Having Patience with a Strong-Willed Child

6 tips to help you have patience with a strong-willed child. These 6 tips can help you be a more patient parent, which will help your child behave better.

parent and child holding hands as they walk outside

Parenting The Strong-Willed Child has an entire chapter dedicated to patience.

I think that should pull your attention a bit. A book aimed at helping parents deal with difficult children has an entire chapter dedicated to patience–patience on the part of the parent.

You need to be patient with your strong-willed child.

I know for some people, patience can be a hard thing. My normal disposition is quite chill.

I am very patient with my children. So much so that one day I walked outside to tell my barking dog to be quite. I yelled to her to be quiet, and my neighbor was shocked to hear me yell. He didn’t know I can yell, and for a minute he was confused because I don’t yell at my kids so he didn’t know what I was yelling about (he must have missed the annoying dog barking at him incessantly).

I think that my patience really helps my children behave well. When I was pregnant with McKenna, I had a lot harder time being patient. Behavior was not at its best when I was at my worst.

Behavior really does depend so much on the attitude of the parents.

So, let’s talk about some tips for maintaining patience.

Be Matter-of-Fact

Forehand and Long say that strong-willed children respond best to matter-of-fact demeanor (page 179).

This means you show no emotion when correcting your child. I don’t mean you never show happiness or love or anything like that.

I mean when your child is misbehaving, you don’t raise your voice or get upset or take it personally.

You don’t yell, “What is the matter with you? Go to your room right now!”

Matter-of-fact means you maintain composure.

It means you talk in a calm voice and act like it is of little consequence to you. “Since you did X, you will now need to take a time out.”


The Love and Logic series also stresses this type of response to children when they misbehave. You say things like, “That’s too bad you made that choice. Now you will have to go to time out.” The Baby Whisperer also stresses the importance of patience.

I promise matter-of-fact works. If you don’t believe me, try it for a week and see what happens.

Be The Captain of Your Soul

Forehand and Long state that your child’s behavior doesn’t cause you to be impatient or lose your temper. Your child can’t control your behavior. We all know this is true.

Would you or do you accept this excuse from your child? It isn’t his fault if he hit his sister; she just made him so mad!

No. You would expect your child to control himself despite the actions of others.

“The devil made me do it!”

No. No one made you do it. You chose to do it.

As soon as you accept that you control your temper, not your child’s actions, you will be on the path to being able to control yourself.

Your child’s behavior doesn’t make you lose patience. Your thoughts about your child’s behavior causes it.

So what are some things to realize as a parent?

Realize what is really appropriate to expect from your child. Realize that no matter how good your child is, he will mess up. Realize he is a child. Don’t expect more from your child than you do from yourself.

Now, I fully agree that there are some physical influences that make it harder or easier for people to maintain patience. You might be on a medication that makes it hard. You might be pregnant or in chronic pain. You might not be sleeping well.

I remember one time when I was on a medication when Kaitlyn was just 3 years old. I yelled to her to stop whining.

I am not a yeller by nature and this caught us both by surprise.

I thought about the situation and knew the medication was impacting me. It was so unlike me.

But that didn’t mean that everyone needed to just watch out for me because I was on medication that made it harder for me to be patient.

It meant I had to work harder.

And I did, and I was able to be more of myself.

Sometimes I need to take breaths before responding–but even with some external forces, I was still the master of my soul.

Read: 7 Phrases to Help You Avoid Losing Your Temper as a Parent

Avoid Absolute Thinking

Absolutes are words like “never” and “always.”

Absolutes are always bad. HA! See what I did there?

Your child isn’t always bad. Your child doesn’t always misbehave.

Focus on positive thinking instead of the negative slump absolutes pull you in to.

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Understand Motive

Young children aren’t out to get you. They aren’t out for revenge.

Young children are self-centered. Quite frankly, they don’t really care how their behavior is impacting you.

Of course we, as parents, are working to teach them to care. But your 3 year old isn’t thinking, “I am going to really irritate mom right now by whining.”

She is thinking, “I really want a cookie and I think if I whine, Mom will give me one.” How it makes you feel is irrelevant to her so long as you give her the cookie.

Children behave in order to get something they want or to avoid something they don’t want.

So the point is, don’t take the behavior personally.

Allow Mistakes–From You

When you do lose your patience, recognize that it is undesirable and unfortunate, but human.

Don’t make excuses, but know it will happen.

Kids are hard sometimes, right? You are human, right? You will be stressed out at the exact moment your child is uncooperative, right?

You are likely to lose your cool sometime.

You don’t get to say, “Well, I was just really stressed so it wasn’t my fault.” But you also don’t need to sit and beat yourself up about it for the rest of your life.

Make amends, learn from it, and move on.

Manage Stress

Forehand and long provide many ideas for managing your stress. A stressed-out parent is a less patient parent.

Identify and remove stressors. There might be things that are stressing you out that you don’t need to deal with right now.

Take a break or change gears. Maybe you need to get some fresh air. Maybe you need to walk out of the room and count to ten. Maybe you need ice cream :).

Learn how to relax. What relaxes you? Reading? The sunshine? A bath? A nap? Music? Deep breathing exercises? Figure out how to relax. Find your happy place.

Learn problem-solving strategies. You will be less stressed if you can manage the problems in your life. Problems will arise, so it is best to have tools to figure these things out.

Get enough rest. Sleep is just as important for you as for your children. You need sleep.

This is one reason newborn life is hard when you have other children to care for. With just the newborn, you can go into autopilot, but with children, you don’t get to rest as much and you have to take care of them, which means interaction.

You need a consistent bedtime and wake time just like your children. The science of sleep applies to all humans, not just babies.

Eat a balanced, nutritious diet. I don’t mean diet as in cutting calories or carbs. I mean eating what is right for your body.

If you haven’t ever consistently eaten well, you might be amazed at how gross junk food can become and how lethargic it makes your body. You will feel much better if you eat well.

Exercise. Okay, who has seen Legally Blond? “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t!” Ha! True. Exercise gives you energy and it is good for your body.

Develop a Support System. There is nothing wrong with mom taking a break sometimes. Have a trusted babysitter, friend, mom, or husband watch your kids so you can get out.

You also will sometimes just need someone to talk to. Call a friend. Call your mom. Jump online to your favorite mom’s group. Have people to turn to when you are feeling stressed.

Maintain a sense of humor. Laughter is the best medicine, right? Find a way to look at the funny side of things.

Get your copy of “Overcoming the Mental Load of Motherhood” eBook.

The mental load is the list of things a person tries to track in the brain. It can be task lists. It can be worries about children. It can be finances. It can be wondering what is for dinner. Anything taking up space in your brain is your mental load.

Learn to manage it in this book.


These are some ideas on how to maintain patience with your children. Please share any tips you have found useful for maintaining your patience with people!


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This post originally appeared on this blog in July 2010

18 thoughts on “Having Patience with a Strong-Willed Child”

  1. I have thought about one of your points often. Whenever I'm evaluating why my daughter is acting a certain way I always know that certain things may explain the behavior, but they don't excuse it. It's the same with adults! I may be 9 months pregnant and uncomfortable, but that does not excuse my short tongue with my husband or children. If I'm going to apply that to her, I need to apply it to myself as well and learn to have greater self control.

  2. I have trouble with patience constantly. This post came at a good time and it is always a good thing to do a little self-reflection. How an I expect good behavior from my daughter if I do not have the same standards for myself?

  3. It all comes down to modelling the behaviour you want to see in your child. It can be hard at times, but when I feel myself expressing my frustration, taking a breath and having a big sigh does help (and my toddler son usually copies my sigh, which makes me laugh). Thanks for the reminder and pointers.

  4. This post is excellent! Your points are all right on target for me. I have been trying hard to teach my 4-year-old certain virtues like respect, unselfishness, moderation, etc., and it hit me that I have to do a much better job on all those things myself before I can model these things for him. Now I give myself a little slack on this one, but for example: I try to make sure he puts on his clothes for the day in the morning, even if we aren't going anywhere, and he needs to take a bath at night almost every night to help with his allergies. Meantime, I am still in my pajamas and haven't taken a shower! Hello! I often think that parenting helps me learn how to live almost more than it does my kids. I've been inspired to change before but didn't do much about it, but when you have kids, you HAVE to make things work and you have a true desire to make them work the best way possible.

  5. How would you compare this book with The Strong Willed Child by: Dr. Dobson? I haven't read either one. I'm just wondering which one is better. I appreciate your blog. It is helpful and interesting to read. God bless you,Jill

  6. Yes, I agree we must watch out for the log in our own eye – er our not the best behavior, and be a good example. However, there are certain things just cannot do, or must do beacause they are the children and they are not in charge. I'm thinking of an innocous word like "silly" which my 4 yr old is currently not using well, so she cannot use the word. I get dressed after my kids because I take care of them first, exercise, diaper a baby, wash the floors. Its o.k. Another thought, found in God' Word, patience is a fruit of the Holdy Spirit (Galatians), as is self-control, and until our children are repentent and born again by believing in the death and ressurrection of Christ alone, they do not have the Holy Spirit. Now, as the Ezzo's teach, the parents are the moral authority for our children, and behviors preclude attitudes (so we do not just let be impatient little monsters!!). No, training, practice, but also grace. I personally love the put your hands together (Ezzo again) BEFORE the child has lost it. I do this. Its great. As always, I think love – love of others less than self, helps me to be patient with my children and with others. This is how God deals with all his children.

  7. wow- I just read what I wrote, and forgive the typos. Long day of practicing patience!!!! Love others MORE than ourselves, less of me, that is the ticket. Motherhood is a GREAT refiner.

  8. Val I love everything that you said! It is all so true and not just with toddlers/preschoolers but teens too. I found all of this to be true to teaching jr. high. I think I need to get this book you're reviewing! Sounds like a good one.

  9. Thanks everyone for your added thoughts! I am glad you all liked the info. It is good stuff.D&H, thank you! I watched hat ahnd loved it.

  10. Jill, I have not read that one yet. I *think* (though I am not sure) that one has spanking stuff in it, which isn't my style. But I will read it and let you know 🙂

  11. Amy, I think there is a difference between getting dressed after your chores are done and getting dressed late just because you are being lazy and don't want to get dressed.

  12. Our 20 month old has horrible table manners. I am not sure on how to get this to stop. Babywise suggests putting her in her crib until she can "be happy" while my doctor says not to because it can make the crib into a negative environmental. Any suggestions?

  13. Hi, Val,My daughter is 17 months old and I have followed babywise from the beginning. After pondering the thought for many months, I have determined that she is very strong willed. She tests her boundaries quite frequently and has become somewhat defiant (i.e. running from me when i ask her to give me what she has, throwing food, not coming to me when i ask her to, laughing at me when I tell her "no", etc.) My question really has to do with timeouts……at what age should they be started, when is it appropriate to use timeout, how to give a timeout (my daughter just crawls out of the spot I put her in). Maybe you can do a post just on timeouts? That would be so helpful. Thanks!

  14. I do plan to do a post on time outs. I will move that up on my plan list and do it this month.In short, if you want to use time outs, I would pick a spot she can't get away from. So a pack and play or her crib would work well. What you do from there varies greatly from "expert to expert" so you will have to think it over and decide what to do. You can do a minute per age, leave her there until she is no longer crying, five minutes…Some say to explain why they are having a time out, others say not to. If I were you, I would also look into implementing logical consequences for her right now. She runs away when you tell her to come? You pick her up and she doesn't get to walk anymore. She throws her food? She gets her food taken away but remains at the table. See the blog label "logical consequences" as well as the info on the Love and Logic books.


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