I recently completed a research paper for my Christian Counseling of Children class at Liberty University. I feel the content is worth sharing with parents; therefore, I will publish this paper as a 5-part series.
When parents bring home their newborn baby, they are filled with hopes and dreams of what the future holds for that child and their family. If the season comes when parents realize they are raising a strong-willed child, those hopes and dreams may become filled with battles and tears. This does not mean the situation is hopeless. There are measures parents can take to lovingly and effectively guide strong-willed children toward healthy relationships within the home, which will, in turn, steer them toward becoming healthy, well-adjusted adults. In addition, parents have resources that will allow them to find relief from the extra stressors involved when raising strong-willed children. Above all, the foundation of a truly successful family life is God. When parents exemplify Him as they raise their children, kids will develop a positive attitude toward God and a strong relationship with Mom and Dad. When these factors are combined, peace and balance can replace the chaos and frustration of raising a strong-willed child.
As a child, one may have heard it. As a parent, one may have said it. In the midst of anger, frustration, and maybe even tears, those infamous words surface: “I hope one day you have a child who acts just like you do!” Although there is no scientific evidence to prove this, chances are those words are rarely, if ever, uttered during loving moments or toward a compliant child. “The curse” is directed toward the strong-willed child. What characterizes this child? What causes such behavior? What, if any, are the effective ways to guide and discipline the strong-willed child? Just as importantly, what measures can parents take in order to manage stress and simply not give up while raising this child? Finally, what instruction does the Bible provide regarding child rearing in general, but more specifically, regarding children who require extra effort? Delving into each of these questions will allow us to better understand these determined children, their potential for greatness, and how to help them reach that potential without losing all sanity – and a loving parent-child relationship – along the way.
The Strong-Willed Child: Characteristics
Stubborn. Determined. Rebellious. These adjectives paint the picture of the child we describe as strong-willed. According to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online, the English definition of strong-willed is, “(of a person) determined to do what is wanted, even if other people disagree or disapprove” (n.d.). What is often referred to as the “terrible twos” continues into the threes, fours, and beyond, making childhood a struggle over authority and the teenage years a battle with rebellion. In her blog on the Psychology Today website, pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker described strong-willed kids as follows: “They cry more. They sleep less. Their first, second, and third words are: no, no and no again” (Meeker, 2010). Licensed psychologist and marriage, family, and child counselor Dr. James Dobson wrote, “As toddlers, their greatest delights include painting the carpet with Mom’s makeup … As older children and teenagers, they are irritable, defiant, and seemingly bent on challenging all forms of authority” (Dobson, 2004). Strong-willed children have excessive energy; they are commanding and like to march to the “beat of their own drum,” or in other words, “my way or the highway” (American Association of Christian Counselors, 2006). Furthermore, kids who have a difficult temperament tend to be more cantankerous, more reactive and impetuous, more emotional, and experience greater difficulty with transitions (AACC, 2006).
Although these typical characteristics of strong-willed children can bring out the anxiety and frustration in parents, the core determination is not a negative feature. These kids may push the limits of authority, testing to see who is in charge, and they may dislike being inhibited; however, parents need to set healthy boundaries, provide appropriate guidance, and develop the solid, enduring confidence within strong-willed children. As noted by Drs. Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy, “this same trait of having a strong will, while viewed with derision in childhood, is honored and valued in adulthood” (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006). Parents should not want to destroy the will of the child, rather, they should desire the type of relationship that will allow the best qualities of this child to flourish.
American Association of Christian Counselors (2006). Angry, defiant, and violent kids (presentation). Available from Liberty University Online.
Bernstein, J. (2014, February 26). Five anxiety-lowering strategies for children [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog.liking-the-child-you-love/201402/five-anxiety-lowering-strategies-children
Clinton, T., Hart, A., & Ohlschlager, G. (2005). Caring for people God’s way. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Clinton, T., & Sibcy, G. (2006). Loving your child too much. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (1998). Boundaries with kids. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Crabb, L. (1977). Effective biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Dobbs, J. (2004). The new strong-willed child. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Flaskerud, J.H. (2011). Discipline and effective parenting. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 32, 82-84. doi: 10.3109/01612840.2010.498078
Karreman, A., de Hass, S., van Tuijl, C., van Aken, M., & Dekovic, M. (2009). Relations among temperament, parenting and problem behavior in young children. Infant Behavior & Development, 33, 39-49. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.10.008
Meeker, M. (2010, May 4). Staying sane with strong-willed kids [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/family-matters/201005/staying-sane-strong-willed-kids
Strong-willed. (n.d.). In Cambridge dictionaries online. Retrieved from http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/american-english/strong-willed
Turner, E. (2013, June 24). 4 tips for managing parenting stress [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-race-good-health/201306/4-tips-managing-parenting-stress