How to Win the Battle of Wills

A couple weeks ago I was with a group of friends and someone posed the question, “How many of you have a strong-willed child?” Eight people were in the group and eight hands were raised. Those same hands belonged to parents who are incredibly proud of and enamored with their children. They tell stories of their school and sports achievements, potty training feats and everything in between. So many of the stories they share are immensely positive—yet, when asked about a strong-willed child, they all voted that they had one.

I’m not about to tell someone that their kid is “so sweet”—they know them a million times better than I do and, besides, I do think that at some point, even the “easiest” of children can be strong willed. As adults, we sure are! However, as parents, that strong will can be a huge challenge.

So often, parents of strong willed children adopt the viewpoint that, later in life, that strong will may serve their child well (Stand up against peer pressure! Make good decisions!), but in the childhood world, it’s anything but a desired trait. Those same children we want to say “no” later in life say it to their parents and refuse to listen at, seemingly, every turn.

What can I say, those children are us.

Didn’t your parents warn you that your children are going to be you—but even more so? Mine sure did. Daily. And, man, were they right. And while, at first, that reminder seemed a bit of a threat to me, now I find it to be a bit of a blessing—because it means I can understand!

When I was a child, when someone didn’t listen, the solution seemed obvious: I needed to be louder to get my point across. Eventually, I’d lose patience and respect (to a point) and decide to dish up a dose of their own medicine.

Kids today do the same thing.

Much of that “strong will” comes down to not doing what we want them to do which, 90% of the time, means not listening. “Why won’t they listen?!” we ask ourselves and our spouses in frustration. The answer is right in front of us: Are we listening to them?

In a battle of wills, it’s so easy to dig in our heels, try to talk louder, threaten repercussion, and do everything we can short of doing it for them. But, what would happen if, instead, we took a moment to just listen?

That moment doesn’t have to come in the heat of the moment as you’re battling for them to get their shoes on; it can come any time. But when children feel like they’re being heard and listened to in general, they tend to better communicate in those times of need.

So next time that strong will is being exercised, I challenge you to take a step back. Ask your child to sit with you for a moment and talk it out. Build into your daily practice a few minutes to sit and chat with them—to really talk and, more importantly, to listen.

The strong will is likely to stick around, but in time, odds are it will manifest in more constructive ways.


Have an Ultimate Day!

Karl P.

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