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7 Ways to Help Strong-Willed Kids Listen

February 12, 2017 | by Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP

How to avoid resistance and combat and win their cooperation.

Do you have a child who has a hard time listening to what you say? Who takes every directive as an opportunity to resist and fight back? It’s exhausting. Here are 7 ways to help your strong-willed child listen.

1. It is not all bad:

Remember that strong-willed children already have the independence they’ll need to be responsible and dependable adults. Being strong-willed is a virtue! It’s a sign of good character, creativity and persistence. Taking a positive view of your child puts you in a better state of mind that enables you to be more creative in trying to get your child to listen.

2. Avoid direct commands:

Most kids balk at direct commands, “Take out the garbage!” “Get into bed!” But strong willed kids despise them. When we bark orders at them, they will immediately move into fighting mode. It is helpful if we circumvent their natural reaction to fight by finding other better ways to let them know what is expected of them.

The best way to do that is to…

3. Give them choices:

Strong-willed kids need to have a say in what they do and how they do it. Anything can be a choice, even things that may seem silly to adults.

“Do you want to brush your teeth now or in 5 minutes?”
“Do you want your blue or your green towel when you get out of the bath.”
“Do you want the blue or the red cup?”
“Do you want to play with the legos or the ball?”
“Should we leave the park in 5 or 10 minutes?”

And with older kids:

I need help with dinner. Do you want to make the salad or set the table?
The bus comes in a half hour. Do you want me to come in and wake you up again or would you like to set your alarm for a few more minutes?

Choices are a great way to give these children the power they crave, while still giving them the structure they require. It is a healthy compromise.

4. Describe the problem:

Often times when we talk to kids we sound accusing:

“Don’t yell at your sister!”
“Why do you have to make such a mess with the glue!”
“Will you just get into the car already!”

This makes strong-willed kids dig in their heels. According to Faber and Mazlish in their book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, it’s better if we just describe the problem:

“Name calling hurts.”
“Glue can get really messy…”
“In order to get to Grandma’s in time, we all need to get into the car in a timely fashion…”

It seems like a lot of extra effort but when we describe the problem, we avoid giving orders. What needs to be done becomes obvious in the context. When the child has to think, “Hmm glue can get messy, I think that means I need to be more careful,” they are more likely to comply. Haim Ginott, an eminent psychologist, taught this skill because, “Self-inferred decisions decrease deference, reduce resistance and invite collaboration.”

5. Use “I” Statements:

“I” statement are great because they are less confrontational and more neutral. Here are some examples:



“The paint spilled, we need a paper towel.”

“You spilled the paint.”

“The glass broke, we need a broom”

“You broke the glass.”

When we put “you” into the statement, it turns into an accusation. It puts children on the defensive, creating tension and power struggles. “I” statements reinforce that there is a problem that needs to be solved and we have faith that the child is capable of solving it.

6. Give information:

This technique is another great way to keep your tone neutral and non-confrontational which helps reduce conflicts with your strong willed child. Here are some examples:



“If you keep on asking me for a snack you won’t get one.”

“Snacks will be given after play time.”

“Why are you holding your scissors like that?”

“This is the safe way to hold scissors.”

“Go wash your hands.”

“Hands need to be washed before snack.”

7. Teach them how to handle direct commands gracefully:

There are going to be times where your child is going to have to listen to direct commands. But because of their personality they need to be taught explicitly how to do that. In a calm moment we can discuss it with our child:

“When someone tells you to do something, like, “Get into bed!” it really makes you upset. Did you notice that about yourself?

Sometimes even if it makes you upset, you might need to do it anyway…just think about that…”

“You really don't like when I tell you no! It makes you immediately not want to listen. What do you think would help you stay calm the next time I have to tell you no?”


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