Supporting your strong-willed toddler!

Firstly! I write this post from real-life experience. These ideas will support you for sure, BUT it is one of the toughest gigs I have ever experienced. It takes energy, effort, humility and grace…sometimes, you feel like each of these tanks is depleted! Hang in there. You are not alone!

1. For your sanity, consider some shifts in perception

From: ‘They are being difficult’ to ‘they are following their internal wiring.’

‘They need to do what I say when I say it’s to ‘they can choose from appropriate choices with the opportunity to save face.’

This is because stronger willed children find it nearly impossible to follow the will of another when their internal will is screaming within. This doesn’t mean that they become the leaders of the home for one minute, but the way we guide them requires some refined skills. Parenting a compliant child often allows room for any strategies (some not that helpful to healthy child development), but they work. With strong-willed kids, tricks, tactics, and timeouts don’t tend to work. You can view it as them pretty much making you a skilled parent 🙂

2. Don’t take their EXCESSIVE testing behaviours personally

They are experiential learners! This means they test every boundary, and to be sure of a rule or your steady leadership, they test it over and over and over and over again (which is a million times more than your friend’s toddler- trust me, I know!!!!)

3. Be extra sure of your boundaries and confidently deliver them

If they sense ambivalence which sometimes comes in the form of fed up frustration, they will need to recheck. This is why deciding what you are ok with and following through by being their boundary or setting a physical one is helpful.

4. Offer appropriate choices to invite cooperation

What CAN they do? Always offer them an appropriate replacement.

For example: Climbing on the dining table

  • ‘I can’t let you climb that’
  • ‘You can sit here or climb this. What do you choose?’

Be ready to gently help them physically if need be.

5. Expect bigger emotional reactions to limits

Stronger willed children will tend to let you know much more strongly their feelings about limits. They are not bad, and you are not doing something wrong! They feel those disappointments of letting go of their own exact plan much more intensely. Letting them feel with your support is so valuable for them gaining resilience and coping skills for their future.

6. Offer bucket loads of empathy when setting limits to stay on the same team

You vs. Me power struggles are 100000% what we want to avoid. That doesn’t mean we don’t ever choose the opposite to them. It just means we deliver the opposing decision with an ‘I’m on your side’ approach!

For example, saying:
’I told you don’t touch that!’ while pointing at them will set you against each other whereas acknowledging ‘You really want that’ while taking their hands to stop them while saying ‘I can’t let you…I will help you stop!’ is more like ‘I’ve got you mate!’ vibes.

They feel your connection and support, and they respond well to that, whereas
threats, punishments, and warnings often increase pushback from them.

This also helps them to feel seen & heard, but even more so feel that their desire has been understood even when not allowed. They cope way better with empathic limits.

7. Provide opportunities for healthy autonomy

Toddlers crave to feel independent. You know, ‘I do it myself!’ but strong-willed toddlers live & breathe this need! They tend to laugh in the face of external efforts to shift behaviours, e.g. external rewards (they often aren’t motivated by these for long)

These kids crave internal motivation to move them. We have to work with their self-direction system.
You can practically offer healthy opportunities for control in the day to day in two main ways.

  • How you set the environment. This is an entire topic in itself but let them do for themselves what they can and set the spaces up for it. e.g. dressing struggles can be avoided by laying out clothes in low baskets for them to choose and do for themselves, or steppers in bathroom with low mirror to see themselves brush their own teeth
  • How you structure the daily routine. Keep routines rhythmic so predictability helps things to flow or is the rule keeper rather than you.
    ’Can you look what’s next on the plan…’
    ’What else do you need to do before we leave?’
    These kids also struggle more with change in plans or transitions, so expect that!You can provide a physical daily chart to follow and move over from ‘to do’ to ‘done’
    play, park, toilet, snack, bed etc.

8. Provide opportunities for power and control in their play

These children need to guide play. You set the playspace and let them dictate it! Let them be the boss of you in this area.

I hope this helps! My passion is to support you to support your toddler!

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About the author

Mandy Richardson is a qualified Early Childhood Educator and also holds a Masters in Childhood Studies. She is currently completing her PhD in Respectful Parenting Methods. She is passionate about promoting a positive parent-child relationship and a natural, slow paced, peaceful and fulfilling childhood.

Past Posts


The Regulation Station


Toddler Temperaments 101


Saying Goodbye to the Dummy

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