#17: Strong-Willed Kids Solve Stress Better Than Most

The other day, I was reading an article in the Washington Post about strong-willed children. The article suggested these children aren’t as bad as many parents make them out to be and suggested that parents, who are raising “strong-willed” children should let up on them just a little.

The article spoke to me because by most people’s standards, I have a child who fits the bill as a strong-willed child; however, I had a big problem with the article and with the whole idea of “strong-willed” as a label in the first place. In fact, I think the term “strong-willed” has such a negative connotation and should not be used to describe children at all.

My daughter matches the personality type outlined in the article exactly, but I never thought of her as strong-willed. She is passionate and a fighter for social justice for sure, but these are both very good things in my opinion. Recently, we all did personality tests with the Enneagram Institute and we learned that my daughter is a Type 1 Reformer, and ever since we took the tests, my goal has been to help her stay in the top three levels of health for her personality type, so she can leverage her gifts instead of being victimized by them.

For example, reformers act the way they do because they feel such anger at all the injustice in the world. The feeling is so intense that they can become self-destructive perfectionists. That’s why they fight back and stand firm on everything; it’s a survival mechanism for them. To solve this problem, I’ve been trying to help her strive for 80% instead of 150% in everything. And I have taught her about the science of gratitude and compassion. These things all help reformers to be much nicer to themselves and to forgive the world for being so unjust.

Of course, some strong-willed kids don’t get the guidance they need when some parents try to achieve obedience at all costs, which is like throwing lighter fluid on a fire most of the time. The mini explosions come in the form of rudeness, condescension and a know-it-all way of being. But maybe there is a better way; maybe the goal should be to harness the power instead of trying to control something that just can’t be controlled

For example, whenever my daughter thinks she has it all figured out (rudeness, complacency, condescension, etc.), I up the stakes a little and deliberately put her into environments/situations that increase her stress with the intent of destabilizing her a little. Not enough to cause anxiety, but just enough to force her brain out of its survival mammal state (comfort zone) and to make her exercise her pre-frontal cortex a little (executive functioning).

When I do this, I make sure I am there to help her navigate and learn from the new setting/situation and I make sure the settings/situations are relevant to her worldview so there is always a match to her strong, internally-controlled sense of purpose, which gives her a good reason to put up with the new stressor.

This way, she experiences new challenges in a constructive and controlled manner and develops stress hardiness and resilience. It always gets rid of any developing rudeness or mental laziness right away and once she figures out the new setting/situation as well, it’s time to up the stakes again. It’s like learning any skill, they say it takes 10,000 repetitions and a process of constant progression to become an expert at anything and learning to deal with stress is no exception to the rule.

And it’s a good thing she is getting so good at dealing with stress, because truth be told, a person with a well-managed “REFORMER” personality type can have more confidence and self-esteem than anyone else on the planet. In fact, their confidence is so strong that they often experience less stress than anyone else and they often grow up to be leaders in whatever they choose to do, even world leaders. Plus, they are highly moral and ethical people and if they can keep the perfectionism under control, they often set the very best examples in the world and we can all more than learn from them.

Here are 11 Tips for Peaceful Parenting Your Strong-Willed, Spirited Child adapted from Aha Parenting.

1) Remember that strong-willed kids are experiential learners. They have to figure things out for themselves.

2) Your strong-willed child wants mastery more than anything. Give them daily opportunities to achieve mastery in something.

3) Give your strong-willed child choices. They need to choose to be obedient, you can’t just make them be obedient.

4) Give her authority over her own body. Explain the consequences of different body/clothing/appearance choices and give them decision making and analysis skills.

5) Avoid power struggles by using routines and rules. Make problems about the routines or systems so they are not personal between you and your passionate child.

6) Don’t push him into opposing you. These kids feel they must fight against injustice; you don’t want to become an issue that is perceived as unjust.

7) Side-step power struggles by letting your child save face. They are highly ethical and moral, they do not need to be told what is right or wrong.

8) Listen to her. They feel a ton of anger at all the injustice in the world. They need someone to hear the pain they feel.

9) See it from his point of view. They need to know you understand why the world is so unjust.

10) Discipline through the relationship, never through punishment. No need for punishment; they over-punish themselves. You may need to help them be a little less brutal to themselves.

11) Offer him respect and empathy. They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They need mom’s help to should the burden.

Read the full article for ideas and examples.

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About The Author

Jill Prince, MBA

Hi, I'm Jill. I'm a Certified Health Coach & Stress Management Consultant as well as a mom of 2 amazing teen girls - Julia & Clara. Through my work, I hope to honor & inspire moms by equipping them with dynamic tools to conquer stress & empower the future.

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