How to Handle a Defiant Child


I received this email a few weeks ago:

Hi Laura,
I have a 4 year old who is by nature defiant. I say turn right and he says “no, left.” Everything is a battle from putting on the seat belt to especially bedtime routine. I have other children who are obedient and well-mannered so I know it is his temperment. I am a supernanny queen and do 800 millon consequences to his bad behavior. I am very consistent with following through. It is starting to escalate and affecting me in the home. I’ve started to feel like a failure and started feeling apathetic towards the rest of my responsibilities. Where is the joy? I’m wondering if you had any wisdom on guiding a boys heart?

Well, I will never claim to be a parenting expert, but I do have a few years of experience dealing with strong-willed boys. Here’s what I emailed back:

Rest assured, you are not a failure! Out of four of our boys, three of them were (are) very stubborn and strong-willed. Here are three points I’d like to share:
1. Don’t forget that you are the parent. Don’t feel bad or guilty about insisting on obedience. You win the battle, no matter what – even when it’s hard and exhausting. If you win now when he’s four, you’ll find it much easier to win when he’s bigger. My two most stubborn preschoolers are now my calm, mild mannered teenagers. (We’re still working on the 11 year old, who didn’t become strong-willed until he turned 7. Sheesh! We’re getting there, though.)
2. We have worked with our boys to help them understand this strong will that they have. Having a strong will isn’t a bad thing – not at all. But when one of our sons uses it for ugliness or to defy us – that is bad. We’ve explained that God gave him his strong will (kind of like his very own super power!) to use for good, to stand up for what is right, to be a leader – and helped him understand that he has to be careful to use that super power for God’s glory – not to get his way. If nothing else, maybe this idea will help you as the parent (if it’s too difficult a concept for your 4 year old). A strong will really is a good thing when used properly. Oh, but it’s exhausting sometimes when you’re in the heat of the battle with a child! (Undoubtedly, it’s best to have the full conversation during a calm time, so that you can give quick cues like, “Use your super power for God’s glory!” for the moments your child is struggling to obey.)
3. Obviously, do everything out of love. But when your child is being defiant, don’t feel like you need to coddle, reason with, explain yourself, or ask him “how this makes him feel” (at least generally speaking). I did too much of that, wondering where I had gone wrong to make him behave that way. Therefore, I felt like we needed to discuss his feelings in depth each time he was defying us. Finally, I just realized that the stinker was being downright naughty, just wanted his way, and needed discipline – not discussion. I saved a lot of energy once I realized that – and went straight to consequences because ultimately, that is what he was asking for and needed. Discussion took place later, if necessary. It worked so much better!
And then, any time he is being sweet and kind, praise him and enjoy that time with him. Those happy times will come more and more often, I promise!
What have been your experiences with defiant children? What advice would you give to parents dealing with strong-willed kids?


  1. Jaclyn says

    This is great! We have two boys (so far)- Jeremiah is 2.5 and Joshua is 15 months. They are completely different, but still sinners. One thing we have begun doing is to pray with them even in the middle of a time of disobedience. We desire for them to know Christ and have the Holy Spirit live in them one day, but until then we know that the Holy Spirit can still do His work to use even the 2 year old tantrums to bring them to Him. Pray. It is the most powerful thing you can do! Let God do the work and let God give you wisdom for each and every tiny situation! Blessings!

    (I am only 2.5 years into this parenting thing and some days I laugh at myself that I want more children… ;-)


    Brianna D. Reply:

    AMEN to that, and thanks for pointing to the right direction (the LORD!) How true it is that we as mothers cannot do it on our own, and we need to cry out to the true source of strength and grace for both us and for our children.

    I also am only 2.5 years (almost 3 years) into this season of mothering. I needed this reminder.


  2. Dawn says

    Thank you for posting this. I have a very spirited three year old. There are many days when he drives me crazy. I try to remember God gave him this spiritedness for a reason. God has a purpose for him.


  3. Kris Mays says

    I would also check him for food intolerances. I am fining the difficult/extreme behavior in one of my children is due to that. It’s worth checking into.


    Courtney Reply:

    In college I worked with a child who had aggressive behavior related a wheat allergy. I DO NOT think every disobedient child has a food allergy or intolerance. I do agree with Kris though; it should be considered.


    Melissa Reply:

    I so agree with this. Food dye and sugar affect my oldest child greatly. After a Christmas party at school where they ate sugar cookies and hot chocolate, we had a very rough few days with his attitude. After that, he was much better. People don’t believe that food can make such a big difference, but for some children it truly does!


    Kris Mays Reply:

    Yes, you have to get at the heart of the problem. It could be his heart, but it could be somethign else. Too often, food issues are not considered. And it can be ANYTHING:


    Kris Mays Reply:

    oops! dairy, eggs, wheat, gluten in general and more.

    Malenksha Reply:

    I agree as well! If my eldest (now 12) has food coloring he is a *crazy* man. It takes three days to get him back. In the meantime, he’s downright mean, nasty, defiant, and awful. But that’s not the real him! Obviously this isn’t every child but it’s worth just noting… does your son go a bit extra defiant after he had that cookie at snack? Etc. Just sort of follow it and see if a pattern emerges! It can be such a relief to find that some of the bad behavior is truly just a reaction to a food!


    Amber Reply:

    Our oldest who is now 17, was allergic to milk and soy from birth. She was 8 months old before they found a formula she could tolerate and then went to rice milk after formula. When she began eating regular food I kept her away from drinking actual milk or eating anything with cheese in it but for some reason I didn’t realize that so many foods you would never dream of have milk and/or soy in it. For a few years she had times of being completely out of control and defiant in her behavior. I was really beginning to think that I was raising a terribly behaved child. Once I realized the gravity of how many food items contained milk/soy and I altered her diet her behavior changed drastically. She actually ended up being my most easy going child.

    My younger daughter on the other hand is just very stubborn…no food allergies. ;)


  4. jeana goodwin says

    We went through this with our middle son when he was three. At wits end,after all my efforts were exhausted, I sought the advice of my Aunt, a Godly woman and mother of three. She recommended a book called How To Make Your Children Mind Without Losing Yours. I can’t remember the author but he is a Christian man who laid out a doable plan of action for all these things. It restored my sanity and my belief that I could raise this child.


    Carrie Reply:

    Would this book be helpful for older children around 11?


    Vanessa Reply:

    I have also read this book and while I never agree 100% with every child rearing book that I read, I did find his book to be helpful. The author, Dr. Kevin Leman, also wrote Have A New Kid By Friday which I felt was geared more toward children school aged and beyond. Both books were very helpful.


  5. Sherri says

    I have a six year old who is the same way. We have four other kids, all well behaved! This little guy just has his own plan…

    We just started something that seems incredibly promising so far. First, I sat down and thought of specific behaviors I wanted him to improve on. Things like getting a given task done within a set period of time, complying the first time asked, or taking no for an answer without arguing. You should think of whatever fits your child best. NEXT, I printed off a reward chart from I then thought through some non-monetary rewards that I knew he would like: choosing the movie on movie night, 30 minutes computer time, choosing an activity to do alone with me or my husband, etc. For consequences, I decided to try creative consequences (google it). They are logical consequences that fit the crime.

    I talked to my son and explained that we were going to work on ONE of the behaviors I identified earlier (I picked, but with older kids they can help). I explained my expectation of what that behavior should look like. I told him that when he gets it right, he gets to color in a square on the reward chart. Filling the chart equals his choice of reward. However, not meeting the expectation will result in an appropriate creative consequence and we will try again until we get it right. We also came up with a code word to help remind him of his goal so he has an opportunity to correct his behavior without further consequence.

    It has worked awesomely!


    CeCe Reply:

    Great comment. Love your ideas.


  6. abbie says

    So true, my 2 yr old daughter cannot have artificial colors especially red she is just horrible! And its so sad when she gets it by accident. Then you can realize what is intentional it side effect. I do agree with Laura with realizing when discipline should come immediately then ya talking later.


  7. Angela says

    A book and website that has been very useful for kiddos is called Beyond Consequences. It is a great tool to have. My son has autism and can be quite defiant at times. I’ve worked with my therapist is to use this book in helping me understand how a brain works and that consequences just simply do not always work at times.

    ***Please understand I am not saying your son has attachment disorder***


  8. Laura says

    One of my children behaves very different when at all tired, and we have learned to both prioritize her sleep needs and be more empathetic.

    Dr. Laura Markham has been resonating with me lately. She supports parents in creating relationships with their children, not necessarily ‘winning’ over them, but eliminating the need to ‘win.’ I particularly like her free daily emails.

    Dr. Lawrence Cohen also suggests ways to develop the parent-child relationship in his book, Playful Parenting

    My very best favorite book in regards to parenting though is Naomi Aldort’s


  9. Karen Saintdenis says

    I will start by saying that I am not a trained professiional. That being said, I have raised 3 boys and one girl and one was a strong willed child. I am also a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), so I guess I do have a little training, lol. I also have a foster son who is emotionally impaired and in a residential treatment facility. Both my husband and I work closely with the program, working to be able to bring our son home. Anyways – you really don’t have to win each and every battle! You have to win the war, which is raising a child who becomes a good person. I’ve found that it works very well to not tell a strong willed child something. Give them two options (both with the end result of course) – instead of “put on your clothes” – “its do you want to wear the blue shirt or the red one?” and instead of “get in the car, its time to go”, do you want your coloring book or your stuffed animal in the car?” It really doesn’t matter, as long as the child can feel like he has a little control in his life. I could write a lot more, but better stop, lol!


  10. Katie says

    Four has proven, in out household, to be a difficult age for the kids and parents. This seems to be the magic age when our strong willed kids have begun to push the envelope with their behavior. They push to see just how far they can get with their behavior. I believe a great deal of it is the age. They’re wanting to do more for themselves, act more like “bigger kids”, and make more decisions about their lives. We have found consistency to be key with discipline. That way there are clear expectations for everyone. I love the reference of a childs strong will being like that of a super power. We have worked very hard not to try and break that strong will when dealing with our children, rather to redirect it towards stronger positive behavior. I feel as though it is my duty as a mother of very strong willed children to help them realize the gift they have been given by having that strong will and helping them learn how to use it for good. Growing up they are going to learn that not everyone has that strong will, therefore theirs should be used carefully for goodness and kindness. You are absolutely correct Laura. Sometimes kids just are being stinkers and no amount of talking till you are blue in the face will help. Ours know the expectations regarding their behavior, so when they misbehave, we remind them that they shouldn’t be surprised consequences follow. Best of luck to this Mom as she navigates the ” year of four”.


  11. says

    I’m SO glad to see this when I woke up. We just discovered that our usually good 12 year old has done some things behind our back. Not awful stuff, but still, things he was told not to do, nonetheless. I was really hurt and upset last night. I confessed to my husband that the reason it’s so hard for me to crack down and have strict boundaries with him is because he punishes us so much with his attitude. I discipline him anyway, don’t get me wrong. But I’m finding that as we approach the teenage years it is becoming more and more difficult. I’m scared of losing his heart one day. It is difficult to find the balance between wise and appropriate discipline, and going too far in either of the other directions, strict or not strict enough.

    But I appreciate your encouragement to be the parent and not feel like you have to talk it to death. I tend to do that too often also. Praying for wisdom for us all. This morning should be interesting around here, as we confront our boy.


  12. Heather says

    Oh my! I also have a son with the same tempermant. It can be trying but I have also come to appreciate his strong personality. I read a GREAT book by Cynthia Tobias called, You Can’t Make Me but I Can be Persuaded. This book really good. It changed my approach with him and it has been sooo beneficial.


    Andrea Reply:

    Oh good, I was going to mention it too. I heard her talk on Focus on the Family and she seemed to have a unique helpful perspective. I love this blog post though. I’m navigating parenting with my first four year old and it’s terrifying!


  13. says

    I have boys aged 8, 6.5, 5, 3.5, 2, and 9 months. My eldest two are the hardest work. They have always been so difficult and defiant – definitely strong-willed (especially my eldest). I haven’t been successful at any of the methods I have tried in getting them to be obedient, or to refuse to allow them to be rude to my husband and I. They throw tantrums, scream and call us names, act aggressive, and have awful attitudes towards obeying, especially chores and things that are about other people instead of themselves. I thought we were just parenting really badly until my 3rd child reached the age of 3, and since then I have been wondering about it because he is 5 now, and he and the younger boys are not badly behaved like my elder two. My 3.5 year old is getting difficult like “year of four” has been described – he is more strong willed than the 5-year-old, so perhaps it’s that? Anyway, my eldest two are now being assessed for Autistic Spectrum Disorder – my 8-year-old is apparently “textbook Asperger’s Syndrome”. I don’t know how to parent children with ASD in a biblical way! I don’t believe in the “psychobabble” approach as much as I feel they should just have a firm line over disobedience and disrespect, but the more we stand our ground, the worse they lash out, so I am stumped!

    I am interested to read about dietary issues… I haven’t tried eliminating foods for my boys (they barely eat anything anyway, they are all so picky! I am not sure if they would eat at all if I took away the wheaty stuff they do eat!), but perhaps that would be a good idea? Interesting discussion, thanks! :)


    Amy Anne Reply:

    As a mother of three children with ASD I would encourage you to look into eliminating foods. Several family I’ve known with children who hav ASD, us included, have seen improvements in behavior by cutting out gluten & dairy products. Also, read the GAPS Diet book by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride if you have the time. We have known many who have followed her GAPS diet to heal the gut and the improvements in their ASD children are amazing. I would like to try the GAPS diet, but our oldest is 12.5 so until he feels he’s ready to give it a try I won’t even attempt it. It is something that you really need to commit to trying for at least a year.


  14. Georgia says

    I am glad to see this post. My boys started a preschool and part of it is age but part of it is picking up poor behavior from other kids. I say this because I co-op so I have seen the behaviors and then mine try it at home. The beginning of the age of 3 was more challenging but then it got better and I have found the beginning of age 4 to also be difficult. We have consequences and use 1,2,3 magic but it does not work all the time. I will try the super power comment since mine are really into super heroes right now. But I do have a question, how do you help a 4 year old channel their “strong willed nature” and how do you do it when he is throwing his tantrum often times not even crying but doing a fake cry. Mine eat a non processed diet with no dyes except at school where I have no control of the snack that is provided unless I co-op. (As an aside…I have noticed a difference when they are fed food dyes and foods high in sugar.)


    Lyndie Reply:

    Tantrums have two phases – an anger phase and a need affection phase. Anything you say or do during the anger phase will only feed it. If left alone, this phase will pass more quickly, and you can move to affection. This helped me understand when the best time would be for dealing with the issue that created the tantrum.


  15. Kim says

    I have not read this book, but have heard the author on multiple radio shows (Focus on the Family, etc.). As a former 5th grade teacher, a lot of what I heard her say made a lot of sense and I wish I had known it when I was teaching those extremely stubborn students. I really love that she is a believer because she addresses the spiritual side (something SuperNanny can’t do). I’d highly recommend checking it out. Your church library may even have it.


    CeCe Reply:

    Thanks, Kim. I’m going to look for that myself!!


  16. Ann says

    Read the Five Love Languages for Kids and fill his “love tank” with his love language all throughout your day. I use this approach with my stubborn 9 year old son and it really makes a difference. He is much more responsive and compliant when he feels “loved” by me. Even though I love him more than anything, I don’t assume he knows that with just my words. He needs to feel loved in his language. This goes for all 5 of my kids. But I see the results much more quickly with this particular child.


  17. says

    Excellent thoughts, Laura. I love the idea of teaching the child to use their stubbornness for good rather than evil. My strong-willed/stubborn child is 2 so we still have a long way to go on this topic, but love these thoughts.

    Also agree with the others that mentioned food. I certainly wouldn’t want to assume that this mother doesn’t have her child eating healthy food (as my child was breast-fed until over a year old and has always been on a real food diet and still popped out stubborn), but it’s worth looking into.


  18. CeCe says

    I agree with Dawn (comment March 6, 2013): God made this child this way for a reason. I try to remember that, too, with my 5 yr old daughter. She is SOOOOO challenging for me! My own mother tells me often in reference to dealing with my daughter, “She’s not going to do everything you tell her. She’s just not. Pick your battles.” So if we’re doing some activity and she wants to do it all her way, I’ve learned to continue my stern, but loving parenting style, but give her a little leeway to do some of it her way and we still get done what we need to, just not the way I initially planned. I also try not to yell as much- it just sets her off.

    In the end, I think you have to try the polar opposite of what you’ve been doing and move slowly back toward how you’ve been operating to find the perfect formula. I was able to do that without feeling that I was “letting her get away with everything”, yet easing up on her a little so she could feel a bit more in control.


  19. Katie says

    This is great encouragement for me, Laura! I have a 20-month-old son who often makes me feel like the mom who asked the question. :P Thanks for your thoughtful response.


  20. Erin says

    I recommend ditching most parenting books esp all parenting magazines and finding some Godly parents in your church to disciple and mentor your husband and you as parents but most importantly as a married couple. Our children defy us and sin because they are born under the same curse that we are into a fallen world. Every discipling moment that our children receive is an opportunity to hear the good news of the Gospel. Then they know they are a sinner in need of a Savior if we don’t waste our opportunity and label sin as “choices” as if they are choosing between chicken and beef. I am complimented all the time on how well-behaved my children are but to tell you the truth, the outward behavior is not the most important thing, it’s the heart that matters and I’m parenting with eternity in mind. I have three boys aged 15,12,8. Two girls, too, 17 and 4. I came from the most dysfunctional family in the universe and if it weren’t for Jesus providing Titus 2 women in my life, I would be lost. Now I’m supposed to be the Titus 2 woman :) I pray that the Lord can use me to minister to the young mommies in our church.


    Coral Reply:

    Well said!!!


    Heidi Reply:

    Amen and amen!! I am so thankful for your viewpoint. May God be glorified!
    I too believe we have to keep eternity in mind when we disciple our “gifts” from the Lord. It IS the heart that matters most!


  21. Mary Beth says

    When my son was small, my mom had a great idea. I call it her re-directing technique. My son would be doing something he shouldn’t and she would quickly say, “Hey Levi, lets go color a picture together!” (You can use anything – look at this toy, let’s go make a snack, etc.) It would stop him from doing something and make him think of something that was ok for him to do. Sometimes the more I corrected him the worse his behavior got.

    Also, his behavior was getting really bad at one point. Disciple was making it worse. Finally I figured out that he was jealous of his little sister and the attention she was getting. I backed off on disciplining him, gave him more attention, and the behavior problems went away.

    He’s now 15 and a great young man. Don’t give up. It get’s easier.


  22. melissa says

    I have four strong willed children. My oldest is 17…she has the strongest will. From the time she was 2 and continuing she is defiant.I’ve tried everything in every parenting book. We finally went to a neuropsychologist and he did some testing to see how her brain works. We have a list of rules and consequences. She doesn’t care what we think or how we feel. There is no guilt for doing wrong. So if she breaks something which is against the rules, the consequence is replacing it. If she doesn’t have the money to replace it she must work to earn money or we sell something of hers to get the money to replace it. If she lies, which is against the rules she loses privileges(phone, friends, activities) If she is disrespectful she has to do extra chores. If she chooses again not to comply with the consequences, then she is also choosing not to be a part of the family. Family eats a nice home cooked dinner and she eats PB&J in another room. These are extreme and not for every family but with what we have to deal with is what we have to do. Now the younger three are still strong willed but we are able to channel their powers for good. We do tell the older one that she has awesome power and if she would just use it for good instead of evil she would be successful.
    When I say we have tried everything I’m not exaggerating I pray for each of my kids several times all day and with my oldest, I have prayed outside her door, read scripture over her, made her write Bible verses and memorize them…actually I have made them all do that. …I’m far from perfect. But I think God chose me to be the parent of these children because he knows I’m the best one for the job. I think parenting is very personal, what works for you may not work for me, what I think is a good idea may be horrible to someone else. I thank God for his Grace everyday. I sometimes think that my children have taught me to spend more time on my knees then ever before in my life.


  23. Lyndie says

    Here are my biggest two tools for raising my kids:

    1. Empower your strong-willed kids. They want to make their own choices. Now, what they have to choose from can be things you want them to do. Example, I want my son to put his jacket on. I tell him that he can put it on by himself or I will put it on him. He gets to make the choice, but the end result is what I wanted done. If he chooses something else, I explain that is not an option. Also, refusing to do something himself means that he is choosing for me to do it myself.

    2. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you tell you kid something then they whine and get their way, they learn that whining gets what they want. They will whine (or act out) a little bit longer each time, until you break. It only takes a few times of sticking to your guns, and the challenges quit. This process builds trust between kids and parents.


  24. Mary says

    I agree with the post about finding a Godly couple that can mentor you. The Titus 2 mandate is there for a reason and there is much wisdom in seasoned saints. One book that changed the way we parent early on was Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp. It’s not about changing outward behavior but dealing with the heart. We can make them change behavior sometimes without actually addressing the sin issue behind the behavior. We try to (very imperfectly) point our children back to Scripture and their need a Savior. It’s a long, hard road, but if you deal with it early, you will see the fruit later in the child’s life. Also, addressing our own personal sin to make sure that we are not dealing with our children harshly or provoking them to anger or expecting things that are simply too hard for them. Lots of love, lots of grace and lots of prayer.


    Erin Reply:

    This is an excellent book! And if you would rather listen to it as mp3’s, he partnered with Todd Friel at Wretched Radio and it’s called Drive By Parenting. Quite good.


  25. Erin says

    one simple, and often overlooked solution might be SLEEP. Look into what is considered “adequate sleep” for the age range and make sure your child is getting at least that much sleep.

    4 was a tough age for my son also. At that point in time, I imagined him in juvenile detention in 10 years. It was NOT a pretty sight. Things have improved remarkably since then. He’s almost 8. I have no book or parenting technique to credit. It is only by the grace of God.


  26. Steph says

    Four is a challenge. Each age has their own. I have found incredible wisdom from I think that HH may disagree as it does involve talking to a child when they are in a defiant mode- not just forcing obedience. It does include setting limits, but doing so with empathy in the moment. I consider it a great way to model the protective, teaching and loving nature of God to our kids. My kids respond well when I am following the suggestions. It may not be for all families, but may be worth checking out Dr Markham’s wisdom :) Christian author Sally Clarkson suggests a similar approach but I don’t think she’s written any books that are primarily about gentle discipline.

    Best wishes in your parenting journey, Laura!


  27. Jennifer says

    Great post Laura:-) thanks for being willing to tackle this issue- I know that every parent has different opinions:-) all of your info was excellent- I wanted to offer one more suggestion (of course:-) I too, have a strong willed child and two sweet,
    Compliant children. One thing that I have noticed is the difference that my attitude and joy make in dealing with the defiant child. When I am, overall, sweet and joyful- smiling and laughing with all the children in general – and the strong willed one specifically- the moments of defiance are
    More easily resolved. When I am having one hard day after another- To the point where I truly don’t like my child- then I spend a few days with my standards lowered to the point where he can reach them easily. I praise him a lot, smile at him a lot, tie strings of fellowship so that he loves he back and smiles at me and wants to please me. Then I explain we are going to work on his obedience, and introduce a few
    “Situations” where I know he tends to be defiant (being intentional
    And knowing they are coming and immediately following with consequences if he disobeys) in the atmosphere of love and fellowship- the discipline and instruction are
    Much more willingly received.
    And prayer. Prayer for patience and joy on consistency as a
    Mother- and prayers for the child’s heart to be won so that he desires to please his mother:-)
    Will pray for you!


  28. Ruthie says

    I read a wonderful book that helped so much with my strong willed child. It is by Cynthia Tobias and called “You Can’t Make Me But I Can Be Persuaded.” I highly recommend this book to parents of those wonderful strong-willed children. It made a world of difference in our family.


  29. Kathy says

    I am re-reading a book titled “Parenting with Love and Logic” by Cline and Fay. Highly recommended for the real life examples along with the philosophical reasons behind the methods used. It is also easy to follow and implement and works immediately. My husband and I are seeing a new child develop right before our eyes!


  30. Kathryn says

    My son will be 4 in 2 months. He was 4 1/2 weeks premature, but didn’t have any problems and came home with me from the hospital. At 2 he was diagnosed with verbal apraxia. That caused some problems because he couldn’t speak well and communicate what he wanted or how he was feeling. He’s been in speech therapy and is speaking much better. As he’s gotten older, he’s become more difficult and is definitly strong willed! A teacher from his school has a son his age in his class. She told me this week that they are a lot alike and her son was just diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s not extremely well known yet. She suggested reading Sensational Kids; Help and Hope for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), by Lucy Jane Miller. I’m almost 1/2 way through. They have checklists to see if your child behaves a certain way. We will be seeing a specialist soon. Her son has been responding to occupational therapy very well. There’s Sensory Under-Responsive, Sensory Over-Responsive, and Sensory-Seeking Disorders. Before I knew about the disorder I realized my son doesn’t react to pain like most. He can fall and it looks like it would hurt, but he doesn’t respond. We also had trouble potty training. I wondered if something was wrong and he couldn’t tell when he had to go. It has to do with one or more of the senses; smell, sight, touch, sound, and hearing. Some children are mildly affected and some are extreme. If you think one of your Childs senses may be over-responsive, under-responsive, or seeking (sensations), it’s worth googling or reading this book.


  31. Brandi says

    Oh my! Thanks for writing this post and thanks for all the good suggestions in the comments! I have an almost 3yr old and an almost 1yr old. The almost 3yr old can really wear me down with all his defiant strong-willedness! It’s the same as the one mother where if I say “hot”, he’ll say, “no, it’s cold!”, etc. He pushes his brother over all the time and I just can’t get him to stop no matter what I do. I give him time each day, but he wants constant attention only for him and not for lil’ brother or my husband or anything else I may need to do. I have been quite stumped and worn down. And, it doesn’t help that both our boys and I all have tempers…mine is when they push me to my limits. We pray at night for all of us and I have found that giving him the two choices does help a bit, but with other things I just don’t know what to do. Thanks again for all the good ideas!


  32. Birdie says

    Wow was your email timely, Laura! We have “kingly/I’m in charge”, “defiant/drama”, “very distractable/easy going”. “Defiant” spent the day cranky/drama because it’s the easiest to do. I explain what is expected, what are the consequences, how people want to be treated, ask how “cranky” likes to be treated, ect. I’m waiting for some maturity to set in. What else can a mom do?


  33. Katherine says

    We were there once too, and it seemed so hopeless at the time! Here’s what helped us:
    We learned it’s important to stay away from Psychology-and many “Christian” books are actually Psychology. The problem is SIN. We prayed for the Lord to send us a Godly mentor, and He did. Then the Lord led us to read “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Tripp. This book gets beyond the behavior, and helped us to root out sin in OUR lives first, before helping our child. We then set clear and consistent boundaries (google 21 Rules of This House by Greg Harris) and discipline for willful defiance, even spanking if we had too (I know this is a controversial subject these days, but it is important to be honest). It is amazing the difference in our home now!! WE are in authority, and I know my child will grow up to be an adult that is strong-willed for the things of GOD! Oh, also we learned from the Duggar Family to praise our children 10x more than we correct them, and that helped too. May the Lord bless you and give you the grace to overcome this obstacle :)!


    AmandaM Reply:

    We also love this resource by Tripp– as well as his book “instructing a Child’s Heart”. Our will-filled son is 3.5 and ridiculously articulate/verbal. He does not benefit, in the moment of strife, from redirection or discussion. These are an invitation to negotiation, which he can do all day…and if he decides to stand in harm’s way while he does it, any hesitation on my part to win or exert my will, etc, will kill him. I agree with Laura, you must win because, frankly, your child NEEDS you to win.


  34. says

    Thanks for this post! I will share my “experience” (in quotations because we have been parents for all of four years) with stubbornness, then I have my own question for you.

    My husband is stubborn. I am stubborn. When we got pregnant we were scared about how stubborn our child would be. We talked about it a lot. From before he was born we said he was stubborn.

    He was. Oh my goodness he was! We worked with him for hours on end. He did not do things because HE. DID. NOT. WANT. TO. From a young age.

    Than we were convicted about how we had been speaking stubbornness over him from the time he was conceived.

    We began teaching him (at 14 months) about using his fight to help him do good, even if he did not want to, instead of doing bad. We have prayed with him ever since that God will help him learn how to use his fire.

    At 14 months he /would not stay in bed/. He got in trouble for getting up, and could care less. Mark sat with him one evening and told him how about his determination and fight. That night he stayed in bed. I would never have thought to tell that to a 14 month old! The 2 and a half years since than we have told him that a lot…

    And we began being grateful for a kid with determination.

    Now we have two kids… she is insanely different. She gets REALLY made when she is disciplined. Christopher would always hug and snuggle with us after correction, she “rejects” us. I have no earthly idea what to do…


  35. Sarah G says

    I love your response!

    I actually have a daughter that is very independent. What I think has made a big difference with her is how we constantly explain the love of Jesus. Why the importance of Him dying on the cross for our sins trumps ANY problem we may think we are facing.

    She is very intelligent (as we would all say about our children!) and for years now has asked me WHY Jesus died for us. And, I have always responded with the truth. One night, while the guys were watching a movie, she and I were talking about Jesus on my bed. Suddenly she started crying because she was afraid that she would not make it to heaven. So, after a long conversation she and I started praying and she accepted Jesus into her heart! I believe it was her strong-will and curiosity that encouraged her to ask questions that eventually led her to the Lord at 6 years old! Sometimes God’s plan doesn’t make sense until years down the road!


  36. Rebekah says

    This post with the comments has helped me so much with my 2 year old. I looked up Cynthia
    Tobias online and listened to some of the radio show she was on and have
    Also ordered her book. I highly reccommend it if you have a very strong
    willed child. It has made a big difference for us when traditional parenting
    was not working with this child. By the way he is my 3rd child and 2nd
    strong willed one so we thought we knew what we were doing :) until
    It just wasn’t working and we were at our witts end.


  37. Tracy says

    My son is now 14. Right from the start he was extremely defiant and violent. We have discovered that he has some problems–possibly undiagnosed aspergers–which complicate matters for us, and diet is extremely important in his behavior. Not that there aren’t sin issues and heart issues as well, but diet makes it easier for him to control his impulses AND his sin nature.

    When he was young, I began teaching him that obedience is his protection from the evils of the world. I used an umbrella metaphor, and told him that he is out from under the umbrella of God’s protection when he is walking in disobedience. When he chooses submission, he is protected from much that could hurt him. (I never told him nothing bad would ever happen to him if he obeys, only that worse would happen if he disobeys.) Then when he gets out of line, I remind him to choose to submit to my authority, and give him time to wrestle with himself and make the right choice–which is so vital now that he is bigger than I am, and I couldn’t make him do what I ask. He still has struggles (he isn’t violent any more), but in his heart he desires to do right and to be right with God, so he is going to come out all right in the end, I am confident.


  38. Susana says

    I’m currently reading The Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson and will soon start The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parents Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross Greene.

    Dr. Dobson’s book is helping me understand my little boy’s temperament and how to deal with it. I like that it’s from a Christian perspective. My little boy (3 years old) is a twin and his twin sister is so obedient, calm, and polite… sometimes it’s hard to even think that they shared a womb! lol But goes to show you how different they can be and that strong-willed children are really born with that temperament (yes, all kids are defiant every now and then, but this is different). We have a lot of work (and prayer) to do with this little boy.


  39. Nikki D. says

    If we are to follow the idea of being heavenly and Godly parents we must not ignore the bible’s scripture around not sparing the rod. I know that is not popular in today’s culture, but today’s culture is also not very Godly, far from it.

    Having spirited children I know the challenges. The key has been a strong male influence, allowing the husband to take the lead and a wonderful book called, How To Train Your Child by the Pearls. It talks about how to train and teach your child the way of God and how to use the rod in a loving, non angry way when necessary. It has brought out the absolute best in my child. Definitely worth a read and remember that the father plays an important part in raising these spirited children too and it is important to glorify that in him, the children will most certainly shine a a result.


  40. Evie says

    Thank you so much for this. I have a very stubborn, strong-willed 4 year old. He is the only one of my 6 with this temperment, but OH! what a challenge. We use his name “daniel” as a teaching tool….Dare to be a Daniel is “his” song, and I use it to teach him just what you said. Being strong-willed, like “Daniel” in the Bible, is an ok thing. Being strong-willed in a disobedient, whiny, bratty way is absolutely not!


  41. says

    Reading this has been a blessing. Even just knowing that I’m not alone. It has a been a long, tough road with my 10 year old son. He has a naturally extremely stubborn/argumentative personality (inherited from his bio father) PLUS Aspergers and A.D.D. It is just hard, probably the biggest battle I’ve ever dealt with. Some days you feel like a complete failure. I am going to check out some of the resources mentioned here.


  42. Mawii says

    This is very good. My son is 4 and very intelligent and disobedient. But If he doesnt learn to obey his parents, its going to be very difficult for him to start obeying God.


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