Strong-willed children are not bad children. They are good children with strength! 4-5 year olds are beginning to experience new feelings of frustration, doubt, and potentially a lack of confidence, and they are beginning to realize they are not babies anymore. Some regress and try to act younger than they are while some are learning or trying to push the boundaries. Either way, this is normal. Showing stubbornness is one example of their acknowledgement of their opinions and desires being important to them. This can be very difficult on them as well as their caretakers, parents and teachers. We have a few strong-willed children in the Garden Room, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The questions are how do we keep them strong, keep their strong sense of self worth, show we validate their feelings and opinions simultaneously while encouraging better behavior?
Consistency is key! Even if it wasn’t there prior, they are still young enough to learn and need it to help them in the future. The language used between parents and/or caregivers should be consistent as well. Use the same terminology and protocol on how to deal with the situation every time. We establish rules as a class at the beginning of the school year that are based on safety and fairness. Rules and consequences can be vital to your child’s future experiences. We cannot always get what we want or do what we want, and this is best to learn at a young age. It is best for them to learn how to deal with it now while they are not set in their ways and have room to learn how they will personally deal with situations as opposed to when they are in highschool. If you make a consequence like taking away TV time, it is super important to follow through! This gives them glimpses of what is to come if they don’t make a change or behave the same way again. If you prefer to not use consequences you can always reward them for better behaviour. For example, “Please stop screaming. It hurts other’s ears, and they have nothing to do with why you’re angry. It’s not fair to them. If you quiet down, we can talk about watching your favorite movie tonight.”
Try not to negotiate by screaming or yelling. Give them choices instead. Options for them are super helpful and with strong-willed children this gives them a sense of control over the situation. It is similar to a negotiation except they can choose. Make sure you explain the options clearly (talk to them like they are adults), give them explanations of why (you can’t ride your bike because the streets are slippery and unsafe). Let them feel their feelings and adapt emotionally to the situation. It is better for them to feel instead of becoming accustomed to bottling up their emotions.
For example, “I can see you are frustrated. Do you want to talk about it, or would you like some space,” and then when they are calmed down and have had some time with their thoughts you can ask if they want to talk about it, or explain with more detail. If they say no, they most likely will take space on their own. Perhaps they don’t want to admit they understand, and that’s ok. You can give them suggestions, but try to avoid saying things like “because I said so.” Their feelings are valid (whether or not we think they are right or wrong), and we must acknowledge and express this to them daily. Meditation breaths help transfer oxygen to the brain in the moment–this helps them become more able to navigate feelings and can reduce the anger enough to think cognitively.
See below for an article on the 10 signs you’re raising a strong willed child as well as some really good parenting strategies that are also used in school!