Are you raising a strong-willed child you know is a born leader, but who is driving you nuts? You are not alone! Here is why raising leaders is twice as hard. It can also be twice as fulfilling. Post contains affiliate links.
“Mom… he won’t listen to me!” I heard my daughter say huffily one day.
“Oh no. What’s going on?“
“We’re playing a game and he’s not doing what I say.“
“Well… uh… you’re not his boss. People don’t always do what we want.“
“Yeah, but… mom… I want him to do what I want.”
I feel ya, baby girl, I really do…
Maybe it’s your oldest child. Birth order makes a big difference, you know. Or maybe it’s just your child’s temperament. They are confident and take charge personality that fills any leadership voids. They are strong-willed. It takes every ounce of your patience and self-discipline to get your lessons through their thick skulls.
The truth is, raising a leader is harder than raising an easy going child. It’s hard because they are wired differently. They are self-motivated and driven. Even from a young age their tendency to lead plays out in many ways. It makes them both exhilarating and exhausting.
1. They always think they’re right.
Your strong-willed leader automatically assumes they are right. They don’t take your word for granted or follow your instructions if they don’t seem rational. They are confident in their own logic – even if it makes no sense to you – and they’ll follow it through as long as you let them.
You must be confident and capable in the face of this behavior. Ignoring their opinion will backfire and make things harder. But so will giving in to their every preference. There must be a balance between listening to them, then making the best choice.
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2. They challenge your authority.
This is a tough one for parents. We like to think children are born respecting us. But I don’t think that’s true. Of course, we can require our children to act respectfully, and so we should.
But acting respectfully towards a person and respecting a person are not the same thing.
I can act respectfully towards a serial killer and not respect them as a person. If your strong-willed children decide you are wishy-washy and weak-willed, you are in trouble. This isn’t a conscious judgment, I’m not suggesting they are future manipulative dictators. But in their little minds, they naturally assess whether someone else is an authority over them. If you don’t act firmly and kindly in matters of discipline, they will challenge your authority constantly.
3. They require consistency.
I have one child who is nearly always obedient. Unless he’s experiencing The Feeling, I can count on him to comply with my instructions. I have another one who is not. He requires extreme consistency. When I’m consistent, his strong-willed nature is tempered by reason. When I’m inconsistent, he becomes defiant and uncooperative.
This is because a chaotic and unpredictable environment makes strong-willed children more defiant than normal. They feel ill at ease without structure. They crave it and, if you don’t give it to them, they’ll push back hard. The strong-willed child will often act in a way contrary to what they want, which is why the parent of a strong-willed child must act consistently and purposefully without guilt.
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4. They need to know why, so you need to know why.
“Because I said so” doesn’t cut the mustard with little leaders. That’s because they don’t just accept arbitrary reasons for things, they want actual ones. Why can’t we eat brownies for lunch? Why can’t I stay up until 10 p.m. on a school night? Why can’t I watch TV for 3 hours a day?
Strong willed kids require you to know why you do what you do. They want to understand the logic. The bad news is this is exhausting. The good news is buy-in is high once children understand. But even if they don’t think your logic is sound and they aren’t on board, refer to #3.
5. They require long-term thinking.
If you’re raising a budding leader, it’s important not to shield them from life. They must learn to experience disappointment to build resilience. They must learn to make good decisions, and experience the fallout of their decisions. They must learn how their actions affect others. Your strong-willed leader may also need more boundaries than your other children. More, because if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile.
Of course this is true for all your children, but especially for those who are likely to end up doing Big Things. This means we are one eye on the present, one eye on the future a lot. It requires big picture thinking and will most definitely make us tired moms.
Really, it’s just hard
It must be said: there are some children who push your buttons. With them, you perfect the art of becoming a calm mom. From toddlerhood you’ve identified all your anger triggers and disciplining them require the utmost discipline from you.
But just as they can be exhausting, they are thrilling to watch in action. They sweep in and help others. They have imaginative ideas. It is hard, but it is worth it.
PS – Clearly leadership skills can be learned and great leaders are forged through experience, not a birthright. That said, some children are undeniably “born leaders” and whether they use it for bad or good is their choice.