When I was I very pregnant and in the hell heat of Arizona summer, I had two strong-willed kids home from school. Both of these very strong-willed kids believe that they should have everything the second they want it, and that they are always the most important human in the room.

After weeks and months of basically crying myself to sleep at night and running to hide in the closet a few times a day, I started to sit and chat with my husband seriously about what we could change to help. I read books. A lot of books.

The New Strong-Willed Child was particularly helpful to read. I loved hearing from a doctor who raised a strong-willed one himself and could compare the difference between raising a strong-willed kid and a compliant kid. It was so helpful to hear that for the most part, kids come how they come! My strong-willed child was showing her colors at a very young age, and I love that she is strong-willed! It does make these young years much harder to navigate…

So what do we do with these strong-willed kids?

I will tell you what I have tried so far at our house…

At the beginning of the summer, I was determined to maintain some semblance of order here so that chaos didn’t have the time to enter in the day. I had charts that each child completed each day, some of the things were tasks they would complete anyway, and there were a few I added that were extra {the six year old had emptying the dishwasher/help with laundry, If together, they earned 100 points by the week’s end, they would both receive one dollar.

The dollars went in a jar and we encouraged them to save. This saves us from whining at a store because I can say”Do you have enough money for that? I guess we need to save a little more!” It has helped them understand that the things they have cost money, and we are not made of it! It also helped him to be more motivated to help out around the house, knowing that an “extra chore” or “helping his sister” would earn him a point.

This also helped once they both were able to spend their money. The six year old picked out a $9 watch on Amazon that he really wanted, and he patiently waited for it to arrive in a few days.

After Christmas and birthdays, he now has a stash that he is saving for another dumb toy he is determined to own. So when he sees something he wants, he asks, and I can kindly ask him if he has enough money for it. He knows he would rather save the money he has for his toy, which is proving to be a great lesson for him.

I have been reading about parenting A LOT lately, and in one of the books that I have really found useful The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World, she gives a few tools to help motivate kids to be helpful. One of my favorites that has been a game changer here is a good WHEN – THEN statement. I can say “When your room is clean and the dishwasher is empty, then you may have iPad time/play with friends…etc. He usually jumps right up to help without complaining. This works if the “then” is not a prize or treat, but rather, something he will be doing anyway, this is just the order in which it will be done.

Now that school has started, the best way we use this is: “When you are dressed, your room is tidy, and you’ve brushed your teeth, you may go down to have breakfast.” We use it at night by saying right after dinner, “When you are all showered and in jammies, we can read together/have dessert…etc.” It works great.

Another thing that the aforementioned book suggested was instead of telling kids what they need to do, to put the responsibility back on them to allow them to decide how they would like to help. We had done some form of Parenting With Love And Logic  before, where we gave options and the child chose from one. This is generally a good practice.

The problem with this, is that it would often result in a fight anyway, because she would shout “I choose NONE of those, I’m NOT taking a nap!”, and then proceed into a rage fit that ended in one of the parents holding her in a straight jacket hold to prevent her from hitting or scratching us. After a while, we got too tired, and we began to say, “you are going to take a rest, that’s happening. If you choose to come out, your door will have to be closed.” When she came out, the door was closed. This rage fit happened most of the summer.

With both of my kids, I quickly realized that I was holding far too much control. I noticed that I was nit picking at the details, telling them to “be careful so you don’t drop that!” and “maybe you should do it this way so it doesn’t make a mess.” I have learned to comment less, so they learn from their own mistakes. If they fall a few times, they will learn that running in socks is a less-than-smart idea. When they take a huge bite of cereal and milk spills all down the shirt, they learn to take smaller bites next time.

I even let them decide HOW they would like to help, for the most part. “Hey, before we can go swimming today, mom needs to tidy up this kitchen…etc. How do you think you could help me get that done?” They will usually offer to take their things, empty the dishwasher…etc. without me telling them to. This way, it is a kind gesture that they thought up, and when done, I can thank them and love on them for being so thoughtful and helpful. It is empowering to everyone.

And at nap time? I have tried to let the four year old in on the plan to ensure we take a nap, and it has made for far less stressful days. After it finally clicked, we used the option method, and say “We need to take a rest today. When you are rested, then we can ____. You may rest in the car on the way home, or we can go lay down in bed for a while. Which do you choose?” She has changed her tune and asked, “If I don’t rest in the car, do I still have to rest at home?” No darling, if you rest now, you will be all done. I may lay you down to finish your rest, but you won’t need another one. And she crashes in the car without an argument. She’s an enigma for sure, but I do feel that both of my kids just wanted to be included in the process and feel like they have a little more control themselves.

I will not say I’m an expert, I’m literally the farthest from it. Some friends of mine are really great at this parenting thing, or have much different personalities in their kids and still find ways to have happy, helpful, compliant kids who are really fun to be around. I am learning every day, that though I know these kids are mine to love and raise, they are teaching me so much more. I am humbled at how much I have had to pray and how many books I need to read, and how many different types of tactics and parenting skills that I can incorporate to help my children feel loved and supported, while also teaching them the value of working, serving, and being kind. It’s a huge job, and one that I don’t take lightly.

Update: I wrote this post originally in August, just before the baby was born (6 months ago!) and my strong-willed child is definitely still so, but things are a LOT better. Mainly it is having a baby around. My daughter loves to be a big sister and was helpful and sweet for a few months straight. Some days are very long with her, and I fear for her teenage years, but it is a lot better and she and I are becoming great friends.

Are your kids strong-willed? What do you do that works??

Also, here are some of the books I have read or that have been suggested. Disclaimer, yes, I earn a few pennies if you purchase them here. 😉