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Me Vs. The Strong-Willed Child

My son was an elephant when he was 3.  For the entire year, he lived in his elephant costume. He wore it from sun up to sun down, and I, his mother, let him.  Sure, it got a little ragged around the edges, and in June people would give me odd looks and ask if he was getting ready for Halloween.  I would force a chuckle and say “No, he just really likes being an elephant.”.


But the truth is, it drove me a little nuts.  I had to block out the looks and condescending pats on the shoulder, the half-hearted “This too shall pass” comments from older women.  A few people were absolutely delighted by it and their looks were encouraging.  But most of all, I just felt the same as when that same elephant would unbuckle his seatbelt and climb out of the stroller to throw a fit on the floor of the grocery store.  Head down, I would block out the stares and whispers as I picked up my writhing elephant, doing my best to avoid his thrashing arms and legs and head, and I would buckle him back into the stroller without saying a word.

My son is a strong-willed child.  He chooses his own path, for better or for worse.  He’s older now and uses that strong-will more selectively, but there were many, many mornings when I dreaded waking up because it meant I would have to immediately be ready for battle at every turn.  That’s why my son was an elephant for a year.  It was a battle I chose not to fight.

If you’re a parent, I’m willing to bet you have at least one strong-willed child too.  If you’re not sure, take a look at this checklist from Cynthia Tobias‘ book You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) and check off the statements that describe your child:

How Strong-Willed Are You?
Checking Your SWC Quotient
Mark only those statements that are true almost 100% of the time:

The Strong-Willed Child (SWC) …

___ almost never accepts words like “impossible” or phrases like “it can’t be done.”

___ can move with lightning speed from a warm, loving presence to a cold, immovable force.

___ may argue the point into the ground, sometimes just to see how far into the ground the point will go.

___ when bored, would rather create a crisis than have a day go by without incident.

___ considers rules to be more like guidelines (i.e. As long as I’m abiding by the “spirit of the law”, why are you being so picky?)

___ shows great creativity and resourcefulness—seems to always find a way to accomplish a goal.

___ can turn what seems to be the smallest issue into a grand crusade or a raging controversy.

___ doesn’t do things just because “you’re supposed to” –it needs to matter personally.

___ refuses to obey unconditionally—seems to always have a few terms of negotiation before complying.

___ is not afraid to try the unknown; to conquer the unfamiliar (although each SWC chooses his or her own risks).

___ can take what was meant to be the simplest request and interpret it as an offensive ultimatum.

___ may not actually apologize, but almost always makes things right.

Your Score: How Much Strong Will Do You Have?


0-3 – You’ve got it, but you don’t use it much.

4-7 – You use it when you need to, but not on a daily basis.

8-10 – You’ve got a very healthy dose of it, but you can back off when you want to.

11-12 – You don’t leave home without it—and it’s almost impossible to not use it.

What was your child’s score?  And how many of those statements apply to you, as a parent?

It wasn’t until I started looking for ways to handle my strong-willed child that I discovered that I too, am very strong-willed.  That’s something that came in very handy during many face-offs.  Like the stroller incident.  But it wasn’t just my own stubbornness that got us through those years (mostly) intact.  It was truly a daily battle.

I’ve been doing some more reading on the topic lately as I get ready for leading a workshop at Blossom Women’s Conference on this very topic.  It certainly is bringing back memories!

What’s your favourite strong-willed child story?  

And what do you find works best in getting your child through the day?

Article written by:

Megan is a WAHM to 3 (and then some) kids, who spends the majority of her time working as an Administrative Assistant, blogging and washing dishes. She loves to write about her adventures in parenting, running a home daycare, adoption and whatever else strikes her fancy!


  1. pickettfamily

    Reminds me of when I was 4, I lived in a bunny costume. 🙂

  2. Robin Rue (@massholemommy)

    My little one is VERY strong willed and he is as stubborn as they come. I don’t give in, though.

  3. Juliana RW

    My youngest son know what he will, very opposite with my oldest son 😀 I don’t have to company him with playing. He can just play by himself hours 😀 He is 3 years old

  4. Stacey - Craft Blogger

    I have a friend who’s son definitely falls into this category. He will argue any point ten feet into the ground. ESPECIALLY if he really wants something.

  5. threeboysandamom

    I believe my 11 month old is going to be my extremely strong willed child. They all 3 have strong wills…but that little guy is gonna take the cake I think haha. I’m determined to never be a mother who breaks the will but rather fosters it and channels it into the right things. God made us all exactly how were supposed to be, and even if it’s tough on us as mamas, it’s a gift! Great post!

    • Megan Elford

      This is so true, God gave our kids a strong will for a reason! Imagining what my son could accomplish with such a strong will has gotten me through some very tough spots.

  6. Yona Williams

    I would say that my nephew is a strong-willed child…and it drives me up the wall because I am his aunt and can only do so much when I see him. A lot of those points mentioned above definitely describes him perfectly.

    • Megan Elford

      I can’t speak for all parents, but for my own son I really appreciated it when the other adults (teachers, grandparents, babysitters, etc) in his life didn’t let him get away with things. They weren’t harsh by any means, but they let him know that they were charge by being consistent and making sure he followed the rules. Your job as an aunt is so important!

  7. Parenting Healthy

    My son spent his 4t year as Thor. His cape and hammer went everywhere with him. I loved it as I figured it was him getting that last bit of little boy out of himself

  8. Tiffany Washko

    I have one of these…he can push every button I have. 🙂

  9. Ann B (@AnnBac9)

    I was a strong willed child. I sat at the table for hours because I refused to eat 2 peas,

    • Megan Elford

      You definitely have a strong will then :-). Has it helped you as an adult?

  10. Elizabeth O.

    It reminds me on my childhood days 🙂

  11. Dawn Kropp

    I’ve got it, and need it when I use it 🙂

  12. Courtney Pies

    My daughter can definitely be very strong willed. But then she can also not be. It’s a good mixture.

  13. maggiesblog2

    My middle one was like this when he was little. You sure learn to pick and choose your battles!

  14. Sojourner Walker (@sojossojourns)

    How quirky and cute! I’m glad you let him be an elephant for a year. My oldest in only three, but I’m willing to bet that he’s got a strong willed personality. The last year has been….interesting.

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