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Surviving a Strong-Willed Child

Four tips for interacting with a stubborn child.

by Tricia Goyer I used to laugh when my mother-in-law, Darlyne, told me how my husband was a strong-willed child. That is until our daughter turned out to be exactly like her dad.

Darlyne used to tell stories about when John was a baby. She said he'd crawl to the nearest electrical outlet and want to stick his finger in it. She'd tell him no, gently slap his hand and pull him away, yet he'd return. She'd do that over and over, trying to hinder him. She'd turn his attention to something else, trying to distract him. Finally, she'd give up and she'd have to cover the outlet.

“But, I learned as he grew that his strong will benefited him in the long run,” Darlyne told me. I believed her.

A scrawny high schooler, John was told he'd never make it in the Marines. So he joined. He not only made it, but he also graduated top of his class. In the military, he stayed true to God, even when alcohol and women were readily available to him. All through life, he's lived as a man of honor and excels in his work. His strong will has taken him far.

This, of course, wasn't comforting as I dealt with my own strong-willed child. Leslie was a sweet baby doll her first year of life, but things changed once she turned two. She'd have tantrums if she didn't get her way. She would hide behind me and refuse to talk when people approached her. If I gave her a blue cup, she'd wanted the red one. If I offered a cookie, she'd want a cracker, and vice versa. Each day was a battle—my will against hers. I loved my child, but there were days when I didn't like her that much.

The parenting class "Growing Kids God's Way" helped a lot. I can't remember everything that was taught, but here are some things that I stuck to along the way.

  1. I narrowed my daughter's choices. Instead of offering a blue cup and her demanding a green one, I'd offer both colors and let her pick from those two. Of course she'd then want the red cup, but I didn't give in. She had to pick between the two. This worked for clothes and snacks and other things. I'd still give my daughter a choice, but I'd limit those choices. After a while the battles stopped. She soon understood that I wouldn't give in to her whines.
  2. I prepared her for interaction. If we were going to church I'd explain possible things that could happen, such as people introducing themselves or commenting on her pretty dress. I'd role-play the correct response with her. And then I'd reward her when she responded correctly. I soon discovered that with some instruction my daughter not only responded correctly, but she also soon came out of her shell and became a chatterbox.
  3. I stood by my word. Even if my daughter disagreed or challenged me, I didn't give in. I learned that giving in was showing her that a bad attitude would get her what she wanted—and that's not what I wanted to reward. Once that no longer worked, she soon discovered that behaving well got her the best results.
  4. I focused her strong will on positive things—like academics, piano, and friendships. I gave her the tools to excel in things she was good at, using her will as a benefit. And when the going got tough, she dug in.

Those are a few simple things that helped me. As the months passed, my daughter's attitude changed and I enjoyed her more and more. I also discovered her strong will did help her excel. Now at age 18, she is a student leader at church, she shares her faith with people others often overlook, and when her peers were graduating from high school, she'd already finished her first two years of college. There are times, of course, when my will still doesn't match hers, but I'm appreciative that God made her who she is for a reason—and with a will like that she'll be able to do many things for His glory!

Copyright © 2013 by Tricia Goyer. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

This article originally appeared on MomLife Today, FamilyLife’s blog for moms. Click here for more posts by Tricia Goyer and the other MLT bloggers.

For more than a decade, author Tricia Goyer has drawn from her experiences as a teen mother to be a voice of hope and possibility for teen girls, pregnant teens, mothers, and wives. Married to John for 20 years and the mother of four, Tricia believes ordinary women can accomplish extraordinary things with God’s help. She shares this message in her 25 contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and nonfiction books and through speaking engagements across the country.

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