In Praise of the Strong-Willed Child

Bette Dowdell

Cervantes said, “Faint heart ne’er won fair lady.” As a matter of fact, a faint heart never won much of anything. But put a little determination and will into that heart, and it can shoot the moon.

What you hear, though, is that parents should prefer the faint heart, that is, the passive heart. It’s promoted as the answer to their prayers.

Authors make fortunes with books bemoaning the problem of strong-willed children. They preach passive, all day, every day. Parents, they decree, need to break their children’s will–or at least their willfulness.

Are these people kidding? Passive isn’t wonderful. Passive is lumpy, as in “sit there like a lump.” Passive hardly makes a dent in the world, let alone changes it. Passive sits by and lets life happen, whether for good or ill.

Passive is easy to ignore, easy to take advantage of and easy to exclude. If watching your child be mistaken for the wallpaper sounds good, work on the passivity level. If you like the idea of your children not speaking up when others take advantage of them, by all means, push passivity. Passive kids spend junior high crammed in their lockers, if that appeals to you.

The absolute fact is, a strong-willed child is exactly what we should want. Strong enough to fend off peer pressure. Strong enough to set good goals and work toward accomplishment. Strong enough to put off current, brief pleasures for better, long-lasting rewards.

A strong will creates a determination that grabs life by the throat and makes it happen. Channeled for good, it can make wonderful things happen.

Unchanneled, the optimism and good cheer that come from being born with the ability to make decisions can get lost. You could end up with a bully or a brat, which, while more likely with a frustrated, inadequately-parented, passive child, can happen.

Without committed parents, a strong-willed child can run amok and create all kinds of chaos. Raising these kids is bracing and a lot of fun, but it ain’t easy.

The parents need to be grownups. They need to be parents who realize being a parent is different from being a buddy. Parents who accept the fact that raising kids means it’s about the kids. Parents willing to do the right thing when it’s not the easy thing. Parents whose lives set an example to follow. Parents who understand that strong-willed children usually don’t “fit in” all that well because they are, in fact, exceptional.

All kids, but especially strong-willed children, need to know they’re loved “just because.” It’s not about performance, although self-control and good behavior are good. It’s not about being better than others, which is a calculation for losers. In fact, it’s not about a lot of things. It’s about raising emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy children, confident that the strong will so many people fear will give them the gumption to face life with enthusiasm and courage.

Keeping up with–or even harder, staying ahead of–the strong-willed child takes determination, creativity and energy. And humor. Lots of humor. They’ll put you on your knees, in prayer or exhaustion or both. Fortunately, the prize is worth the effort.

About the author: Bette Dowdell, the mother of two strong-willed children, now adults, is a former IBM Systems Engineer, small business consultant and software company owner. At the same time, she studied and taught the Bible, including some years of successfully teaching seminary-level theology to grade school children, not a job for sissies. Check out her books at While you’re there, sign up for a free, weekly e-mail subscription to Bette’s original quotes.


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4 Responses to In Praise of the Strong-Willed Child

  1. I happened upon your site, and love your take on this topic. Keep up the good work!(I’m working on a school paper on this topic and was looking for something to support the positive aspects of strong willed children) Thanks for being a voice of encouragement to so many!

  2. Karena says:

    You do not know how much I needed to read this today! I did a google search on ‘quotes about strong willed kids’ and this popped up. Gave me relief, hope, & a renewed spirit for the journey. We have been on this strong willed kid journey for 10 years now. Although it isn’t daily, it is OFTEN that his will is pitted against our requests. You hit the nail on the head with this article. Not for the faint of heart, exhausting, not a job for sissies. Thank you thank you thank you!! Now, off to pray him through the day.

  3. bette says:

    Karena, I raised two strong-willed kids. Great kids, with lots of talent–which means they need a lot of encouragement and direction. But you already know that!

    Praying’s always good. For best results, pray yourself and your husband through the day as well as your son.

    And always keep in mind that one day you’ll look back on these as “the good old days.”

  4. Your style is so unique compared to other people I’ve read stuff from.

    I appreciate you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this web

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