Loving the Strong-Willed Child Without Losing One’s Mind, Part 2: Causes of Behavior

The Strong-Willed Child: Causes of Behavior

It is not unusual for parents to, at some point in their journey, question their abilities to raise their children properly. As a parent, I have looked back upon the lives of my two grown daughters and counted endless mistakes that may have adversely affected them as children and now as adults. When it comes to the strong-willed child, from where does this behavior stem? It is true that children are little sponges who learn many behaviors throughout their lives. Likewise, different situations will affect a child’s behavior. When it comes to temperament, however, each child comes into this world with his or her own unique individuality (Dobson, 2004). In a study regarding temperament, parenting, and problem behavior in children, temperament was defined as, “constitutionally based individual differences in reactivity and self-regulation, as seen in the emotional, motor, and attentional domains” (Karreman, de Haas, van Tuijl, van Aken, & Dekovic, 2009). Karreman et al. (2009) further explained that “constitutionally based” means that “temperament is biologically based, but influenced over time by genes, environment, and experience.”


According to the AACC (2006), ten to fifteen percent of children with a difficult temperament are born that way. Studies have shown that seventy percent or more of personality is inherited (Dobson, 2004). Having at least one strong-willed child is not unusual. In fact, compared to easy-going children, there are nearly three times as many tough-minded kids (Dobson, 2004). Headstrong boys outnumber girls by five percent, and birth order is not a component (Dobson, 2004). Because children are born with their temperament, it is not surprising that parents may detect tenacious behavior early on; one-third of parents recognize the strong-willed child at birth, two-thirds become aware by the child’s first birthday, and ninety-two percent know by time the child turns three (Dobson, 2004). Because personality is, in part, inherited, it makes sense that if both parents are strong-willed, then they are more likely to give birth to a strong-willed youngster (Dobson, 2004). Genetics may explain temperament, but being born a certain way does not permit a lack of boundaries as one matures. Dr. Dobson touched on this truth when he wrote, “…heredity provides a nudge in a particular direction – a definite impulse or inclination – but one that can be brought under the control of our rational processes. In fact, we must learn early in life to do just that” (2004).


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