You should be grateful for your 'strong-willed' kid

Jan 12, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. ET
Image: Heather Walker/Getty Images

It is 2 a.m. and my toddler is yelling from her bed, “I don’t want to sleep!” We have been at this for an hour now and we have tried every (appropriate) form of discipline in our arsenal. We have ignored her, we have climbed into bed with her, we have threatened to skip our fun plans for the next day, and we have bribed her with a french toast breakfast in the morning. Nothing works except time. Eventually, usually unexpectedly, the screaming will stop and we will find her asleep with half of her body draped over the side of her bed.

Right at that moment, I am anything but grateful for my stubborn child.

I blame my husband — who comes from a line of notoriously stubborn people, who once slept with peas in his mouth as a child rather than swallow them as he was told, who still to this day eats dry cereal after a vicious argument with his mother over the merits of milk when he was in grade school.

My child is generally well-behaved. She is smart; she is funny; she is thoughtful and affectionate. But when she decides to dig in her heels, everything comes to a screeching halt. If you are the parent of a stubborn child, you can probably identify.

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Strong-willed children are largely characterized by their drive to get their way, no matter how severe the consequences. As it turns out, all of the strung-out, exhausted parents of strong-willed children have reason to give thanks.

A recent study revealed that children who are stubborn are more successful in the long term. After following a group of students from grade school into their adult lives, researchers found that kids who were more likely to break the rules had better grades and earned a higher income compared to their more compliant peers. In addition to this, the large majority of parenting experts assert that a strong-willed child is more likely to choose to do the right thing, because they feel so strongly about listening to their convictions.

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When I am in the midst of a two-hour bedtime battle or holding a screaming toddler, who hasn’t peed in six hours, over a toilet, it is nearly impossible to see the positive in this side of her personality. Parenting a child with amazingly strong convictions is anything but easy, and my temptation is to show her who’s boss and to make her obey. In reality, parents of strong-willed children are best served if they learn to harness the part of their child’s personality they makes them hold so tightly to their own personal view of right and wrong.

If I am really paying attention, I can see the benefits of deciding not to quash her relentlessness. I have proudly watched her remain adamant under pressure to hug an adult who made her uncomfortable. (Of course I was ready to intervene if things didn’t go her way.) I have seen her work tirelessly at a skill well above her ability and I have argued with her endlessly only to see that she was actually making a really good point.

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I know that, with proper parenting, I can send her to school and feel confident in her ability to stand up for herself and say no when things don’t feel right. I look forward to watching her achieve whatever she sets her mind to, with natural determination driving her towards good grades and to succeed at the things she loves.

For now, I’ll be the mom with a toddler who is wearing two different shoes and no coat in December. I’ll be the one with circles under my eyes, after another epic midnight battle. Most importantly, I’ll be the parent who is stubbornly digging in my heels, refusing to succumb to the pressure to break her stubborn nature.