Joy in the difficult child and Why you should be thankful about it

Do you ever have those days as a mom where you just lose your cool? That never, ever happens to me…cough, cough. The name of of this post is a bit unfair because I’m not sure “difficult child’ is something we should label ANY CHILD. However, I’m using it here because I think it helps you better understand my direction.  There are so many word choices when it comes to explaining children’s “difficult” behavior- strong-willed, independent, free, curious, loud, creative, stubborn, decisive, opinionated, and even fearless to name a few.

My brother and I were talking about Henri one day and he told me  something a friend of his with a masters in child development told him. It has resonated so deeply with me and I wanted to share with you.

The characteristics that make a child ‘difficult’ are the same characteristics that make a very successful adult.

 So go ahead- look at that list again. It’s interesting, right???!?!

As  a parent the question becomes, how do we encourage character traits that are DRIVING US BATTY? I don’t know about you all but many days of the week just getting pants on my little man feels like a battle. We need to figure out a way to help these little ones follow instruction without breaking their spirits.  We want our children to grow up to be independent and strong-willed adults. So when we see these “hard to deal with” attributes in them we really need to grapple with the frustration and teach them boundaries they may work within.

Feel intangible??? Ok let’s put it into action! Here are two ways to bring out the best in your willful child.


1)Give choices:

I have my mother in law to thank for this technique-it works WONDERS on my son and provides him the space to THRIVE.

What doesn’t work: “Henri, would you like to put pants on?”

What works: “Henri, would you like to wear this pair of pants or this pair of pants???

Instead of giving your child a yes or no question give them a question they can’t mess up. It give them some power and shows them that you respect their desires and preferences.



A child with a strong opinion needs a valid explanation for most things. Henri has entered this new “hitting stage”. I think we are to blame for it because we started having pillow fights with him and for a 20 month old, what’s the difference between hitting someone with a pillow or with your hand? Everytime he hits anyone I pull him aside and explain to him that hitting hurts people. It makes them sad and we CANNOT hit. I ask him to please apologize and give them a hug. If he hits me I say “Ow!!! That hurts mama!”

At this point I know that Henri hitting me or others is not an act of willful disobedience. Just like I said in my last post about the willful toddler which you can read here, HE’S LEARNING THE RULES.

Do you all have anything to add? How do we help our children to become strong, free-thinking and independent adults?? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

 Joy in the difficult child


  1. Janelle

    I try to give Tarn options too otherwise everything is usually “no”. Plus sometimes she asks for milk, but wants juice so I physically show her them and let her point out what she wants 🙂

  2. Pauline Lenser

    I always said of my strong willed child, If someone said that there was no cure for cancer, and he believed there was, he was going to find the cure and prove them wrong. I am so grateful for a strong willed child because of his strong beliefs, and not giving into peer pressure, he grew to be a wonderful independent, creative, strong, and amazing man. I would not trade a strong willed child for an easy child ever. Both of my sons were independent thinkers and I was constantly amazed at how that benefited them in life.

  3. Angelina

    I think one of the most important things we have taught our very strong willed/independent son is how to ask to stop and ask for HELP.

    When he’d get frustrated because he was having difficulty getting a puzzle to work or keeping his blocks lined the way he wanted them to we’d simply ask him to stop and say ‘help me please’. Now he asks for our help daily and it’s really worked wonders in decreasing tantrums and accept our assistance because it’s on his terms.

  4. Rachel Paulus

    Love this! Reminds me of this quote:

    “…parents would do well to remember that the same “No!” that their toddler screams at them, when properly cultivated rather than subverted, evolves into the same “No!” that the older child needs to assert to others who try to lead him or her into drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and a host of other behaviors later in life”. -Parenting with Grace by Popcak

    Our role is to help teach our children how to use their will in a healthy way. This can only be done with grace and respect for them and for where they are emotionally and developmentally as they grow.

  5. Anna

    My little one especially has issues transitioning. So I have been setting timers, giving countdowns to the end of an activity, and telling her what will happen next step by step. It helps most of the time. 🙂

  6. Theresa

    You should never tell a child to say sorry. When you make them say sorry, it brings any emotion or meaning out of it. The child learns that it is fine to say sorry when you’re not, and it’s fine to hit or hurt as long as you say “sorry” afterwards. Loved the article, just hated that small part of saying sorry. 🙂

  7. Jessica Carlson

    I’ve noticed that my daughter’s strong will is often called ” being stubborn” and my son’s gentle considerate approach is called “being a wuss”. They are 2 and 4 respectively, what a crazy label happy world we live in. To me, my daughter is strong and knows what she wants and my son is a sweet loving soul who cares about how all actions affect others.

  8. Stephanie

    One of the most valuable parenting tools I learned was from my oldest son’s SK teacher. Don’t argue with him. When he puts up a fuss about something, don’t fuel the fire by trying to reason him out of his tantrum, or explain why it has to be that way, because he’s just going to use it as fodder to object. This is the way it’s going to have to be, I’m sorry that you’re unhappy about it, but end of discussion. He can keep complaining if he wants to, but I won’t. Another good one, especially for older children who badger to get their own way is “Asked and Answered.” Esentially, “You asked, what was my answer?” The first couple of times you may have to repeat yourself and explain what this means, but eventually they will learn not to keep bulldozering. And one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned, is “Respond, don’t React”. I have learned that a lot of my kids’ strong will/powerful personality comes from me (I have two powerful children and one easy going one), and they have learned how to react to things from me. Believe me, I have tried and tried again not to react with anger, and I know it’s ineffective at solving the problem, and always makes it worse. But if I focus on simply responding – no emotion, matter of fact, then I am more often able to keep my cool. Reactions can cause explosions – any chemist knows that. Responding does way more to diffuse a situation than any nattering or anything yelled at the top of my voice (and beyond). Thank you for this article. I sometimes wonder how my easy going kid will do in the outside world, as he is such a follower. My powerful ones, as difficult as they can be, may just turn out to be the leaders that noone can take advantage of.

  9. Krista

    This is great advice, and I have done them. I now have a difficult teenager. I know, I know, teenagers are in a class by themselves. They are always difficult. However, I find it still a struggle with her because she wants to do things her way and be in control…maybe a little too independent. She will come to me and tell me what she is going to do with her friends instead of asking for permission. I find myself asking her, “are you asking me or telling me?” A gentle reminder of what she needs to be doing. She then replies something like, “oh yeah, is that okay if I go mom?”
    I still give her choices as well. I tell her I have X amount of money. Would she rather I pay for her shoes or on pants? Then I have her pay for the other one. That way I don’t get taken advantage of and she learns how to budget her money.
    I find I am also learning too, as they get older, how to deal with each situation.
    Thanks for letting me ramble. 😉

    • It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job!! My sister is a therapist and she told me that 2 year olds and teenagers have a lot in common.Maybe she’s onto something??

  10. CoCo K

    I have very strong willed daughters! My oldest is 8 and still has her own mind. It’s very challenging sometimes, but I realize I’d rather her having such a strong personality than being changed by every person she encounters! 🙂

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