Taming the Monster and Reclaiming my Strong-Willed Child

Mike_Wazowski2It was not until Michael was eight years old that we fully realized we could not go on living with a monster in the house. That reality did not set in until we were on a three week vacation, living in a small cottage with the six of us. After about four straight days of random monster issues my husband asked, “Is it always like this at home because this needs to end!” It seemed that Michael was a little more potent to all of us when we never got a break from the negotiating, complaining, arguing, and questioning. Four days and we were scrambling for options.

The initial phase of the plan went against every psychologically sound article I had ever read. So please don’t tell me that this was not healthy for my kid. I know. But times were tough and it was a war out there. My husband told Michael that from now on when things didn’t go his way and he got upset and frustrated, he should “push all those emotions and feelings and ideas and questions down deep inside and keep them there until later.” They set up a plan to meet each night at 7:00pm on the back porch of the cottage and Michael would have 20 uninterrupted minutes with Dad to unpack all the day’s injustices.

For days it worked flawlessly. Michael would fuss and start to get worked up and we told him to remember exactly how he was feeling and what he wanted and reminded him that he would have plenty of time to share it with us in the evening. I remember one day in particular was pretty rough and Michael looked his dad right in the eye, pointed his finger at him and shouted, “It’s going to be A LOT longer than 20 minutes tonight!”

Part of the initial phase was also explaining to Michael that Mom and Dad were in charge of the house and that we were perfectly capable of making the decisions throughout the day. While we were open to hearing the kids’ opinions (stated once) we would make the final decisions. If strong-willed kids can’t be in charge, they like to know they are in good hands with a strong leader.

During the final days of vacation, the back porch conversations had already begun to morphIMG_0442 into chatting time about fun stuff rather than the laundry list of the day’s frustrations. Fewer and fewer of the incidents made it until 7:00PM. Instead they were processed throughout the day leaving at least 15 minutes for connecting time with Dad. Once we returned home, we continued the ritual of special time in the evening, but this too faded over time.

We weren’t monster-free yet, but we had turned a corner. I found hope and a new way forward. We realized the importance of Michael being heard and understood, but also the importance of being the leaders in our own home. I’m not sure how many times I repeated, “We’ve got this,” “Mom and Dad are in charge,” “I hear you, but we are doing it this way.” “Remember how you are feeling and you can tell us tonight.”

I also started speaking differently. I used more authority in my voice-as if I actually expected him to obey right away. There was a time when I would say, “Are you ready for bed?” Ah, no he wasn’t. Or I would say, “Mom’s got dinner on the table.” What did that mean to him? I would also sound insecure when I asked him anything, as if I anticipated a rebuttal. Picturing Michael doing what I asked right away and then following through with each request, made me more predictable to him. Strong-willed kids like order and predictability.



By age 13, Michael was totally compliant and agreeable. He still had a strong-will (strong convictions) but he had aligned his will with ours, and we were all on the same page. He realized that we wanted what was best for him and that we were fully capable of running the house without his co-leadership.

We also gave him more control over his life (his room, his homework, his activities) and he was able to better function with us. These kids do not do well with micro-management. He knew he needed to do his homework, but we never said how or where or when. Sometimes it was on the bus or rushed through in class when the teacher gave them free time. The school teacher in me wanted serious time spent at the kitchen table, working hard, but the reality was that his grades were good and no teacher ever complained. By not insisting on more studying or more time spent on a project (though I did mention these great ideas of mine) we were able to have a positive relationship which is where our greatest power lies as a parent.

I’ll wrap this us with a collection of ideas for parents who have been gifted with a child who may not be as easy to raise as a compliant child, but they will provide you with memories to last a lifetime.

  • Large boundaries and strong walls. Give them as much freedom as possible but make the boundaries immoveable.
  • Give them lots of time to transition. They are usually always doing something and they will need time to adjust to a new activity that you pick.
  • Keep yourself in control. Try. Hard. If they can’t have control of the situation, they “win” by making you lose control of yourself.
  • Know what you can’t control. You can’t make a child eat, sleep, poop, or stop crying. You lose all these battles. Rather have natural consequences set up like over 15 minutes of crying must be caused from too much sugar or not enough sleep etc.
  • Don’t argue with this child. They may make a statement. You make a statement after really hearing them. Done. Tell them what they think makes sense for their age and then tell them, “Of course what I’m saying doesn’t make sense to you and you don’t understand it. That’s because the grown-up brain works differently than a kid’s brain. You’ll understand when you’re older.”
  • I hear you– it’s never that easy. Now have an exit strategy for getting out of the conflict. They go to their room or you go to yours. No one is “in trouble.” Just taking a break.
  • Find another parent who has a strong-willed child. Hold each other accountable for not losing control of yourself.
  • Don’t call a stubborn, monster-like child “determined.” Bossy is NOT what God intended with this personality. Tell the child that God gifted them with strong opinions and lots of ideas but they can’t let these gifts become bossiness or stubbornness. Bossiness should be banned rather than banning the label “bossy.”
  • Avoid manipulation. This kid will do what he wants to do because he wants to do it, not because you have created a reward chart with stickers. That’s another kid who loves that.
  • However true, do not label this child with any negative labels. Their identities are forming daily and they look to you to see who they are. See in them who they WILL be one day.
  • Finally embrace who they are and who they will be. Yes, it’s a challenge. But a deep connection with this child will be your greatest asset in parenting them. Love them for who they are NOW and who they will be in the future.


Taming the Monster and Reclaiming my Strong-Willed Child


  1. […] Challenging (AKA difficult) children are usually wired to be in charge. They have lots of ideas and opinions on just about everything. They are outgoing and bold and confident. They can’t possibly just “go with the flow” because they have a much better idea about how the flow should go. However, it is actually in their best interest to NOT be in charge of the house. […]

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