I have a strong-willed child. His name is Nathanael and he is 2 1/2 years old. He is so sweet and smart and funny and he drives me bonkers! For the most part he is compliant and loves to help especially when it comes to cooking, but if it is something he doesn’t want to do he will just say ‘no’ and move on. Getting in an argument with him is pointless because he is as stubborn as a mule and will do everything in his power, even endure numerous swats on the butt, to get his way. If someone does something to him that he doesn’t like or takes something from him he will just hit them or push them over and take it back. Thankfully I think he does this mainly to his siblings, mostly his younger sister, and not his friends, but it can be so frustrating. We’ve tried spanking, time-outs, reasoning, but he still just does his own thing.
Last year I read an excellent book about dealing with a strong-willed child by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias called “You Can’t Make Me” [But I can be persuaded]. This book gave an excellent look into the mind of a strong-willed person. Instead of getting into ‘you do this because I said so’ battles she gives practical advice on how to phrase things so that your strong-willed child does not feel like you are trying to force him to do something against his will. It has been challenging because as a parent you want your child to obey you because you said so. Let me give you an example of how we are putting this advice into practice. Last night at the dinner table we told Nathanael that he would have to eat his broccoli if he wanted dessert. He said “no”. Instead of getting into the vegetables are good for you and you need to eat them to be healthy fight, Lenard held a piece of broccoli in front of his mouth and said, “now don’t you bite my finger!” Nathanael excitedly chomped the broccoli while Lenard made a big deal about him almost biting his finger off and he laughed and laughed and ate all his broccoli with no problem!
I think one of the biggest things that strong-willed children need, and Cynthia said this too, is unconditional love. We try our best to shower this little guy with hugs and kisses all the time no matter how ornery he has been. And give him praise and affirmation when he makes the right choices. I have always tried to let my children make their own choices about things when possible and within reason, so giving Nathanael choices instead of orders was not that hard to do. The hardest part for me is keeping my cool when Gabriel or Hannah comes up to me for the umpteenth time that day informing me that he is pummeling Sarah (who is 1) with the toy she tried to take from him. It’s kind of tough to love him at that moment and not scream at him “why are you doing this, don’t you understand that this is not ok!” He doesn’t talk yet except for a few words. I know he understands what I am saying to him. I’m hoping that once he does start talking that he can help me to see his side of things and maybe smooth things out a little.
To tell you the truth though, I am awfully fond of this little guy. He is so special and I really like his strong will. I know I’m crazy. He is very independent, very determined, doesn’t give up easily when he can’t do something that he thinks he should be able to do. These are all qualities that will serve him well later in life if he uses them properly. I joke that he is single-handedly going to knock down the gates of hell because he won’t take no for an answer. He won’t wait around for someone to give him a hand-out, he will just take matters into his own hands and go do something about it. I know God has amazing plans for him and I can’t wait to see the young man he becomes. Until then I will just do my best to train him to use his strong will for good and not for harm. I know that we will butt heads, but I’m prepared to take him on. I love my strong-willed little guy!