When One Child is Harder Than the Other(s)

You know the terms. “Spirited.” “Strong-willed.” “Difficult.” These are just a few of the common terms used to describe a child who is hard to raise. Some children just are harder than other children–for whatever reason. Even though you love your difficult child, it can be exhausting and demoralizing to have a strong-willed little one. 


Sometimes difficulties can be explained by things you are doing as a parent, but sometimes you can be doing everything “right” and still have that hard child. There are things that can contribute to why you have a child harder for you than the others.

  • Different Personalities: Sometimes a child seems hard simply because the child has a very different personality from you. My husband and I are pretty oppposite in personality types (exact opposite on the Myer-Briggs score). One of our children is basically the same personality I am. This child can be difficult for my husband. It isn’t that they do not get along, it is just that my husband has a hard time communicating on that child’s level and understanding motivations of that child. For me, that child is my easiest simply because I totally get that child. Different personalities can be a very good thing, but when you are in a position of authority over someone (parenting), it can make it more difficult for you.
  • Consistency: You always want to be sure you are being consistent as a parent. Do not make empty threats. Be consistent in your consequences and on how far you will let things go before you dole out those consequences. 
  • Child’s Emotional Needs: Sometimes children act out because their needs are not being met. If you have a child who is high needs on physical touch for feeling loved but you only hug to say good morning, good-bye, and good-night, your child might start acting out in an effort to seek out attention. Know your child’s love language, but always remember children need all forms of love, so if you don’t naturally show one, make an effort to do so.
  • Basic Needs: Your child will be harder if she isn’t getting enough sleep consistently or if she is hungry. She will also act out if she isn’t getting enough physical exercise for her needs. Be sure your child is getting enough sleep, eating well, and given opportunities to exert energy. See  Factors That Influence Behavior for more. 
  • Just Strong-Willed: In the end, some children are just strong-willed people. Recognize that and accept it and move forward figuring out how to work with it. Do not ignore the first four things I listed if you have a child who is strong-willed. I have a strong-willed child and I know she is much worse if I ignore those four. See Disciplining The Strong-Willed Child for more.


Once you have some degree of understanding as to why your child is the way she is, make a list of the good things about that child being difficult. There ARE good things! My difficult child is often hard because she is so optimistic that no method of discipline really works to motivate her to change her behavior. She can always look on the bright side and be happy with her lot in life. While that made for some difficult times parenting her as a toddler and preschooler, as she gets older, it is such a fantastic personality trait. It is so nice to have a child who is always happy and grateful for exactly what she has. 

Another good thing about my strong-willed girl is that she is stubborn enough to stick to what she knows is right no matter what anyone else thinks or says. She will stand up for a child being made fun of. She will follow the rules even if other children are veering off the track, and she isn’t afraid to tell them to get back on track themselves. I have long recognized I need to put special effort into making sure she is on the right path, but once she is there, she will be there no matter what winds come her way.

Think of your strong-willed child’s traits that make it difficult for you to parent that child and then think of the ways that trait will serve your child in life. You don’t want to squash the traits in your child–just direct/redirect the traits to be of most benefit to your child. 


There are things you can do to help make the dynamics of parenting your strong-willed child easier on you and your child.

  • Pray For Help: I have said it before–prayer is the best parenting tool you will ever have. Not only can you prayer for patience, you can pray for wisdom. You can pray to know what to do to help your child as best as possible. Remember, the Lord sent you this child for some reason. You can be equal to the task at hand.
  • Try to Not Compare: Comparing children never ends well. I have talked about reasons to not compare in this post: Helping Siblings Like Each Other.
  • Try to Not Label: Children absolutely live up to your expectations, so try to not label your child as a “problem” child. It may seem like semantics, but how you describe your child can have an impact on how your child behaves.At the same time, I think it is good to acknowledge and accept. Yes, I have a child who is much harder than my other three. She is my PhD in parenting while my others have been a nice introductory into parenting–Parenting 101. It is what it is and I won’t do anyone any favors by pretending otherwise.

    So it is okay to acknowledge it so you can face it, but use your terminology wisely. 

  • Be Wise in Boundaries Set: I often see parents of strong-willed children tell the child that if they do X, Y will follow. Y is often a strong consequence. The parent is really hoping the child will respond in a way that listens to the parent. The problem is Y is often so strong the parent doesn’t want to do it, so when the child does X (which these strong-willed children WILL often do), the parents don’t really give in to Y. You might say, “If you touch that again, we are leaving.” Then the child touches it and you say, “Okay let’s leave!” and the child protests, “No!” and you reply, “Okay then don’t touch it again.” Instead, give your child a consequence that you will follow through on. “If you touch that again, we will go sit in the car for a five minute time out.” Child touches, and you go to time out. Your child learns to respect your word instead of constantly working as a scientist to try to figure out what really makes you tic (or snap).Another aspect along being wise in your boundaries is to give appropriate boundaries and expectations to your child. Do not give instructions based on “wishful thinking.” Give instructions and rules that you know your child is capable of following. Do not just hope your child will listen. Again, set things up so your child knows to respect you.

    This might seem like I am suggesting to lower standards. I am not really, though sometimes you might have to adjust your expectations. Not everything is realistic. A strong-willed child needs more grace than a child who is extremely obedient by nature. 

  • Give Time and Attention to Other Children: A strong-willed child can take up a lot of your focus and mental energy, as well as your actual, measurable time. Try to make sure you are not letting all attention go to the strong-willed children. Doing so can lead to your other children starting to act out in order to get more attention (or at least facing therapy as adults). You want to meet the needs of all of your children. This is one big benefit to doing consistent one-on-one dates with each child. Another thing you can do consistently is read to each child individually before bedtime. This takes a long time potentially at bedtime. Believe me, I know how much longer this makes the bedtime process. But it is consistent time each child gets alone with a parent each day and that can be invaluable. These are just two suggestions, you can definitely think of other ideas that work for your family. 

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