Obstinate. Defiant. Rebellious. Manipulative. Arrogant.
That was me growing up. Strong-willed would be quite generous. “I’m gonna knock that chip off your shoulder” was the daily mantra of my mother. I pretty much operated under the assumption I didn’t need permission or parents for much of anything. I recently apologized to my mother hoping the enduring curse will be broken as I parent a gaggle of strong-willed kids.
Yes, I have a number of strong-willed children but my eldest gets the first place prize. As a toddler he preferred shoes on the wrong feet. He could throw epic tantrums that often climaxed with vomiting. Once he could climb out of is crib keeping him in bed was a daily struggle and reminder to me how ill-equipped I was to take this kid on. Potty training? A nightmare! He was the stubbornest of eaters. To this day if he doesn’t want to eat something he simply will not. We have no decent pictures of him because for the past 13 years he has refused to look towards a camera. Everything has to be explained and make sense before he goes along with it. “Because I said so” has never influenced him in the slightest. He has a will of steel.
I have no way mastered this, but somethings I am working on in my parenting journey have proved invaluable to not just peace keeping, but actually molding the hearts of my strong-willed kids.
1. Choose your battles.
That saying gets wore out. But really. Choose your battles. When things escalate ask yourself if this is the hill you want to die on? My son and I have had knock down drag out fights over shoes, hot dogs and homework. Those battles frankly aren’t worth the fight.
2. God’s rule or my rule?
A wise man advised me (long before I was a mother) before you engage, decide whether your child is breaking your rule or God’s rule. Then act accordingly. If one of my kids doesn’t empty the dishwasher I try to handle that a lot differently than if they told a lie. Breaking a command of God has eternal weight. The dishes? Well, that’s just a bit annoying.
3. Say yes.
We will have to say no to a myriad of things we have moral and spiritual objections to. Say yes to all the other stuff. When you have to pull the “No” card it will have more impact. Our house may look more like Animal House than the Clevers but I’m ok with that.
4. Create Routine
Many arguments can be spared if your child simply knows what to expect next. If sometimes bath is after dinner or sometimes in the morning, you are setting the perfect stage for a battle royal. When there’s routine and clear expectation the strong-willed child feels secure and those war of the wills can be headed off at the pass.
Sometimes punishment should be deferred to letting the natural consequences play out. When my 4-year-old son refused to put on snow boots, I dropped him in 8 inches of snow. Guess what? He decided boots weren’t a bad idea. Let the natural consequences be. It may affect grades, cause her to miss the bus or letting him go hungry but that’s ok.
5. You are the boss.
Yes, there are times I hoist my parent flag high. Sometimes it is the way it is just because I said so. Sometimes there is just plain old punishment for bad behavior. Sometimes there is serious discipline administered for displaying a disobedient heart. God is like that with me. Sometimes I have to submit just because he’s bigger than me. It doesn’t have to make sense. I don’t have to agree. I just have to obey.
There are areas that having an unstoppable will isn’t just an asset, it’s a life-saver. Build up your child and feed their uniqueness. Channel their strength into a gift or ability that they possess. Feed their wild side in an appropriate environment.
Cultivate their personality with prayer. The God who made them knows everything about them. He knows their fears and dreams. He knows each woven fiber of their being. Ask him for help.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. James 1:5