Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Good, The Bad and The Strong Willed Child

We all know someone who has one. Or perhaps we are the someone who has one. A strong-willed child.  We know the challenges of a strong-willed child. We know how unpleasant life can be with a strong-willed child at times.

My husband and I are both strong-willed people. Just ask our parents and anyone that has known us for more than 5 years. We thought we were a match for strong-willed children. We have worked with many children and have come across some kids with very strong wills in our days. Being strong-willed ourselves, we generally know how to manage others who are. Yet, when we are dealing with a child on a daily basis (not to mention each other!) we can sometimes forget that being strong-willed is a good thing. Yes! You read that right. Being strong-willed can be a good thing. I will attempt to explain my point of view.

We face the challenges of a strong-willed child every day and many times, we can see those challenges as negatives. We can see how this behavior, this attitude, is very bad for our child. We see how they will struggle in the future if they do not get this behavior under control. And we take it upon ourselves to cleanse them of the evils of the strong will.

But what if we would be serving our children better by embracing their strong will? What if we could view the strong will as a positive and help them use their strong will for good as they mature?

If we could do this, we would take a lot of pressure off of ourselves and off of our children. We would embrace who they are now and who they will be in the future. We would trust that they will mature and, with the grace of God and our guidance, will learn to use their strong will to the glory of God. We will encourage them to be who God has designed them to be and give them confidence to serve Him and others with the personality God gave them.

I have heard so many times that the will of the strong-willed child must be "broken", as if the strong will is a bad thing in and of itself. While this sounds well and good to those without a strong will, those with a strong will likely know how damaging that thought put into practice can be. Instead, I believe that the will of the strong-willed child must be shaped and molded. It must directed and guided. It must be put to good uses, rather than willful, selfish uses. They must learn, through teaching and experience, to desire good and proper things and point their strong will in the direction of godly endeavors.

I want my child to be the one who stands up on the playground to a bully and refuses to allow another child to be taunted or hurt. I want my child to stand against what is wrong and fight for what is right.
I do not want my child to push others around just because he can and wants to do so. I do not want my child to be selfish and fight for what he wants at the expense of others.

In my mind, this is a matter of shaping the will, not "breaking" or trying to stamp it out. I do not want to turn my child into a robot that follows my every command and does not do anything without my express order. (Though, there are times when I catch myself wishing it were that way!) It comes down to teaching correct values, principles and morals that my child can stand on. His beliefs will direct his behaviors, including the use of his strong will. As the parent, it is my job to instill those beliefs and give God space to work on my child's heart. It is not about making him easier to handle or "breaking" his will so that he is compliant. Of course, that would be easier for us as parents, but what does that do to my child?

If I try to eradicate my child's strong will, I am, even if not intentionally, sending my child the message that his personality is wrong. I am telling him that he is bad and should not be the way that he is. I am putting conflict into my child's heart - to obey his parents or to be who God created him to be. I am damaging my child, the one created in the image of God, by God, to glorify God.

So, how do I begin to think differently and shape my child's will, rather than attempt to "break" it? I believe that I must first acknowledge that my child's strong will is God-given and is intended to bring Him glory. I must recognize the benefits of his strong will, rather than dwell on the momentarily unpleasant aspects of his strong will. I must come alongside my child and instill him with values, principles and morals on which he can stand. I must encourage him to be who he has been designed to be and give him the tools that he needs to be the best that he can be, building upon a strong foundation of beliefs that I have given to him.

Along these lines, I sat up one night compiling a list of my strong-willed child's characteristics that are often perceived as negative. Next to this, I listed the ways these characteristics can be positive. I examined the "negative" behaviors he exhibits today and imagined how those will turn into strengths when he has matured on the solid foundation of values, principles and morals - the beliefs I am attempting to pour into his heart on a daily basis.

In some cases, it is a matter of using a different word to describe my child. Instead of saying, "He is so difficult," I can say, "He is strong and knows his mind." This changes my thinking. It also changes my relationship with my child. Instead of seeing him as an enemy to be defeated or a problem to be corrected, I begin to see him as a growing person, developing his character and learning how to use what he has been given. His strong will is a tool that can be used properly or improperly. Is it any wonder that a toddler will misuse such a powerful tool? He is going to make mistakes and will wield this tool for his own selfish desires until he has matured and learned how to use it properly.

The list I wrote has been helpful for me to look at my strong-willed child in a positive light and, rather than punish or try to remove his will, to work on shaping it and guiding it.

What I see as weaknesses today will one day be his strengths.

He talks back.
He will stand up for what he believes is right.

He questions everything I say to him.
He will think for himself and will not blindly follow the crowd.

He argues about everything.
He will be able to clearly articulate his thoughts and beliefs and encourage others to expand their thinking.

He will not submit.
He will lead.

He is stubborn.
He will hold fast to his values, principles and morals and will not be swayed by every new thought that comes along.

He wants his own way.
He will press on to reach his established goals and will see obstacles as challenges rather than barriers.

He always wants control.
He will lead people in a positive direction.

He throws tantrums about everything.
He will express himself without fear of what others think.

He rebels against commands.
He will lead with respect, knowing that respectful requests will be more willingly received than demands for compliance.

He challenges authority.
He will not be mislead or pushed about by everyone who presents themselves as an authority.

This is only a short list of the characteristics we see in our strong-willed child every day. For every seemingly negative characteristic, there is an alternate, positive characteristic. It is my job, as the parent, to have a vision of how my child will turn these into strengths as he matures and build him up to be able to do just that.

The skills that my child has today, such as arguing, defying authority and being stubborn are imperfect skills that must be honed, by me, the parent, to become positive life skills such as standing up for his beliefs, articulating his thoughts and beliefs and following through to reach his goals. I must give him a solid foundation of beliefs, built on The Truth, to help him develop these skills.

Beliefs, values, principles and morals are best learned by example. My example. Our kids watch us and they learn from us. My child's weaknesses will develop into strengths as he matures and The Truth takes hold of his heart. I must spend my time pouring the Truth into his heart in these early years so that it will take root and grow in his heart as he grows.

Our strong-willed little boy will grow into a strong-willed man. He will be a strong person no matter what we do. He can either be a strong leader, leading people on to good things, or he can be a leader who leads badly or worse, a bully that does not lead at all, but only pushes people around. The result depends on what takes root in his heart while he is still young.

Do you have a strong-willed child? How do you envision their future? How do you see them growing and maturing and using their strong will for the glory of God?

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