What Does it Mean to be “Strong-Willed”?

Understand the qualities of a strong-willed child and know the difference between simply being a disobedient child and being a strong-willed child.

McKenna looking to her right

Correcting any child can be difficult, but your child is strong-willed, it is that much harder.

After reading my review of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child by Forehand and Long, you might be wondering what exactly constitutes “strong-willed.” You aren’t sure if your child is strong-willed or just being a typical child who is disobeying. Let’s discuss what a strong-willed child is.

Strong-Willed Definition

Someone who is strong-willed is strong-minded. They are determined and are not easily influenced by others.

Synonyms include stubborn, mulish, and headstrong.

Qualities of a Strong-Willed Child

The strong-willed child is independent, assertive, confident, determined, persistent, outgoing, and questioning (pages 8-9). Most of these things might sound good to you. They actually sound like good qualities to me.

They can be good qualities. Forehand and Long point out that they want to help parents nurture the positive sides of these qualities while minimizing the impact of the negative sides of these qualities. If you stop and think about it, you can easily see how these qualities could lead to some conflict between a 2 year old and the parent. Left unchecked, these qualities can become quite the nightmare by age 6.

Strong-willed personalities are wonderful! Most personality traits have a virtue and a vice.

So we all want to raise a child who is an independent, capable adult. An independent toddler can mean everything was pulled from the drawer that morning while your kiddo got dressed “all by myself.”

The qualities are wonderful, but they can be exhausting and sometimes even dangerous. A determined child might head out into the street because they decided they really wanted to for some reason.

A really persistent strong-willed kid will insist on doing a task their own way rather than listening to your instructions and wisdom.

I love the thought, “My daughter is going to rule the world someday. I just have to survive raising her first.”

>>>Read: 6 Things I Love About Having a Strong-Willed Child

Can You Direct a Strong-Willed Child?

There is debate in the academic world about nature vs. nurture. I think that most parents who are intentional in their parenting believe that nurture has an impact on the development of the child (if not, why are you putting time and effort into reading parenting information?).

So yes, there are things you can do to help your strong-willed child magnify the positive sides of being strong-willed and minimize the negative sides.

As I stated in a previous post about the book Parenting the Strong-Willed Child, the skills this book teaches should be used by all parents of all children, no matter how strong-willed your child is or isn’t (page 45). Even an easy-going child will benefit from the tips in this book.

But these skills were “originally developed and shown to be clinically effective with strong-willed children who have high rates of non-compliance and other disruptive behaviors” (page 46).

Problem Behaviors with Strong-Willed Children

Here are some problem behaviors Forehand and Long pinpoint as problems of strong-willed children (46-47):

  • Disobedient
  • Temper Tantrums
  • Demands Attention
  • Stubborn
  • Screams and gets upset
  • Argues
  • Threatens Others
  • Shows off
  • Irritable
  • Swears
  • Aggressive
  • Blames Others
  • Sassy
  • Destructive
  • Dishonest
  • Negative
  • Steals

This book has a test for you to administer to your child to see if your child is strong-willed (or to what magnitude your child is strong-willed). They say that your child will comply less often in the test as you give more directions, you need to record if your child complies within 5 seconds, the parent needs to not do or say anything other than what the test instructs, and you want 60% compliance (18 out of 30).

If you are not sure if your child is strong-willed or just simply being disobedient, consider getting the book and taking the test.

Strong-willed meaning pinnable image

Strong-Willed is Not Bad

While you might sometimes feel like you are trying to move a mule when you have a child with a strong will, know that it is not a bad quality.

My third child, McKenna, is my strong-willed child. Oh, she was a hard toddler! I know it can be exhausting to parent a strong-willed kiddo. There are power struggles. That child has intense passions you can’t seem to dissuade them from.

My husband and I used to say that the best word to describe McKenna was tenacious. Once she made up her mind, she could not be stopped.

And while that is hard for a toddler or preschooler, I knew that those could be amazing qualities as a teenager if I could get her on the right path. Because of her tenacity, I knew if she was going in the right direction, she wouldn’t be persuaded by peer pressure or moved because “everyone else was doing it.” She would be able to get herself out of difficult situations.

I wanted her to learn to respect authority and listen to it. But I did not want to break her strong will. I absolutely wanted her to grow up to be a strong-willed woman.

She is now a Freshman in high school (almost 15 years old). While we have years to go, so far, her teenage years have been very calm and easy. Every hope I had for her as a toddler to grow to be a strong-willed teenager on the right path has come to be. I love that about her and am so glad we did not try to completely dampen that strength of will within her.

So if you have a strong-willed kiddo, hang in there! I know you are exhausted. I promise staying intentional and on top of things will pay off. Don’t give up and don’t get lazy. Bringing your A game now will pay off big time with the teenagers.


Now you have an idea if your child is “strong-willed” or not. I think that parents of “strong-willed” children probably know it, but this can help the ones who might not be sure. If you are having any difficulty with your kids (in other words, if you have kids), I really think this book can provide you with some excellent parenting tools to improve obedience levels.

RELATED POSTS on Strong-Willed Children

What does it mean to be strong-willed?

This post first appeared on this blog in November of 2009

4 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to be “Strong-Willed”?”

  1. Thank you for the recommendation! I'm totally going to read this book because my daughter is 8.5 months and I can all ready tell that I'm going to have my hands full. She is too much like me! 🙂

  2. I just purchased this book today off Amazon! I'm hoping it will shed some light on why my very happy, obedient little boy has suddenly gotten a case of the "no's". I literally had to drag him kicking and screaming from the playground the other day, and he's only 20 months old!! Looking forward to implementing what I read…and quickly. :)Thanks for the book suggestion!


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