Parenting has a way of changing you, and most definitely humbling you; and when it comes to parenting a strong willed child? It can be the hardest thing you ever do in your life. There are many tears of frustration and concern as you wonder if the child will ever turn out right.
I’m still in the trenches of parenting a strong willed child, but I’ve learned a few things over the years that I want to share with you. This might be a little different than other child training advice you’ve read but it’s gleaned from real life experience as I’m raising 6 children.
Do not (I repeat – do not) expect to train a strong willed child into submission at a young age.
I’ve probably lost a bunch of you already. You may have you read the parenting books (and there’s a lot of them) that talk about training your child’s will from the age of infancy. One of these books suggests that the proper age to begin training your child to obey you is 6 months (!) and that if you follow some simple exercises which are designed to break (!) the child’s will they will learn to obey your every word.
I don’t read those books now. 🙂 Seriously. I honestly don’t believe that even my 2 year old should be expected to sit through 2 hours of church service without a struggle. I’m not saying some 2 year old’s can’t do it, but my strong willed child? That’s not a fight I’m going to take on.
When you are parenting a strong willed child you need to pick your battles carefully.I’m not suggesting you only make them behave part of the time, but some battles are not worth it. When our strong willed child was very little (under 2) we read the books that told us to train the child to come to us. The books told us this was one of the battles we must win and we took it – hook, line, and sinker. We put this child at the end of the hallway, knelt down at the other end and said, “Come to Mama! Come to Papa!” over and over and over again.
This child just stood there.
For almost an hour.
Here’s the saddest part of that whole episode – it made us angry. The child had defeated us and the books we were reading told us that was not an option. If the child discovered that we could be broken with enough patience and tears, then there would be no end to the reign of their terrible will. What nonsense.
Sadly, we kept parenting by how all the books told us to do it for a number of years, instead of getting on our knees and asking God for guidance and direction. We finally threw the books out with all the “perfect methods” and started parenting our children in a way that more closely mimics the way the Lord parents us.
We’ve never looked back.
Don’t Think The Perfect Age Is Coming!
I used to think if I could just hit the next stage. Surely by the time this child reaches ____ it will get so much better. We won’t have melt downs, and the stubborn behavior will be gone.
There is no perfect age. Even adults have adult melt downs (can you relate to frantically going into your room with the door shut and some chocolate in your hand? The children are strictly forbidden to talk to you for 5 minutes?!). While I believe gentle perseverance will help to bring you to better days with your strong willed child, the age at which those days arrive will be different for every parent.
Books Are Helpful, But They Are Not Your Master
People ask me for child training book suggestions, and I honestly can’t recommend very many anymore. Why?
I’m not saying that books on child training can’t be helpful, but anyone who has successfully raised even one child to spiritual maturity would have to confess that it was by the grace of God that it was done. Do we have a role to play? Without question; but what I’m trying to say is that the most successful parents are those that lean most heavily upon the daily grace of God to instruct them as to how they can win their child to Christ. This will undoubtably look different from family to family, but one thing will remain the same – the parents will win them sacrificially and not by force; which brings me to my next issue…
You Can’t Spank A Strong Willed Child Into Submission
Again, many books will say if you just spank a child enough, or consistently enough, they will break and obey you.
You must be so very careful with this. I’m not going to dive into this issue very much (it’s one I’ve never felt comfortable talking much about online), but I will say I believe you can easily commit child abuse if you think your strong willed child can be spanked into submission.
I won’t trifle with the world’s definition of what constitutes child abuse, but let me say that even one swat in the wrong spirit is abuse in God’s eyes. No doubt, the scriptures speak to the issue of spanking, but I believe that very little of the spanking that goes on could pass as scriptural chastisement. This goes back to what I was saying earlier. The question must be asked – are we trying to conquer them or win them?
We are not perfect parents – far from it. The creative child training program we sell called Character Badges was actually created from the desire we had for loving, consistent training in our home. We already knew how easy it was to heap words of scolding and discouragement upon our children, which is why we focus not just on the behavior that needs work, but also upon praising and rewarding the good behavior!