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Understanding a Strong-Willed Child

with Darcy Kimmel, Tim Kimmel | August 24, 2010

Do you appreciate the uniqueness of your child? Parents themselves, Tim and Darcy Kimmel know how different children in a family can be. While some children are easy-going, others have stronger personalities. The Kimmels offer some practical advice for dealing with a strong-willed child.

Do you appreciate the uniqueness of your child? Parents themselves, Tim and Darcy Kimmel know how different children in a family can be. While some children are easy-going, others have stronger personalities. The Kimmels offer some practical advice for dealing with a strong-willed child.

Understanding a Strong-Willed Child

With Darcy Kimmel, Tim Kimmel
|
August 24, 2010
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob:  Imagine a cookbook where everything was baked at 350 for 20 minutes, no matter what it was.  You're cooking a hamburger.  You're cooking a cake.  Bake it for 350 at 20 minutes.  How will that work?  Unfortunately, when it comes to parenting, some of us try to use that "one size fits all" approach to raising children who are very different.  Here's Darcy Kimmel.

Darcy:  As a parent, it's so important to be a student of your child.  I mean, this is an eternal being that you have been entrusted with and so it's not hard to figure out what their bent is, it just takes some intentional research.  And that's why knowing their strength, knowing their personality bent starts giving a context.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 24th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey and I’m Bob Lepine.  Today we're going to help you discover what is the right way for you as a parent to bring out the best in your child. 

Welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us.  I remember thinking when our first born was born, "This parenting thing's easy!  I mean, we can have a dozen of these and we're not going to have any problem raising kids.  It's just, it's simple.

Dennis:  That's what happens when you only have one child.

Bob:  Why do parents struggle with their kids?  I don't get it.

Dennis:  And then God gave you five and then the conclusion was?

Bob:  Well then God gave me two.  All it took was two to go, "Oh there's so much more..."

Dennis:  Oh, so it didn't take you to the fifth child to realize you didn't know what you were doing?

Bob:  We're going to talk about some of those parenting challenges on today's program but we need to say a word of thanks here at the beginning of today's show.

Dennis:  We do, and I just want to say thanks to our legacy partners and folks who have donated to the ministry.  You know, every day we come to you with practical, biblical principles to help you in life's most important commitments:  your relationship with God, your relationship with your spouse, and raising the next generation of children, and we’re about to talk about raising children here in a moment.  But we couldn't do it if we didn't have donors standing with us day in and day out here on FamilyLife Today.  I just want to say thanks. 

I was thinking the other day, Bob that I have a chance from time to time to go and visit with donors from around the country.  I meet them at our Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences.  They'll come up and say "Hi," perhaps if we're out to eat, and they recognize us, and I get a chance face-to-face to say "Thank you."  That's just what I want to do today.  Although it's not face-to-face, it is heart-to-heart, and I really mean that, and I just want to express my appreciation.

Now today, we have with us a pair of old friends.  I hate to say that because that makes us all sound ancient!

Darcy:  We are!

Bob:  Well, let's just be honest about where we are!

(All laughing)

Tim:  Well, at least they're three of us.  We're showing our miles!

Dennis:  Well, Tim and Darcy Kimmel join us again on FamilyLife Today.  Darcy, Tim, welcome back.

Tim and Darcy:  Thank you.

Dennis:  Tim and Darcy have four children, three grandchildren...

Bob:  See, this is where age really gets measured...

Dennis:  It does!

Bob:  ...in the number of grandchildren.  I have one granddaughter, you have three.  Dennis, how many grandchildren do you have?

Dennis:  16.

Bob:  I just thought I'd show you where everybody is on the age meter!

Darcy:  We're amateurs!

Tim:  At least we're not pulling out our pictures.  This is where it gets ridiculous!

Dennis:  Tim and Darcy give leadership to Family Matters, which is all about building grace-based relationships.  You know, we definitely need help in doing that!  Tim and Darcy, I just appreciate you guys.  You're faithfulness to, first of all, the Bible, and bringing the Bible to people's homes in practical ways and equipping parents to be able to raise the next generation.  You're really all about helping parents not only build biblical convictions into their lives, but also understanding their children's bent.

Bob:  That's really an area where you've been focusing recently, this whole idea of helping parents understand the unique design of their child's personality.  I guess in some ways a personality's a little like a fingerprint:  everybody's got their own unique personality.  But there are some common characteristics that, I hate to pigeon hole, but there are some things where we can observe:  This person's more outgoing.  This person is more shy.  How do you break down?  Is there a way to view human personality and say, here are the shades in which that all gets put together?"

Tim:  Absolutely.  In fact, this goes back even a couple thousand years.  There are some very smart people observed.  We basically fall into four quadrants, and most of the personality tools you find out there drop into these four shades or shadows that you talk about. 

Each one is a great place to be from and each one has great strengths.  It has down sides, but the more I understand that as a parent and as a fellow member of a family, the better I can bring the best out of the people around me.

Bob:  So, we'll talk about somebody being kind of a natural-born leader—is leader one of those four quadrants?

Tim:  Usually, leader is a combination of the quadrant that has more of a control-type bent to it.  They kind of take over and lead.

Bob:  Like, "I'm in charge?"

Tim:  Yes, like "I'm in charge."  That's that one.  Combine with either "I want to get it right," that's more of a perfect type style, or "I want to have fun."  If you have a person that wants to say "I'm in charge, but we're going to have fun along the way," guess what?  People want to follow that kind of person.

Bob:  So, you're saying, "I'm in charge.  I want to have fun.  I want to get it right" are three of the four?

Tim:  Yes.  That's three of the four.  And then the other one is "Let's all get along."  That's the peace country-type person.

Dennis:  The people person.

Tim:  The people person.  They're wonderful, but if they're from that type of quadrant, guess what?  When they have a birthday party, you don't want to invite 20 kids over.  The fun people want 20 kids over; the peace people want two or three.

Bob:  They're best friends.

Tim:  Best friends.  When you go fishing, what do you put on a hook?  What you like to eat, or what the fish likes?  I've caught a lot of fish throwing out what they like.  And the same thing with my kids I want to win their heart.  I want to transfer to them a heart for God and it makes all the difference in the world.

Bob:  Darcy, most of us as parents just kind of assume that the things we would like would be the things our kids would like.  So if I'm a fun parent, I'm going to invite 20 kids over because that sounds like a party to me.  If I don't stop to realize that my son or daughter isn't necessarily wired like me, I can be trying to create experiences for them that just aren't getting there.

Darcy:  Right, and that creates hurt feelings, conflict, and as a parent it's so important to be a student of your child.  I mean, this is an eternal being that you have been entrusted with.  So it's not hard to figure out what their bent is it just takes some intentional research.  That's why this kid's flag page is so great, because this is fun!  It's not hard!  And it helps a parent figure out why my child is that way.

Bob:  The kid's flag page you mentioned.  Tim, explain for listeners what you're talking about.

Tim:  Well, we created a game that parents can play with their children.  You can play this on to age five, and when you're done, you can create this neat thing we call the flag page that they can understand what major quadrant of those four quadrants they come from.  What's their adopted quadrant?  There's always another one that you feel comfortable with.  And those two, in combination, create a really unique dynamic. 

Also, it helps you see where you're from.  For instance, you threw the question about fun-type parent.  What is a parent from Perfect Country?  And your kids are more of a fun-loving person or a peace-loving person?  Guess what?  Their rooms are not going to be kept very neat because they don't care.  But what if mom is from Perfect Country and it's got to be perfect all the time?  Well she might be demanding a standard of quality for how they keep their bedroom that just brings the worst out of them. 

At the same time, we're not saying that kids can just trash the place.  In our family, we had a couple of kids that could care less about their room.  We just gave them the leaf blower on Saturday and said, "Whether you think this needs it or not, clean it up,” and every Saturday, they cleaned up their room, and then it would just deteriorate from there on.  But if we would have insisted, we would have sent kids out of our home with a chip on their shoulder, bitter towards us, on things that weren't as important to them as they were to us.

Bob:  But, you know, the mom from Perfect Country, who just heard you say that, said "No!  No!  No!  No!  Things being right and in order and clean this is right!  This is not a personality issue, this is a moral issue!"

Darcy:  Well then she has crossed over because sometimes we do make our own likes, dislikes and personality issues more of a moral issue.  That can really drive a wedge between us and our kids and our kids and God.

Dennis:  You know, Dr. James Dobson made an interesting statement.  He said, "There is no such thing as biblically-approved personality, only biblically-approved character."  I heard that early on as we were raising our kids and that relieved a great deal of stress from Barbara and me as parents of constantly trying to make a personality prescribed. 

Each of our children, all six of them, were very, very different.  I mean, we had the partiers, the fun kids.  We had the intellectuals.  We had the leaders who wanted to get it done and we had the followers who wanted to follow.  It was interesting to see the tension that places not only on the parent to understand the children and who they are but also to watch the relationships between the children.

Tim:  Sure, there are some kids that want to play together, and there are others just satisfied to be by themselves.  We need to understand this.  Otherwise, we bring the worst out of them.  You know what we're talking about, though, when you get above all this and you say to that Perfect Country mom, "Lighten up," we're saying, "Why don't you treat your kids the way God treats you?"  Because He's dealing with us in grace, and that quote you gave by Dr. Dobson is reflecting the gracious heart of God. 

You don't define personality through morals, you do character by that.  And I can have a character-driven from Fun Country or Peace Country or Control Country or Perfect Country just as easily.  But if I just make mine superior, then we're going to go into a tailspin.  That's what I think a lot of parents do.  I think a lot of it happens unwittingly because they don't have tools or some simple way to help identify what's there.

Dennis:  Or it's the sheer numbers like Bob was talking about when you had one; "We got this covered."

Tim:  Yes, well, any parent that whines about the pressure of parenting, for us with four or six or five...we're just like "Sorry, you don't get to do that.  Because you can double-team one kid."  But two kids, that's a man-to-man defense.  Three kids is a zone defense.  Four kids is a prevent defense. 

Dennis:  What's six, Tim?

(laughing)

Darcy:  Mayhem.

Tim:  After four it's all prevent!  You just give them the short one just don't let them get behind you for that bomb. 

In fact, I think of Michael and Krista.  These were parents that had two boys, David and Grant. 

David was her oldest one, and this kid was just embarrassing to them.  He thought he was so funny and he would always be cracking jokes, but he's just a little kid he doesn't know how to get them balanced.  He thought he was a great dancer and he didn't have rhythm, and he would want to dance at inappropriate times, like coming in to church, or whatever.

Dennis:  You could be describing Bob at this point.

(All laughing)

Tim:  And then on top of that, he was just so nit-picky.  He didn't want his food touching, and when it came to bedtime ritual, if you did it out of sequence, it drove him nuts and he would make a scene.  What's the difference whether you brush your teeth or go to the bathroom first?  Who cares?  Well it cared to him. 

So they just thought "We are doomed.  We've got this kid that's driving us nuts!"  They took the kid's flag page and they found out that their kid hails from Fun Country, and their adoptive country is Perfect Country.  So he wanted to have a good time, but he wants to get it right.  And both parents were from Control Country.  They just wanted to take charge and do it their way.

Tim:  First of all, they asked God in their heart to forgive them for marginalizing their son when there wasn't anything wrong with him.

Dennis:  Trying to make him like them.

Tim:  Yes.  And they decided to do something fun.  So he likes to entertain.  By the way, when you're from Fun Country and you're from Perfect Country, they make the world's greatest entertainers.  That combination is entertainers.

Bob:  Karaoke was invented for these people, wasn't it?

Tim:  Yes (laughing).  So get this:  his dad put his mind to this and made some fake microphones, and then he got out his iPod and he put the kids up on their king-sized bed and said, "Kids, we're going to have a concert.  We're going to call this Rock star Village, and you guys are going to put on a rock concert." 

His son David just lit up, and he (dad) got out the video camera and he turned on some songs.  The kids were just dancing and doing their air guitars and singing and then he pulled them down like VH1 Behind the Music interview and asked "How long have you been a rock star?"  And they were like "I've been one all my life," and they were like five years old.  And they were like "Oh I just love entertaining people."  And that went on and on and on.  They had this great time and they videotaped it.

 Well, a couple of months later, they took them on a train trip, and up in northern Arizona they have a thing called the Polar Express.  They just take a train out of town for half an hour to where Santa's Village is, and it's something that the kids look forward to.

Bob:  The Polar Express in Arizona?

Darcy:  Yes, we get snow in Arizona! 

Tim:  Just to let you know, in 2010, Arizona lead all 50 states in snowfall, including Alaska.  So we got a lot of snow this year, just not in Phoenix!

So they took them up to the Polar Express.  The kids are having a wonderful time!  Then the next year he took them to Disneyland and they were having a wonderful time.  He's putting his son to bed, and his son suddenly got very quiet and reflective.  And he knew he always said something serious when he does this.

He says, "Dad, this was a great trip.  This is the third best event of my life." 

He said, "Really?  What were the other two?" 

He said the second was the Polar Express.  He asked, "What was the greatest?" 

And he said, "Rock star Village." 

He hugged that boy, put him to sleep and prayed over him, and he went to talk to his wife and he said, "We would've been such fools to write this boy off as being a misfit and a socially awkward nightmare when all along God had wired him to entertain."  His whole thing about food and rituals, he wants to get it right.  And they wanted to honor that.  By the way, there's been a lot more peace in that family ever since they figured this out.

Dennis:  Well, you actually help parents at that point understand how the child is wired.  Again, it's not excusing behavior, but it's putting the child's life in context.  There's one other area I want you to talk about, Darcy, and that's the issue of strong-willed children.  How does understanding their bent help a parent in terms of raising a child who is constantly pushing back or refusing to be compliant?

Darcy:  Well, some parents have very compelling children.  Most parents think their child is strong-willed, and yet there are some that know they are.  And what usually happens is that the parents lock horns with them.  It is just a constant struggle and it takes a lot of the joy out of the family.  It really diminishes the other siblings because so much energy is going into that one strong-willed child.  Knowing their personality bents, knowing their strengths, knowing that being a strong-willed person is a strength starts giving a context. 

We have two granddaughters, and one of them is very easy-going and the other one is quite strong-willed and I have a little story about this strong-willed granddaughter.  Her sister, Riley, had accepted Jesus at vacation Bible school when she was seven.  Her main mission field was then after that was her little sister, Lydia.  But Lydia was a self-proclaimed pagan because every time Riley would bring this up, Lydia would say, "I'm not ready to accept Jesus into my heart!  I don’t have Jesus into my heart, and don’t ask me anymore!” 

So, you know, if Karris (our daughter) hadn’t known that Lydia was strong-willed and this was the way she was, she may have come down on her and said, “Don’t say that!” 

But she said, “Okay Lydia.  You know what?  When you’re ready, when God is ready, you’re going to go and accept Jesus.”  Well then, Lydia says, “But Mom, I would like to be baptized.  I don’t want to accept Jesus yet, but I want to be baptized because I want to swim in church!”  She wants to swim in church!

(laughing)

She thinks that’s what they’re doing down there.  Our daughter Karris said, “No, honey, you can’t get baptized until you know Jesus.”  So, in the middle of the night, Lydia got up and she had wet her bed and she had gone in to Karris and said, “I wet my bed, Mom.”  Karris cleaned her up, got her all dry, but the next morning, Lydia got up and she says, “Guess what?  I asked Jesus into my heart!” 

Karris said, “Tell me about that!”  She said, “Well, all night God was waking me up and telling me it was time, I kept starting to pray but I kept falling back to sleep, and then He would wake me up and I’d fall back to sleep.  Finally, Mommy, He made me wet the bed!  And how long has it been since I wet the bed?!  A couple years!  I’m five, Mommy, I don’t wet the bed anymore!”  She said, “But Jesus made me wet the bed, I got down on my knees, and accepted Jesus into my heart.”

Bob:  Wow.

Dennis:  What a story.

Darcy:  And so for a strong-willed child, they want some control over what’s happening in their life.

Bob:  That’s an important distinction that you made right there at the end because when we hear about a strong-willed child, I think as a parent, one of my assignments is to get my strong-willed child to understand there is authority and there is respect for authority, and you are not the authority, and I am.  This is a character lesson, now, this is moral…

Dennis:  It’s not the issue of the will at that point.

Bob:  …You’re going to have to learn that you obey Mommy and Daddy; you’re not in charge!

Tim:  But Bob, we put a whole chapter in the book on bringing the best out of strong-willed children.  The key there, we say, is that we have the authority and they have to know we have the authority, but they just want some say in what’s going on in their immediate life.  You can give kids some say without surrendering authority.

Dennis:  I want to read a passage that’s the big picture.  It says, “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  What’s it teaching there?  

The Scriptures teach that each one of us has a God-assigned mission that we were uniquely designed for.  And as parents, we’ve been given these children not permanently, not to own, but as stewards to help shape and direct hopefully toward fulfilling the mission that God has for them.  I think tools like what Tim and Darcy have created here, the flag page game which helps parents sort through how each of their children are made, is indispensible in helping parents understand how to direct that child, build into his or her life, and ultimately release them like an arrow toward the target.

Bob:  And kids like doing it.  You pull it out and set it on the kitchen table, and the kids go, “This looks like fun!” And it is fun!  They learn about themselves.  All of a sudden as a parent, you’re getting some insight that you didn’t have, that kids are having a good time in the process, and you can use this over and over again and continue to refine your understanding of your child. 

Again, I think it’s a great resource that you created for parents, and we’ve got information about it in our FamilyLife Today resource center.  If you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, there’s more information about the Kid’s Flag Page game, and you can order it from us if you like.  FamilyLifeToday.com is the website.  Or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word “today.”  When you get in touch with us, ask about the Kid’s Flag Page game, and we’ll answer any questions you have or make arrangements to send one of these out to you.

Now let me give you just a quick update.  We’ve been encouraging you those who are regular listeners but who have never gotten in touch with us to let us know you are listening.  We’ve been asking you this month during the month of August you might consider making a first time donation to help support FamilyLife Today.  We are listener supported and in each of the cities where FamilyLife Today is heard we have folks who will call or online from time to time and make a donation to help cover the costs of producing and syndicating the costs of this daily radio program but this month we are hoping we can rally about 2500 first time donors.  Those of you who listen regularly but have never gotten in touch with us. 

If you can make a donation this month of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today we’d love to send you a CD series that features a conversation with authors Tim and Joy Downs about some of the most common causes of conflict in a marriage relationship.  They wrote a book called The Seven Conflicts of Marriage and we talked with them about that.  It’s a two CD series and we’ll send it out to you support FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount this month.

If you are making the donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com type the word “SEVEN” in the key code box on the online donation form and we will send the CDs to you.  Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your donation over the phone and ask for the CDs on conflict. 

Let me also mention if you are a first time donor this month and if you can help with a donation of $100 or more we would love to send you as a special thank you gift a certificate so that you and your spouse can attend an upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.  Again it’s just our way of saying thanks for stepping forward and identifying yourself and letting us know you are a FamilyLife Today listener.  We appreciate your support.  We’d love to see you this fall at one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. 

Now tomorrow we want to encourage you to be back with us when Pastor James Ford is going to be here.  We’re going to hear about how he became a pastor.  Actually how he became a Christian and it’s a pretty remarkable story. 

James Ford:  This guy he would witness about the Lord and you would know where Ray was because you would see a flood of people at lunch time running out.

Dennis:  Scattering. 

James Ford:  Just scattering.  Like roaches when you turn on the light. 

Dennis:  He repelled them.

James Ford:  You just get in with the crowd because you know that guy that wants to talk about Jesus is behind us. 

Bob:  I hope you can tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine.  We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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