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Parenting a Strong-Willed Toddler – 10 Tips From a Mom of 7

a toddler in a pink Hello Kitty ride on toy with a text overlay that says "10 Tips for Raising a Strong Willed Toddler"

When I first wrote this post I was a mother of 4. I am now a mother of seven children, many of them have had a strong-willed temperament. I have updated this post with additional knowledge I have learned over the years.

If you are reading this I guess that means that you might be having a difficult time with a strong-willed child. Been there, done that with my children’s behaviors and I am here to help!

Pictured here is my sweet Zellene shortly after she had turned 2 years old. Many people refer to this year as “terrible” but honestly, I just can’t bring myself to label any year of my child’s life as terrible. Sure, the age of two comes with new struggles, but I prefer to look at the glass half full.

Zellene is very stubborn, strong-willed daughter, and independent…but so am I, so can I blame her? It’s a part of her little personality. While parenting a strong-willed child can be challenging at times with plenty of power struggles, I am trying to embrace these qualities while still making sure she is safe and using good behavior.

Strong-willed little kids are not new to me. My oldest child, Maggie, is also quite strong-willed and independent, so I’ve learned a few things over the years about parenting a strong-willed toddler that I’d like to share with you today.

Toddler sitting in a Hello Kitty Car

Allow Your Toddler As Much Independence As Possible

Look, there really is nothing wrong with being a strong-willed person. In fact, my strong will has really helped me on many occasions. I don’t want to squash this within my strong-willed kids.

Whenever possible, I allow Zellene to make her own decisions. Of course, if her decisions are unsafe or unacceptable behavior, then she’s corrected, but otherwise, I let her go.

Give Him or Her Options so They Can Make the Decision

I try to make the fewest decisions for Zellene that I can…while still maintaining control over those decisions. For instance, when she gets dressed in the morning I will pull out 3 different acceptable outfits for the day and let her choose the one she’d like to wear.

This allows her to still feel like she is in control of the situation while still ensuring she’ll choose an outfit that is acceptable for her daily activities.  I do the same thing at snack time and when deciding on activities. This has largely eliminated the constant battles that stubborn children often want to pick with adults.

Sometimes options just aren’t possible, but I find that if she’s been able to make most of her own decisions throughout the day, the one or two times I need to insist on something, she is much more willing to comply without complaints.

Toddler next to a Hello Kitty ride on car

Allow Extra Time for Your Toddler

Independent toddlers will want to do a lot of things by themselves. Zellene frequently tells us, “no, I do it!” Whether it’s putting on her own shoes or climbing into her car seat, she wants to do it without help, whenever possible.

Rather than get frustrated with her because it takes her longer to put on her own shoes when we are already running late, I’ve tried really hard to budget the extra time I know it will take, so I can allow her to do things herself.

Little girl getting into a Hello kitty ride on car

Praise Obedience

When your strong-willed toddler obeys you, don’t forget to praise them. They really want to make you happy and a “thank you for obeying me, Zellene! I’m so proud of you!” will go a long way. The more you praise good behavior, the less often you’ll find yourself correcting bad behavior.

Realize Their Desire For Help May Change Quickly & Plan Accordingly

Toddlers are notorious for changing their mind, so plan ahead. We love to go for walks around our neighborhood as a family and Zellene is notorious for having a hard time deciding what she wants to do.

First, she wants to walk, then she’s tired and wants to be carried, then she wants in the stroller where her brother is riding, even though she insisted at first she was a big girl and didn’t need the stroller.

Little boy pushing a little girl in a toy Hello Kitty Car

Let Natural Consequences Work for You

Sometimes the best way you teach your strong-willed toddler is to let them experience the natural consequences of their actions. For example, next time your stubborn toddler insists on drinking from your water cup instead of a sippy cup, let him see that if he drinks from your cup, it’s going to spill on him.

Over time, this is a safe way to teach him that you have made rules and decisions to help him.

Ignore Temper Tantrums

If your strong willed toddler wants to throw a temper tantrum, assuming you are home and she is in a safe place, let her and ignore the temper tantrum. Every kid tries this but it only takes one or two times of you totally ignoring the temper tantrum and they will realize that you aren’t going to cave into their demands.

I’ve even had toddlers follow me through the house with their temper tantrums. I just ignore them until they are done. Never reward a temper tantrum or you are in for years of misbehavior.

Little girl pushing a Hello Kitty Car

Limit Screen Time

I’ve noticed that the longer my kids spend in front of a screen, the worse their behavior tends to be. I’m not saying that you can never let your little boy have screen time, but use it sparingly.

Have Clear Boundaries & Be Consistent

Even as toddlers, they need to know what your expectations are of them and to have clear, firm boundaries. Make your yes a yes and your no a no.

Make sure the other adults in his/her life are on the same page as well. It’s very confusing to a toddler if he’s allowed to jump on the bed at Grandma’s house but not at yours. It’s even worse if he’s allowed to jump on the couch when Mom is home but not Dad. Be consistent.

Use Positive Reinforcement

There’s a time and a place for discipline, but remembering to praise your child for good behavior will often do much more for them than disciplining them for bad behavior.

To be clear, I am not saying to not discipline your spirited child, but make sure you are following a 10/1 ratio. For every time you have to discipline, aim to praise them at least 10 other times.

By following these tips, you and your toddler can get through this period together without it being terrible – I promise!

Related Posts

Sometimes negative behavior is a result of boredom in younger kids. These Montessori climbing toys are a great way for kids to get their energy out indoors. Check out these sensory play activities for toddlers for more ideas to combat boredom.

Additionally, here are some helpful tips to encourage your toddler grow in their independence.

Maria Egan

Friday 15th of December 2023

I think it is helpful to think about behavior in positive way as you suggest. Good ideas for setting boundaries but still allowing kids to be independent.

Sandra Caballero

Monday 15th of August 2016

Really cute Helli Kitty car. My 2 years old daughter would love this very much.