When we talk about a strong willed child we tend to think in terms of loud and forceful behaviour that doesn’t conform to society. The parenting catch cry for these children has been ‘don’t break their spirit’ and out of fear of that happening we let these children continue to be loud, forceful and to some degree disrespectful of society around them. No child’s spirit should be broken – that really isn’t the issue (unless you are a bully-parent). Our catch cry should be Build the spirit of the strong willed child.
The difference comes as we understand the word ‘spirit’. Usually we see their attitude and their passion as their ‘spirit’ but that is only the outworking of their spirit. Everyone’s actions come out of their heart – how you live out your heart will be shaped by your personality – and in this case these strong willed people will live out what is in their heart with passion, force, and strength.
The role of a parent with any child is to teach and train their children’s heart so that they can run their unique path that is ahead of them. A strong willed child left to their own devices will be as selfish and self centered as the weak willed child – the heart is the issue. It is our job as parents to teach and train the hearts of our children – in the way in which they should go.
- A strong willed child need to be other’s centered.
- A strong willed child needs to show self control.
- A strong willed child needs to be responsible.
And when we teach the heart – they can do those things with a strength and passion that others may lack.
The way we teach the heart is by identifying a moral truth, belief, or skill that is missing and defining what it means, why it is important and how it looks. We then need to put that into practice. Remember what the heart believes affects our actions. Toddlers and pre-schoolers especially need to see truth in action for them to start to understand, though older children need to see truth in action to accept it as truth otherwise they see hypocrisy.
Teaching heart issues to the strong willed child is no different than teaching it to any other child – we need to model, teach, practice and expect – but the journey through these different steps will be different – and that is the whole reason we talk about the strong willed child. Parenting them is exhausting and confronting. But it is important that we first understand that it is the heart we are teaching, not conformity. We don’t want to change who they are in terms of their passion and strength for life – but we do want their heart to be towards God and other people.
Understanding the Strong Willed Child
When we understand the strong willed child we can start to think through heart focused parenting strategies that will help this individual child.
1—They want to be in control. The strong willed child wants to be in control of his own life and this is where most the conflict comes from. From a Christian perspective – God will use a strong willed person, but He still expects to be obeyed. So it isn’t about just letting a strong willed child be the boss of his own life, regardless of his desire to be the boss, he isn’t. The thing is, if we take our role of authority with an iron rod our strong willed child reacts – strongly! We back down, and they take control. Not a win-win situation. Instead we need to be firm, but gentle. The best way to establish this in our home, and in the life of our little strong willed person, is to be intentional and consistent. A strong willed child will take advantage of your indecision so you must think ahead of time and be prepared to live that out – even at personal cost.
2—They want to choose. Every time we expect obedience we are giving our children a choice – will I or won’t I obey? It is helpful to articulate this choice to the strong willed child. You have a choice – you can obey me, or not obey. When you obey you will be doing the right thing (whatever that is), but if you choose to not obey then this is what will happen (insert consequence). Our children have the choice but they cannot choose the consequences.
3—They need to be real. Strong will children are experiential learners – they need to see the truth of what you are saying. So show them. Show them the dangers, show them how to act, show them tangible examples of the abstract things you want them to understand.
4—They want to be independent. I can do it – is the mindset of the strong willed child – even if they can’t! This attitude should be a trigger to a parent to make sure that we are teaching them the skills to do it. Now, they may not in all honesty be able to do it yet but if they can we must be diligent to push their skills. It is important for us to discern between physical skills and moral choices. They may not have the moral capacity to go shopping on their own, though they have the physical capacity to walk by themselves.
Parents of the Strong Willed Child
Parents need to be
- Intentional – you need to know what is an appropriate expectation on your child and always be stretching then to learn new things. You need to know what your boundaries are – what is your line in the sand – the absolutes.
- Consistent – Consistency creates a sense of routine and that way the routine is the boss, not you.
- Discerning – choose your battles. We need to know what is important, why it is important and not budge. But not everything falls into this category.
- Refreshed – In the early years a strong willed child is exhausting, both physically and emotionally. You need to make sure that you find time to sleep, eat, and refresh.
We need to stop seeing the strong willed child as a threat to our parenting, or as a child that needs to be fixed, albeit with kid gloves out of a fear of ‘breaking’ them! These kids are little people who are determined to be self-governing – we just have to give them the moral understanding and the life skills to do so.
Do you want to be Heart Focused in all you do?
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