The Strengths of Strong-Willed Children

Stubborn, difficult, spirited, limit tester, intense, inquisitive, in charge, passionate, the boss. All of these are words used to describe a strong-willed child.

While all children have these tendencies or “moments”, a strong-willed child exhibits these characteristics more often than not.

little girl with arms crossed turns back on exhausted motherHow Do I Describe my Children?

When asked to describe your child, what do you say? What traits do you focus on? Do you smile as you talk about your child or sigh out of exhaustion? Chances are what you say and how you say it depends on the day.  Every characteristic can be spun as both a strength and weakness.

My 3.5 year old son is a red-headed ball of energy. Like many toddlers, he went through a phase of throwing his food on the floor. We told him that if he kept throwing his food on the floor then he would have to sit on the floor to eat instead of at the table. Our hope was this would dissuade him from doing so. My son looked me dead in the eye, said okay, tossed his plate on the floor, then sat down on the floor to eat. So, clearly we know who won that battle.

My 16 month old daughter is a boundary pusher. We were going into a bookstore that had a table for everyone to leave drinks on before entering. She started walking over to the table with outstretched arms ready to take someone’s drink. I told her “no” and redirected her. She then preceded to shake her head no as she once again walked towards the drinks and knock several of them onto the floor.

So how would I describe my son? Spirited, energetic, a master negotiator, inquisitive and hilarious

And my daughter? Passionate, determined, loving, shy, and silly

Please note the first words I used to describe both my children: spirited, energetic, passionate, and determined. These are things that can be both a strength and weakness depending on what (or who) is on the receiving end.

One thing is for sure: both of my children can be described as strong-willed. And is it really a surprise? I mean with myself and my husband as parents what did we expect? It’s no doubt that we were both strong-willed children and those traits have certainly carried over into our adult lives.

Strong-Willed Does Not Mean Bad

Strong-willed children love a power struggle. Since strong-willed children are often seen pushing boundaries and more prone to conflict, they are more often seen or described as “difficult”. However, it is important to note that difficult does not mean bad.

A strong-willed child does not make a “bad kid”. And having a strong-willed child does not make you a “bad parent”. Yes, parenting a strong-willed child can be frustrating at times. Trust me I get it. But the reality is, your child is not a bad kid and you are not a bad parent.

The Strengths of Being Strong-Willed

The irony is that often the traits of our strong-willed child that make us crazy are the same traits that will benefit our child later in life. Think about it: My strong-willed child knows what he wants, stands up for himself, is passionate about his wants, and questions boundaries and limits. All these traits, which are praised during adulthood, are what contributes to a “difficult” and “challenging” child. The reality is that we have to strengthen these traits. These characteristics are what will make our children strong and confident individuals.

How To Foster Your Strong-Willed Child and Stay Sane

This creates an interesting dilemma: How do I foster these traits while also keeping our own sanity and boundaries? There are a few tips to help keep this balance.

Clear rules and expectations

Knowing what is expected of them sets your child up for success and can help reduce conflict.


With strong-willed children, empathy is essential for both you and your child. When you display empathy, you are better able to better understand what is upsetting your child. And therefore you are better able to support them and allow them to feel understood.


Focus on the positive behaviors and actions they are displaying. Remember, these traits alone are not “bad”. Your goal is to encourage your child’s strengths by helping them to display them in the best way possible.

Let them take charge

Don’t fall into the power struggle. When there are times you can let your child take charge and be a leader, do it!

Are you raising a strong-willed child? How do you focus on their strengths?


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Elyssa Gottheim
Elyssa was born and raised in Houston. Deciding to try out life in the cold weather, Elyssa attended University of Michigan for undergrad and University of Chicago for grad school. After obtaining her LCSW {licensed clinical social worker}, Elyssa decided that she was not cut out for the cold and moved back to Houston in 2012. Shortly after her move, Elyssa met her husband, Paul. Elyssa and Paul have been married for 6 years and have two children – Henry {October 2018} and Josephine {March 2021}. After working in schools, hospitals, and community clinics, Elyssa currently has a private practice where she specializes in working with children, adolescents, young adults, and parents. When she isn’t working or chasing after her kids, Elyssa’s favorite activities can be described as the ultimate mom cliché – baking, working out, and napping. Elyssa is a huge fan of trying new restaurants and dining spots especially if it involves any form of dessert!


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