How To Discipline A Strong-Willed Toddler: 5 Essential Tips


“Your daughter is stubborn.”

That’s the first thing our daughter’s daycare director said to my wife and me at our regular meeting to discuss whether to continue keeping her in daycare. And as frustrated as she sounded, I couldn’t blame her.

Our daughter is pretty darn stubborn. And she isn’t easily swayed from what she believes is right or wrong.

But like most parents with a strong-willed child, my wife and I never looked at this as a negative trait. We saw it as something that made her the person she was, even if it could be challenging to deal with at times.

And as much as we, and many other parents, struggle with how to discipline a strong-willed toddler, some solutions can have positive consequences for both you and your child.

Let’s take a look at a few of them.

1Set the Rules and Be Consistent With Punishment

Strong-willed children are master manipulators. And if you give them the opportunity to negotiate their punishment, they’ll take full advantage of it.

The best way to avoid this is to set rules and be consistent about how you punish your child when they break them.

For instance, one of our house rules is that everyone needs to be in bed by 8 PM on weekdays. For every 10 minutes that they’re not in bed after 8 PM, they have to do 30 minutes of additional chores over the weekend.

While we do give them an option as to which chore they will have to do, we never back down from making sure they spend 30 extra minutes on chores if they break the rule.

By doing this, we’re able to enforce the fact that there are boundaries that they cannot cross.

2Don’t Set Too Many Rules

As you already know, strong-willed children aren’t too big on being told what to do.

And while there is a need for setting clear rules in your home, having too many rules could set you up for a whole lot of unnecessary arguments.

Here’s an example of what an effective list of household rules could look like:

● Rule #1 – Treat other people with respect at all times
● Rule #2 – Tell the truth
● Rule #3 – Pick up after yourself
● Rule #4 – In bed by 8 PM on weekdays
● Rule #5 – Complete weekly chores by 7 PM on Sunday

In most cases, it’s probably best to keep your list between 4-6 “non-negotiable” rules. Any more than that and you could encourage resentment and push back from your strong-willed child.

3Don’t Lose Your Temper

This one is tough, especially when the frustration of dealing with the constant back and forth comes to a boiling point.

But, no matter how angry you get, ranting or shouting at your child is only going to result in them pushing back even harder.

And once they know they can antagonize you, they’re going to keep going at it until they get their way.

If you take anything from this list of tips for how to discipline a strong-willed toddler, understand that being a demanding drill sergeant is never the answer. And it will only lead to further frustration.

Instead, do your best to remain calm when disciplining your child. Show them that, while they’re being disciplined for their actions, you still respect them.

4Don’t Label Them

While the daycare director certainly wasn’t trying to be rude when she said our daughter was stubborn, there’s a lot of danger in dropping a label on a young child.

When we say someone is a “problem child” or “difficult”, for example, we’re endangering our children to carry those labels as they grow up.

In Dr James Dobson’s book, The New Strong-Willed Child, he mentioned a survey that he and his team carried out that included over 35,000 parents.

The results were pretty eye-opening. One of the most astonishing statistics he found was that:

● 19% of compliant teenagers either disliked themselves or felt extreme self-hatred
● 43% of strong-willed teenagers either disliked themselves or felt extreme self-hatred

For parents of strong-willed children, these statistics are heartbreaking. And it shows how important it is to avoid negative labels that can set our children up for thinking less of themselves as they grow up.

5Encourage Them to Work Through the Problem After Discipline is Given

One of the best ways to encourage mutual respect between child and parent is to let them know that you’re a team.

Show them that, even though it’s your job as the leader of the household to discipline them when they’ve crossed the line, you can still work together.

Encourage them and help them think through the problem to determine how to better react to it in the future.

Raising a strong-willed child is a blessing. And, as challenging and stressful as it may be at times, you’ll soon realize that you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hopefully, these tips for how to discipline a strong-willed toddler will help you gain a little more sanity as you grow right along with your child. Good luck!