The Strong-Willed Child: Biblical Perspective
God’s word is the blueprint for life. People often say, “Too bad kids don’t come with an instruction manual!” God provided His instruction manual – the Bible. Throughout the Bible, God directed parents on how to raise children in a way that honors Him. God’s word also contains several recollections of strong-willed children and their parents; some events had happy endings, and others ended in tragedy. Point being, God is the foremost Authority in parenthood.
Parents who are obedient to God in child rearing are not guaranteed a life free of struggles, but they are promised the Lord’s blessings. One of the most-noted verses surrounding God’s promise to parents is Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (New King James Version). This does not mean that children of Christian parents will not go astray. Each person, young and old, has the gift of free will. Everyone must make his or her own choices in life. This verse assures parents that the seeds they plant within a child, whether spiritually, mentally, physically, or emotionally, will remain with that child forever. Those seeds will influence a child’s life; therefore, they need to be a reflection of God the Father’s parental guidance of His children.
There are a variety of parental accounts within the Bible; the following show drastic differences in parenting styles and the results of each. In the second chapter of First Samuel, the record of Eli the priest and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, was told: “Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:12, NKJV). The story goes on to reveal the abominations committed by Eli’s sons, his repeated warnings to them about what would happen should they not repent, the sons’ continued disobedience, and finally, God’s wrath upon the family. God was not just angry at Eli’s sons for their disobedient and ungodly behavior; He was angry with Eli for allowing them to continuously dishonor Him. In a prophecy revealed to Eli, God said, “Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?” (1 Samuel 2:29, NKJV). The very first of the Ten Commandments is, “I am the LORD your God … You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3, NKJV). By allowing his sons to go undisciplined, not only were they committing grievous sins against the LORD, but Eli was putting them above God and breaking God’s law. This would no longer go unpunished; God allowed both Hophni and Phinehas to be killed by the Philistines on the same day, and immediately after receiving the news, Eli fell off of a wall and died. Parents must consider the spiritual consequences of allowing children – even strong-willed children – to remain undisciplined. God not only holds children responsible for their actions; He holds the parents accountable.
In the book of Luke, a second narrative of a disobedient child is told. In “The Parable of the Lost (or Prodigal) Son,” Jesus described a grown son who does not wish to wait for his father to die before gaining his inheritance; he demanded it, and the father granted it. One may be lead to believe that the father was too permissive. However, to read the entire account paints the picture of a wealthy, intelligent, industrious and well-respected man. In Luke 15:17, the son had lost everything and recalled his father’s character: “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!’” (NKJV). This father was fair, not only to his kin, but to those who served him. It must be remembered, too, that there was a second son who obeyed his father and did not squander his fortune, as described in Luke 15:25-31. Therefore, the prodigal son appears to be the typical strong-willed child; in spite of his father’s loving yet firm discipline, he demanded his own way. His father allowed him to find his way in the world, and the son failed miserably. Lesson learned. The son recognized his foolishness, repented to God, and headed home to ask forgiveness of his earthly father. Godly parenting was mirrored perfectly when this rebellious young man’s father not only forgave him for his disobedience, but he celebrated his return and showered him with love. Parents would be wise to heed this example when children seek forgiveness. Yet this is not just the story of a father’s loving forgiveness. The fact that the son wanted to go home and knew he could go home provides another key about how well this father parented his son. In the face of adversity and defeat, this young man sought proximity and closeness to his father, felt that Dad was a safe haven, was sad at the possible loss of a relationship with his father, and although his explorations proved disastrous, knew his father would be there for him when he returned home. The relationship between this wayward son and his father demonstrates the role of attachment in angry and defiant children (AACC, 2006). This father had rules, but because he had a strong, loving relationship with his son, the young man was able to eventually accept discipline, even if learned the hard way.
Parents who embrace the word of God in their lives and instill His teachings in their children can gain strength in knowing they are never alone. The apostle Paul instructed the Ephesians with these words: “And you, fathers (or parents), do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NKJV). No parent has ever been or will ever be perfect, with the exception of our heavenly Father. There are genuine, solid, practical measures that can be applied to parenting the strong-willed child, or to parenting in general, that will promote a healthy, happy home. However, God’s word stands true, and in the words of the psalmist, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1a, NKJV).
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