From her earliest breaths, my daughter Alexis was a force to be reckoned with. As an infant, she shooed away the cereal spoon; as a toddler, she rebounded from her bed all night long. When she was in preschool, her teachers would tell us that her strong will made her a natural leader. We thought of her more as a little dictator.
Alexis had figured out the great secret of life: Nobody can force you to do anything you absolutely don't want to do.
Watching her unapologetically go after what she wanted always left me half mortified, half secretly impressed. My eagerness to please has sometimes made me cave when I shouldn't. Yup, that's me, serial yes-woman for every party sales rep who needs a patsy -- er, hostess. But Alexis can stand up for herself, a trait that will serve her well all through life.
Still, raising stubborn kids is tricky. It's up to you to show them they don't rule the world -- without teaching them to be wimps.
Bullheaded by nature?
Some kids seem to be born willful. Alexis certainly was: From day one, she'd scream her little head off unless we toted her around in a baby carrier.
Such resolve often doesn't soften, either. As demanding babies morph into toddlers, the "You can't make me!" factor surfaces. Of course, most kids this age are hardheaded. But what sets the genetically inflexible apart is the ferocity and persistence with which they do battle. "When my oldest, Gabrielle, was a toddler, she'd occasionally put up a fuss about something. I would think, why are you being like this today? Then I'd realize it's just the age, we'd get through it, and the next day, she'd be fine," says Erin Bailey of Germantown, Tennessee. "But when my son Mick was three, every day was like that, over everything. He just didn't cave at all."
I remember a doctor's appointment when Alexis was 4, when she dug in so hard, and for so long, she nearly made the doctor cry. We weren't even able to complete her physical that day and had to reschedule the appointment! She returned with her father instead of me -- that simple switch changed the dynamic and Alexis was okay.
The bright side of boldness
There are positives to kids' toughness. For instance, Mick Bailey isn't intimidated by older kids. On a visit to a children's museum when he was 3, Mick held his own with a bunch of rowdy grade-schoolers. "It didn't matter that the other kids there were bigger," says Bailey. "He took charge of everything he was playing with."
Stubbornness also often comes with a steadfast ability to focus, and that can boost learning. At age 5, Alexis, by sheer grit, taught herself to ride a two-wheeler-in a single afternoon. And Bailey says that Mick was buttoning and zipping at a much younger age than his more laid-back older sister. "He was just more determined," she says.
Laurie Maniacci of Naperville, Illinois, says her daughter's strong temperament has helped her work out problems with other kids. Once, she was having a hard time with some boys who wouldn't let her play princess. Five-year-old Emily hung in there until she'd made her case for including princesses in the boys' game. "They soon saw things her way," says Maniacci. Such stick-to-itiveness has also turned Emily into a leader. "She rallied her friends to put on a play, and then directed them. It was amazing," says her mom.
Lisa Oppenheimer also writes for FamilyFun and Fodor's Travel Guides.