Strong-willed Kids: Raising a Spirited Child

Sometimes a change of perspective can make a huge difference for parents when their children's behaviour worries them. This point was evident recently when I was involved in a minor disagreement with one of my daughters.

I was annoyed that she dug her heels in and refused to give me any ground while we discussing the issue of bed-time. As she went off to her room with a victorious look on her face I said through gritted teeth, "She can be so pig-headed sometimes. I just wish that she would give in occasionally. She is so determined."

My wife reminded me that my daughter's determination was the same quality that I had been admiring on the basketball court about an hour earlier. She was right. I was nearly hoarse cheering my daughter as she ran up and down the court like a terrier. She was involved in every contest, burrowing in, determined to get the ball and do the best for her team. She continually encouraged her team-mates when the game wasn't going their way. Giving up is not in her nature. As a parent I was so proud of her tremendous tenacity and will-to-win.

Yet here I was little more than an hour later cursing the same quality that I admired in a different arena. Her never-say-die attitude in sport had become never-give-in at home and I wasn't comfortable with that.

I can't have it both ways - a daughter who is tiger in sport but a pussy cat at home. The strong-willed girl that I cheer in basketball is not going to become a quiet, acquiescent little thing at home just to appease her father. So I shrugged my shoulders, thankful that my daughter knows what she wants and has the determination to achieve it.

This same determination has been an asset in many areas of her life. It has helped her overcome earlier reading difficulties and is being put to good use as she tries to improve in other areas at school.

My challenge as a parent is to channel her behaviours rather than change her or snuff out her determination to get what she wants. My daughter will learn in time that she cannot always treat every situation head-on and that to get her own way sometimes it is essential to give a little ground. In the meantime I will have to change my own way of dealing with her if we are to avoid unnecessary conflict. It will make for interesting times when she enters adolescence!

As a parent it is easy to see only the negative side of children's behaviours. At times we are so close to our children or tired and fatigued that we lose our objectivity and our sense of proportion goes out the window. When they fail to meet our expectations it is often hard to look for a positive side.

Often it takes another person, a neutral observer to paint a brighter picture. A friend told me of her surprise when her son's teacher commented on his "creative, artistic streak". She informed the teacher that she found the assessment strange as the only creativity she ever saw from her son was "the endless chaos of an untidy bedroom." She admits that she sees the mess in a different light since then.

Another friend who was so tired of her son continually asking her questions that she dubbed him "the walking question mark" was heartened when a friend congratulated her for having such an inquisitive son. "You are lucky to have a child who asks you questions. I just wish my children showed the same attitude to learning," said the hapless mother who was frustrated by the lack of curiosity of her off-spring. One child's vice is another child's virtue. It just depends on the perspective that you take.

No matter how infuriating our kids can be if we look hard enough or even change our perspective we can see a positive side. The same qualities that may annoy parents can be an asset in the schoolyard, classroom or even the workplace a few years down the track. Stubbornness is a short step away from assertiveness which is an admirable quality for both sexes. Attention-seekers while draining for parents can be very gregarious and have a stack of friends. Bossy kids who love to give orders can make good leaders provided you show them how.

Effective teachers look for opportunities to turn children's more dubious behaviours into assets. Talkative kids are given opportunities to use their verbal skills legitimately through oral reports and other classroom activities. Strong-willed children are encouraged to be independent, take more responsibility for their own learning and be involved in decisions that affect them. Those children who have difficulty sitting still often excel in activities like sport, art or drama when given the chance.

The way that adults see children's behaviour affects how they treat them. Trying to find a positive side even when children are getting up our nose is not only a sanity-saver but helps us enjoy rather than simply endure our kids.

Michael Grose is The Parent Coach. For seventeen years he has been helping parents deal with the rigours of raising kids and survive!! For information about Michael's Parent Coaching programs or just some fine advice and ideas to help you raise confident kids and resilient teenagers visit

In The News:

Allens puts parenting above profit in leave policy  The Australian Financial Review
How Children Evolved to Whine  The New York Times
Open-access parenting programme shows promise  University of Cape Town News

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