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Persuading the Strong-Willed Child

Cynthia Tobias

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Redefining The Strong-Willed Woman
How To Effectively Use Your Strong Will for God

by
Cynthia Tobias

Strong-Willed Moms Who Got Kids They Deserved

Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless-that's your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing.
(I Peter 3:8-9 The Message)



Our twin boys were only two years old when I made a rather disturbing discovery. I was always on the move, so the guys were quite accustomed to riding in their car seats in the back of our van. I bragged to my husband that I was a much better driver for having the boys in the car, since I didn't feel so free to express my feelings out loud about others on the road. He nodded and said he was proud of me. A couple days later, the boys and I were riding in his car. As we turned a corner, he accidentally honked his horn. Like an automatic response, two loud cheerful voices came from the car seats in the back: "C'mon, Lady!" I grinned sheepishly. Come to think of it, I guess I do say that a lot!

It didn't take me long as a mom to figure out my children take a lot of cues from me. It isn't just that they parrot my words and phrases-they do an amazingly accurate imitation of my tone of voice and non-verbal mannerisms. I also discovered a much more disconcerting truth about myself as a parent: I often find myself saying things to my strong-willed child that I never would have responded to positively if I were in his place. In other words, as a strong-willed parent, I can dish it out, but I can't take it! Here I am making these sweeping authoritarian statements and handing down absolutely inflexible rules, all the while forgetting that those were the very things I resented most as a child myself.

Think about it for a moment-what bothered you most about your parents when you were a kid? What drove you crazy about school? What was the quickest way to make you mad? The chances are good that whatever your answers are will also be true for one or more of the children God so graciously gave you. I usually tell my audiences I have a very strong-willed child because my mother prayed it would be so. Although "what goes around comes around" sounds good (and maybe she secretly wished it upon me), the truth is, God gave Michael to me as a compliment, not as payback.

I understand Mike better than anyone else does. After all, who knows a strong-willed person better than another strong-willed person? The trouble is, when we strong-willed moms "lock horns," with a child who has an equally strong will, neither of us wants to give and both of us are willing to fight to the death, so to speak. This presents a unique and compelling challenge to the strong-willed parent, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you how many difficult situations we can get ourselves into when the confrontations begin.

It doesn't have to be that way! We can hold on to our own strong will and parental authority without destroying our high-spirited offspring. In the course of writing my book You Can't Make Me! (But I Can Be Persuaded), I talked to hundreds of strong-willed children of all ages. I was surprised to discover some of the basic truths that virtually every one of them agreed upon.

There are at least two critical elements that emerged in my discussions with these strong-willed kids when it comes to being at their best with their parents. Try to put yourself in your children's shoes while you remember what you were like as a child. Remember, when it comes to the strong-willed child, it takes one to know one!


Critical Element #1:

The relationship you cultivate and maintain with your child is more important than anything else.


From the time our boys were babies, we have made a point to cuddle with them first thing in the morning and last thing at night. These are special moments of conversation, affection and reassurance. Mike, despite his strong will and stubborn nature, has always counted on spending this time of bonding with Mom and Dad. When Mike was only four or so, he and I had had a disagreement and he'd gotten what he felt was an unjust punishment. He looked at me sternly and said, "Mommy, I am very mad with you." I looked at him sympathetically and replied, "Oh, Mike, I'm sorry-I guess we won't be cuddling tonight." He frowned and quickly amended his verdict: "Well, I'm sad with you, then." He wasn't about to jeopardize the most important part of his day!

In the heat of the battle, parents often forget the most critical component of effective parenting: If you don't have the kind of relationship with your child that he or she wants to preserve, you have no leverage. As a child, what do I have to gain by obeying you if you're always yelling at me anyway? What's the up side? On the other hand, if I really enjoy spending time with you when I'm not in trouble, I'll do my best to stay on your good side. The bonus here is that you don't have to be the best parent in the neighborhood; you don't have to be the most creative, energetic or intelligent adult in your child's life. If you work at keeping a healthy relationship, your child will have the best reason in the world to obey you and follow your guidance.

In a nutshell, here's what your strong-willed children need in their relationship with you:

1. Rules are only what you do-what matters is not what, but who.
Relationships will always matter more to me than rules. If I have a good relationship with you, I'll follow your rules even when I don't agree with them. I'll do it because I love and respect you.

2. No matter where or how far I roam, I always know what to count on at home.
Home should be a place I'll always look forward to coming back to-a safe harbor where I am understood and valued for who I am. I know you want to prepare me for dealing with a hostile world, but if you don't provide a safe harbor for me, who will?

3. Be there for me, no matter what, with "I love you, period"-not "I love you, but."

That doesn't mean you should let me take advantage of you-it means your love for me is unshakeable and unconditional. That same love must sometimes be tough, and it doesn't just bail me out when I get in trouble. But above all, no matter what I say or do, I have to know your love for me will never disappear.

Relationship is the first critical element, but there's an equally important second one:


Critical Element #2:

An Awareness and Understanding of How the Strong-Willed Mind Works


Of course, you say, I already know how a strong-willed mind works - I live in one! Then this next section should come as no surprise to you. Let me remind you of at least three major reasons strong-willed kids get in trouble.

1. Lack of Interest
Boredom is our greatest enemy. The mind of a strong-willed kid is in perpetual motion, constantly scanning the horizon for new challenges, interesting tasks and exciting conquests. Now, put that mind in a standard classroom with a textbook and a teacher who is lecturing in a monotone voice, and you've got trouble! There is a question that is frequently asked by strong-willed kids, especially when it comes to school: "What's the point?" Why do 25 math problems if you've mastered the concept after doing the first five? We don't do well with explanations like do it because I said so, or just do it so you can get an A. We have little patience for anything that seems like a waste of time.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? But now you're in the opposite position-you've become the parent that must somehow justify the hoops that need to be jumped through in order to survive school. Most strong-willed kids will tell you honesty g

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