Very early, it becomes obvious when you have a strong willed child. There are many wonderful character traits that come along with being strong willed and at the same time, it can be exhausting as a parent. Then the tweens and teen years arrive and everything gets more intense. The arrival of adolescence magnifies the willfulness because the normal emerging independence joins with the already established willful ways of your child.
All feelings are intensified, including independence and self-determination.
As the adult, it’s our job to find the best way to deescalate the feelings. Strong willed teens believe they know best for themselves. They are fiercely independent. When your teen senses that you are not trusting their own decision-making process, they will push back. We do not want to create a dynamic of constant conflict, so it’s essential to win the trust and heart of our teens.
To create connection, consider giving your cranky teen exactly what they are craving: power. Be ready for more pushing of boundaries and decide in advance what is worth the battle. Are clothes going to be a daily argument or can you let that go and hold the line on something more important like grades?
Maybe you are strong willed too and you’re doing everything you can to hold onto power in the relationship. Do you fear giving away power will backfire and your teen will suffer or reject you and your values? It’s possible, and this is where we must face our own limitations. This is the crucial time when it’s more important to focus on relationship than rules.
The only person who you can control is you. Practice being the centered, patient parent that you long to be. Take an extra breath and try to not react. What your teen is expressing isn’t about you at all; in fact, you are their safe place to let our the frustration and pain experienced at that moment. You have the privilege to help them direct their actions and attitude to something more healthy. You get to reframe what they are experiencing and remind him or her that it is temporary. Along the way, you become the trusted guide they come to when hard things happen.
Your strong willed teen has a deep need for control and independence. You can fight that or fuel him or her with responsibility.
Give this teen the power to earn, to strive and to fail. Let their struggle become an ally to improve and be a better human. Avoid getting into a direct power struggle with him or her; instead, demonstrate that you can compromise and you value their input. Be flexible on the curfew. Say yes as much as possible. Determine requirements based on what is moral versus your own preference. Ask questions like, “What does your conscious say?,” “How would you feel?,” “Would you be alright if everyone knew you did this?” These questions help shape decision making without taking over.
Strong willed teens are leaders, courageous and willing to stand alone and steer their own course. They are creative and innovative in finding solutions. Vocalize your approval with pride in their leadership and joy in their adventures. Encourage that spirit to persist in challenges and to overcome hard things. These are traits that will serve your young person well in the future.
When you see your teen moving in a direction that concerns you, raise that concern before you try to coerce. Coercion and enforcement will create resistance. I often think of the reverse psychology my own mama used as a trick of the trade. And dad still tells me, “I know you will do what is right/best.” I didn’t always make the best choice, but I knew I was responsible for the outcome. Be sure to communicate that you are on their side and demonstrate empathy even when discipline is required. Keep the relationship mutually beneficial so that your teen stays invested in the bond you have created. Lean into that bond, especially when there is tension.
Sometimes, our strong willed ones learn through failure and tough consequences. More than ever, this is when to walk alongside them, support and encourage. “I told you so,” doesn’t work, but “Next time you will do better,” does. It reminds your teen that you believe in him or her and that you are on their side.