Praying for our strong-willed kids

Written by Steph Thurling
Published on February 03, 2023

When people ask me to describe Harriette I usually say, “a lot.” 

She is a lot of everything. A lot of fun. A lot of love. A lot of joy. A lot of cute. A lot of beautiful. A lot of sweet. A lot of sass. A lot of yelling. A lot of whining. A lot of screaming. A lot of pouting. A lot of stubborn. 

Anyone have one of those? Just like my two boys, she is everything I ever prayed for and more. I love her so much it hurts. She is in kindergarten, strong-willed and is pushing the limits of her independence. She has a mind of her own and opinions of her own. 

Add in a big personality and you have “a lot” to manage. 

Prayerful with our kids

I am generally a patient person—it’s a trait that people notice and comment on, especially when they see my reactions to my kids. 

I have a lot of patience—until I don’t. In one of those recent moments, I lost it on Harriette at bedtime. It had been an hour and a half of doing everything she wanted me to do and responding to her in firm but patient love, and she was still screaming at me and still not going to bed. 

I yelled. I groaned. I made some noise that can only be described as a growl. At that point my husband took over and eventually she went to bed. 

The next day my oldest son commented that I hadn’t been very nice to her at bedtime and my response was, “well she wasn’t nice to me.” Because apparently, I’m five-years-old. 

I am always trying to be more patient with Harriette, but I’m realizing that I can’t really do it. Of course, I can always work on my patience (yelling at my 6-year-old at bedtime is not the best example of being filled with the Spirit). 

But instead of making the goal of being more patient with Harriette, what if I made it my goal to be more prayerful with Harriette? 

God’s endless patience

I’m human, and I don’t have the capacity for a bottomless tank of patience. I simply can’t rely on myself because all I’m doing with that goal is putting more pressure on myself and setting myself up to fail. 

I have to rely on God instead. John 15:4–5 says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing” (ESV).   

God is endlessly patient with me. It’s not our own strength and abilities that will allow us to parent our kids with grace and love, it is God’s strength. I can try to muster up my own patience, or I can pray. I can pray for: 

The right words to say.

To see my kids from God’s perspective, not mine.

Peace that passes understanding.

Confidence in my parenting and in my kids.

Discernment on how to approach and love my kids, especially when they’re hard.

Rely on prayer and not yourself

My friend, Sarah, also has a strong-willed daughter, and she recently reminded me that every time she prays about her kids, God gives her something really specific. 

Just recently God nudged her to tell her daughter, “This is not who you are, this is just how you are acting right now. You are kind and encouraging,” instead of, “I love you but I don’t like the way you treat me.” 

And you know what? That got a much better response and everyone’s heart softened. 

God gives us what we need when we ask for it. Imagine how our parenting would change if we relied on prayer instead of ourselves. 

Imagine the freedom we would experience if we really knew we were not doing this alone. The Creator of the Universe is ready and willing to help us parent. So the next time we tense up and start to lose our minds while trying to parent a strong-willed child, let’s stop trying and start praying. 

God, help me to be patient. Father, show me what she needs. Jesus, help increase my love for her. 

After you pray, take a second to breathe and listen. Sometimes, you will hear something specific your child needs. Other times, you might just have new eyes to see them or a sense of peace even in the middle of the storm.  Remember, he knows exactly what our strong-willed, spirited, feisty kids need. He knows what they need because he made them that way!  

Consider a few extra resources:


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Steph Thurling

Steph Thurling is Executive Director of Christian Parenting and host of The Christian Parenting Podcast.

Steph has her master’s in youth, family, and culture from Fuller Theological Seminary and has a background in youth and children’s ministry. She is co-author of Raising Prayerful Kids, a book that shares easy, life-giving, and fun ways to teach kids to pray. She loves helping families grow closer to each other and to God through meaningful experiences and conversations. Steph is a frequent speaker at churches and mom groups and is known for her relatable stories, practical ideas, and gentle encouragement.

Steph lives in Minnesota with her husband and three amazing and hilarious kids. When she is not hanging out with her family, you can probably find her on a walk with a friend, organizing things that won’t stay organized, or somewhere cozy reading a book.

Read more about Steph

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