11 Strategies to Use with Strong-Willed Children

11 Strategies for Strong Willed Children
Given that my last post urged counselors to join Teachers Pay Teachers, I am super excited to have a fellow mental health educator join us for Teacher Tip Tuesday!


Colleen from the One Stop Counseling Shop is going to share some strategies to use when working with a strong-willed (or defiant) child.


Welcome! Tell us a bit about yourself:
My name is Colleen and I’m a school social worker in a small rural district in Illinois. My caseload consists of general education and special education students who need help with social skills, conflict resolution skills, problem solving skills, and general help getting through the day.


This year, I work with grades 2-6, but have worked with all grades K-12 in past years! I’m passionate about helping teachers work with students with behavior difficulties such as ADHD, ODD, or Bipolar Disorder and love seeing students who never thought they could do well in school “get it!”


What tip(s) would you like to share with us today?

Strong-willed children can be a challenge in the classroom. Below are several tips to help teach students with challenging behavior. You can explore these tips for supporting strong-willed children in this post on my blog.

  • Provide thorough explanations for rules or expectations. Knowing what to expect is critical for help strong-willed kids feel secure.
  • Establish a contract for behavior and agree upon the rules and consequences. Outlining each party’s “role” can help students feel like their opinion matters and that they have some control over the classroom environment.
  • Let students choose how to demonstrate knowledge (groups, presentations, worksheets, posters, teaching others, etc.) Head-strong kids are often the ones the “traditional school model” doesn’t work well for. They’re often creative, inventive, and problem-solving kids who like to make their own rules and have their own thoughts about what is right and wrong. After all, they try to find their way around our rules all the time. Why not let them have a little choice every now and then?!
  • Be specific with rules and expectations! Try to write expectations such as, “Keep hands and feet to yourself” rather than the overly general “Be Respectful.”
  • Be consistent in your rules and expectations. Nothing more irritating to a headstrong kid than not being able to predict how an adult is going to react to a situation! Try to discipline consistently, calmly, and predictably.
  • Pick your battles. No one likes a nit-picker. Imagine if your boss picked out every single thing you did wrong every day!
  • Stop Talking! Be brief and to the point when needing to correct or redirect behavior. Long, drawn out explanations only make the embarrassment of being disciplined last forever and generally lead to resentment, not respect!
  • Give students ways to “save face.” Discipline in private! Your attitude toward students will be mirrored by other students in your class! I hate seeing kids ostracized in 2nd grade because every adult in the building treats them like a criminal.
  • Use humor. It’s a lot harder for kids to stay mad if you make a heavy situation light by using humor. Just make sure you’re not laughing at the child. For example, instead of, “How many times have I told you to stop running,” try “Hey bud! The floors are wet and I don’t want to have to pick up squished pieces of you off the floor. It’d be messy!”
  • Apologize if you need to. Not only does this teach children that everyone (even adults) makes mistakes, but it shows them that you have respect for their dignity as a person as well.
  • Be on their team. So with everything you do, think about you and I working together against the world. It’s amazing how much a mind shift can change your own feelings about and actions toward a difficult student!
One last point (from the headstrong adult): Defiant kids or those with ODD are not “destined” to be criminals as adults. We can’t know which of our students are going to succeed.


Defiant people have fought revolutions, marched for civil rights, started businesses, and molded the world we live in. If those before us simply accepted everything as it was, many of the rights and privileges we enjoy today would not be available to us. Be thankful for the defiant people in your life and don’t write off your difficult kids; just figure out ways to harness their “power” for good!
Classroom Management Elementary Counseling Inspirational Quotes
Do you have a favorite quote?
It may be overused, but this is one of my favorites: “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” – Haim Ginott


I truly feel like a lot of times we underestimate our worth in the classroom. Obstacles like poor parenting, poverty, or “those darn video games” often make us feel powerless as educators. This quote is really encouraging to me and reminds me that my own actions and words matter so much more than all those other things when it comes to my students!


classroom management elementary counseling contact infoKeep in Contact with Colleen for The One Stop Counseling Shop:
Don’t forget to sign up for The Helpful Counselor Newsletter (in the upper right-hand corner) to receive updates and future freebies! Sign-up now and receive the super cute feelings coloring book found here.


Would you like to join the wonderful group of educators at Teacher Pay Teachers? You can sign up for free using my referral link here.


Filed under Behavior Management, School Counseling

4 Responses to 11 Strategies to Use with Strong-Willed Children

  1. Pingback: 3 Steps to Reduce Disruptive Behavior » The Helpful Counselor

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  3. Hate to see that “Strong Willed” is still being used as a label. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka wrote a wonderful book titled “Raising Your Spirited Child” in the 1990’s. I used to be a Parent Educator in Minnesota, as Mary is. I am now a Professional School Counselor. I was fortunate enough to take her class at the U of MN on this book. She spoke about the importance of positive labeling and said that “Spirited” came to her when she was horse back riding with her nephew. When choosing a horse, he said, “I want that one! I want the Spirited one!” Part of the book discusses taking negative labels and finding a positive way to express them. I have raised my own spirited child (now 23) and know that showing respect for these children (and ALL children) is key. I like your tips and agree that they are useful, just sad to see the label.

    • Hi Cindy,
      Thank you for taking the time to read the article and leaving your thoughtful response. I have certainly seen the term “strong-willed” used negatively as I have also seen the term used to capture a person’s determination.

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