Making Peace with your Strong-Willed Child
Every parent knows the feeling: Your child has just drawn on the wall or refused to get dressed or mouthed off to you for the millionth time. And you're absolutely at your wit's end.
For some children, these moments of defiance are just that?moments. But for strong-willed children, these "moments" are a way of life. And they can zap the resolve of even the most patient parent.
In her book "You Can't Make Me, (But I Can Be Persuaded)" (Water Brook), learning expert Cynthia Ulrich Tobias helps parents get inside the head and heart of the strong-willed child to find ways not only to cope with a stubborn child, but to bring out the best in that child.
We talked to Cynthia to find out how all parents can use her ideas to restore peace to our homes and learn to see the best in our kids.
Let's start with the obvious: How do you define a strong-willed child?
A strong-willed child (SWC) is one who loves to challenge the rules. This is a child who knows that anything is possible. It might take longer or be inconvenient to do it, but it can still be done.
That's frustrating to parents who try to motivate their kids with absolutes. If Dad says, "You'll never get to college if you don't study," the SWC will respond, "Really? You mean no one's ever done it?" There's that little glint in the eye as they challenge the limits of "never" and "can't."
The SWC knows there's nothing he really has to do. So when parents issue edicts and ultimatums, the SWC will take the consequences rather than do what he's told. The SWC wants to have a sense of control over his or her life. If you find you're in a constant battle of wills with your child, there's a pretty good chance that your child, and possibly you, are strong willed.
To some degree, that sounds like most kids. How can a parent know the difference between a child who's just being defiant and one who qualifies as a SWC?
The difference really is about temperament. A defiant child has trouble with authority. But a SWC will fight against the way authority is communicated. The SWC wants to have a say in things. He or she typically won't resist the idea of authority.
But I want to make it clear that rebellion, defiance and disobedience are wrong regardless of a child's temperament. If a SWC does something that doesn't honor God, if it's in defiance of his or her parents, if it's destructive or hurtful, that can't be blamed on a strong will.
All Christians are commanded to submit to Christ, no matter what our temperament or personality. Since I was a SWC and now am a strong-willed adult, I try to think about Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." That says there are other ways of understanding besides mine. The very next verse gives me my accountability: "in all your ways acknowledge him ? " To me that says in all my approaches, all my personality quirks, all my strong-willed ways, I must still acknowledge God. Any SWC needs to do the same.