Many of you have heard the dreaded curse word “strong-willed” child. I am not sure when “strong-willed” became a societal curse word right along with its counter part the “terrible 2’s” (although this latter “buzz” word is one of which I would vehemently argue against, I’ll save that for another blog). Unfortunately, these two “flaws” became a reflection that rested solely on the parent. I find it kind of funny how when I was a young adult, I had this idea in my head on how I would parent and the things I would never let my child say and do. Spanking would be my #1 go to because you gotta keep those babes in line. Then, I had kids…
I am not sure where the idea birthed that parenting was about submission and the goal a compliant child, but there I stood in this awkward position with a war of the mind and wills playing out between me and this once sweet child. If the goal of parenting wasn’t a mindless compliant child for fear of pain, how would I begin to bridge the gap of wanting my kids to set about choosing to “mind”? And also allowing them to feel empowered by the freedom of choice with room to make the wrong choices? While pondering how to play connect the dots externally, I was also dealing with a budding young girl full of life, love, and strength, I soon began realizing that the connection had to be made internally. The power to crush her spirit was in the palm of my hands. It all boiled down to relationship. Am I valuing relationship with this ferocious 4 year old or am I all about the end result? Sadly, many times I wanted the end result, a pious, pleasant 3 year old of which her rightful psychological immaturity didn’t interfere (I hope you are laughing if you see any self reflection in these words).
A perfect picture began to emerge of the Father’s love for His children. His gentle ways are all about relationship and not about the end result (although the end result is certainly a goal). It’s about the personal relationship we have with God. If not, all we would have left would be automation droids just completing “goodly” tasks and never basking in the love of the Father for us personally, uniquely, and us individually loving Him back. No personal choice.
So I say: “don’t fret momma,” if you have a stubborn, strong-willed child in your toting care. You have the makings of something or should I say, someone great. As a side result, stats and case studies show these children grow to be the brains of many an operation; from doctors to lawyers and company CEO’s, they are go-getters and self- motivators with the fervency to make more money and accomplish more than the rest of their peers in general.
I would love to say I have the perfect formula for success, but what I can share is the journey we have been walking through, what has been working for us and our vivacious now almost 6-year-old. When we were wandering through the earlier years with her she had this sweet-kindness exuding from her. She was quite a talker and rather intelligent by her doctor’s standards. However, when her sweet baby brother arrived that sweetness kind of took a nose-dive and never quite seemed to recover. It was almost an overnight process and we were like: “what happened to our sweet baby?” Can anyone relate? We muddled through with many tactics which ended up blowing up in our faces, again and again, but we knew we would be given wisdom to parent this child productively. So we pressed in, asking God for wisdom. She seemed to be set off in emotional mini-explosions with little provocation. Lashing out in anger became her go-to response beginning with hitting and graduating to incessant mouthiness and back talk. We did room time, chair time, explaining via talk time, spanking time, negotiating time. But the real issue for her ended up being a mix of relational mind engagement. Only one tact could not stand alone, rightfully so, as we are dynamic beings should expect the need to adopt more dynamic parenting. We noticed when these needs were met, she began to blossom. Her song returned, her joy, her peace even. We’re still a work in progress, but drastic, positive change has come. Some of our big helpers were Positive Parenting Solutions (an online parenting series) and the book The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman, coupled with being sensitive to what we felt God was saying during these months and years.
The changes that took place in our daughter were huge, changing the atmosphere of the home. Angry glares turned to peaceful smiles. She wouldn’t even allow me to rub her back at one time and now she asks for it. She hated daily quiet time and would never want to stay in her room by herself. Now she can’t wait for afternoon quiet time so she can disappear into her own land of castles and make believe. Night hours were always the most difficult and now she goes to bed virtually on her own. Her joy returned, her song too. A peace that is all her own. She is self assured in LOVE and her heart is soaring.
To summarize: Building relationship had to be front and center. This created a trickle-down effect, not only impacting the tone we speak to her, but how we responded or didn’t respond to her antics. Proving she is unconditionally loved in all circumstances. Obviously we are not perfect in this area as we still have tough days; days we need to ask our kids to forgive us for our bad attitudes and outbursts (even in that it is just another teaching tool for them and humbling tool for us). We often question our motivations for why we say “no” to her or why we respond the way we do. Fulfilling the need to spend that one-on-one time with her individually as parents (each child, if possible) daily. It doesn’t need to be a long time, just a time where we are fully engaged in what she is about and wants to do. Also, acknowledging her feelings in all things is a must. Whether she is angry, sad, offended, and even disagreeable. She needed to feel heard and powerful in her own right. Never underestimate the power of choice. But as with all choices in life their are always consequences, either for good or bad. So immediate consequences we initiated (trying to make them applicable to the offense at hand) for offending attitudes or actions. In addition, teaching her that her feelings are not wrong, but sometimes her choices from those feelings needed adjustment (I’m sure I will get to that on a later blog).
Mind engagement has also been pivotal in this journey. Daily cerebral challenges expanded her energies in new ways that also filled her love tank by way of accomplishments and “atta-boys”. So we set up shop and I bought some easy Pre-K books filled with fun and color (from BJ’s Wholesale of all places) and began an amazing journey for her at an early age to put her mind at work. She really began to thrive under the attention and activity.
In conclusion, If you have been one of those parents stuck with ‘the dreaded curse word’. I encourage you mom, dad, and caregiver alike. Let’s imagine that “strong-willed” may be a very gift from God, not only to the child, but also to you as the parent and eventually to the world in his or her future spheres of influence. Allow it to mold and expand you. Allow their Spirit to flourish and not lawfully crush their heart. Watch communication unfold before you as you willingly allow a paradigm shift to transform your parenting style as you walk with Father on this new journey. Ask Him about your unique child. He has a way for them. He has a way for you. I could not imagine a world without strong wills. After all, who could be a Christ follower without one? We are learning right along with you so here’s to enjoying the journey.