John Cowan - Strong Willed Children

Publish Date
Friday, 28 April 2017, 12:44PM
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

By John Cowan


Hi I’m John Cowan from the Parenting Place

Some kids are strong willed, stroppy kids – if you’ve got one, you will know what I’m talking about; if you haven’t – then be very grateful.   If you have a strong willed child, be optimistic! Tricky kids often turn out just fine.  They have fantastic energy and leadership potential; what parents need to do is not stomp on that powerful nature  – their energy just needs to be steered in the right direction.

A key point is tricky kids can wear you down! Remember, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, so manage your energy wisely. You have a lot of work ahead of you but you don’t have to do it all at once. Pick just one behaviour you would like to promote and encourage, and one behaviour you would like to reduce. Rejoice in your small gains in a few areas: over time they will accumulate. And you need self-maintenance to go the distance. Get enough sleep, simplify your world, have some fun, don’t feel bad about your child going on holiday with relatives or to camps so you can have a break, and look after your relationship with your partner.

One more tip – it’s lovely to talk to your child but don’t do it when they are deaf. During an angry conflict, much of a child’s mental activity is taking place in the basement of the brain – the brainstem and amygdala. That part of the brain is fantastic for frantic battles – quick and  reflexive – but it is very unsuitable for cool, reasonable and discussion. If your child is worked up and sparks are flying off him, they can’t hear your logical, clear advice. Save your breath and energy – your reasonable, wise words are being addressed to a part of his brain that isn’t even switched on at the moment.  Calm them down, let the emotions settle, and wait for the lights to come on in their cortex and frontal lobes. By the way,  if you get steamed up, too, your brain doesn’t work as well either. Cool down and try again when normal brain services are restored.

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About John

John has been with The Parenting Place ( for seventeen years as their senior writer and presenter.  He had various roles working with youth and families prior to that but actually started his working life as a scientist in neurophysiology at Auckland Hospital.  As well as writing and speaking, John is frequently on radio and television.

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