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  • Writer's pictureSharon Reynolds

Parenting the Strong-Willed Girl

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

The strong-willed girl is enthusiastic, persistent, outspoken, and deeply protective of the people and things she loves. She has the courage to stand up for what she believes in and has strong leadership skills. She can be incredibly stubborn and demanding at times, and she certainly isn’t easily swayed by others (and yes, this includes her loving, and often exasperated, parents). She may insist on picking out her own outfits, demand that a task or chore is done a specific way, and when (or if) she apologizes, it’s on her own terms.


Beyond a doubt, parenting a strong-willed girl is challenging; it can feel daunting and frustrating, leaving parents confused how they can best teach their daughter to be respectful and cooperative, all while not breaking her spirit. With a healthy dose of determination and patience, parents can lovingly support their strong-willed girls on how to pace themselves, focus their passion, and follow through on their convictions.


Below are four tips on how parents can teach their daughters to use their strength to lead others peacefully, and with confidence.


DISCIPLINE THROUGH THE RELATIONSHIP AND NOT THROUGH FORCE


Using force (via threats and/or punishment) with a strong-willed girl often backfires, both in the short term (causing them to dig in and resist even more) and the long term (damaging their self-esteem). Parents must remember that they are small human beings learning how to interact with the world with an inherent temperament and personality. At the core of every strong-willed girl is the desire to protect something that is of utmost importance to her, and that is her integrity. She likely fears that her integrity will become compromised if she is forced to submit to someone else’s will. So, if getting a spirited daughter to comply or blindly obey becomes a parent’s primary focus, they run the risk of threatening her ability to trust her own intuition, and/or push her into believing that rebellion is her best bet at getting what she wants. Both of these outcomes leave her more susceptible to the influence of others, some of whom may not be looking out for her best interests.


Instead of using force, work to first acknowledge and support her in expressing her feelings. Do this even when, or maybe especially when, you think you already know what is right or wrong. Ask her why she feels such conviction about this particular thing, and truly listen to her and make space for her to share her deeply held beliefs and fears causing her to become locked into these thoughts. A strong-willed girl’s brain often has a hard time switching gears when her heart is set on something, so once you’ve made space for her feelings to be heard and validated, she may be more willing to cooperate and pivot into problem-solving mode. And even if you can’t always say yes to, or agree with, what it is that she wants, if she trusts that you have her best interests at heart, she can learn to cope with strong feelings of disappointment and be willing to compromise.


AVOID POWER STRUGGLES


Due to the experiential learning style of most strong-willed children, these girls won’t simply take your word on things; they are much more likely to arrive at realistic conclusions and internalize consequences when they feel a sense of connection and engagement around a decision. Whenever possible, provide her with choices (note: only ones that you are willing to live with), because having parents who trust their ability to make good and healthy choices is incredibly empowering for these natural born leaders. And when children feel empowered and autonomous, they often feel less of a need to push back and be resistant. For example, you might say to your child: “I trust you to decide this for yourself, so would you like to work on your homework now, or in 10 minutes?”


Another way that you can minimize power struggles, as well as any nagging and cajoling (which aren’t fun for anyone), and simultaneously empower these girls, is to ask for their input and provide opportunities for them to demonstrate competence. Try saying, “We are about to leave for school. What is it that you need to bring with you? Please make sure you have those items now.”


And lastly, allow your strong-willed girl to save face when she makes a misstep. You might offer quick “do overs” when she has verbalized something in a demanding way. You can say to her, “I can tell that you feel strongly about this. Please try asking me again, this time in a kinder tone of voice.”


CONNECTION WILL BE YOUR VERY BEST TOOL


There is only one thing strong-willed children want more than getting their own way, and that is a warm, close relationship with their parents. Often, a strong-willed girl is characterized as someone “demanding of attention,” which carries a negative undertone that only further fuels any feelings of shame and “neediness” in these young girls. What these girls actually seek is an authentic and deep connection with others. This is what their particular nervous system finds regulating, and a more regulated child is a more cooperative child.


As often as possible, offer your child connection. Take a few moments to get down on her level, hold her gaze, and remind her of her value to you, her family, and her community. There is no substitute for this, and it will undoubtedly begin to change the dynamic you have with your child more than any other parenting strategy out there.


REDUCE YOUR OWN REACTIVITY


So often we think of reactivity as snapping or yelling at a child. Reactivity, though, can come in many different forms, like excessive reassurance, rushing in to problem solve for or with your child, avoiding conflict altogether, or deep sighs and/or rolling our eyes. Having a strong-willed child provides us with an opportunity for growth, especially when a parent is willing to reflect on their own temperament, reactions, and expectations. If your child senses that they can control you by getting a strong reaction, this can create feelings of insecurity and anxiety for them. Your fiery child needs to know and see that you can hold firm when their emotions take over. By staying calm, you have the opportunity to show how to manage frustration, anxiety, and overwhelming feelings. The next time you have a heated moment with your strong-willed child, tell them that you are going to take a moment to calm your own nervous system so that you can be there for them. And then, close your eyes, put your hand to your heart, and breathe. This pause in reactivity from an adult is often just enough to break the momentum of an outburst in a child and give everyone an opportunity to reset.


I encourage you to try all four of these tips whenever you can. While this may all feel challenging now, raising strong-willed girls with support, and giving them the chance to grow into adult women who know their worth, know their strength, and can forge their own way without excessively rebelling or obeying, will be the best reward you can earn as their parent.


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