How to Successfully Parent Your Strong-Willed Child

Tips to really succeed at parenting your strong-willed child. The strong-willed child can be difficult, but you can follow some simple steps to make parenting easier. 

Mother and daughter. Daughter is upset

In this post, I give an overview of the program for helping a strong-willed child outlined in Parenting the Strong-Willed Child by Forehand and Long. This post will outline the five-week program in the book, but it is absolutely in no way a substitute for the book. This lets you know what the book contains, but doesn’t tell you how to execute things. This is the what, not the why or how.

Parenting The Strong-Willed Child: Program Outline

This program is meant to be taken one week at a time. In the book, they ask that you do not read ahead to see what is coming up next week. They want you to take it one week at a time.


With attending behaviors, you are describing what your child does without questions or directions. You can also imitate behavior. You should be enthusiastic and positive. Your child’s agenda is important, not yours.

Here is an example of what attending behaviors would look like. You would sit down with your child while he plays with his blocks. You would say things like, “You are building a tower of blocks!” “You are putting the red block on now!” Sound cheesy? Do you think you would feel silly? You probably would at first.

A great benefit I see with attending behaviors is that you are for one spending time with your child. This is time spent that is fun for the child because you aren’t telling him what to do. You are just talking about what he is doing. It teaches you to describe behavior without attaching value statements to it.


During week two, you start to add rewards to the system. Verbal rewards are the most important rewards. You want to praise the child and label the desired behavior, “Thank you for picking up the blocks!” (page 76). You want to use an enthusiastic tone of voice.

You can also use physical rewards. You might pat your child on the back or give him a wink. Hugs and kisses can be good, but should be used more to express love than as rewards for good behavior. Forehand and Long suggest you add 20 more physical rewards a day than you currently do.
You can also have activity rewards. These might include playing games, going for a walk, or reading a story. When you do these activities as rewards, try to get on the child’s level and play on that level. If you don’t know what your child would like to do, ask him.

You can use toys or treats as rewards, but you should always accompany them with your praise and attention (page 78).

There is often discussion of encouragement vs. praise vs. rewards in these parenting books by psychologists. Some say one is better than the other. Forehand and Long say debating it is basically an issue of semantics (page 83). I would agree with that; however, I think no matter what you call it, there is a good way and a bad way to go about it. The average parent is not concerned with exactly what to call something, but it is important to know what is good to do and what is ineffective to do.
Forehand and Long say to use rewards immediately after the appropriate behavior and initially, reward the behavior every time it happens. Reward only behavior you want to be increased. For further discussion on this idea, see Encouragement vs. Reward.


During this week, you start ignoring certain behaviors you want to end. Forehand and Long say that when you ignore, you should have no physical or verbal contact. They also say no eye contact (though other books strongly say to never withhold eye contact). You might ignore tantrums, crying, whining, pouting, and arguing.

At first, expect the behavior to get worse. This is something that has worked in the past, so if it stops working, the child will try harder to get it to work again. It will help if you tell your child, “From now on, when you whine, I will be ignoring the whining.”

Forehand and Long caution that ignoring will only be effective if used in conjunction with attending and rewarding. They also say to just choose one behavior to ignore at a time, then after several days, add a new behavior to the list. Tell your child when making changes–before the problem occurs.


During week four, you will be learning how to properly give directions to your child.
First, you don’t want to give vague directions. “Be good” is vague. “Share toys with your sister” is specific.

You also don’t want to give chain directions. You might tell your child, “get dressed, brush your teeth, comb your hair, and come downstairs for breakfast.” Your child might not have the ability to remember and follow so many directions. (page 105). Give instructions one at a time.

You also want to avoid directions in the form of a question. “Do you want to go to bed now?” is not a direction. Not many children would answer yes!

Don’t follow your instructions up with a reason. Your child might forget the instruction by the time you are done with the reason. If you want to provide a reason with your instruction, then give the reason before the instruction (page 107).

So now you have a basic idea of what not to do. What should you do?

  • Get attention
  • Make eye contact
  • Use a firm voice (not loud or gruff)
  • Use simple and specific instructions
  • Point to things as appropriate
  • Use “dos” rather than “don’ts
  • Reward compliance
  • Be willing to gain compliance–if you are going to instruct, be ready to be sure your child obeys

Forehand and Long point out that children actually need fewer instructions than we give them. Only offer the necessary instructions. I found myself telling Brayden to pull up his underwear whenever he was done using the bathroom–even when he was four! He didn’t need to be told to pull up his underwear 🙂


In the final week, you introduce the time out. By now, you are spending time with your child. You are noticing the good and complimenting for it. You are ignoring bad behavior and giving better instructions. Now you are ready to offer consequences for poor behavior. Your child has been set up and prepped for good behavior.

The first thing to remember about any punishment is consistency. You don’t punish sometimes and not others. Forehand and Long suggest using the time-out. They have a very specific method for the time-out and say if followed, the process has been proven to work through their research (page 119). They have specific locations, sequences to follow, amount of time, and whether or not to give warnings (depends on the behavior). It is not a complicated process in the least. In fact, it is quite simple.

One important point made by Forehand and Long is that you don’t need to lecture during or after a time-out. You can say, “You had a time out because of X,” but that is not the time to delve into a discussion on the merits of the behavior.

Integrating the Skills

A great thing about the book Parenting the Strong-Willed Child is that it has a how-to chapter to give parents ideas on how to integrate the skills they have outlined in the book. They have some great tips I wanted to highlight:

  • Be Consistent: This is probably the number one piece of advice offered in any parenting book. No matter what you are doing, do it consistently if you want to see results. I won’t ramble on about consistency; I have enough posts about it. I just wanted to point out that this book is another one that says to be consistent.
  • Give Yourself Some Slack: While the authors say to be consistent, they also tell the parent to be easy on themselves. They point out that you will make mistakes. You will have times of inconsistency. Don’t beat yourself up over it. I must also take this opportunity to point out that if you, an adult with much life experience and knowledge, will have times you mess up, so will your child. Despite your best efforts, your child will not be perfect. Your child will make mistakes, just like you do.
  • Spend Time With Child: It is important to spend time with your child. I don’t care how “strong-willed” your child is, this is important and it will make a difference in behavior and happiness. I have several posts on spending time with children. How Much Time Should You Spend with Your Child Daily talks about the balance between enough time and too much. I love a quote I have that essentially says quality time is a direct function of quantity time. That means if you want quality time with your child, you must also have quantity. That is a topic for a whole other post, so I will leave you to think that over for a while. One-On-One Outings talks about spending time with your child one on one, as the title alludes to ;). On my latest date with Brayden, we had so many great conversations. He asked questions like, “When I die, will I still have all of my same toys in Heaven?” and “Why did Heavenly Father put stop signs on buses?” He just asked great questions that led to great conversations. These are moments that work as teaching opportunities because the child wants to know. It isn’t a lecture. These are things he doesn’t ask when Kaitlyn is around; he is too busy laughing his little head off.
  • Have Fun With Child: When you are with your child, have real fun with your child. Be interactive. Try to let loose and be a kid again. This will strengthen your relationship, which makes discipline easier on both ends. My little sister is so great at this skill. Kids love her and they always have. I believe it is in large part because she always has fun with the child. She is never checking her watch. She has a great imagination and has fun with kid games. She has never been one to say, “That game is so childish”–even as a “too cool” teenager. Children naturally are drawn to her. Kids can tell who the fun adult is 🙂 Now, of course as a parent there are other things you have to do in life. Not every minute of every day is fun and games (do you ever miss childhood?). But the time you take to spend with your children can be fun and games.
  • Let Child Help: Let your child help with chores. Is this hard? Yes. Does it take more time to do things? Yes. I have a post on this topic, How To Raise a Child Who is a Good Helper, that outlines this idea with the benefits of doing so. This book also stresses the importance for building a relationship. I remember in college learning that if you want to create a situation where conversation flows naturally and freely, put a task between you and the other person. Wash dishes. Work on a car. Go for a walk. When you allow your child to help you with chores, you create a more comfortable situation for good conversation.
Parent a strong willed child pinnable image


There you have it. There is the program. For each week, they have a weekly plan. You start with X number of minutes once a day and work up from there. This is literally a step-by-step program. I am sure for many of you, that would be quite desirable.


Parenting the Strong-Willed...Shop on Amazon

4 thoughts on “How to Successfully Parent Your Strong-Willed Child”

  1. I'm chuckling to myself as I read your summary…I just finished this book about a month ago and your summary is excellent!!! Just wanted to give a heads up if anyone else is like me…I am a mom of 4 and one of my 4 is, well, strong-willed! She is a pip, a rascal, full of life, passionate and definitely hard to handle at times. She just turned 4 and is much easier than she used to be, but I dove into this book, very determined to help her "change." Well, we did step one – attending. The first day, about a minute into our attending time, she shoved me and and said, "Hey, stop saying that stuff!" I had to bite the inside of my cheek so I wouldn't laugh…for the first time, she had my undivided attention, I was giving her positive attention, and she really couldn't handle it! The next day, I tried again…a few minutes into our attending time, she turned around and nipped her 2 yr old brother!!!! She astounds me! Like I said, she is doing much better, but this book did not "cure" her, nor did it "curb" her the way I had hoped…her fiesty personality requires much shaping which will only happen with God's help…I know He has a plan for her! Just pray for patience and strength for me in the meantime! 🙂

  2. Kristina, lol…stop doing that stuff. I think you make a great point that things are rarely as smooth as the book makes them seem. Real life takes a lot more work!

  3. Redheads, I can't remember exactly…I think it is 3 or 4 and up? I think I might have said in other strong-willed posts. It wouldn't hurt to read it to get some parenting tools under your belt if you think it will be helpful to you in the future.


Leave a Comment