Surviving a Strong-Willed Child

Surviving a Strong-Willed Child

Have you ever told a story about one of your children and, while talking, you feel like the only one in the room who knows what it’s like to raise this type of human?

People look at you with perplexed looks. You are left standing there feeling like the only one in history to struggle through parenting.

Your kid never throws themselves on the sidewalk as if their limbs no longer can support their body weight, all the while screaming like you are hurting them. Yea, mine have never done that either (insert sarcasm).

Sometimes its easy to look around at the other moms running this race with us and think that it just comes easy to them. They seem to enjoy every single moment (even the hard, smelly moments). They enjoy it so much so that they continue to have more children which can easily make me feel like I am really not cut out for this since I can barely handle (and enjoy) the two I have.

My first child out the gate has wreaked havoc on me since the the womb — emotionally, mentality, spiritually, physically — and while I recognize that being strong and determined are fantastic characteristics for an adult, it certainly doesn’t make it easy to parent them as a child. I don’t think anyone can really be prepared for what is in store when they first read the results of a positive pregnancy test. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

My girl was determined even from the beginning. I just knew she would be the first child in history to remain in the womb forever. After a week past her due date, we scheduled an induction. However, the hospital cancelled it because there were no rooms available. I’m pretty sure she paid off the hospital staff. When we finally made it to the hospital, the delivery ended up in an emergency c-section because they discovered she was breech — she refused to turn the right way. Determination. When the doctor pulled her from the womb, my daughter was literally chewing on the umbilical cord cutting off the very life support that I gave her. Some things haven’t changed.

Surviving a Strong-Willed ChildAs an infant, she screamed like a pterodactyl for hours and weeks, unable to be content. It was like something was in her driving her to push for something better, something more.

She refused a bottle for months and then when she made up her mind about what she wanted, she refused me. Her path, her way, her time.

Potty training was an absolute nightmare. I was scared for life. I just knew she would be the one kid in history to go to middle school in diapers. She had no problem sitting in poop as a 5 year old. No offense, but I wanted to punch those people who posted on Facebook that their kids were potty trained in one day with a simple reward of a sticker.

And then there are the fights. Tantrums. Meltdowns. I have laid on my closet floor in the fetal position crying more times than I can count questioning why in the world God would choose me to be a mother.

She has made me question everything — myself, my faith, my heart. There are days where I know I’m not cut out for this. This girl, full of passion and glory, is determined and strong willed. She wants it her way, and she will fight me to the finish.

And as hard as she is, she is good. She is glorious. She is kind and full of compassion. She is my biggest amplifier. It is easy for me to see the qualities in her that are of me. She amplifies my negative qualities and my positive qualities. What I am in part, she is in full. If I have emotionally crazy in me, she amplifies that on a greater scale. However, if I have an ounce of compassion in me, she has gallons in her.

I’m not writing this post with answers. I’m writing so that you know you aren’t alone. I am currently right there with you. I have not crossed the finish line. Maybe you are just as weary as I am, so I wanted to give you a couple of insights that I’ve learned in the trenches of how to survive a strong-willed child.

Remember the Good

I’ve learned that you have to remember the good. It is so hard to remember or even notice the good when you are dodging bullets. Most days I am worn out. I’m tired of repeating the same thing over and over. It’s easy to not notice the good. It’s easy to miss the times that she is kind to complete strangers. She wants to know who they are and their story and the stranger always walks away feeling noticed. What a good quality to care for people in such a way.

Say Yes Sometimes

I have to remind myself to say yes sometimes. My girl hears no so much on a daily basis. I have to remember to say yes to building a fort. Yes to letting her play with every single toy she owns even if it means I have to help her clean up. Yes to having a dance party with her while cooking dinner. Yes to crafting with her even though there isn’t a craft bone in my body.

It’s Not About Winning

Surviving is remembering that it’s not about winning. My strong-willed girl loves to fight. She wants me to engage. She is full of drama. The times where I know I’ve crossed a line and reacted and disciplined in anger have been when I wanted to win. I wanted to be the last word. I was wounded. In those intense moments, its hard to not take it personal. She has hurled words at me that break my bones. Sometimes it feels like I’m fighting with a teenager and not a six year old. I have to resist the temptation to fight back. I want to defend myself, my rights, my position. She feels the full range of emotion. She will fight with all her might and then in an instance, she’s over it. She goes back to happy girl who laughs and loves all the while I’m slain on the bedroom floor disrespected, hurt, and not ready to forgive. It’s not about winning especially at the expense of losing the relationship.

Love the Way They Feel Loved

And finally, love them the way they feel loved. My girl’s love tank is filled by time and attention. She’s not a snuggler. We laugh that you will be injured by her if you try to get physical affection from her. It just doesn’t come natural to her. Let me just say that quality time with little people is not my jam. Playing barbies or pretend play puts me to sleep. Seriously boring, but that is exactly what fills up her little heart. The times that I have pushed aside my selfishness and got on the floor to give her 20 minutes of undivided attention, she glows. It’s as if I can see her feeling loved. Sometimes all they need is whatever fills up their love tank.

I am clearly no expert on parenting, but I do know how to recognize my own mistakes and attempt to learn from them. I know this girl is going to do great things … as long as we don’t kill each other in the process.

What about you? Do you have a strong willed kid? What have you learned to help us survive?

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Sarah Bragg has worked with students in ministry for more than 15 years and previously worked in full-time ministry for 7 years. Her book titled titled Body. Beauty. Boys. The Truth About Girls and How We See Ourselves helps young women find their value in the One who matters. She is the Lead Editor for a student strategy and curriculum called XP3 Middle School for Orange at the reThink Group. She has a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. Sarah and her husband, Scott, and their daughters, Sinclair and Rory, reside in Marietta, Georgia. To listen to conversations about surviving life, check out her podcast Surviving Sarah on iTunes and to follow along with her life, check out

  • Briana

    Oh boy, can I EVER relate to this! Yes, I do very much feel alone in the struggle, or I blame myself bc like you said, my kids (I have three and not one came out compliant!) are just mini-me’s ☺️.
    Great points you make, and ones I’m daily dependent on God to live out.
    Thanks for your gut-level honest post. I definitely appreciate that.

    • Sarah Bragg

      We are in it together! These children definitely have a way of keeping us on our knees seeking His help and grace.

  • Nancy Kenaston

    Still wiping away tears. Wow. “I’m slain on the bedroom floor” mirrors many moments of my own, with my 10 year old daughter. Fighting since the day she came home. Well, OK, not every day. :) I stopped in the hallway, tonight, after a battle, before dinner, just to stare at her beautiful picture, framed on the wall…one of my ways of “remembering the good”. We only have 1, because I could not handle another. She wavers back & forth daily between being the joy & delight of my life, and the biggest thorn in my flesh. Exhausted. On my knees praying. Questioning why He picked me to be her Mommy. Isn’t it OBVIOUS I don’t know how to do this? Even after reading every book I can find! Trying to remember & trust He knows best. If we can both just survive, without hurting each other too much. Thank you for this glimpse of your life. I swallow the lump in my throat, and THANK HIM for helping me find others who fall, and get knocked down in the battle, yet get up, and continue on, for His glory. Thank you for sharing.

    • Sarah Bragg

      Oh Nancy, I have said (more like screamed) the same words to God. Didn’t he know that I am not good at this job? If it was any other job, I would have already quit :-) So thankful perfection isn’t the requirement in this game.

  • Rebecca Armenta Verbeten

    Thank you so much for this. I have heard of the strong-willed child for so many years, but didn’t quite know that that is what my oldest is. I just thought she was difficult. Wonderful in so many ways, but difficult all the same. And I did feel alone and like I am failing miserably. Your post has helped set my heart at ease.

    • Sarah Bragg

      Doesn’t it help just knowing you aren’t crazy?! So glad we can have a community of people who walk the same journey!

  • Sarah

    You have no idea, just no idea, how much I needed to hear this tonight. It had me in tears. You captured my daughter, and my emotions, perfectly. This is our story to a T (except that she was born footling breech in the back of an ambulance – because she was too impatient to wait until we got to the hospital). I’m bookmarking this for when I need a boost on those especially rough days!

  • Totally, totally understand this and have been here so many times. I have a few strong-willed ones, but my firstborn daughter (firstborn child) was exactly like this, and now at 9 is still a force to be reckoned with. I am still learning how to parent her. In fact, I seriously question what in the world that idea is: parenting. Let’s be real. I’m trying to live, and trying to raise her and teach her the ways of the Lord, while keeping us both with as little damage as possible (and of course all the rest of my six kids). You’ll get through this time and come out stronger and amazed at the works the Lord has done in you both. The verse that He constantly puts on my heart with her is Galatians 6:9, “Do not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest, if you do not give up.” Shalom!

  • lizbarber

    Sarah, such a well written post from your heart and experience. Thank you for writing this. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote…especially the part where you mentioned wanting to ” punch those people who posted on Facebook that their kids were potty trained in one day with a simple reward of a sticker.” Yes, this is me!
    Definitely there are so many times where I do feel like I’m the only parent in history dealing with this situation with my kiddos.
    Both my boys had developmental delays and didn’t start using words until they were 3 1/2 years old. Along with other sensory issues it’s been the biggest challenge for my husband and I both as parents.
    God has been challenging me to stop focusing on their challenging characteristics and work on loving them where they’re at instead of constantly trying to cram them into a certain mold.
    Yes, they need correction and I need a boat load of grace and patience but through it I am learning to accept these little ones and try to be the biggest cheerleader in their lives.

    Anyways, thanks for letting me share my story here. I appreciate you sharing your heart!

  • Stephen Goldsworth

    Just found this, and wanted to say thank you for posting it. This article describes our youngest son almost perfectly, including the part about sitting in poop at 5 years old. We sometimes jokingly refer to him as our little Napoleon, since he thinks he rules the roost. He is quite the attention vacuum who can’t get enough at times, and in some ways is more challenging than our autistic son. Just have to love all our kids and take things one day at a time.

  • Candace

    I have had the same troubles with my 4 year old since the day she was born. She screamed for 2 days straight and the Dr even said “I’m glad I don’t have to take that one home” as he discharged me and sent me to fend for myself. I cried then and 4.5 years later I’m still crying. I hasn’t gotten any easier…add not sleeping through the night more than a handful of times in her life to that equation also! I’m still not sure how to handle her and it takes away so much from my 2 year old. I can only hope that one day I can learn how to be a better mom for them both.

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Surviving a Strong-Willed Child

by Sarah Bragg time to read: 5 min