With a strong-willed child, how do you tame their will without breaking their spirit?
I am glad you asked about “without breaking their spirit.” That shows that you see being strong-willed, stubborn or the like is not a “bad” thing. People who do well in life are those who show tenacity. A strong focus on what they want and an indominable spirit to get it. In a 5-year-old, of course, they may not always know or choose the right path and need to be guided and directed by those who are in authority around them. As a teacher I have worked with hundreds of children who have a strong will. They like to win, even if winning means they must face a punishment.
For example, they don’t want to clean their room. You‘ve made it clear that if they don’t clean their room, they can’t watch a favorite show. Sometimes, the strong-willed child gets more reward by making you upset and not having to clean their room than by cleaning their room and getting to watch TV. They see not cleaning their room as having power over you instead of you having power over them.
How to handle this power struggle without losing your cool and teach your child who is the authority here is not as hard as you might think, but it does take patience. See, in a power struggle for obedient behavior, you must always win. Again, you MUST ALWAYS WIN. Strong-willed children are smart, and they will figure out very quickly where in the struggle you may give in and they are willing to wait. So, you must never give in when it comes to obedience. That is where the patience comes in. You don’t want to yell and scream and fight and argue. You said clean your room and no matter how long it takes, they are to do what you asked. They may need to come out and eat lunch, go with you to the store, go to bed, but they do not get to do anything else until the task is done. You must be more strong-willed than they are. You must be more patient than they are. The more you stand your ground, the less they will fight you. This will not happen overnight so again, be patient.
A more difficult issue is when you are in public. Your child decides they won’t eat or won’t leave the playground or any number of things they set their mind too. If you have an issue with your child in this area, set ground rules ahead of time. “Johnny, we are going to the playground. I will give you a 5-minute warning that it is time to go and then when the 5-minute warning that it is time to go and then when the 5 minutes are up, I expect you to get ready to leave”. Now the child has a rule to follow and boundaries within to behave. The warning allows them to mentally prepare and to use the slide one more time or play tag one more round.
Wishing you a harmonious and happy home! Amanda Olson