How to Parent A Strong-Willed Tween or Teen

Welcome, friend to the show.

Who is listening and has a strong-willed tween or teen?

If you’re raising your hand – I know how exhausting and frustrating and overwhelming it can be. 

Wendy Snyder is a Certified Positive Parenting Educator and Family Life Coach, known for her work through Fresh Start Family.

I absolutely loved my conversation with Wendy. We talk about the challenges, the feelings of despair and exhaustion you can experience, and the healing journey our strong-willed kids can take us on like no other. 

Let’s dive in! 

What You Will Learn: 

  • Is there really a way to get strong-willed tweens or teens to comply without nagging, yelling, threatening or punishing them?
  • What are some steps to increase cooperation and decrease pushback?
  • What is the difference between responsive versus reactive parenting? 
  • When it comes to discipline, what messages do our kids need to come away with?
  • What connection over correction means.

Where to find Wendy:

Find more encouragement, wisdom, and resources:

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And here is the episode typed out!

Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you were failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone, and you have come to the right place.

Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.

I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our families and impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and the woman that you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.

SHERYL:    Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens podcast. Some days, you doubt yourself and don’t know what you’re doing. You’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you feel like failing. Well, I just want you to know you’re not alone. And you have come to the right place. 

Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well. And to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens who thrive. 

I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our families and impact future generations. Suppose you seek answers and encouragement to become more of the mom and woman you want to be. I’m SHERYL. And I am so glad that you’re here.

Hi, friend. Welcome to the show today. And I’m so glad that you’re here with me. And maybe you’re listening, and you have a strong-willed kid. I know how exhausting, frustrating, and overwhelming it can be because I’ve been there. And I am so excited for you to listen to this show because it’s encouraging. 

I have Wendy Snyder here with me. She is a certified positive parenting educator and a family life coach, and she is known for her work through the Fresh Start Family. 

I loved my conversation with Wendy. We talk about the challenges, the feelings of despair and exhaustion you can experience, and the healing journey. Our strong-willed kids can take us on like no other. 

So, let’s dive in. 

Well, welcome Wendy to the Moms of Tweens and Teens podcast. I am so excited to talk to you today. 

WENDY:    Oh, thank you for having me, Sheryl. I’m so happy to be here. And we’re just going to have a good conversation.

SHERYL:    I mean, we’re going to have a great conversation. So we’re going to be talking about something that so many moms struggle with parenting: a strong-willed tween or teen who is pushing us away. They want that autonomy. It can be so hard to know how to handle all of that. 

And you are an expert in talking about this. So I can’t wait. But I want to start first. I just want you to tell them how you began doing what you’re doing. You were doing the whole surfing thing with your husband, and you had a business, and then how did you stumble into this? 

WENDY:    So yes, it was. I wasn’t surfing. I was actually in a corporate kind of surf world. I was planning events in the action sports industry, a job I loved. And I got this itch to stay at home with my babies. I was like, I think I should. 

Sheryl, we got a new president of our organization, and he was not him. And I was not vibing well, and I was like, I can’t work for this guy. I think it’s time I’m gonna stay home with my babies. And it’s gonna be amazing. 

I live in San Diego, California, about a mile from the beach. And it was, like, just the dream in my head. And it did not turn out like that. So I begged my husband, asking, can we just make it work? Well, we can eat peanut butter and jelly for a year. And the accountant said, “Okay, cool, let’s do it. 

And so I stayed home, and about three months in, I was like, what have I done? So, my little girl was three years old at the time. So, I became an educator because of my amazing, strong-willed little girl, now 16. 

But back then, she was three years old when I left my corporate job and decided to stay home, and my little guy had just been born. He had colic just like my first, so that’s kind of, I don’t know, did you have colicky babies too? 

SHERYL:    My strong-willed one was colicky. I don’t know if there’s any connection there. But yeah, she was colicky.

WENDY:    I sometimes get an itch to return and get my master’s degree. I’m like, that would be a great thing to study like the association because I meet so many people who do have colicky babies, and strong-willed like they’re both so, but anyways, we digress, but it is yes to colicky babies. 

I guess it’s not always related because one turned out to be pretty mellow. My little guy turned out to be a more mellow personality, just like his dad. And Stella was blessed with this beautiful, strong-willed personality just like mine. 

But during those years, it was just so so tough. And especially in those early seasons, when I was just staying home with them, I had let go of my nanny, thinking, I can do this. I’m good with kids. 

And just before long, it turned dark. And she felt like she was in timeout 17 times a day; it felt like all the traditional hand-me-down parenting tactics I had used up to that point, knowing they weren’t perfectly working with her. But it wasn’t like the poop didn’t hit the fan. 

I always joked until I started to stay home. So with the nanny, everything kind of worked pretty well because a lot of us were strong-willed kids, we know that it’s if we have a strong-willed kid, and we’re the strong-willed parent, a lot of times it’s us that butts head the worst

So stuff hit the fan when I stayed home with her. And so all the traditional hammer-down parenting tactics, the punishment, the control, the overpowering, all that stuff. It just started to blow up. And so it didn’t matter how many timeouts I put her in, while I was like frantically trying to get the baby to stop crying, right just so confused and or it didn’t matter how many times I punished her or threatened to spank or even spanked her a few times like it she was just not having it. 

And it just felt like chaos. And there was a pivotal moment where I remember sitting on the ground; my husband was working about an hour and a half away during a commute. And he wasn’t due to be home until 730. And it was like a Tuesday night I had just gotten into, like the time change. So it was dark already at 5:30 pm. I looked at the clock and was like, well, I have two hours left in the witching hour. 

And Stella was having a meltdown, probably like her third meltdown of the day. She was three, and I was holding the baby, trying to make him stop crying because it was the witching hour. And I just remember feeling so hopeless, confused, anxious, frustrated, irritated, angry, and shameful that this was so hard for me. I didn’t know what to do and what I wanted. 

I wanted to feel connected to my kids and empowered, and I wanted to know how to help the baby feel better and help my little girl operate in a less stressful way. But I did it right. And so I picked up my phone, and I remember putting the Voice Memo app on and recording just this chaos for about two minutes, then sending it to my sister-in-law and just saying, I miserable, I’m miserable. And this is what I’m dealing with. 

And it was like really the first time that I admitted that I was not in a great place because I would present at the grocery store like, Oh, if you saw me at the grocery store, how you are doing Wendy, I was like, I’m good. I’m tired, but I’m good. The kids are healthy. I should be thankful. 

But I hadn’t ever told anybody. I’m, like, miserable. I’m, like, so stressed out, I kind of want to run away; I don’t want to spend the day with my strong-willed little girl again; she was very strong-willed from birth. 

I have so many stories of her exhibiting this beautiful, strong will that I didn’t see as beautiful till later in her life. And then that’s so I kind of surrendered and was like, I need help. And I can’t do this on my own. 

A few days later, I was invited to a free positive parenting class at her preschool, which was the same preschool calling me every day, saying, You need to pick her up early. She’s hitting, and they said, “We have a free class, and you got to come to do it; you’re gonna love it. 

And that’s when everything just started to change; I started to learn new ways to see my little girl and learn new ways to communicate with and discipline her. And it worked well and fast to increase cooperation, build connections, and make our days more joyful. But the coolest thing was that I started to change. 

That’s what started; now it’s been 13 years since that day of that story. And that’s what started this future trajectory that completely changed my life. A few years later, I decided I really needed to teach this work, became certified, and then created and founded Frustrated Family and the Frustrated Family show about six years ago, so that’s what got me here. 

Now Stella is almost 16. My little guy is 13, and by no means do we have perfection. I’m coming to the table today, Sheryl, after a big blow-up last night that we haven’t had in – Oh my gosh, we have had a blow for years. I yelled and freaked out. So, by no means is it perfect. 

But in general, 95% of the time, we are thriving with this little girl, and in awe of who she’s become, and feel empowered and confident and able to implement compassionate discipline in ways that we feel like she operates in the world in a much different capacity than most of her friends and is excelling in life. And that feels good. 

Again, there’s no perfection in any home, but this work has changed her life, and I just love spreading this message from the mountaintop, so to speak, because it’s the best thing ever when raising little human souls.

SHERYL:    I feel like you’re telling my story; some parallels exist. And mine, really, my daughter was strong-willed, but it was really, it just became unmanageable when she became a tween because then it just felt like I didn’t have as much control. 

She was pulling away; I found out she had ADHD; that was like when it was just coming out like they didn’t know. And somebody was telling me about their kid just being diagnosed, I was like, I think that’s what might be happening here. And that seems like it fits. 

She was also struggling with depression. And I love how you said that. You didn’t see how beautiful – you changed that strong-willed, little human that she was not beautiful to you then. But it’s beautiful now, and I saw your video on your Instagram. And I felt like weeping was just so much touching. 

But I think you just make this really beautiful connection; it took you to work on yourself to learn how to relate differently to her and see her through a different lens, which opened your eyes to her beauty. 

And you’re a strong-willed kid. And she would tell me I don’t, I think, before we jumped on, which then it’s like coming full circle. It sounds like it is your experience that, through that work, you can see her differently.

WENDY:    Absolutely. And it’s so interconnected to me. So, she has unlocked the most incredible growth journey of loving myself more because we are very similar. So even last night, after I had this blow-up, we met over the stupidest thing. But there are so many layers underneath it that came out and that need to come out that we will have the best discussion about today and later. 

Because in homes, when you practice this work, it is like it doesn’t matter. There’s an imperfection that happens, whatever. But then there’s always the most beautiful ability to make amends, learn from mistakes, and come together as a team, right? 

But as I was talking to my husband last night, I’m like, man, there’s something underneath of this, that I must just still be hard on myself for X, Y, and Z. Because I’ve learned and I teach my students that normally when we’re like, the more we beat ourselves up, the easier it is to beat our kids up. 

And so when you’re hard on yourself, you’re hard on your kids. And so when you learn to love yourself more and have more compassion for yourself, and then you look at the little mini human that is just like you in so many of these situations where we butt heads with them. 

It just opens up this whole new world like it was. Life becomes easier and more joyful when you have self-compassion and self-awareness because self-awareness is important. Understanding, like what are your behaviors that are not making things better? 

But it is like understanding your root triggers and causes and why you shut down or blow up, right? Like that’s all underneath it and learning to have that compassion and peace with yourself. So that’s been a huge part of it that if it wasn’t for her, I would have never become involved. 

I mean, just call it an evolved human, but I can’t imagine if I would have just stayed in my event planning career. It was fun. I was having the time of my life. But it’s like I’m just such a different human now because of what Stella mirrored to me like her mirror that I would be hard on her and say, why can’t you just do this? 

It’s like there are just these beautiful intricacies to the relationship between our kids that we’re sometimes hard on and/or trigger us and ourselves the most. So that’s been part of the journey. That’s been the coolest. 

SHERYL:    That is so well said because they can be our greatest healers if we get curious enough to become self-aware of why this is triggering me. I’m just asking as you asked about last night. 

Wow, maybe I had a bigger reaction? I’m kind of surprised by that. What’s going on? With me? That’s such a good question. I was curious: when you said that, did you realize she was so much like you? Did that at the time when she was little? Or was that something that you started to realize? 

WENDY:    So when I saw what she was, she was three, and I found the work of positive parenting, which I call the strategy side, right? So, I went to these classes and started learning all the strategies that we teach now. At first, her family. And then, about six months in, I went to my first life coaching weekend course, where we uncovered the root causes of things. 

And, like, started to look deeper at ourselves, forgive ourselves, forgive others, like all like the again, this program that we now teach here at Fresh Start Family catapults people so they can learn the strategies. 

But then, as soon as they get into a deeper healing weekend, we find catapults, their results in their home, and their ability to apply these tools. So that is when I first realized, like, oh, okay, I see what’s going on here. She’s very similar to me. So I might be very hard on her for being aggressive, for example. 

And really, I have a lot of aggressive tendencies that I am not compassionate with myself about, and this was, like, it has been a journey for 13 years. But let’s just say back then, if I think back to that first, eye-opening experience of like, oh, you’re just like me, and was so my, instead of trying to change you. 

If I changed myself, as far as loving myself more, changing my behavior, changing the way I see things, changing the way I regulate my emotions, or feeling my emotions, whatever it may be. My child will naturally change without me having to control or force them. So that was the unlocking part of like, Oh, I see what I see what’s happening here. And that is the mind-blowing part of it. 

That was like, Oh, my gosh, because when most parents come into this work, they’re like, you’ll never believe what my kids are doing. And all of us are like changes to the kid, right? Then, you realize that the most power that you have as a parent is to change yourself. 

But if you’re unaware you have aggressive tendencies, you won’t be able to change them. And so that’s like, that’s an old one. It does not matter if it was; it was probably two or three years ago. Now I remember sitting in this exact right room. And Stella’s because she’s been raised with this for 13 years, we were having a conversation. 

I pointed out that it feels like an aggressive move. And I think I might have even said passive-aggressive was with her brother, as most discussions are. And she’s looked right at me. And she said, Mom, you have equally as many have aggressive tendencies. And I was just like, dang, you’re right. You’re right. And I hadn’t thought about it in a while. But that’s the beauty. 

When you use this work in your home, you can allow it; it’s not an attack when your child brings it to your attention that you’re calling them out for something you have not mastered yet. 

And you get to be like, okay, that means we’re together. You’re not on an island, and I’m not, but we’re learning this life skill together. And that doesn’t mean you’re broken. It doesn’t mean I’m broken. It just means that together, we are in a season of our life where we are learning, say, for example, to express ourselves, ask what we want, or process emotions without aggression. Like, man, we’re going to do it. 

SHERYL:    Yeah, I’m thinking about what a vulnerable process it is. You have to be willing to take in that feedback from your kids without getting defensive. But I found that it’s through being more compassionate towards myself, realizing I’m not perfect and will not do it perfectly

I have mistakes, but I do not live in shame. It’s like how you learned how to love yourself through your daughter. I can relate to that so much. Therefore, I can take that harder feedback because I do not feel angry or ashamed when I hear it. It’s the shame first and then the anger because I think I should. Do you have it all together? Or it’s like we’re human? 

WENDY:    Exactly. And nowadays, I get excited when I realize that there’s something that my child has that I haven’t mastered yet because it’s almost like good news. It’s like, Oh, this isn’t a mystery. It’s just I’m modeling it. This is like water that’s running in our house. No wonder. 

So, let me work on myself. Let me get myself the help that I need. And then, this last February is a great example of, and this was, like, an intense situation. And it was like a lot of healing and processing that happened. 

But it was also great news because we knew we could affect our daughter. And this is like a great teen story that your community will hopefully be able to connect with. 

But we found out last February, there was a day when we thought as, as me as an educator, my husband co-host our podcasts with us, we were like, This is an experiment, all this work. But, we were like, Let’s hope our kid just becomes a teenager. And they are so different. Like they don’t experiment with drugs and alcohol ever, they don’t do risky behavior. They never rebel. 

We were just like, wouldn’t that be cool, right? Knowing there’s a chance that they’re just gonna be normal human kids, right? And we have the tools to be able to do that. So we found out one night that she was, like, had experimented with drinking on a Tuesday night or something. And we were, like, a Tuesday night. And it got it out, right? 

So it was a misbehavior that we were like, Okay, let’s use our tools to redirect this and all the things, but it was like a lightning bolt from God that was like conviction of like, oh, but let’s first look at your skills. 

And so when we looked at our daughter, we were like, okay, she needs, like, she’s missing the life skill of being able to go to an event or process a hard day, on this particular day, that was like girls that were being mean. And a boy that was being mean. 

The life skills to be able to process big events without numbing with a substance or to be able to go to an event and have fun, just as a human being, without needing something to make it fun, right? Like, it’s a level of feeling like you’re not enough. 

If you go somewhere and you’re like, I can’t have fun without, for me, it was wine. And so we’re looking at a little girl, and we’re like, she needs to learn this life skill. And God was like, let’s look at you first. How are you doing with the modeling of this life scale? It was just so evident. 

We laugh about it, but it’s just the reality that we started numbing. We would have parental strife, or being a teenager is tough, right? And we started drinking alcohol when we were 15 or 14 years old. So we looked at it, and we were like, wow, this has been three decades of using a substance to, like, make everything better. And at that point, we were just like, I think we’re done. 

And so we decided to, as I decided, I’ll just keep with myself to stop drinking alcohol as a way to learn the life skills that my daughter was trying to develop. 

And it was such a strong conviction that this was a way to affect her that felt so clean. And like it was a no-brainer, like there. If I could have risked all this time on compassionate discipline and all these things, and it would have been like, it would have just fallen flat if I wasn’t modeling the behavior if I hadn’t mastered the life skill. 

And it was very clear, like if I had thought about stopping drinking for years, but I would panic in my head, like I have a wedding to go to, like, what am I going to do? Or when you have a really hard day? What are you going to do at 5 pm? 

Those thoughts would capture me, and I decided it was time to learn the life skills I wanted my daughter to have. So that’s like a long story. And it wasn’t like, in the very beginning. It was painful. And there was a lot of intense healing that happened. But it was also good news because it was like, Aha, this is where we need to go. 

And sure enough, here we are a year later. And she just had a 16th birthday party, and we came home, and she’s fine. Like there’s no, the behavior stopped. So, does that make sense? 

SHERYL:    Wendy, it’s so good because it’s so good and powerful. Because it’s like, where are we expecting our kids to do something we’re unwilling to do in our minds? 

And I’ve never actually thought about it like that with the whole drinking thing with kids. They want to belong, they want to fit in there, go to a party, other kids are doing it, they feel on, they feel so, sometimes awkward and insecure.

I remember not making great choices and going along with the crowd, but I thought it was fun. Then I thought about going to a wedding as an adult or doing something like that. And I’m leaning on you just saying I’m leaning on alcohol for those same reasons. Don’t you drink? Yeah, it’s not fair. 

WENDY:    I am being hard as hell on myself about it. In addition to modeling the behavior and telling her not to do it, I was beating myself up badly. 

What is wrong with me? Why can I just not drink during the week? Why can’t I just not need this? And so it’s like the double the twofold, right? So I was hard on myself. So, I was probably going to be hard on her for having this type of behavior. So it was the perfect mix to be like, we’re done. We’re done. 

And here we are, Sheryl, a year later. And what I did last night was go to a book club. Two weeks ago, I went to a wedding. And it was fantastic. It was like the best night ever. Terry and I were on cloud nine. We felt great in the morning. 

And then I also went to book club last night, where everyone was drinking wine. I can say I have successfully developed the life skills to be able to fit in to feel like I belong, like I’m part of the crew, not to be able to ease my headaches a lot like to learn how to take care of myself when I’m uncomfortable without a substance and so that there we are, right, it took a year.

SHERYL:    Yeah, well, stuff like that can still crop up, but I’m just noticing that it’s not like it was. It’s not hard like it was. I’ve cut down considerably, but I’ll still have maybe a little champagne at a wedding, but nothing I could see because now I’m an empty nester. 

How easy it is to get in that habit. Because I’m not taking kids to activities like I was, I’ll just sit and watch a show and drink with my husband before it. It was like every night. I’m like, What am I? 

This does not feel good, and I’m getting older, and the bags under my eyes after a drink. The next morning, it was vanity, too. It’s like everything feels swollen and bloated. It’s like, Ah, no, I’m not doing this. So true.

WENDY:    Yeah, but I leave it up to the strong-willed kids.

SHERYL:    I love that. Well. So strong-willed kids and compassionate parenting; you’re so much about that. And I want to talk about what we try to do when dealing with unless specifically geared towards tweens and teens because that’s what we’re about. 

They’re pulling away at this age. They want autonomy. They’re making mistakes, or they’re gonna make mistakes; hands down, there is no way around it. I think that was even surprising to me. Like you said, oh, not my kid, my kids not gonna be that kid. And then you get very humbled. But what do you think are some of the mistakes that we tend to make? When it comes to disciplining our kids?

WENDY:    Well, it’s like the number one thing I’d say with strong-willed kids that I see the most often, with this age group, is just the punishment. The punishment just makes everything worse with these kids. So if there’s any element of punishment in the home, these kids will most likely just get ripped, in my experience, right? 

They get good at hiding, lying, doing it behind your back, or feeling crappy about themselves when you find out and you double down, and then they just start to not care about the punishment. So that’s what’s been fascinating to watch. 

So again, Stella just turned 16. So, to watch her friends be in the traditional world. It feels like 90% of the world is still doing the classic model, right? Like if you get in trouble if you make a mistake. You get punished, your phone and bike are removed, and you’re not going out for the weekend.

Her best friend was grounded for three months last spring because of her math. She was failing a class. Guess what? She’s still failing a class this fall. The grounding for three months did nothing except create a giant divide and rift with her parents, but I just see it everywhere. 

I’m always so curious. And because I think of this work, it creates this beautiful relationship where your kids talk to you and know they won’t get in trouble. So there’s honesty, so she tells us everything, and I’m always fascinated. Goodbye, okay, this person got in trouble. What happened? Sure enough, they got punished. 

And then it’s about two months later, three months later, how are they doing? They’re still doing that, or she’ll show me the picture. Oh, yeah, this is, and it’s just not working. So that’s kind of when you talk about mistakes, any type of the traditional, overpowering punishment model, you did this, now you get this taken away. 

And I feel like most parents these days, it’s the iPhone. So, the iPhone gets given to kids, and they become addicted, which happens very fast, just like we as adults are addicted to the iPhones now. Then, it gets taken.

Most of the punishment is like a revenge tactic. As parents, we don’t see it that way. But we often feel hurt by a child’s rebellion or disregarding our boundaries and rules. And we will throw down and smack back with punishment to make sure they feel the sting and do not mess with us again like that’s really what’s happening. Most of the time, with punishment. 

When using a punishment model, most parents are not looking at it like, Okay, let me sit back and look at the life skill they’re missing. What way can I teach them, provide a lesson, and maybe take a break from an iPhone for a while if that’s contributing? 

But how will I teach them a life skill they’re missing so they’re more likely to make a different decision tomorrow? It’s not what’s happening most of the time; it’s a SmackDown of something that will sting like hell. And, we just think because that’s how it’s always been done, that they’re going to be so scared of the consequences, again, are so scared of us that they won’t repeat the behavior. 

And strong-willed kids are, I mean, it might work with a bit more mellow kids, but strong-willed kids. It just does not work, and it makes things worse. Then, suddenly, you have extreme resentment and bitterness and explosive behavior and reactivity in the home. 

All the while, like you were, we began modeling what we don’t want for our children. And it’s just like it’s just a tough situation. So the number one mistake is if it feels like it’s using any type of punishment instead of compassionate discipline with strong-loaded kids when they’re tweens and teens. 

SHERYL:    I can’t agree more. And I started this work when I had a tween, and I was trying, and she was strong-willed. And I was trying to control a lot of that was fear-driven and trying to control and punish. And the more I did it, the more she rebelled. 

Our relationship was so inflamed, and just like you said, it caused resentment, anger fighting, and power struggles until I learned to do it differently. And I love Rudolph Strikers, too. I know you’re a fan. And it just goes like seeing what those skills are.

What are those skills that they’re missing? And what are those deeper needs? What’s going on, even when you’re talking about your daughter experimenting at that time? Yeah, wanting to belong and fit in, maybe had a bad day and felt bad like other things were happening.

Here, we’re smacking down this punishment. It doesn’t work. Maybe with a more compliant kid. But this is just because I was a compliant kid. And it was like mine, my sense of self-worth. 

I always admire the strong-willed kids because I think they grow up to at least exercise their voice. I just shut down and went underground. 

WENDY:    Exactly. Yeah, it’s so well said it’s detrimental. Punishment, shame, all that stuff. Fear-based stuff, right? It’s detrimental for every kid. It’s just in different ways. Strong-willed kids just flare up. There is no, there’s no retreating. They are just like, hell no.

SHERYL:    Oh, yeah. Yeah, you’re gonna control me. Yeah, no.

WENDY:    You’re not gonna control me. And yeah, I mean, and this is all like, please, if you’re listening, don’t think I’m saying there’s ever going to be perfection. But once you understand what’s happening and have the tools, you can work with whatever challenge is presented, right? 

As there will never be perfection, I’m still thinking through what’s going on on a deeper level with Stella right now to cause X, Y, and Z behaviors, and again, it’s chores. It sounds so silly. 

Still, it’s there’s stuff beneath there that’s happening with like habits, that this work just gives you the ability to like to pause, go deeper, get curious, take responsibility for your part and contribution, and then decide on a teaching method that is going to build them up, instead of, like, push them down or diminish their self-worth or add shame because strong-willed kids actually, they already have a high level I find most kids have shame. 

Like, because it starts so young, like the kids who are getting corrected ten times a day when, like the more easygoing ones, they might get two, but many of us don’t learn a different way till later in life. So we’re just constantly correcting. 

And if you’re anything like me, there was quite a season where there were shameful statements like what is wrong with you? What were you thinking? Why do you have to be so difficult? And that took a long time to change. Like, I mean, I think I said my last, like, most awful shame statement, that still gives me the worst feeling in my stomach when she was like 12, and it’s like, it just takes a while to unwind that. 

So these kids already have a lot of shame. And then you add on the punishment of, like, associating love with pain and suffering, and it just becomes twisted quickly. And so the good news is, there’s a different way, and it’s strong, it’s effective. 

And it builds these kids up, and they love to feel powerful. That is one thing strong; kids love to know how to do it themselves. They want to change their behavior; they just need help, knowing how to do it and why it will serve them well to make different decisions tomorrow. 

And so when we’re by their side and do that as a team, we suddenly start to see behavior change versus just the consistent punishment loop.

SHERYL:    It turns everything around when you have the skills. And I cannot believe, and I know your communities like this, how quickly it can start to turn around and what a difference it can make. 

So what would you say? Where would you tell a parent to start, like or outside of becoming more self-aware? What will work to help to motivate your kid? Are you a strong-willed kid? 

WENDY:    Well, it’s a good question, I think, yeah, my number one thing, I mean, it’s all I’m always gonna start with mindset. We’ve talked about that a little bit, just making sure you understand that there’s nothing wrong with them, that they are perfectly wired and designed this way to do big things in the world. That is the number one thing you must get your mind wrapped around. 

We spend much time doing that work when families like us first come into our programs. But then the second part of that is, I guess, empowerment. Empowerment is kind of countercultural because you look at these kids. And you’re like, I remember I used to think with Stella like, oh, no, no, no, she does not need more power.

I mean, we still have so many amazing stories like Stella’s to this day. So when she was little, she could never be on a ride. So, like if there was a wagon, we’d lived in the same house for 16 years. If there was a wagon going on and rides being given, she was the puller of the wagon and never would get in the wagon like she had to be in charge. 

She had to be in control, and now, at 16, it’s hilarious because here in Southern California, we live in the bike capital of the world; I swear, there are like 100 e-bikes outside of middle school right now. But she went to her best friend’s ride together because they didn’t have their license yet.

 Even if they’re on Bella’s bike, Stella drives, which is hilarious, and umbrellas are really little. So it’s like, it makes sense. But still will not ride on the back of summons. And that’s 13 years later, or whatever. 

So, these kids love to be empowered. They like to feel like they’re driving their ship. They like to feel like they like as soon as you start to put pressure on them, and give like compliance statements and demands and communicate in a way that you’re like, you have no choice you do what I say, or else, which is a threat, then you’re going to feel resistance and chaos

And even as I’m talking right now, I’m such a blessing to be talking through this, especially around teens, because, like, I can even see how 13 years later, I still do it because it’s such an intense neural pathway for many of us. 

But the ticket is to pull back and help them understand that they are at choice. You can hold firm boundaries. We have a four-step process for setting firm and consistently sticking to them, which radically improves cooperation rates. But it starts with cooperation. I’m sorry, it starts with a proactive agreement of just making sure they know why the rules exist. 

And then we move into empathy. Like, I get it. No wonder you don’t want to do this. Like, it makes sense. And then, we have them restate the agreement, which in gait engages their critical thinking skills. 

Then, the last part of that little formula that we teach in our firm and kind parenting blueprint is that we give them choices, which is the empowerment piece. So you’re like, hey, here’s the boundary and the role, like we need this to happen. 

And I can see why you don’t want to. Of course, you don’t want to. Yes, you’d rather go do this. I remember being like that. And then you’re like, and what was our agreement? And here’s how you will do it: you get to choose. You’re gonna do it fast. You can do it slowly; you can do it. 

Now, you can do it in 10 minutes; you can do it this way. You can make their amends with your brother. By doing this, you can make amends. There are all these choices, and you get to steer your ship. And we’re still going to hold firm to the boundary. Right? 

So it’s kind of like this. So the answer to your question is empowerment, like, how can you help them realize that there are so many choices that they have, and they are in charge of their own life? That’s when you’ll see their soul settle and their shoulders relax slightly. 

And again, even talking to myself, I’m like, okay, I can see where I did not do that last night and why she started to get so puffed up. And I was just extremely triggered. And I think I know why. And I just doubled down on the classic stuff. And that’s why everything blew up

It didn’t blow up last night because I used my tools beautifully. It was like, no, I went into old-school mode. And that’s how we got here to where we are today. 

So now, today, I wake up with a fresh brain when I pick her up for sports this afternoon and say, Hey, I’d like a redo. I didn’t handle that the way I wanted to. And I get to use my four-step process. We’re always practicing.

SHERYL:    Well, and what a beautiful thing to model for her. And I know with my kids, just that repair and that redo. It makes it for what was happening with you and me then. It can be such a connecting conversation when we approach it with curiosity rather than correcting and trying to tell them they’re being disrespectful. 

Yeah, it’s a much different conversation. So I love that you’ll be able to have that with her. And you can redo it, make amends, and talk about what was going on with both of you. 

Because obviously, it’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen in their marriages, if they choose to get married, it’s going to happen in friendships, it’s gonna happen with roommates, there’s gonna be conflict, there’s no way we can get around it. 

WENDY:    So true. And even though it’s not perfect, I think that’s one of the reasons why she does have such strong conflict negotiation skills now, or peaceful conflict resolution skills, is because we’ve had, we’ve done this so many times, because the strong-willed kids like it’s just never gonna be, I mean, there’s just, there’s just always going to be a level of pushback, in my experience, right? 

No matter how amazing you are at positive or fear-based parenting, there will always be a high level of pushback because that’s how they roll. Still, there have been so many times of practicing the read-the-repair, making amends, and working through a problem that I see it now with her and her friends. That’s pretty phenomenal. 

There’s a massive difference, where you can see how they’re taking what they see in the house and what they experience in the home. And then they take it out into the world. And that is the coolest thing, right? 

Seeing them is possible when you see what’s happening with other kids. They don’t have those tools. Like most of these kids, you can say, “Oh, blow-ups are happening in your home,” but there’s no repair. 

There would be a huge fight when I grew up in our home. My brother was, like, really intense. he was, I think, a strong-willed kid that no one knew what to do with. And it was awful, huge blow-ups. 

And then we’d wake up and say, Good morning. Do you want syrup on your pancakes? And no one would ever talk about it. Oh, yeah. And it’s like, are we? Now I look back, and I’m like, help. What? How? 

That’s so bizarre, but when you raise your kids this way, you’ll always come back, talk about it, and hopefully build the skill. So next time, you can slow down the conflict. So you can get in there with some healthy, peaceful conflict resolution. 

SHERYL:    Amen to that. I think about my youngest, and she’s nine years younger than my oldest, which was such a blessing because I did it for her. I have a lot younger age. But she has a wonderful roommate, and they’re so close. But they have conflict because they live together in college. 

Now they’re living in Dallas together. And they work through it. As they’ll say, I’m, I felt hurt, or I’m just noticing that I’m feeling. I’m feeling angry about this. And they worked it through where my best friend and I lived together after college, and we did not discuss it. 

We, like, broke up. We’re like, Yeah, you’re not my friend anymore. And now, thankfully, we’re friends. Again, we’ve had a lot of repairs. But we didn’t know how to do that at that age. And so it is. Watching the difference is amazing to me, just like you said. Yeah, it does. It comes back around. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

WENDY:    And that’s how generational cycles end, right? Like, yeah, so the kids below us learn how to do it when we didn’t have the skills, and then they will pass it on to their kids. And in 50 years, like, this will just be a normal thing that they’ll be in our family lineage. There will be peaceful conflict resolution, right? Like, that’s just so cool.

SHERYL:    Yeah, I know. That is the hope, the prayer, right? Well, Wendy, I’ve loved conversing with you, and you’re doing amazing things. And I want you to tell them where they can find you about your program. So why don’t you just tell them all of that? 

WENDY:    I would love to, Sheryl; I love this conversation. You are such a light and so easy to talk to. And warm-hearted and encouraging. I am so inspired by your work, too. So, thank you for focusing on teens and tweens. 

Because it is such a precious, sacred time of life, I just know that your work is so important. So yes, families come to find me. I’m on Instagram a lot. I’m at, and I love to teach as much as I can there with little fun tidbits and reels. And it’s a great way to get to know my work. 

And then we have a podcast, the Fresh Start Family Show, that my husband and I co-host; we get some great people there and have beautiful conversations. And then, I guess, as far as getting into our work, we have a quick start learning bundle if you want to dig deeper. 

If you have a strong-willed kid, you’re like, this sounds fascinating.

All this work of getting them to cooperate more if you have a strong-willed kid, our Quickstart Learning bundle, you can find it at because it comes with a free workshop. 

So that is a four-step process. It’s called the Firm and Kind Parenting Blueprint. And it is magical and easy to learn in one hour. It’s like my little mini-course, easy to learn and apply. It’s pretty darn fast. And it gets parents fast, amazing results. And that’s firm and kind parenting Wonderful.

SHERYL:    Well, Wendy, thank you so much for being here. I will share all of the links in the notes, the show notes, and the blog posts we do, and I know people will want to connect with you. So thank you for coming on.

WENDY:    Thank you for having me, Sheryl. This is so fun.

SHERYL:    Well, that’s it for today. Thank you, friend, for joining me. I always love to connect with you, and I’d love to hear from you. And if someone has a strong-willed kid, I would ask that you forward this episode to them and share it with them to help them be encouraged. 

And also, if you are enjoying this podcast, you would just take two minutes and leave a review. It is so encouraging to me when I read how the podcast is helping you or you DM me when you’re behind a microphone and do what I do; it’s nice to know that others appreciate and get good stuff from it. 

Also, it helps others to find out about us, that we’re here, that there’s so much support for them, and that they can benefit from listening to what we share here. I appreciate you and would appreciate it if you just take a few minutes and leave that positive review. It would mean so much. 

So I will see you back here next week. I can’t believe the holidays are coming. So, hopefully, you can tune in while you’re there. Driving around doing your holiday shopping. 

But I’ll just see you back here next week. I’m so excited to be back with you in the podcast saddle again, so I can’t wait to see you back here next week. Have a great one. Bye

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