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Surviving a Strong-Willed Child

Having a strong-willed child is hard. Here are four strategies to help you survive.

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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 strong-willed child?

People look at you with perplexed looks. You’re 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’re hurting them. Yeah, mine has never done that either. [Insert sarcasm.]

Sometimes it’s 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’m 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 womb—emotionally, mentally, 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.

Strong-Willed from the Start

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 canceled 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.

And, 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.

As 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.

4 Ways for Surviving the Strong-Willed Child

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 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’re 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.

1. Remember the Good

I’ve learned that you have to remember the good. It’s 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.

2. 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.

3. 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, it’s hard to not take it personally. 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 emotions. She will fight with all her might and then in an instant, she’s over it. She goes back to the 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.

4. 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 naturally 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

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Surviving a Strong-Willed Child

by Sarah Bragg time to read: 6 min