed child.

It can be frustrating, exhausting and quite challenging, but if a parent's approach is right, it can be quite fulfilling.


Many times parents will refer to their one child who's strong-willed and their other child who's compliant.

I'm still waiting for my compliant child. Both of mine have wills that could plow through a brick wall. (My parents knew my payback was coming some day.)

So, when another mother recommended Cynthia Ulrich Tobias' book, "You Can't Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded)," I was highly interested.

As president of Learning Styles Unlimited Inc., Tobias is known for her work on learning styles. She wrote "The Way They Learn," "Bringing Out the Best in Your Child" and "Every Child Can Succeed," among other titles.

When I found her through the Internet, she was more than willing to talk on this topic. Not only is she strong-willed; she's the mother of a strong-willed son.

A strong will should not be viewed as a negative trait, Tobias says.

"It is not synonymous with rebellion," she says. "Your strong will helps you survive. You're not easily daunted. You're not easily swayed.

"The things that seem the most irritating now, as an adult, they're going to be some of their finest attributes."

When dealing with strong-willed children, many parents confuse authority and control, Tobias says.

"I talked to hundreds of strong-willed children in writing this book," Tobias says. "They don't have trouble with authority. It's how that authority is administered."

Tobias says she can relate. "I'd always rather have a compelling problem to solve than a chore to do."

Telling the child what needs to be done and asking for suggestions on how the task could be completed is more effective than telling the child how and when to do a task.

This approach also helps to build a bond between parent and child. If a child feels valued as a person, he is more likely to obey.

"You have got to have that relationship with your child that your child wants to preserve or you don't have any leverage," Tobias says. "Build a relationship that your child wants to hold onto."

To bring out the best in a strong-willed child:

  • Smile at him often. Raising this child (or children) is exhausting, and at times exasperating, but let them know you're incredibly glad they're a part of your family.

    "God didn't make any mistake about the kids you were given," Tobias says.

  • Tell your child what you appreciate about him. He'll love hearing that he's witty and the master of a great comeback even if in the next breath you tell him some of his comments are inappropriate. Your favor got his attention. He'll listen.

  • Ask another parent of strong-willed children to swap kids for an afternoon. Then tell each other the good qualities you noticed and appreciate about each other's children.

For more information, check out Tobias' Web site at

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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