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Loving the Strong-Willed Child Without Losing One’s Mind, Part 3: Guidance and Discipline

The Strong-Willed Child: Guidance and Discipline

No matter what temperament rules a child’s being, parental guidance and discipline are essential. Adults must parent with a purpose, as explained by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their book, Boundaries With Kids. The authors point out that parents must consider more than the present when raising children – they must think about the future of their kids. When reflecting upon every aspect of parenting, the following must be remembered: “A person’s character is one’s destiny” (Cloud & Townsend, 1998). A child may be born with a strong will, but it is a parent’s responsibility to help mold that child’s character through a loving relationship and effective discipline.

Before addressing specific discipline techniques, it is important to explore building the relationship necessary for any type of success in parenting. Throughout their presentation, Clinton and Sibcy stated that “rules without relationship lead to rebellion” and “the quality of your relationship will determine the effectiveness of your discipline strategies” (AACC, 2006). If a parent does not appear to care about a child, adolescent, or teenager, then why would that child have any desire to respect the boundaries set by that parent? Clinton and Sibcy expressed this idea by stating that, “Boundaries make sense when given in love” (AACC, 2006). Parents can tell their kids they love them all day long, but any parent will agree that children believe behavior above spoken words. There is a tremendous amount of effort needed on the part of any parents who are truly dedicated to building a trust-worthy relationship with their children. There is no room for laziness or excuses. Perfection is not required of any parent, but love and care are absolutely necessary.

There are a variety of methods shown to build a healthy relationship with one’s child. According to Jacquelyn H. Flaskerud, RN, PhD, FAAN, of the University of California – Los Angeles School of Nursing (2011), maintaining a certain family environment is more fruitful in encouraging positive behavior. This environment includes the following: a positive emotional atmosphere, affection and compassion from the parents, regular schedules, and treating children with respect (Flaskerud, 2011). Flaskerud (2011) and Clinton and Sibcy (AACC, 2006) encouraged “special time,” which consists of being a participant in an activity of the child’s choice for fifteen to twenty minutes per day. Special time does not include questions, prying, or commands; it is a time to simply engage in play (AACC, 2006). This is an occasion to just relax, let the child lead, and show genuine interest in that child’s individuality (AACC, 2006). Another important aspect in guiding one’s child is listening. Young children are not capable of expressing their emotions with words, so they use behavior. By listening carefully, parents are provided a chance to assist children in learning words to express how they feel (Flaskerud, 2011). In addition to special time, Clinton and Sibcy promoted “floor time” (AACC, 2006). This can be taken literally when a child is small; it involves getting down on the floor and interacting with them. As they get older, floor time equates to quality moments when the parent shows a child interest, engagement, and interaction (AACC, 2006). Creating consistent habits such as breakfast together or car-pooling can develop chances for open dialogue between parent and child (AACC, 2006).

In addition to open communication, children need the ability to have safe communication with their parents (Cloud & Townsend, 1998). Children of all ages withhold conversation from their parents out of “fear of loss of love and fear of reprisal” (Cloud & Townsend, 1998). Rather than strengthening those fears, parents need to put their children at ease. This can be done by believing, and letting kids know, that “all feelings are acceptable, and expressing feelings is a good thing” (Cloud & Townsend, 1998). Children need empathy, connection, and acceptance; they also need structure and self-discipline, all of which should be found within and promoted by the parent (Cloud & Townsend, 1998). A parent must show gentleness and love combined with strength, and even if conflict arises, warmth should be displayed afterward to reassure the child (Cloud & Townsend, 1998).

In spite of implementing these strategies, there will always be children who determine that their way is the only way, questioning their parents’ authority and testing the behavioral boundaries. The parents of strong-willed children will often find themselves thinking the unthinkable: they may love their strong-willed kids, but they honestly do not like them (AACC, 2006). Kids do not understand the difference and may believe that Mom and Dad do not love them anymore. An unfavorable outlook of the child can develop, causing a breakdown in communication (AACC, 2006). This negativity is known as “CNN Syndrome;” no matter what good is within the youngster, the parent does not see it or reinforce it (AACC, 2006). Parents seeking professional counseling at this point may wish for the therapist to “fix” their strong-minded child; however, they must come to a place acceptance of this child instead. As Clinton and Sibcy (2006) explained, “These parents need to decide at some point whether they are going to accept their child’s uniqueness, however challenging it may be, and commit to building the relationship.” This does not mean complying with unacceptable behavior; it means putting forth the extra effort it will take to lead that child into adulthood.

For some kids, a firm word is all it takes to bring out the tears - like with my grandson.

For some kids, a firm word is all it takes to bring out the tears – like with my grandson.

Because the behavior of a strong-willed child can be frustrating, parents must make the distinction between discipline and punishment. Clinton and Sibcy explained, “As parents, we are not punishing wrong behavior when we discipline; we’re shaping character” (2006). While discipline corrects and teaches a child, punishment can degrade and cause emotional harm. Punishment comes as a reaction to the behavior and from a place of anger within the parent. Quite simply, punishment is never appropriate. In addition, using corporal punishment out of that place of anger can cause emotional and physical damage to a child. Spanking a child is a topic of debate, yet even experts who promote the appropriate use of spanking condemn doing so when emotions are high (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006). Punishment destructs; discipline constructs.

How, then, does one appropriately discipline the strong-willed child? The specific techniques vary depending on the age of the child. Even a strong-willed baby cannot understand a swat on the behind for doing what babies do, like crying in the middle of the night or wiggling during a diaper change (Dobson, 2004). Infants should not receive direct discipline; however, it is healthy for parent and child to establish a “balance between giving your baby the attention she needs and establishing her as a tiny dictator” (Dobson, 2004). In other words, as long as the child is safe, it is not necessary to pick her up every time she cries; otherwise, the parent is reinforcing that behavior (Dobson, 2004).

As the child grows, disciplinary measures will change. With toddlers, distraction and persistence are effective (Dobson, 2004). Once a child is old enough to understand consequences of behavior, discipline should involve an explanation of those consequences – and the fortitude to enforce them. This may mean lecturing, corporal discipline, time-out, or a loss of privileges (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006). Discipline will definitely involve experimentation, as every child is different. The following are healthy, effective steps in disciplining children: creation of an environment for moral growth, establishment of clear rules and limits, teaching a child the reasons behind the rules, discernment between intentional defiance and childish irresponsibility, avoidance of making impossible demands upon the child, teaching virtues that strengthen and guide behavior, and above all, allowing love to guide the parent while correcting the child (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006). Parents, especially those of the strong-willed child, must have the “courage to be hated” (Cloud & Townsend, 1998). Even if children do not like the rules or the outcome of breaking those rules, parents “need to be able to contain the protest, stay connected, not strike back, and remain the parent” (Cloud & Townsend, 1998). The expression “kids have enough friends; they need parents” rings true. In my personal experience, if a parent shows loving, consistent, firm discipline while the child is growing up, then the child will transition into becoming a friend upon adulthood.


References

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

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.”

pregnancy_photo

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).


References

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

Loving the Strong-Willed Child Without Losing One’s Mind: Part 1, Characteristics

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.

Abstract

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.

My strong-willed granddaughter, whom I adore!

My strong-willed granddaughter!

Introduction
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.


References

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