Or Else What?

Everything I need to know about strong-willed people, I learned from my son Matt.  And a few strong-willed students along the way.  And Cynthia Tobias, who wrote the book You Can’t Make Me, But I Can Be Persuaded, in which she calls strong-willed children SWC’s.  All right, I’ll admit to being a little strong-willed myself,  but I don’t like it when people get mad at me, so I tend to be what I like to call “charmingly manipulative.”

In preparation for teaching a parenting class, I put together a list of techniques which work for me when dealing with a strong will.  All of these are designed to avoid getting into power struggles, those toe-to-toe situations where someone finally has to give in.  I will do all I can to head off a power struggle while at the same time not relinquishing any of my authority (or my dignity).  I try never to communicate “Do it my way or else,” because a strong-willed person will respond with, “. . .or else what?  Bring it on!”

Take a look at the list and practice a couple of them this week – and don’t forget to breathe deeply, lower your voice, and keep your cool:

  • Fear and intimidation will not work on a strong-willed teen (SWT), and she will be happy to prove that to you.
  • Consistency and calm confidence are important.  Your SWT will try to trip you up by pointing out your inconsistencies.
  • Remember your SWT is challenging your authority, but not you personally.  In the same way, you need to communicate that you object to your SWT’s behavior, not to him personally.
  • Stronger consequences will not give you better results.  If you have to repeat the same consequence multiple times, then do so.  Prove that you have more stamina, and that you will be consistent.
  • State your case and the consequences calmly, and let it go.  Do not engage in a war of words; do not demand (or expect) a reasonable response.
  • Walk away when you find yourself getting sucked into a battle of Who Gets the Last Word.  Also walk away when you find your buttons being pushed to the point of an explosion.  If you explode, your SWT wins.
  • Be as proactive as you can, clearly stating expectations before the fact, whenever possible.  For example, “Tomorrow is your cousin’s wedding.  We will all wear nice clothes, which means you’ll need to pick out a shirt with buttons to wear, and no jeans, please.”
  • Always look your SWT in the eye during a conversation, but don’t engage in a staring contest.  Once you’ve stated your case, turn and walk away as if you simply expect to be obeyed or understood.  This will allow both of you to maintain your dignity.
  • Resist the temptation to ask questions that will begin the battle, such as, “What were you thinking?” or “What’s the matter with you?”
  • Don’t be afraid to delay dealing out consequences until you are both calmer.  Say, “I’m too angry to be reasonable right now.  We will talk about this later.”
  • Never forget that your relationship with your SWT is more important than getting your own way.  Compromises or draws can be more beneficial than total victories – which aren’t really victories at all.

Don’t lose sight of the goal, which should never be to prove that you have more power or can intimidate your SWT.   Your goal should be to raise a responsible, self-controlled young adult who treats you – and everyone else – with respect.


  1. do you know my son Joshua or then Jerimiah??? are you referring to them or me by chance??? i blew it many a time, but they can hold their own in tough times now. did we survive? the question will always remain, did i leave their dignity intact? do i have dignity? mmm, they are functioning adults now i think! i hope! i pray! by God’s grace. the strong willed children are still alive as adults.

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