Your strong-willed preschooler might cause headaches now, but with the right parenting approach, she will blossom into a confident, self-motivated child. Be sensitive to your child's needs, and whatever you do, resist the temptation to break her will. Doing so may leave her with a feeling of defeat and frustration.
Understanding the Strong-Willed Preschooler
The first step to parenting any child is to understand her temperament. Many preschoolers are stubborn and strong-willed, simply because of their age. Others are fighters from birth and will go to any means to be in the right. If you notice this extreme will in your child, understand that it's not simply defiance. The strong-willed child wants to be in the right, and has a hard time seeing the other side of the fence. She may cling tightly to what she has been taught is right and wrong, and will hold you to the same principles. The strong-willed child is especially frustrated by broken promises and double standards. If you tell her to wash her hands before dinner, you had better do the same!
When disciplining your child, your body language should communicate both empathy and respect. Empathy is a critical aspect of communicating with the strong-willed preschooler. However, she also craves respect, so make sure your empathy is not condescending. For example, many strong-willed preschoolers dislike being spoken to in "baby talk." Look your child in the eye when you speak to her, and speak calmly and with control. This will demonstrate not only that you want to connect and empathize, but also that you respect her ability to listen and understand your reasoning.
Strong-willed children tend to thrive in an ordered environment where they know their boundaries. Provide limits for your child in order to foster a sense of security and respect. However, keep in mind that just because strong-willed children need boundaries, this does not mean they won't push them when they feel they are unfair or too restrictive. For this reason, it's even more important to be clear about what your preschooler can and cannot do, and what the consequences will be if she transgresses.
If your strong-willed child is prone to anger and frustration, a bit of humor will often do the trick. Strong-willed preschoolers tend to have intense personalities and may even be perfectionists. Remind your preschooler to lighten up every now and then by integrating humor into her activities. As noted by Ask Dr. Sears, accidents are the perfect opportunity to teach your child to lighten up a bit. Perhaps more than other personality types, strong-willed children need to see that accidents and imperfections are not always the end of the world.