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oh that iron will

I recognized that gleam in her eyes. I know it well. “Sit down in the cart before you fall,” I said as I tugged on her shirt. She glared at me and after a few reminders to sit, she had enough, narrowed her big blue eyes, and said, “Shut up!” As a fellow strong-willed soul myself, I like to win. Not to be outdone, I quickly let her know this behavior was inappropriate and swiftly handled the situation. This is my kid.

Yep, I am one too. I have always wanted to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, how I want to do it. I believe my mom and dad would agree this is accurate. I am of the non-sneaky variety, however. I wanted them to know I disagreed and to know I was disobeying. It somehow brought satisfaction for them to realize what I was doing. No, I do not want to clean the kitchen now. Yes, I want to go with my friends this weekend and I will be going with my friends this weekend. I am never wearing those ugly shoes. That is a ridiculous idea and I will not be a part of this or that. Door-slamming and eye-rolling were my specialties. Oddly enough, I also desperately wanted them to stick with their answer of “no” because I could respect that. I was tough, but that meant they were tougher. I liked that. I also knew that it meant they loved me and cared enough to stay strong even when I resisted it.

I remember telling my parents I could not wait to grow up so I would have nobody to tell me what to do. My dad reminded me that God would always have authority over me, and besides the Lord, I would have bosses and other people in life I have to follow. This was a tough realization as a determined child, but taught me to respect authority and submit to the Lord.

For those of us who were strong-willed children who have become strong-willed mommies and daddies, we more easily understand this trait than those who are compliant. It might be a shock to parents who are naturally compliant to suddenly have a back-talking, stubborn little booger-head on their hands. It might be confusing to know how to handle strong-willed children and how to best raise them and guide their spiritedness in a positive way. They also come in different forms. Some are strong-willed out in the open while some are quiet and strong-willed under cover. Some are slightly strong-willed and some are extreme. No matter what type of little angel you have been given, there are several things to remember when dealing with strong-willed children.

1. It’s a GIFT (just like compliance). God has given each child a special personality and temperament. Strong-willed children should not be labeled as simply defiant, stubborn individuals. They have a unique spirit about them that God can use for great tasks. Often, their determined and immovable spirit may be difficult to teach and guide as toddlers, but can help them stay immovable when pressured to participate in unwholesome activities later in childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood.

2. Exercise love and control. There must be checks and balances. An oppressive, authoritative home will cause resentment while a lax, lenient home will allow the child to do whatever, whenever, and keep them from learning to respect authority. Allowing them to run the show at home, can also turn incredibly dangerous if parents are afraid to set boundaries.

3. Set clear rules and boundaries. This is only fair for any child. They need to know expectations ahead of time. They cannot meet expectations they are unaware of. If this means discussion at the kitchen table, go for it. If rules need to be written and posted on the refrigerator, do it. This eliminates arguments about whether they knew the expectations or not.

4. Act early. Parents will know they have a strong-willed baby early on. Rejoice! Hang on for a challenging yet rewarding journey. From the beginning, be conscious to exercise loving authority with the child. Let them see your tenderness and love while setting and enforcing rules and boundaries. This is essential for the most peaceful childhood and adolescence possible. It may be cute to some parents for toddlers to throw fits and talk back but teenage years come quickly and those fits are not so cute. The consequences for disobedience and lack of self-control in the adolescent years also become greater. It is difficult for parents to lack discipline in the early years and decide to begin discipline as they enter adolescence. This is confusing for the child and creates a mountain of conflict at home.

5. Expect confrontation. This may be more difficult for our compliant mommies and daddies out there who do not understand these iron-willed darlings. Even when afraid, stick to the rules that have been set and enforce them. Feel free to go to the bedroom closet and cry afterward. No parent wants to experience conflict with children, but it is necessary as part of teaching children and being a parent. Dealing with conflict early and learning to navigate through it will avert conflict later on or will help when conflict does arise later. Through having a secure and loving relationship with parents that never fluctuates, the child has confidence that even during difficult situations, the relationship is solid and they are loved and supported.

6. Be careful not to talk negatively about a child to others. Despite the frustration that comes with parenting the tenacious strong-willed little friend, it may be hurtful to them if they hear mom or dad talking negatively about them on the phone to a friend. Never let them feel like a second-rate individual, especially compared to a sibling or friend. This can leave deep wounds. Despite the fire in the eyes and steadfastness in behavior, strong-willed children are sensitive too and can have their feelings hurt as easily as a compliant child. They sometimes will not acknowledge they are hurt and may hide their hurt feelings, which could surface later after resentment builds. Venting is necessary for parents at times and to share a struggle with a friend makes sense, just take care to share at an appropriate time out of the sensitive ears of the child.

7. Give the child the ability to make age-appropriate choices. Say “yes” as much as possible, so when “no” must be said, it is not the norm. When it comes to choices such as peanut butter over grilled cheese, let them have peanut butter. Some days, the little dear is going to want to mix plaid and stripes and head into public. It may be necessary to suggest a choice between two different shirts to match the striped leggings. This enables the child to still have a choice, but also teaches them how to match their clothes. One day the little one is going to want to play in the street and the answer is absolutely not. Pick battles wisely.

Don’t freak out when storms arise in childhood and adolescence. You can handle it! There will be difficult times but they will pass. Never write these wonderful, gifted blessings off! Stay in touch with them even if they act as if they do not want it. Hug them. Tell them you love them. Be present at their activities. There is hope they will grow to become respectful, peaceful, law-abiding citizens. I did (wink)!

Love,

Charis

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