As the mother of 8 children, there have been plenty of ups and downs, good days and bad days on my 22 year quest to raise responsible, independent adults. However, overall, my kids have been well behaved and manageable. Then along came child number 7, born on the 27th of July (the 7th month) in 2007. The stars seemed to align over this little fellow – lucky number 7!
After a peaceful home birth, he grew and melded into our family structure as new babies in large families are prone to do. He was a happy baby who loved to be held, ate well and even slept well. Funny thing was that if you tried to put him in his car seat, he would scream. Not just an, “Oh, this is a bit chilly. I don’t like it.” cry-til-you’re-warm kind of cry. It was the arched back, scream-until-you’re-blue type of scream. This went on for months and so, needless to say, we didn’t take him out too often.
As he grew, he was gradually able to sit in his car seat for short periods of time. We brought colorful toys and delightful sippy cups to distract him and he gradually learned to tolerate the car. In fact now, at 5-years old, he sits quite peacefully for long car rides and rarely complains.
But there are other things. At three years old if we were going out, he would cry – not wanting to leave whatever play he was involved with. Regardless of where we were going, he did not want to go. Once we went, say to the park, he would enjoy himself. He was a happy enough kid and loved swings, slides and sand like any other kid…until it was time to leave, when the cries and screams would begin again. He was shockingly quick to anger when a toy didn’t work the way he wanted or if someone bumped him unexpectedly.
Our little man hit an all time low in the middle of his third year. I know, three year olds can be difficult anyway. This was different. Because he didn’t speak much yet (yes, his speech was delayed) he tended to cry and eventually scream when he couldn’t express his simple desires like getting down from his high chair or figuring out a toy. He was increasingly impatient, stubborn, and unreasonable. Transitions were the worst – even if we were going to do something fun, changes in plans set him off. He seemd to just know how he wanted things to be and had no tolerance for any different plans.
About this time I began to wonder if I had done something really wrong with him. The whole family was getting increasingly frustrated with his demanding disposition. We tried discipline and behavior modification with varying degrees of success but still, this little man was becoming known as a wild, impetuous kid with a temper. We were not pleased.
This little guy was throwing this mom of many for a loop , so I did what I always do when faced with trouble.
I prayed. I prayed for wisdom I prayed for my son. Every evening as I tucked him in, I prayed that he would grow in wisdom and stature and favor with God and with men. (Luke 2:52) I prayed this prayer for some time and began to notice that he was talking more (and crying less). He began to come to me with his concerns before screaming. The Lord helped me to love this little guy who was so abrasive and difficult. There was little that I could in the midst of a full blown tantrum, but I could pick him up, kiss his ears and cheeks, tell him how much I love him, tell him stories of how he was as a baby and how special he was to me.
Lots of love and affirmation and finding the good in him has resulted in a changed child. We are using his behavioral problems to point him to his need for God to help him ‘be good’. We pray for help when he struggles and thank God when he does well. Don’t get me wrong, we still discipline him for rebellious behavior, but the overriding mood is one of love and grace – just as God in his great mercy bestows on us every single day. It is with this approach that we have noticed the most positive change.
Over the past year he has improved so much. He still has trouble with outbursts of anger at times. He can be shockingly self-centered. As we pray and live and work through his days, he is truely growing in wisdom and stature and favor with his family and teachers.
Signs that you may have a strong-willed child:
Strong-willed kids have similar characteristics, including:
Disrespect of authority.
Impatient; difficulty waiting.
Quick to anger.
Inconsiderate – or extreme self-centeredness; not caring about the feelings of others.
At times, poor communication. Assumes everyone knows what they are thinking and are angry when things don’t go their way.
Refuse to do things they don’t want to do.
Tips for Parenting a Strong-Willed Child
It is tempting to think that you as the parent have done something terribly wrong to cause such outlandish behavior in your child and that that is why your child is so strong-willed. I was relieved when a friend gave me the book The Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson at a used curriculum sale a few years ago. I nearly cried as I read the encouraging words in that book. There is good news and bads news: Strong-willed children, raised with firm, consistent, loving boundaries often grow up to be leaders in the community. The bad news – it will be hard. If you have a strong-willed child, have you tried these?
Find opportunities to praise their good behavior and selflessness.
Make frequent eye contact especially when speaking to the child.
Make the most of happy times, pour in praise and love.
Firmly and lovingly assert your authority from an early age.
Avoid disciplining in anger.
Firmly establish your expectations and boundaries. Use consequences once you’re certain that the child understands.
Learn to distinguish between willful disobedience and childish irresponsibility.
Present a united front with your husband in front of your child.
Be consistant with discipline.
Choose your battles.
Offer choices when possible.
Pray, pray, pray!
Our little man still has more moments than we would like when he is angry, demanding and impatient. We are constantly working with him on what is appropriate and what is not. Laying a firm foundation of love and affection has made those times fewer and farther between. He knows that we value him as a person and is more and more prone to listen and do what we say with less and less fuss. We have his heart and out of his heart change is happening!