5 Tips for Taming a Strong-Willed Toddler

Awhile back, I shared my feelings of helplessness and frustration when my super strong-willed toddler threw the Mother of all Meltdowns. Since then, I’ve decided to really focus on identifying situations which might set her off again, and try to create a positive environment for her. Here are some things I tried, which have been fairly successful so far. I should preface these tips with this disclaimer: I am by no means a parenting expert. In fact, there are times when I’m so awkward in public with my kids that people probably don’t think they’re mine.

She loves helping me cook! Maybe she'll take over on making meals someday.

1. Ask them to help.  Chances are, they would love to help you with mundane tasks, like putting detergent in the washing machine, clearing the dinner table, or taking out the trash. Picking up toys is something my toddler avoids, but she often “helps” her daddy go collect chicken eggs, water the yard and clean the shop. It helps her feel a sense of purpose, and is a great opportunity to teach her new concepts. And as an added bonus, when she helps me cook, she always eats more of the dish that we prepare together than she normally would (she typically survives on air, milk, apple juice and honey sandwiches).

This didn't start out as finger painting. Oh well.

2. Let them make a mess. If it’s not dangerous and won’t cause permanent damage, let them get messy. Whether they want to play in the mud, finger paint with yogurt, or shoot edamame across the kitchen table, let them. I’ll swear up and down that they have to get “mess making” out of their system, and if you don’t let them do it while you’re watching, they’ll do it while you’re not watching (which are the dangerous, permanently damaging kind of messes).

Mud boots and Little Mermaid swimsuit while tromping through the wheat field? Why not?

 3. Give in to their wardrobe choices. Do I wish my girls looked like they just stepped out of a Children’s Place catalog? Sure. But that’s more about my needs than theirs. If it’s weather appropriate, I generally let her strut her stuff in any combo she chooses. As long as she’s comfortable and confident in her clothing, that’s all that matters to me.

Playing "Princess Fairy Alligator Hunting" in the living room. Her daddy was proud.

4. Say “yes” as often as possible. “Mommy, will you play (insert random game/puzzle/fantastical story here) with me?” As hard as it is sometimes to stop what I’m doing, I’m trying to say “yes” instead of “maybe later” more often. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think children should think you’ll cater to their every whim, but if there’s really not a legitimate reason for denying their request, then go ahead.

I am SO blessed to be her mother!

5. Remember how little they really are. My toddler is extremely verbally gifted, and I often forget her actual age. Even though she can carry on a conversation better than most school-aged children (and some adults), she’s not quite three years old. When my frustration level starts to rise, I remind myself that she’s still itty-bitty. And if I think our behavior challenges are tough now, I’m sure I’d gladly trade for them when she’s 15 and no longer fears the drudgery of “timeout on the stairs.”

Some days, I don’t follow any of the advice I’ve listed above, and I regret it at the end of the day. I have two amazing daughters, and it’s up to me to create a positive environment for them to thrive in. I’m sure I’ll add to this list as the months roll by, and I’d love to know your thoughts on parenting strong-willed children.


8 thoughts on “5 Tips for Taming a Strong-Willed Toddler

  1. I don’t know if you realize it, but this blog post is so full of compassion that it makes me a little teary-eyed. I appreciate you for working to find ways to let your children know they matter.

  2. I guess my main concern is why you have alligators in your living room. I didn’t think they were indigenous to Kansas?

  3. Penny will be two next month, and she is definitely an emotional and strong-willed little girl. I’ve been trying the same tactics as you – mainly keeping her occupied with toddler-friendly tasks she can “help” with, and pretty much doing our best to avoid instances that might cause a meltdown. Picking your battles (like with the finger painting and clothing choices) is one of our daily mantras as well!

    The main problem that we have is that Penny is SOOOOO sensitive! If you scold her to harshly, she begins to cry hysterically. I’m able to cope with it pretty well, I’ve learned how to talk to her in a soothing but constructive way, and I know how to help her calm down when she gets worked up. My husband has a more difficult time dealing with it, but he is doing better, too. I keep working on trying to help her express her emotions (like saying “I’m sad” or “I’m mad”) in a verbal way instead of just crying and whining. I know… someday it will come!

    I think that putting it all in perspective — just looking at this time as a teeny tiny portion of the big picture — really helps us keep sane. Plus, we’ve got our second on the way in July, so we that to look forward to. ;)

    • I love that you call her Penny! :-) Sounds like you’re doing everything you can, and you’re right, it’s only for a short time. Even though having two so close together (as yours will be) was difficult at times, it’s so wonderful to see them playing together now. It’s all worth the hard times!

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