Makela described her 4-year-old daughter as very smart for her age. But her intelligence was not the problem.

“The problem is,” Makela said, “that she doesn’t listen to us and she always tries to be in control and impose her will on both me and my husband. Everything is always an argument with her.”

Because of that, continued Makela, “we end up having to punish her.”

Makela had a straightforward request: “How can we get her to listen to us and stop trying to dominate us?”

Many 4-year-olds — as well as other ages in early childhood — will not listen, which usually is a parent’s code meaning that they do not readily comply with parental requests or commands.

Because they are stubborn about giving in to requests and demands by parents, moms and dads may see the child as strong-willed and intent on trying to dominate others. This, then, often results in a battle of wills between parent and child.


When you engage in a battle of wills with your young child, it means that both you and your child believe there is something important to fight for.

But there is a danger if you engage in a battle of wills, and if you are just as determined as your child to win this battle.

If your youngster always wins in this battle of wills, she may come to believe she’s always right and can dominate adults. She may feel entitled to winning or getting in the last word. And she may believe she can get away with anything.

On the other hand, if you always win, your child may end up feeling angry and resentful. She may feel they are being over-controlled and have few choices.

While winning may give you a sense of power and control, you may begin to believe that it is your right or obligation to always win because you are the parent.

Furthermore, you may justify dominating your son or daughter by telling yourself that children should be taught they can’t win against adults and that adults always know best.

Perhaps the biggest danger in this battle of wills with your child is related to how you go about winning.


Sometimes parents come out victorious in a battle of wills by using threats or punishment to gain the upper hand.

However, as your child gets older he may figure out that your threats are meaningless threats, which you have no intention of carrying out.

Once he comes to see this, he may be willing to test out your resolve and your willingness to follow through on a threat. If you are unwilling or unable to follow through on a threat, then your child knows he can win this battle of wills.

A different problem may occur if you are willing to carry out your threats. That is, if your threats are enforced with punishment, then with a strong-willed child you may be placed in the position of having to use punishment.

Frequently punished kids often became more angry, more disobedient and less compliant. In addition, they come to resent their parents.

So what is the best way to handle a willful, argumentative child?

It’s almost always best to stop the battle of wills. You may win some of the battles, but you may lose in the long run as your child comes to dislike you and not feel close to you.


Instead of getting into a battle of wills, which is often started by a request or command to your child, phrase commands or orders in the form of polite requests and give the child time to think about it and decide for himself if he chooses to comply or obey.

Your job, simply put, is to win cooperation — not force cooperation.

Also, in working towards ending the battle of wills with your child, look for fun and more pleasant ways to gain compliance and cooperation.

Don’t take your role as parent too seriously and use humor. Laughing children are more likely to be compliant than are mad children.

Finally, remember that if you readily engage in a battle of wills, both you and your child may stubbornly refuse to back down. This only means that the battle continues. And it also means that it might get worse.

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