Parenting a Strong-willed Child

imageThis post is shared today by a fantastic writer Robin Hardy. As a mother with younger children, I am so glad to read all of the wonderful advice that Robin has shared in this post. Robin is an author of christian fiction for the past 30 years. Visit her blog here where you will not only be able to read some wonderful blog posts, but you will also find a link to her books.


My mother offered up only one bit of parenting advice, and that was before I had my own two strong-willed children. She said, “You have to be smarter than the kid.”

Okay, great. But how do you outsmart a strong will? Basically, your goal is to get the child’s willing cooperation on the important things. Here are the general guidelines I’ve found helpful:

Find out what your child wants. That means you have to turn off your phone, sit down with your child, and listen to him. The usual complication is that they don’t really know what they want, or if they do, it’s not actually what they want. With my children, “what I want” often worked out to be a new experience rather than new things.

Use that as leverage. Bargaining, bribery, call it what you like; even young children can understand quid pro quo: “I will give you what you want if you give me what I want.” But this means you have to

Keep your promises. If you don’t keep your end of the bargain, your children will learn that they don’t have to, either. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Do Not Lie, Ever. Conversely,

Keep your threats. Stop threatening to ground your child for a month; it’s impossible, and that makes it toothless and useless. You have to be fully prepared to follow through with whatever you promise, good or bad. So:

Make punishments reasonable. This takes a lot of thought, especially when you’re dealing with situations at school when you’re not there. From the time my gregarious son started school, he exasperated a stream of teachers with his excessive socialization. His first-grade teacher addressed the problem by putting his desk in a corner, facing the wall. I did not object. The problem ballooned in middle school, and his 6th grade (7th? 8th?) home-room teacher sent me increasingly agitated messages about his failure to shut up in class.

Here’s the solution I finally hit on, with the teacher’s permission. The next time I got a complaint from her, I made my son memorize a short passage from Shakespeare that evening. The next day, she had him stand up in front of class and recite the passage, with citations. He enjoyed it, and so did the class. Because the teacher praised him, he was motivated to regard her requests—for a while.

A few days later, I received another message from her, so he got to memorize another, longer passage. Drilling him on that ate up the evening for both of us, which made him pretty unhappy. He delivered the speech competently the next day, but I had already warned him that the next message from her would mean a longer passage still.

The day came that he had to memorize Hamlet’s soliloquy—the whole shebang. It took two, maybe three days for him to get it down to my satisfaction, and by that time he was heartily sick of the shtick. Still, I heard that he gave the greatest performance of his life, and after that, he found more discreet ways to socialize than disrupting class.

Accept your limitations. My daughter spent about four years in the Terrible Twos. I could not take her anywhere without full-blown, thrashing-on-the-floor tantrums. The time she pulled down her diaper in front of the perfume counter at Bloomingdale’s made for great family lore later, but at the time, it was just another day of the week for me. She was indifferent to spankings, groundings, deprivations of all kinds. I could not reach her or reason with her. I still remember that day in church when she was about four years old. We stood for prayer, but I did not close my eyes. I was watching her lean on the back of the pew in front of us. The purse belonging to the lady in that pew lay in my daughter’s line of sight.

Yes. I watched in horror as my child reached over the pew and lifted the purse.

I wrenched it from her hands; the lady wheeled around; my husband picked up our daughter to carry her screaming out of the auditorium.

At that time, I gave up. For months—possibly years—afterward, I didn’t take her anywhere. I let her pitch fits at home. She did go to preschool several days a week, where I’m told she did fine. But that was it.

Finally, one day, light broke. During one of her tantrums, I pleaded, “Please don’t do that.” She looked at me and said, “Okay.” Then she went off to play quietly. And from then on, she was a delightful, reasonable child. Most of the time.

Which brings me to another of my mother’s aphorisms: “This too shall pass.” It did, and it will.

This entry was posted in November 2015 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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