Even Though They Can Be Stubborn AF, Sometimes We Have To Cut Our Spirited Kids Some Slack

by Wendy Wisner
spirited kids
Michelle D. Milliman / Shutterstock

Do you have a child with a fire in their soul? If you do, trust me, you’d know it.

This is a kid who will not take “no” for an answer, not ever. This child’s motto is “It’s my way or the highway,” and this can be applied to every little detail of their life, from the way they insist their toast be cut up, to whether they will allow you to help them figure out their math homework (the answer is a very emphatic “No!”).

They insist on doing everything themselves — and I mean everything. They don’t want your help unless they personally and specifically ask for it, thankyouverymuch. And they will take issue with anything they disagree with, even if they actually pretty much don’t know what the heck they’re talking about.

For example, when one of my spirited sons was very small, this little conversation happened:

Me: Honey, do you know what stubborn means?

Him: No, and I’m not learning it!

Perfect illustration, huh? Thanks, kid.

Stubborn, spirited kids are loud, boisterous, opinionated, wild, and easily upset and unnerved. They are hard to live with and will test your patience at every turn. I have two sons, both of whom are filled to the brim with will and spirit, but I was blessed with my most spirited, stubborn child first. Let’s just say there is a reason there is a five-year age gap between my kids. This mama needed a break!

The thing is, though, I would never trade my kids’ stubbornness for anything in the world — because along with the frustration they incite in me is that fire in them that I believe has the power to change the world.

Think about it for a second: We all want kids who will think for themselves. We want creative thinkers, kids who will grow up to be inventors, entrepreneurs, and go-getters. Do you think the people who have had the greatest impact on the world — and who have proven to be the most successful — just sat there and let life happen to them? Of course not. They fought at every turn for what they wanted.

And yes, when they were little, they fought their parents over what color sippy cup they’d drink their juice in.

You know what else? Science has our back on this one too. Several studies have shown that kids who think outside the box, and break the rules, often end up more successful. Take this 2015 study published in Developmental Psychology. The 40-year study tracked over 700 kids from childhood through adulthood. Researchers found that the kids who were most headstrong and questioning of authority (including their parents’ authority!) turned out to have the most successful careers, even out-earning their less strong-willed peers.

But even more important than income and success, I think we all want to raise kids who will stand up for the inequities they see in the world. We want to raise kids who are willing and able to question authority—especially if that authority is invoking any level of injustice. We want to raise brave kids, gutsy kids, kids who won’t take no for an answer when it comes to matters of fairness, righteousness, and kindness.

Meanwhile, of course, we have to live with a bunch of loud, passionate, outspoken children, and I agree that it’s not easy. Sometimes I just want to climb into bed, curl up in a little ball, and cry when I’ve spent an hour arguing with a 4-year-old about whether or not shoes are required to go out and get a slice of pizza.

But as much as possible, we need to try our best to give our kids a break. We need to give them boundaries and respect, and that includes everyone around them (including their good old mom and pop!). But we should not do that at the expense of squashing their passion.

So, let’s pick our battles as much as humanly possible. If our kids don’t like the choices before them, try to give them alternatives as much as possible. Have rules, for sure, but try to let the rules come about as a collaborative process. Listen to your kids’ opinions on the matters at hand and try to incorporate them as much as possible.

And you know what else? Look inside yourself, because chances are, if you’re raising an outspoken, spirited kid, you were probably one too. I try to remember how it felt to be misunderstood as a kid, when all I wanted was to do was what I thought was right, to shout my thoughts and feelings from the rooftops. I’m glad my parents didn’t silence that voice or that spirit, and I’m trying not to do that with my kids.

So let’s give our strong-willed, stubborn, spirited, headstrong, bossy, wild kids a damn break. It’s hard to see right now, but those kids are the ones poised to change the world. Let’s make sure they have all the backup they can get from us. Let’s empower them to take all that fiery energy and turn it into real-life, positive action.

Because the world needs these kids’ righteous spirits more than ever right now.