If you are exhausted from perpetual power struggles with your child, are tired of hearing “no” multiple times every single day and in general, are awed by the stubbornness of your feisty kid, chances are you are dealing with a “Strong-Willed” or “Spirited” child. Raising a strong-willed child is emotionally and physically draining and quite frankly, extremely challenging, to say the least.
I have known I was dealing with one ever since our son had approached his second year. Initially, it was just a mild suspicion – He was far less complaint than other similarly aged kids in our family circle, was always in high-energy mode (could not sit still for one second) and had the word “No” as his best friend long before he could actually say it. I was always one of those parents who would look at other parents in public with utter jealousy because of their comparatively well-behaved children while trying to chase down my defiant kid, wondering “Why the hell can I not have one quiet outing like everyone else!”
Like me, most parents of strong-willed children know from early on that they are dealing with a child who couldn’t be swayed from their standpoints easily. But in case you are still wondering “he may be one, he may not be one”, then here are 10 signs to help you figure that out:
1. They are fiercely stubborn and not afraid to say “No”
Strong-willed children are fiercely stubborn and unwavering. They know what they want (or don’t want!) and will not get swayed by any diversions you put in their way. No amount of scare tactics or roadblocks you put in their way will daunt or discourage them from abandoning their goals.
They are not afraid to say “No” as many times as it takes and you can never make them do something against their will, ever! This may sound like a great quality to have in adulthood, but quite difficult to manage in a 4-year-old.
Whether they want to wear a red shirt and red pants all day long or drink their milk with chocolate and honey or play planets and planets alone or even help you with cooking their pancakes, they will have their way. Or, kill you 😉 in the process, trying.
2. They are bossy and very demanding
You can always tell a strong-willed child from their counterparts by the way they play in a group setting. They will always be the ones who tell others what to do and how to do it and will not take non-compliance without a showdown. You have to be prepared to follow their instructions to the tee or face consequences.
As for the hapless parents of such children, they can be heard yelling “Please don’t force your friend to do ‘x’. Please let her play the way she wants to play.” every few seconds.
This bossiness and demanding nature spill over to other areas too, where they will give you precise instructions on what they want you to do for them in crystal clear terms. Be it how they want to be dressed up, how they want to eat their food, from which bottle they want to drink their water or what activity they want to pursue next. In short, they like to be in control of each and every decision involving their world.
Many-a-times, I have faced meltdowns from sonny because I unilaterally decided to skip one of his many detailed instructions! Like when I would not take the exact street that he wanted me to while walking him home from his school bus stop (His chosen paths are always longer and filled with distractions!) or when I would not give him water in a bowl like he demanded (because he wanted to try lapping it up like a pretend dog).
3. They have strong likes and dislikes
You can never ever force a strong-willed child to like or dislike something (or someone) based on your preferences. If they don’t like someone, they don’t. Period. Try making them say hello and chances are, you will have an angry outburst. If they don’t like the dinner you have cooked, you can’t force them to eat it. And if you do, chances are, you will end up with puke on your clothes. And to top it, they will voice their displeasure in no uncertain (and embarrassing) terms – “I don’t like Mr. ‘x’.”, “This food is blah, phew, yuck, disgusting.” Need I say more?
4. They don’t forget anything and argue like pros
You can rarely if ever, win an argument with a strong-willed child. They have impeccable memories and will dig up statements you said in the past to use against you in a new battle of wills and go on with their arguments and counter-arguments, till you give in out of sheer exhaustion.
When one fine day almost 6 months back, I told our son to drink more water “because water helps your body”, I never expected it to boomerang back and become his reason a few days back to skip dinner in favor of only water “because water helps my body grow big and strong”.
Having wised up from many such debates, I know enough now to hold my tongue on such ambiguous statements lest I provide fodder to fuel future rebellions!
5. They are energetic and intense
If I could have a dollar for the number of times I have heard statements like “He is so active”, “He runs like Bolt”, “I am getting tired just from watching him play” etc. on sonny’s activity level, well, you guessed it – I would end up with a small fortune.
I have seen sonny tire out groups of children much older than himself and still keep going with what I suspect is sheer willpower and nothing else.
So yeah, strong-willed kids are very energetic and can never ever sit still, even for one second. Also, they are very intense and passionate when it comes to their interests.
Also, they are very intense and passionate when it comes to their interests.
I have talked about our son’s love of planets many times in this blog. He is occupied with them day in and day out (and I suspect in his dreams too!). From his past obsessions with alphabets, monster trucks and trains, I know that for the duration of time for which he is fixated on planets, the only videos he will watch, the only books he will read, the only drawings he will make and the only things he will talk about will all be about planets and planets alone. It’s simply awe-inspiring to see such a small child obsess over his interests like sonny does.
6. They refuse to follow the beaten track and tend to challenge boundaries
Strong-willed children are born leaders and as such have difficulty following the beaten track. Moreover, they have very little, if any, consideration of what you or their peers think of them.
Driven by their own passions and rarely by what other people think of them, they will do what they want to do and when they want to do it without second-guessing themselves.
No matter how many times you tell them not to do something, they will keep challenging those boundaries you set until and unless they have grasped the root cause behind that boundary. In this respect, strong-willed children make their own rules and only abide by the rules that are acceptable to them.
Be it eating cereals for every single meal three days in a row, wearing shoes inside the house and slippers outside, deciding to rename himself, his parents and friends as planets, leading the way to some mischief in school, sonny has done it all. The many instances when he has divided candy up into three parts – one for himself, one for me and one for hubby – and refused to touch or let others touch our shares (even when we told him it was okay to eat it all) is simply amazing.
I am also surprised how easily he can just walk away from others and do what he feels like doing without one glance back at his friends and more often than not, even convince them to join him.
7. They learn by doing, ask “why” questions and are super creative when it comes to things they love
Strong-willed children are very hands-on when it comes to learning. Be it exploring all things with their senses (and never listening to you when you say things like “this coffee is very hot” or “it’s too cold outside”), finding creative solutions to problems at hand or asking a thousand how and why questions, they will always choose the exploratory route versus the discussion route.
I have actually lost count of the number of times I have watched the same old NASA videos with sonny, made paper and plastic ball models of the solar system or explored the planets on his iPad app. And the stories he makes up about his planet friends are so very creative and amusing.
8. They are fast-paced, impatient and don’t listen
Strong-willed children walk fast, talk fast, eat fast (if they eat at all that is!) and in general seem to be always in a hurry. They are very impatient and intolerant of anything slow. If they want something, they want it now, rather yesterday! And throw tantrums if there is even the minutest delay.
And of course, they don’t listen. In fact, they have selective listening and seeing skills. They will hear and see things that they are passionate about and when you move onto some other topic (they are not into), they will lose interest and tune you out.
9. They have a strong sense of right and wrong
Like the candy distribution example I talked about earlier, strong-willed children, in general, have a strong sense of right and wrong and will stand by their convictions even if it is uncomfortable to do so. They will also, almost always, take responsibility for their actions and not blame others.
The time before our son learned to write comes to mind. He simply refused to hold the pencil in school (among his peers and teacher) despite the tremendous pressure on him to comply before he was good and ready. And then once he was sure he could write, it was as if the period of defiance existed only in my dreams!
10. They are short-tempered
And last, but not the least, strong-willed children are short-tempered and can very quickly transform from their angelic selves to their devilish selves if something does not go their way and throw major tantrums. In fact, a big part of my parenting strategy involves how not to have sonny blow his short fuse by anticipating situations before they happen (talk about a superpower!)
Phew! Quite a list, eh? Though having a strong-willed child is exhausting, but if anything, strong-willed children are mini-adults who tend to be quite logical in their approach and when handled with care and understanding, turn out to be amazing kids who can make you very proud.
In my next post, I have talked about some of the things that have worked for me while handling my headstrong preschooler and some things that have worsened our head-butting. Do check it out if you are looking for tips and tricks for handling your strong-willed children.
Till then, don’t forget to share your views and opinions on the topic – What were the tell-tale signs that made you wonder?
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