Child-led, Parent-guided Progression: Ideas for Influencing Your Strong-willed Child

As parents, we want the best for our children. We want them to learn quickly, to be a good friend, to have good friends, to overcome their fears and make a difference in the world. With unconditional love that’s difficult to express, we just want so deeply for our little ones to be truly happy.

We see their remarkable potential and want to help them fulfill it. Yet somehow, despite the very best of intentions, our help often doesn’t seem to be as helpful as we hoped…

Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you or someone you know has a strong-willed little one with his own agenda. He simply will not do anything against his will–and it seems that many of the good things his sincere parents want for him is against his will. How can we as parents still be a part of our children’s journey while respecting their agency? Child-led, parent-guided progression may be a helpful approach to try out. Here are 3 keys to child-led, parent-guided learning: 

  1. Provide options and let the child choose. 
  2. Respect the child’s decision. 
  3. Respect the child’s timing.

Provide Options

Children thrive in environments where they feel safe and trusted. When we provide options, we can generally limit those options without causing the child to feel limited. Allowing him to choose respects his agency. It helps him feel safe (because he gets to choose what’s most comfortable for him) and trusted (because letting him choose shows belief that he’ll make a good choice). It may also be helpful to look for opportunities when it may be appropriate to provide your child with a less desirable option that has an unpleasant consequence–one you can live with and that won’t cause deep or lasting harm. This is a simple way to create a safe, trusting environment in which children can thrive.

Respect the Child’s Decision

Serving as a sounding board as children make their own choices will help them learn about the connection between choices and results. At times, this may help them think long-term and avoid undesirable outcomes. Other times, it may be necessary to allow the child to experience those outcomes for himself.

It’s natural to want to shield our children from pain and disappointment, but letting them experience the consequences of poor choices in a safe, controlled environment gives them the chance to learn by experience, which can further validate the lessons you are teaching. It is better that they learn from their mistakes now while they are young and the consequences aren’t as expensive, long-lasting, or painful.

You may even find that sometimes, after trying out different options, your child will come to the decision you hoped he would. The difference is that he’s far more inclined to share your perspective in the future if you give him the space to think for himself now. Efforts to control tend to damage relationships and push children in the opposite direction we are trying to lead them. Respecting their choices shows them they are safe to want something different and that we trust them to want something good.

Respect the Child’s Timing

No two children progress at an identical rate. This is true for physical, mental, and emotional developments. Some things are skills that are learned over time, but some are things beyond the child’s control. Though a youth may increase his speed by learning appropriate running form and other helpful tricks, he cannot control his height and the effect it has on this skill.

Children are incredibly in-tune with themselves. They often know far better than we do of their own readiness or lack thereof. Encouragement and support enhance a child’s progress far more than insistence or force. He wants to succeed. Interfering with the natural timing of his growth unintentionally indicates that he is not improving fast enough. The resulting pressure and disappointment compound over time and can result in greater resistance in the future. However, if he is allowed the time and space to try when he is ready, we will often find that his learning curve will steepen as his experience and confidence increase.

Please keep in mind that it is impossible to account for every scenario. Child-led, parent-guided progression is not a “one-size fits all” solution. However, we hope that this approach will add to your parenting tool belt and aid you in increasing your parent-child relationship. Providing options, respecting choices, and respecting timing can help create the safe environment in which children thrive.