Focus on the Family

Encouragement for Parent of Strong-Willed Child

Is there any hope for the parent of a defiant, strong-willed child? I go through life feeling frazzled, dazed, and tired to the bone. Every day – almost every hour! – brings another confrontation, and sometimes I feel as if I don't have the strength to go on. Any suggestions?

The first thing you need to understand is that you’re not alone. We’ve heard from many mothers and fathers who are facing similar struggles with a child who is determined to test the limits of authority in every possible way. In fact, statistics indicate that 85% of families include at least one strong-willed child. So while your situation may seem overwhelming at times, it’s not unusual.

Second, because parenting the strong-willed child can be a lonely job, it’s important to resist a tendency toward isolation. We recommend that you invest some time and effort in building and maintaining a strong support system. Talk to someone who can help shoulder your burden. Reach out to other parents who are dealing with challenging kids of their own and allow them to reach out to you. You’ve been given a difficult assignment, but with prayer, faith, God’s grace and generous amounts of help from other people, you can succeed. We want to encourage you to tackle it with courage, composure and confidence.

Third, it’s vital to remember that every strong-willed child is unique. That’s why there is no single book or parenting program, no comprehensive curriculum package, no one individual’s advice that can solve all your problems and provide all the answers you need. In the final analysis, it all comes down to finding the energy to hang in there, stick to your guns, and win your battles one day and one step at a time. So get plenty of sleep, eat well, and set aside a reasonable amount of time for rest and recuperation as individuals and as a couple.

Finally, along with strength and patience, cultivate an attitude of calm sensitivity and compassion. Surprising as it may seem, compassion can be a powerful tool for molding and shaping a strong-willed child. Most of these kids respond readily to adult empathy and understanding. As often as you can, then, let your child know that you’re not oblivious to the emotions and inner struggles that drive him to act out. Make it plain that you can relate to the feelings behind the misbehavior. Whenever appropriate, say something like, “I can tell that you’re angry right now, and I understand that your anger makes it hard for you to cooperate. I can’t let you have your own way, but I’m here to help you in any way I can.”

The good news is that this phase won’t last forever. These tough-minded children may argue and fight and complain throughout their growing-up years, but observation and experience suggest that a majority will eventually come around to their parents’ point of view and adopt their parents’ values as their own. Some will even put the steely fiber of their unyielding temperament to good use by standing up to the adolescent peer group or resisting negative social trends as young adults. It’s entirely possible that you are raising one of the leaders of the up-and-coming generation.

So take courage. What you’re doing is important, and things will get better. If you need some extra help, don’t hesitate to contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. Our licensed Christian counselors would be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.


The New Dare to Discipline

Have a New Kid by Friday

Boundaries With Kids

Practical Tools for Raising Well-Behaved Children

Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World

The New Strong-Willed Child 


John Rosemond: Parenting with Love and Leadership 

Effective Biblical Discipline

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