I always said that my son is very strong willed and as much it can be a pain in the ass, I know he will be an excellent leader some day. Parenting a strong willed child is not an easy task. It takes a huge amount of patience and love.
The past couple of years,I learned some tricks that helped me parent him without giving in and be able to usually avoid a power struggle.
(1) Time outs don't work - I read on some sites that some parents resorted to spanking their child when the time out method failed. I REFUSE to do this. What I did: I confiscate one of his toys. If he screams and protests, I take another toy away. I tell him that the more he shouts or protests, the more toys I take away. The first time I did this, I had a garbage bag full of toys and he had to earn them back one by one. The last few times I had to confiscate toys, I only had to take one away from him. He learned that by fighting or shouting like an idiot or by taking a tantrum would not only would he fail at getting his own way, he would have a toy taken away from him.
(2) Give the proper tools - Once the initial crisis has passed, we have discussions and sometimes even role play a given scenario. We encourage him to give us examples on what would be the correct behavior and what isn't. We give examples on when it is a good time to have a strong will, when it is a good time to lead vs using it to get his own way.
(3) Praise the good behavior - I noticed that my child responds much better towards positive behavior. We have reward charts and stickers that praise his positive behavior.
(4) Hands on learning - Philip likes to see for himself why he can or cannot do a certain thing. If the overall outcome would not hurt him (ie. put his hand in an electrical outlet) I let him see for himself and what are the consequences to his actions. Some of the best lessons I have learned in my life were from trial and error. For example, last winter, he didn't want to wear his coat. So, I let him go outside without one but brought the coat outside with me. Once he realized how cold he was, he decided to put his coat on! Pick your battles. I learned that once I loose my patience and engage in a screaming match, I lost. I will NOT back down and figured out that sometimes letting your kid walk outside to see for himself that it is cold out is so much less stressful than a power struggle first thing in the morning.
(5) Offer choices - Philip doesn't like being told what to do. Instead of a power struggle, I tend to pick my battles. I give him choices whenever I can (I let him pick a snack but I give him the options of a fruit or other healthy food choice) He likes routine so getting him to brush his teeth before bed or in the morning isn't a struggle but if it is, I usually ask him "what do we do in the morning?" He will name off a few things like putting on his shoes or getting his lunch out of the fridge so I would then ask him "Do you rather put your shoes on then brush your teeth? Remember, you need to brush them before you leave" Usually, we come to an agreement and he is willing to cooperate.
(6) Anticipate bad behavior - Before going to the store or school, I remind him the behavior I expect him to have and tell him the consequences to his behavior. If he is good, he is permitted to watch TV or play a videogame on my phone. If he misbehaves, he has those privileges taken away.
(7) Reward system- For exceptional behavior, he gets a sticker. We put them on our calendar in the kitchen (right in his vision) and he sees them while he is at the table. By the end of the month, if he collects the majority of stickers, he chooses an activity or we buy a certain inexpensive toy he has been asking for.
(8) A little understanding and empathy goes a long way - sometimes, to avoid a power struggle, I would tell him that I understand how he feels. For example, we wanted to see the movie Pete's Dragon and I made arrangements with my local cinema to have his birthday party there. When the cinema emailed me to tell me that the movie was no longer available but they had other kid-friendly options, I hated to break the news to him but I told him what happened. He got mad and started to protest. I told him that no matter how hard he argues, I cannot change the cinema's decision but I can arrange for him to get the movie when it comes out on DVD (maybe it would be a gift from Santa?) because not being able to see a highly anticipated movie is disappointing. I suggested an alternative movie and he seemed excited over the prospect.
Parenting a strong willed kid is one of the hardest things I have to do but with some patience and some creative thinking on my part, it can be manageable while setting limits and boundaries. The last thing you want to do is to give in.