Understanding Your Strong Willed Child And How to Manage Behavior

Young girl that is strong willed and is very angry. Her parents are struggling to eliminate her defiant behavior.

My daughter is a strong-willed child. I love her with all my heart, but I just don’t know what to do anymore. She never listens to her father or me.

She refuses to do anything she doesn’t want to do and then will scream for hours until we give in. I’ve never seen an eight-year-old with so much determination.


Understanding Your Strong Willed Child 

Parents and children argue. This has always been true. However, you might be getting a taste of this now, especially if your child is a toddler or teenager.

Once you survive those years, children usually become more mature in their thoughts and ideas. But what if it’s not just a phase?

If your child is strong willed and seems too hard to control, something else might be going on. For example, it could stem from an imbalance in the brain or a learning disability.

In this blog, I want to help you understand how your headstrong child views life and their different thought processes. I also want to give you practical techniques for eliminating power struggles with your child and how to deal with their defiant behavior.

Want One-On-One Expert Help?!


Find A Tutor TODAY!


Are Children Just Smaller Versions of Adults? 

Many people think that children are just smaller versions of adults. But in reality, children are not like adults because they do not have the experience and knowledge that adults have. Instead, children learn as they grow older through experiences.


Experiences such as:

  • Sitting up
  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Talking
  • Sharing
  • Reasoning

If your child doesn’t want to clean up their room or share their toys, it might be because they have self-centered thinking. They haven’t learned about another way to act.

On the other hand, a strong-willed child sees things differently. What you say is not reasonable to them. They see your requests as reasons to start arguing with you. If they do not get what they want, then it makes them angry.

What Are the Signs of a Strong Willed Child? 

A strong-willed child is typically more determined and stubborn than their peers. They are not afraid of confrontation or conflict, which can make them difficult to discipline. Obstinate children also may have more intense emotions than other children. 

5 Characteristics of the Strong Willed Child

  • Cannot control their emotions or actions
  • Doesn’t respect rules of the house
  • Has no patience
  • Talks back and argue with adults 
  • Always wants to know why
  • Does not respond to discipline

Examples Of Defiant Behavior

  • “I don’t want to go to bed. I don’t care if I have to get up early for school. It’s not fair, I don’t want to go anyway. I’ll just lay here awake all night.”
  • “Why can’t I watch this tv show? All my friends get to watch it. You just don’t want me to have fun.” Then he throws something at the tv. 
  • “I don’t have enough time to get ready for school. Why do I even have to go to school anyway?” Then she goes and locks herself in the bathroom, refusing to go to school. 
  • “Why do I have to do my homework? I won’t ever use any of this stuff, and my teacher hates me anyway.” He then destroys his schoolwork. 


You may have heard this so many times that you just tune it out. You might roll your eyes and keep moving. Or, you might get angry and start shouting back at your child. Defiant children hope you let them have their way.

The problem with just letting them have their way is it isn’t healthy nor productive. Furthermore, it will usually lead to more trouble as your child gets older.

Unfortunately, allowing them to have their way is not healthy nor productive. They typically lead to more trouble as your child gets older.

If your child acts like this every day, then that usually means something more is going on. 

What Could Be Causing This Defiant Behavior? 

This is not the complete list, but here are some things to watch for when your child starts acting out. Sometimes children will feel too embarrassed to tell you because they don’t want you to be disappointed. But as a result, their behavior is irrational or defiant.


Your Child Could Be Rebelling Due to Struggling With

  • Peer pressure 
  • Peer influence (such as all the other kids are doing it)
  • Being bullied
  • Past traumatic experiences 
  • Change in family dynamics such as separation, divorce, or parent dating or remarrying
  • Body image issues (developing too fast, sees themselves as overweight, or not growing as fast as their peers)
  • Sibling issues (such as jealousy or living in their shadow)
  • Drug or alcohol abuse

Parents are not mind-readers, so we don’t always catch the connection. This can make children more angry and frustrated because they might think that parents don’t care enough to know when they have problems.


Medical Conditions Your Headstrong Child Could Have

Sometimes kids act this way because of imbalances in the brain or disabilities. Here are some medical conditions to take a look at. 

  • Behavior Disorders (such as ADHD, CD, or ODD) 
  • Anxiety Disorders (such as Anxiety, Panic attacks, or OCD)
  • Mood Disorders (such as Bipolar, Dysthymiaor Depression)
  • Learning Disabilities (such as Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and Dysgraphia)
  • Developmental Disorders (such as Autism, Tourette’s disorder, or Social Development Disorder)


More About ODD

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a behavioral disorder. Most children go through a phase of defiance during their formative years. However, ODD is different because it does not get better on its own.

 Symptoms of ODD

  • Often uses bad language.
  • Quickly loses their temper over any little thing
  • Constantly argues and talks back to adults, including their parents 
  • Refuses requests by adults, including parents and teachers
  • Annoys others on purpose
  • Blames others for their problems and doesn’t take responsibility for their actions
  • Gets annoyed easily by others
  • Retaliates when others disagree or go against them 
  • Resentful of others

A child may have Oppositional Defiant Disorder if they show one or more of these symptoms for at least six months.

Children with ODD believe it is their right to do what they want. Therefore, it is normal for a child with this behavioral disorder to spend most of their day raging. However, without help, the strong-willed child will continue to have problems as they grow into adulthood, possibly turning violent. 

5 Negative Thinking Patterns in Strong Willed Children and Teens

As adults, we realize when we are making poor choices. Sometimes we try to justify why we are doing it, but we understand that it is wrong.

Defiant children don’t. The determined child is trying to gain power over the situation. When the child sees that the behavior works, they continue the pattern of behavior.


#1 Playing the Victim 

As a victim, you are not responsible for fixing the situation. It isn’t your fault. The aggressor is at fault and needs to take responsibility. Defiant children might act like the “victim,” so they don’t have to be responsible for what they did wrong.

Blaming others seems to make them feel better about themselves. Instead of owning their mistake, they get angry and blame the actual victim.


#2 Superior

This is where a child feels he is above everyone else. As a result, the traps that might catch someone else don’t apply to them. 

For example, an adult alcoholic believes he can drive after a few drinks because he thinks he is superior to others. Therefore, he believes he can handle the alcohol, and the law doesn’t apply to him even though alcohol compromises the system. 

Kids may not feel the need to study for a test because they think they are more intelligent than the rest of the students. 

Or a thirteen-year-old feels he should be able to go to a college party because they are more mature than the students at his school. 


#3 A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Defiant children will use adults and others to get what they want. Therefore, you are only useful as long as you do what they want. 

They may trade a friendship with someone to make them go along with something against the rules. Being nice to parents is only, so they will do something for them even after saying no.

#4 Back at You

This one is just like it sounds. Your strong-willed child turns every conversation back on you. They may say that you don’t love them, are unfair, or are too hard on them. 

For example, you told your child to have their room cleaned by the end of the weekend. Instead, they accuse you of not loving them to change the subject and not be punished. 


#5 Manipulation

Instead of getting your child to do what you want, he trains you to do what he wants. So, for example, when confronted with a chore, or something he doesn’t want to do, he will turn things around so that it’s about your behavior.

He may go through your stuff in your room and then become enraged when you come into his room. He may lie and say he has homework to do so he doesn’t have to do the dishes.

6 Steps to Deal With Your Strong Willed Child  

Unfortunately, you will have to deal with the behavior when parenting a strong-willed child. It will not just go away if you ignore it. 

Your friends’ kids might be acting the same way your child is. But this does not help resolve the behavior. You love your kid, and you know it’s for their own good in the future to break these behavior patterns. 

Remember, your child needs you. 


#1 Understanding Your Strong Willed Child 

When you have a defiant child, understanding the behavior is almost as important as loving him. Take the time to figure out what he is thinking and why he thinks the way he does. 

If you need to, it might be a good idea to talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist. They can help the family figure out what is going on and help the whole family work together.


#2 Keep Your Cool and Stay Calm

Don’t yell. When you are angry, step away. Your child wants to throw you off your game. Instead of giving them what they want, leave the room and return when your emotions are under control.


#3 Listening 

It can be hard to understand what is happening in the heat of the moment when your child is acting out. When your child calms down, ask questions and just listen to what they have to say. You can’t help your child without knowing what it is they need help with.


#4 Using Positive Reinforcement 

Your child wants power, and he doesn’t care how he gets it. Therefore, you should use positive reinforcement to promote good behavior. You can do this by doing the following when they are behaving appropriately.

  • Encouraging
  • Praising
  • Validating
  • Rewarding

You should also refuse to give in to their demands.


#5 Redirect Your Child’s Energy

How did you feel the last time you were mad? 

  • Heart racing
  • Tense muscles
  • Energized

Your child is the same way. Take this newfound energy and redirect it to good use. 

Teach them ways to blow off steam. For example, physical exercise helps to satisfy the urge to hit something (or someone) and is a stress reliever. 

Figure out an activity he enjoys. Here is a list to get you started.

  • Playing basketball
  • Bike riding
  • Hiking
  • Jogging
  • Jumping jacks
  • Skating
  • Swimming


#6 Setting Boundaries & Sticking With Them 

If you think that it is hard to be strict with your child, then you are right. But if you don’t follow through with the consequences, they won’t learn how things work in real life. So set boundaries and stick with them no matter what sad story your child gives you.

Parenting a Strong Willed Child

Being stubborn is usually a phase for most kids, but it is much more than that for others. So if your child is behaving defiantly (whether it escalates or not), be sure to nip it in the bud right now. 

Understand what makes your child do what he does and then deal with each behavior head-on. Then, follow through with set consequences for the negative behavior. 

Reinforce his positive behaviors as a way to move away from those destructive patterns. Provide your child the tools he needs to mature into adulthood and have a successful life.

Check Out These Other Articles 


If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it on Pinterest and Facebook. Join our Special Ed Parenting Facebook Community to connect with other parents of special needs children. 


Do you have a child that needs one on one assistance?  

We offer one-on-one special education tutoring that can be done from anywhere the student is! Why? Because our special education experts conduct their sessions online!

Get started with a free consultation today!



Young girl that is strong willed and is very angry. Her parents are struggling to eliminate her defiant behavior.
Are you frustrated by the defiant behavior of your strong willed child? Here’s what you need to know to eliminate those power struggles today.

Picture of Shannah Holt

Shannah Holt


  1. As a parent of a strong willed child this was very helpful. Sometimes a little cooperation is all that I need. Thanks for the strategy share!

  2. I think this is sometimes a hard thing for parents to accept because we have visions of how our children will be when they are little and as they grow. When our children don’t fit the mold, it becomes difficult for us. Putting things in place as a mother for myself and then for my children to aid them in their behaviors and reactions helps them be able to deal with changing circumstances they feel they can’t control. This is a well organized and helpful post. Thank you!

  3. Our daughter has her moments, usually when it comes to bedtime. She’ll defy it every now and then even though it’s the same every night. There are some tears, but usually, we are able to convince her and move along.

  4. This is informative, I know some kids who’s like your daughter and I think parents need to be aware of this kind of behavior.

  5. I have girls…and each one is different. My oldest was a strong willed teen…and I thought I would pull my hairout! Now I have another one…in her teens…strong willed. Thanks for these tips! ???

  6. Both my daughter and I are strong-willed and it helps to know what she’s thinking. I work with her to help with transitions and support her with growth mindset tools I develop at home. We encourage her strong-willed positive attributes and help her manage the challenges that come with being strong-willed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

blog form headline-2 special ed resources