Our kids struggle when they only hear negative things about themselves or are in trouble much of the time.  They can start to feel like they are just “bad” kids. They start to feel an emotion called shame. Brene Brown teaches that guilt and shame are two very different things.  Guilt is when we feel we have done something wrong, but there is hope, because we can change. Shame is when we feel WE ARE a mistake, WE are the problem, WE cannot change. Therefore, there is no hope.  This leads to self-doubt, depression, and anxiety.

We want our kids to avoid the pain that shame brings and have to work EXTRA hard to help our strong-willed kids.  We want to teach you how to use positive praise and encouragement to help your child feel connected to you and feel positively about themselves.


Mike Fitch, CMHC

Our strong willed child may be trying even if it doesn’t look like it

We want to teach you this principle using an analogy.  Two kids are in the same class, with the same teacher, and working equally hard to get a good grade.  One child naturally understands the subject being taught while the other child doesn’t. As a result, one child gets an A and the other gets a C.  Does it mean that they didn’t work equally hard? No, it means that one child was more naturally gifted at the subject than the other. Does it mean that the child who struggles more can’t learn?  No, it means that it will just take more time, effort, and patience.

Our strong willed kids naturally struggle to behave as well as their peers do. Their emotions seem to be stronger, their tempers flare faster, their wills are just stronger.  However, they also feel sad that people think they aren’t good kids. They want to be liked, loved, and want to know that they are good. It is one of our primary roles as parents to understand that our strong willed kids are struggling, to let them know that we believe in them, that we see the positive in them.  This can be SO hard as we may be struggling the see the good and the positive in them ourselves. Yet, if we don’t see it in them, who will?

Where to start?


Pay attention to hard your child is working at behaving well and praise their efforts not just their results.  In the school analogy, you could praise your child for studying, for listening in class, for doing their homework.  An example with behavior is you could praise your child for choosing to use nice words instead of angry words. Just point out the effort that their making.


Praise any progress they make.  Once again, in our school analogy, if the child that struggles got a B instead of a C, praise that progress!  Is the grade an A? No, but your child made progress! With behavior if you have a child that went a whole week without hitting someone and that’s the first time they did that, praise that progress!


If we’re struggling to find really praiseworthy things that our strong willed kids are doing, then start praising neutral behavior.  Find a time when they’re not fighting with a sibling to say “Hey, I just want you to know that I love how you are doing your own thing and not fighting with your brother!  That makes our home feel really peaceful and you made that possible.” Look for times that your child is simply not rocking the boat and find a way to praise them for that.  


If you are working with your child on extinguishing a certain negative behavior, make sure you praise the positive opposite behavior.

For example:

If you are trying to get your child to stop arguing with you, have an appropriate consequence for when they are arguing with you BUT offer praise when they choose not to argue with you.  Help them feel good for making that positive choice, let them know how you feel about when they choose not to argue with you. Ask them how they feel when they are talking calmly versus arguing with you.  Really use those opportunities to teach your child.


Keep your praise well-rounded.  Notice lots of different things about your kids.  If your child only receives praise from you when they do well at sports for example, that could cause a problem.

Process to use:

  1. Use your child’s name
  2. Say specifically what they did that you liked
  3. Tell them how you feel when they do that
  4. Tell them the natural consequence of that behavior
  5. Ask them how they feel when they do that certain thing

Here’s an example:

  1. “Jackson”
  2. “Thank you for loading the dishes without me even asking”
  3. “I feel so good when you help out”
  4. “Your helping makes my job easier and…”
  5. “That gives me more time to hang out with you”
  6. “How did you feel when you did that for me?”

We want our children to understand:

  1. That their choices DO affect those around them
  2. Specifically HOW their choices affect others
  3. How their choices affect how they feel about themselves


Praise points out positive things your child has done while encouragement is an expression of your belief in their ability to do something.

For example:  

If you’re watching a friend run a race, you are likely going to shout encouragement from the sidelines.  “You can do this. Keep running! You’ve got this!”

We are responsible for helping our children become happy, healthy adults.  That process can be harder for our strong willed kids. They need us to believe in them and cheer them on!  Your belief in them can help them feel hope that they can do it! This might mean that you need to train yourself as a parent to be hopeful about your child.

If you are struggling to have positive and hopeful thoughts about your child, check out this episode of the podcast.

“Encouraging your child will not hurt them, enabling them will”- Mike Fitch, CMHC


We want to make it clear that while it is our job to offer praise and encouragement to our kids, it is also our responsibility to put a stop to negative behaviors.  It is OK to have family rules and to have consequences for rule breaking. In fact, research shows that the best kids come from homes with parents who were strict about reasonable rules AND really, really loving.  You need to be both firm and soft. Meaning that when you have to be firm about rules you balance that out heavily with praise, encouragement, and lots of positive interactions with your child.

If I have to get firm with my child about a negative behavior or I have to let my child experience a reasonable consequence, I try to point out something positive about them ASAP.  I want them to know that we have rules, that the rules will be enforced, but that I still love them to pieces even when they break the rules.

We hope that you are able to find ways to offer your child praise and encouragement.  

Happy parenting!


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