How to Discipline a Strong-Willed 2-Year-Old

They don’t call them the ‘terrible twos’ for nothing. When a toddler reaches his second birthday it is not uncommon for him to start testing authority and boundaries. At this stage, you are probably wondering how to discipline a strong-willed 2-year-old.


Strong-willed children are independent and outgoing. They want to see and experience things for themselves. Often they think that they have all the answers. They are passionate and intensely focused. Unfortunately, they also appear to enjoy confrontations and arguments.

Disciplining a Strong-Willed Child

Nobody ever said that parenting was going to be easy but a strong-willed child is even more difficult. There is no doubt that you probably have your hands full. However, there are ways that you can discipline your toddler without breaking his spirit.

Avoid Being Controlling

A strong-willed tot will reject a controlling attitude. Control will automatically make his sense of independence flair up and a full-blown rebellion will ensue. Instead of trying to strong arm a situation, respectfully and calmly explain to the child your side of the situation. You will be amazed how much your 2-year-old will grasp.

Get them Sidetracked

Independent and passionate toddlers often have a one-track mind. If they become focused on something they will continue to pursue it to what seems like the ends of the Earth.

Instead of confronting them over the issue try to sidetrack them away from their focus point so eventually they will forget the problem. This is extremely helpful if you are in a store and your little one is about to have a fit over something they want. Change gears and refocus.

Offer Choices

Your tot is independent and thinks he knows everything so foster his feelings by giving him choices, according to Family Education.

Know When to Walk Away

The first time your toddler says ‘no’ you might be shocked and your natural reaction may be to immediately and angrily address the issue but remember that it is more than likely exactly the reaction your toddler is hoping to achieve with his act defiance.

He wants to shock and awe you. Instead of feeding the flames, it is better to just give your little one a disapproving look, turn around, and walk away. It will deflate your child’s sails and they will be befuddled at your lack of a heated reaction.

Never Give In

The minute you give is the minute that you lose control and your child becomes the leader. Even if he is having a full-blown fit in the middle of the supermarket and everyone is looking at you funny you must never give in to his demands.

Instead, you will need to simply pick him up and calmly walk out of the store. You can also opt to just ignore the entire display and continue shopping as if your child was not behaving like a demon spawn. Either way, do not give him what he wants. Stay strong and in control at all times.

Ask Instead of Tell

Yes, typically, parents are supposed to be in charge so asking your 2-year-old to do something might seem to contradict your natural need to demand. However, an independent toddler with a mind of his own will automatically rebel when you demand he does something.

Sometimes simply nicely asking will avoid any confrontations and encourage him to do the action you require. Giving respect means you will receive respect.

Here are some other things you can do to improve the situation:

  • Remain Consistent: Remaining consistent is a key to maintaining control over a hard-headed toddler. If you start to waver over certain rules or give in sometimes but not other times then the child will view you as weak and a pushover.
  • Be Persuasive: Telling, demanding, and screaming will get you nowhere with a strong-willed child. Instead, you must be persuasive and negotiate.
  • Timeout: When all else fails and your little one is being a completely rebellious hellion then you might just want to give him a timeout for a couple of minutes. That will give you time to reboot and him time to think about the behavior that landed him a timeout.

The Perks of Raising a Strong-Willed Child

Parenting is hard work but when it comes to a strong-willed child it might seem like an insurmountable task. The first time your 2-year-old stands up to you and says, ‘no’, can be a daunting experience, even if you are a seasoned parent.

You will need to find a balancing point when it comes to discipline and laying down the law. It is not going to be easy but you can take solace in the fact that an independent child with a mind of his own has many perks.

A strong-willed tot is a natural born leader. He will likely grow up to know exactly what he wants and have a strong focus on how to achieve his goals. His take-charge-personality is exactly what makes a leader. Many professions such as military, physicians, first responders, and business leaders all have strong-willed personalities.

What the Experts Say

Dr. James Dobson reports in his book, The New Strong-Willed Child, on an informal but sizeable survey of 35,000 parents that revealed some amazing findings. He stated: “The compliant child typically enjoys higher self-esteem than the strong-willed child. . . . Only 19 percent of compliant teenagers either disliked themselves (17 percent) or felt extreme self-hatred (2 percent). Of the very strong-willed teenagers, 35 percent disliked themselves and 8 percent experienced extreme self-hatred.”

“What sets us off, is your finger in our face as you tell us to ‘do it or else.’  If you use your authority in a way that suggests we don’t have a choice, there’s almost always going to be trouble. We usually don’t respond well when you simply issue orders to be obeyed,”  states Cynthia Ulrich Tobias in her book You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded).

You should consider yourself blessed to have a strong-willed child because he will grow up to a be trailblazer. You won’t have to worry about him blindly following the masses or becoming embroiled in bad behaviors because of peer pressure.

Instead, your hard-headed tot will grow up to be a leader and an independent thinker. All you have to do is make it over the hurdle of how to discipline a strong-willed 2-year-old and you will be well on your way to guiding your child into a successful adulthood.


Kimberly Sharpe

Based in Florida, Kimberly Sharpe has been a full-time writer since 2006. Her writing has a strong focus on travel, parenting, outdoor sports, gardening, health issues, pets (both domestic and exotic), home improvement, DIY, and business promos. Her work has appeared in USA Today, MORR Gear, Hipmunk, Travelocity, Livestrong,, Hydro Live, Maximum Yield, eHow, Yahoo News, SF Gate, Garden Guides, Whitefence, S.F. Gate,, and numerous other publications. She has traveled extensively throughout Europe, India, and Sri Lanka in an effort to expand her knowledge and enhance her writing skills.

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