Benefits of a strong-willed child

Being persistent and determined can be a good thing.

Photo: Tracy Trautner, MSU Extension
Photo: Tracy Trautner, MSU Extension

What do many CEO’s, world leaders, world class athletes and successful entrepreneurs have in common? They are described as being determined, committed, non-conforming, confident, persistent, resourceful and bold. These behaviors were obviously not desired by the grownups in their lives when they were children. However, as adults, it’s these exact characteristics that make them very successful and tend to earn more money as adults. As youngsters, their annoying tendency to be overly passionate, very intense or highly creative and intelligent are now positive qualities as members of the workforce or sporting arena.

It should not be surprising that studies have shown disobedience in children can be an indicator of future success. These youth tend to think outside the box and do not play by the rules. According to Laura Markham, clinical psychologist at Columbia University, strong-willed children want to learn things for themselves rather than accept what others say, so they test the limits over and over again. This is why they want to figure out for themselves if they need to wear a coat to school or playground and don’t want to be told to wear one. Being told what to do is unbearable for the strong-willed child.

It’s important to remember that being stubborn and not swaying or being persuaded from their viewpoint is a very desirable quality as our youth enter the impressionable teen years. While their friends are doing questionable activities to get attention and approval of their peers, the strong-willed child will make the choice to stand up for what they believe is right, even if it’s not a popular one.

When you are in a battle with a determined child, ask yourself, “Is their choice a bad one or just different than yours?” If it is an acceptable solution and results in a win-win for both of you, this might be a time to not attempt to lay down the law. Cooperation and negotiating are important life skills to be gained in this scenario. If we allow them to win many of the “battles” when it is important for their safety and well-being, they will be more apt to listen. To stay with us in strange places, hold our hand when we cross the street and wear their seatbelt will be more receptive if they have felt empowered in the past.

It takes two to argue. The goal is to not get into a power struggle with your 3- or 4-year-old child. We want kids to trust the important adults in their lives and do what we ask them because it is in their best interest and not just because a big person told them to. If you can offer acceptable choices, they will cooperate. For example, “You can wear or carry your coat to the park this morning.”

With patience, respect and an understanding of where these powerful personalities are coming from now and where they can take youth in the adult years, the tantrums and stubbornness become a little easier to tolerate. In the end, you want to raise a child who is self-disciplined, takes responsibility and is considerate. Probably most important is the ability to discern who to trust and confidently stick to their decisions and not be influenced by others. It could save their life.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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