Dreaming With (Not For) Your Strong-Willed Child

My youngest is a strong, free spirit.

She’s almost “a whole hand” [holiday birthday looming].

I caught a glimpse of her wild “white” hair (as she calls it) under the kitchen table as I fixed dinner the other night. She was cutting a hundred tiny bits of paper and sorting coffee beans into piles. (don’t ask)

“Watcha doing?” I implored, when I really wanted to say  CLEAN UP THAT BIG MESS.

“Making a coffee shop. For Africa,” she replied so matter-of-factly.

I smiled and took a sip of imaginary coffee. It tasted like delicious paper.

Just minutes later, this delightful child was standing at the pantry door, hunting for a snack, a snack I told her she couldn’t have because dinner was soon.

She put her hands on her hips and said, “There’s not a stupendous thing to eat in here!”

That’s her way of saying a bad word (since we don’t allow the word stupid to be used).

In the scope of 2 minutes, my little girl had gone from one extreme to the other. Delightful to Disobedient.

I’m raising a strong-willed child, no doubt, and I’m one of those moms who likes to have my way. This is a dangerous mix. In an effort to get things done the right way (mine, of course), I’m often tempted to engage in a battle with my strong-willed girls.

And when this happens, we both lose. Every time.

If I’m not careful, I find myself squelching some of their dreams, just to get my way. (One time I actually argued with my child about the color of the sky. She wouldn’t back down and it made me furious. I lost more than my cool that day. I lost a perfect opportunity to dream wildly, have fun and use my imagination with her).

A couple of weeks ago, my 4 1/2 year old woke up, insisting that we take the training wheels off her rarely-used bike. My initial thought was NO, and I said so. My hubby, who is much better at all this said, “Why not? She can at least try and she’ll see how hard it is.”

That girl took off riding like a pro and hasn’t stopped since. I think she learned to petal by sheer will. I thought about how my negative reaction might have killed her dream before she even had a chance to try:

I want to share a few simple thoughts that have revolutionized the way I’m raising my strong kids.

Three Keys to Bringing Out the Best in Your Strong-Willed Child (Discover Your Child’s Heart by Dr. Tim Kimmel)

  1. View Them Positively-as hard as it may be to acknowledge, being strong-willed is a gift. A beautiful trait that needs to be refined, but appreciated. They should never feel like having a strong personality is a negative thing.
  2. Draw Clear Boundaries-“Clear moral standards draw boundaries within which a strong-willed child can flourish.” They need consequences, regimentation, traditions, routine, rituals and rest.
  3. Give Them Some Say-most battles can be avoided, if you maintain authority, but also give your child some say…from eating to napping to keeping their room clean, you can work together to accomplish the goal.

[While I was writing this post, I called my hubby in and read these three keys to him {again}. We are constantly reevaluating and working towards raising our strong-willed children well.]

As I helped my little one pick up the tiny bits of paper from under the table, I said,”What do you want to be when you grow up?”

She looked upward, with a hand on her hip, her eyes all dreamy,”A mermaid,” she said matter-of-fact.

“Or a cat.”

I didn’t argue a bit.


Do you have a hard time dreaming with your kids-unleashing their potential, trusting their intuition?

Tell me about your strong-willed child.


This post is part of a series I’m writing from  Family Matters Resources. Family Matters is my sponsor for the Relevant Conference this year! While they are paying for my (and Mercy House) travel expenses, all the opinions in this post are mine.  I have read and used their products and attended their parenting conferences for years (because I want to!) and I highly recommend this organization. The book I mentioned above is a part of their Flag Page, an innovative tool that helps you discover your child’s heart.


  1. 1

    Audrey says

    Thank you so much for this post tonight! I really needed it after the day I had. I think the hardest part of having a strong-willed child is when other adults in their lives don’t “get” them. My youngest son is very strong-willed. His soccer coach singles him out because he just wants to run around and have fun, and isn’t as “good” at soccer as the other kids. After three seasons, I’m thinking this is the last season he’ll play soccer. I hate that she ruined it for him. Reading your post reminded me that just even though he’s not like everyone, he is still a great kid.

  2. 2

    Kysia says

    Great post. I love the reminder to dream with them. My son is my strong-willed child. He’s so clever, whitty, and intelligent, yet I find myself squelching his dreams all the time. I don’t mean to, I just don’t get his views. I get so caught up in the “need for obedience” that I fail to even try to see the world from his eyes. I’m constantly having to remind myself that God created him for a specific purpose and that purpose requires him to think “outside the box” most of the time.

  3. 3

    Cindy Balfour says

    I had 3 boys, they are adults now and I see my strong willed grandchildren coming out of them…., we didn’t have blogs then just journals. Boy do I laugh at some of the things I wrote….

    You have so much courage to speak openly about what is going on; and in time you will be tested right in front of God and all your friends and maybe even the local news reporters…just keep your cool and remember what you wrote. and that you love them. I sometimes pretended I was being punked…that way I could sort of go along knowing there was an end in sight…

  4. 4


    I *love* this, Kristen. I have a strong-willed child as well as a strong-willed{ish} child. My true-blue strong willed son responds very well to your point number 3. He thrives on responsibility, so we do our best to give him opportunities to make his own decisions. Whether the outcome is good or bad, he is responsible for it. Sometimes I handle this well, sometimes I do NOT!

    Great article, Kristen, and praying for His grace to cover the gaps…

    Love you!

  5. 6


    Kristen thank you for this post. I have a very strong willed soon to be 4 year old, and some days it’s a struggle. I needed to hear these words again this morning.

  6. 7


    Our turned-3-in-May son is incredibly strong willed. Each day brings something new and it’s often exhausting to me. I try to remind myself often that being strong willed is often a characteristic of those who are leaders, so my days basically consist of trying to remind myself to shape this future leader. It is very hard tho.

    Wanna know a secret?? ….I thank God for my 4 year old being mainly dramatic. 😉

  7. 8


    Ah! The strong willed child. I have a few of those myself. One is actually ADHD and ODD. He was a difficult one when younger (and when he forgets his meds). My 7 year old daughter has turned pretty strong willed as well. I have her on herbal supplements and there is a big difference. She is easier to handle. I know what you mean about choosing your battles. There is a danger when we as parents have to have it our way. Yes, we risk ruining our child’s dream of being a mermaid or cat. And, I had to laugh a bit about arguing about the sky being blue (or whatever color it was). I have two color blind daughters, so they actually have to be told what color the sky it…but every once in a while, I just let my little 2 year old guess about it. I just asked her and she said, “It’s yellow!” Bless her heart. God made her eyes so special (and her 13 year old sister). They are also light sensitive, so looking at a sunny sky…well, I would imagine it looks yellow. Anyway, I have rambled long enough. Thanks for your post. I enjoyed it.

  8. 9


    Ah! Strong-willed is an understatement for my 4-year-old son. He will argue with me in which direction I am driving!!! #3 with giving choices is key. “do you want the blue soap or the red soap for your bath?”

    Also, the biggest key that freed me in my thinking is that a strong-willed child’s job is to test limits. All. The. Time! I accept it. Anticipate it. And plan for it. Because he will test the smallest things.

    Thanks for a great post!

  9. 10


    I am reading a GREAT book… “Strong Willed Child or Dreamer?” Two of my three are very strong-willed, but they are completely different from each other. And I’ve been learning some things about myself too, which has been helping me react a little bit better these past couple of weeks. I am definitely going to make a note of the book you mention, because I can use all the help I can get! :)

  10. 11


    My daughter was also a strong willed child – right out of the womb. She was not a baby to be contently held in the ‘typical’ baby hold, she had to be up over my should or held kind of like a football with her back against me facing the world. Very nosy! Didn’t want to nurse because she preferred the bottle (to bad kid!) and would throw temper tantrums to beat the band.

    I was at a very stressful point in my life and didn’t appreciate her nearly as much as I should. When I look back at the videos and see her (and her strong-willfullness) I want to cry over the lost opportunities to enjoy her. Now as a young woman she is still strong willed (and always wants to be right) but I just let it go and appreciate – because I KNOW that I’m right and she’ll eventually realize it :) Keep in mind that respect from the child is key. Strong-willed is great and will get you far in life but respect for others and there opinions must be fostered too.

    Good luck to all the moms raising strong willed children!

  11. 12


    God has blessed me with three beautiful daughters, all who have very strong wills – maybe just a little too much like their momma. Often, I remind myself that this is how God created them and that focus and determination will serve them well in many situations in the future. One book that really helped me change my perception was “Parenting Your Spirited Child – a Guide for parents whose child is MORE intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent and energetic.” by Mary Sheedy Kurchika. Very, very good read and gives some great strategies. I don’t get it all right (ever) but when I slow down and think, we are able to avoid most battles.

  12. 14

    Mary says

    Ah…you speak of child #4. The one about whom I could write volumes. She’s 11 and absolutely beats to her own drum. A year ago, I had an eye-opening experience with her. We were about to eat and I instructed her to get her drink. She arrived with a gallon pitcher of water. One of her brothers said, “You can’t drink out of that. As soon as you put it to your mouth, you’ll spill it all over the place.” She just smiled her smug little smile and replied, “I don’t think so.” With that, she whipped off the towel that she had so carefully placed on top and up popped a straw. Although she only drank a small portion, not a drop was spilled. At that moment, the light bulb came on for me. I saw a gallon pitcher. She saw a whopper-sized drinking glass. God has gifted her with the ability to think outside the box (This ability goes way back–when she was about 2 she decided to use the bathroom sink as the potty and left a lovely deposit in it). Thanks for your great post–it’s nice to know that I’m not alone.

  13. 15

    Karen says

    I certainly wish I could have some ‘do-overs’ on parenting battles I chose as we raised 3 boys. :-) My husband has recently started blogging about our adventures and the things we learned. They are now 23, 20, and 16.


  14. 16

    Lisa says

    Thank you so much for this post!! My oldest child is VERY stong-willed. I have a hard time knowing how to deal with it. I tend to pick battles…….alot! Disciplining her is horrible! I am home with her 24/7 but when I discipline nothing works. As soon as my husband gets home and he takes over she listens! So frustrating! Thank you for the reminder!

  15. 17

    Karen says

    sorry to post again, but we LOVE Dr. John Rosemond and his parenting helps. We incorporated many of his ideas in to our parenting!

  16. 18


    My 2 1/2 year old daughter is quite a pistol, and with me at 8 months pregnant, her “challenging” nature is just exhausting right now. I almost wonder if she prefers to lure me into a battle of wills, because then she just fights harder as I lose my cool, whereas she seems to resent calm reprimands, withdrawing and saying “no talk to me! no look at me!”

    That said, she is often an absolute delight. It’s just those “Supernanny” moments (i.e. when I feel like Supernanny should be called in) where I feel like I just can’t handle this!

    I had a dream last night where I saw her at age 11, and she had a purple streak in her hair, but was a very sweet girl. :0)

  17. 19


    Oh how I needed to see this. I know we’re not the only parents dealing with it, but we are so frustrated with our strong willed kid right now–we’re so tired it’s a struggle for us to stay consistent when we just want some peace and quiet. I’ve never had to hold a kid on the toilet at bedtime until she goes (lest she wet the bed.) We continually say that she will be a fabulous adult if we can live long enough to see it. I am so thankful for wonderful teachers, who are patient and “get” her.

  18. 20


    I have one of those strong willed person’s in my family! He is 18 years old now. He is just like his mother. And you are RIGHT ON!!! Thank you for sharing!!!

  19. 21

    Tara Dyck says

    Oh this writing makes my heart ache. We have a 12, almost 13 year old strong willed boy. When he was very young I don’t think I saw him as that, but now when I think back to all the “crying and him never giving in”, all the “pushing the limits” all the aggressive type stuff, I really wonder. He is the child who can make me laugh the hardest, and also the one who can make me ever so angry!! He brings it all out. We have managed to “help” him through a lot of his “problem” behaviors but oh how often I doubt the way I dealt with it? Was it the right way? Did i somehow suck the life out of him by wanting him to “OBEY’!!
    Now that he is almost 13 I most definitely see that he is strong willed! So much of the things I thought we had put behind us are now once again surfacing. And I too am one of those who will win the fight! BUT with God’s grace I am learning to pick my battles, learning to extend grace to our precious child, and praying each day for WISDOM! I want him to be who God created him to be! Thanks for sharing, and any and all insights into raising a strong willed teen would be fabulous!

  20. 22

    marky says

    I have a strong willed child, who challenged me at every corner. She is now a beautiful 15yo graduating ealry to become a nurse in a third world country. A path that she is certain is being forged by God. I have loved dreaming this with her,

  21. 23

    Anna says

    Very awesome reminders, Kristen! The other night I was NOT choosing my battles with my strong willed girl…and she yelled out “I hate you!”
    I gasped in disbelief and stood there in shock. I chose, at that moment, to walk away. However, when I decided to go back and discuss it with her I had devised a plan. We talked about the word “passion,” and how love and hate can be good things. I told her that we aren’t allowed, as Christians, to hate God’s creations-not even our mamas when they make us mad:) I then explained to her that God had given her amazing feelings! I told her that He is ok with hate, as long as it is SIN that we hate. I talked with her about temper and frustration, also.
    Now she is on a rampage…she HATES sin and HATES bad choices. Being a parent is so hard…but so rewarding.

  22. 24

    Darla Rennick says

    I too thank you for this post and sharing a precious & honest perspective on raising strong-willed kids.
    I have 4 children (ages 9 down to 3). 3 of them are very strong willed and want to be the boss/leader of the family – you can imagine how that plays out :)
    It is important for parents of strong willed kids to encourage / support each other, because parents of more compliant children don’t get it. And much of the parenting advice / techniques don’t work for strong-willed kids. You clearly establish the boundaries (boundaries to bless them & keep them safe on many levels) and the strong willed kids will challenge the location and strength of those boundaries repeatedly (even hourly). That can be exhausting! The best thing I have done for our family & in parenting is to work on my issues and get healing for myself. Having strong willed kids has been a gift because it has pushed me beyond the brink of what I am humanly capable of and thrust me into Father God’s arms for His healing, help, wisdom, grace on a pretty much constant basis.
    Thanks for being a voice of encouragement and NOT offering more techniques that don’t work w/ these amazingly unique kids :).

  23. 25


    Ok, Ok – I get it!!
    Seriously though, thanks for this post. Incredibly great timing at my house right now. Thanks for the insight but also the reminder that I’m not the only mama of a strong willed GIRL that messes up with the raising of said GIRL once in awhile.

  24. 26

    Bethany says

    Oh the timing of God and it’s perfection. My husband and I were just discussing our oldest last night and talking about the balance of strong-will and sensitivity that she is. I confided that I struggle to parent her in a way that doesn’t crush her spirit but teaches her respect and obediance. She of course seems to know exactly how to push my buttons and tries to take advantage of that power. She is without a doubt a leader in training and I thank God for her. She’s teaching me more than I could ever dream.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  25. 27

    Kit says

    Ha! My 3 1/2 year old wants to be a horse when she grows up! She and your daughter would probably get along great :)

    Last year, when she was 2, she “strongly expressed” her dissatisfaction at being buckled into her car seat one day during a trip. Obviously this is non-negotiable, but she continued to scream “I don’t want to be buckled” for almost 2 full hours. At one point she became so bored with her tirade so, not wanting to give it up, she switched to SINGING “I don’t want to be buckled” instead of just yelling it!

  26. 29


    I am just now admitting that my 3 1/2 year old is strong willed. I lost my cool over a pair of overalls…I mean, who doesn’t like a good pair of overalls?

    I am actually going to hear Tim Kimmel tomorrow!

  27. 30


    I have tears running down my face right now… it’s been a rough few days with my very strong-willed child. I find myself often pulling away from him, keeping him at arm’s length… cause if he’s stong-willed, then he must be strong at everything, right… and therefore doesn’t NEED me… oh but how he does. He needs me more than ever I think BECAUSE he is strong-willed… like you listed above… he needs me to set boundaries (I’m pretty good at that… “no”, “you may not…” “don’t talk to me like that…” “if you do that again…”). He needs me to let him have moments where he can decide– I think I’ve gotten there- I give him clothing choicee, snack choices, playing choices. But the part about seeing him in a positive light… I am stuck there… and my tears from shame, from sorrow and anger at myself. He NEEDS me to be delighted in him… even when he is acting a fool, acting like a monster, acting like he could attack me at any moment. A beautiful trait that needs to be refined… I need to keep that in the forefront of my brain… I may need to write that a few places. It’s been hard… and I haven’t being dreaming WITH him for a long time- I ‘ve been dreaming FOR him in light of what I THINK he NEEDS to be or how he should be. Praying that these are refining tears. thank you for this reminder today after 3 VERY rough days with my son.

  28. 31

    Hannah says

    I sure wish I had found an article like this about six years ago. My strong willed child is 11 years old now. We have come a long way, but one area we still struggle with on a daily basis is her extreme negativity. I have never known anyone to be so naturally negative, argumentative, and difficult. Her first reaction is always a negative one, and she voices a complaint before anything else. It actually scares me. She and I clash often, but as this post reveals, keeping my own mouth restrained helps quite a lot! If you have any tips for dealing with natural negativity in a strong willed child, I am so in need of advice!

  29. 32


    This is beautiful. You’re a precious momma! I have one too. He’s nearly 13, so if you can imagine strong will PLUS testerone surges, well…you get the picture. But he is charming and an utter joy, even as he wears me slap out. I know God is doing things with that one; I feel it in my bones.

  30. 34

    Tabitha says

    I have a 4 year old boy whom I have just now realized he is a SWC! I like most thought he was just difficult and stubborn and exhausting! Thank you for this post!

    I had amazingly already figured out a few things on my own during our 4 years. Telling him of things in advance that is going to happen has helped. One thing that I do is I show him videos on YouTube. For example we were going to take him to the circus for the first time a couple of years ago. So I went on YouTube and showed him videos of the circus. I think it helped him deal with the big circus. We were going to take him to a skating birthday party so I showed him videos

    He seems to be very shy around people he doesn’t know. It takes him awhile to warm up and be himself. I know he is going to want to play sports when he goes to school but I’m afraid he’ll be too shy to get up there and play. What can I do to help with his shyness?


  31. 35


    I am just catching up on your blog and of course had to read this post because I also have a strong-willed 4 and 1/2 year old. He has broken so many of my preconceived notions of how “good children” are supposed to act, and that seems to be my main issue: he acts differently than I expect and that upsets me. He can be defiant, yes, but his behavior isn’t always “bad” – it is just him having his own ideas and wanting to do his own thing. Your training wheels example could have happened at my house – stuff like that. Like you, I also feel bad about sometimes squashing his spirit, so I’m trying to recognize his personality as a beautiful and unique thing, even when he is challenging me. Thank you for this post – it helps a lot. Also, I’ve never heard of Family Matters before but am going to check it out now . . . they are lucky to have you on their team.

  32. 36


    Wow! What a blessing this post has been! My strong willed child sneaks to the kitchen before dawn, gets into the fridge, and enjoys some butter, frosting…or Pepto Bismol. As a toddler, while she was supposed to be napping in her crib, she finger painted straight from her dirty diaper. Yep. It seems like she’s always a step (or nine) ahead of me!

    What a great reminder to dream with her! My prayer is that I can instill a passion for Jesus and a love for Scripture in her now, so that when she grows up, whether she decides to be a mermaid, or a horse, or a cat…she’s going to be a darn good one! :)

  33. 37


    Thank you. I needed this today.

    I see so many positives with this child, but the opposition and clashes are also so hard, all day long. He wants to help his siblings, but he neglects his own chores first to do so. He wants his brothers and sisters to do what is right, so he tries to enforce the rules (he reminds me of myself in this way; my motehr was always telling me that I wasn’t the mom, and now I find myself quoting her!).

    And Hannah’s description of her child is also waht I deal with each day. He’s so reluctant to to learn anything new; he thinks he can’t do it, and gives up first. However, he’s quite smart; he just has to be humble enough to listen and to try. I wish he didn’t fight every new thing (and there’s always something new when we’re having school). Once he listens he usually gets it just fine.

  34. 38


    Catching up on your blog. Loved this post. 2 of my 3 boys are very strong willed. My biggest struggle is how their strong will often comes across as disrespect and trying to figure out what is disrespect and what is them just expressing what they think. It is a challenge but I do recognize the value of what that will can accomplish someday.

  35. 39


    When some one searches for his vital thing, therefore he/she wishes to be available that in detail,
    so that thing is maintained over here.

  36. 40

    Shannon says

    Thanks for the insightful post! Despite being a very easy baby, toddler and young child, at some point in time, I was considered “strong-willed.” Looking back, I can see I was a free spirit who was angry due to dreams being squashed. Yes, there are very strong-willed children who can be extremely difficult, but an authoritarian/controlling parental style often only exacerbates the problem. I’m glad to see others who are open to nurturing their child’s spirit rather than enforcing a “I will have MY way,” mentality. Also, highly recommend Dr Spears’ book, “Strong Willed Child or Dreamer.” It is excellent!

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