Raising a Strong Willed Child
Now that I am on the other end of the task, I can tell you that without a doubt I am so proud of the woman my daughter has become. She is a wonderful mom, wife, and youth minister. She is kind hearted, loving and determined. As I look back in time though, I am amazed we both made it through those early years. Yes, my loving, wonderful daughter was “that” child.
Our first child was compliant, walked early, was potty trained by a year old and could recite the alphabet not too long after that. My husband and I thought we had “this parent thing” mastered. Then came the birth of our second and youngest daughter…
“Hello?” I answered the phone and was greeted by my neighbor, Tony. “Did you know your daughter’s out in the back yard, swinging on the swing set naked?!”
What?!! It couldn’t be, I had just checked on her two minutes ago. “Thank you,” I mumbled, “I’ll take care of it.”
Another time, while at an open house for a friend’s teenager…”Jean, did Julie cut her hair?” the friend asked.
“What?!!” I shouted. Sure enough, right before we left for the party, our daughter took a big chunk out of her bangs, as well as “styled” all her dolls hair.
And yet another time… “Mom, Julie’s spilling all the cereal,” our oldest daughter yelled.
“What?!! How did she get that box off the top of the refrigerator?!” Sure enough, there was a chair pushed up next to the counter and she had climbed up onto the counter and got the cereal off the fridge. She was running through the house spilling cereal everywhere.
“Get off those shelves.” “Put your shoes back on.” “Don’t bite your sister.” “Who said you could have cookies.” …and the list goes on. If our daughter had a mind to do something, she did it…all by herself, without asking permission or for help. Time outs didn’t work, because she wouldn’t stay put. Spankings didn’t work, because she would just get angry. One time she even told us, “Can’t you just give me a spanking and let me go to the party?”
By the sound of it, you would think we were horrible parents who didn’t pay attention to what our kids were doing. Honestly, it wasn’t that way! All it took was a minute of distraction and boom! There was Julie climbing up the closet shelves or getting the milk out of the refrigerator all by herself.
There were times when I felt at wits end, “How do I raise this strong willed child Lord?” I cried.
There are two situations that stand out clearly to me as break through moments. The first one was at a youth camp when Julie was about 3 or 4. She had kicked the babysitter we had hired to watch all the kids, and was giving her a hard time. My husband and I corrected her and told her that she needed to apologize to the sitter. She folded her arms across her chest and closed her mouth tight. In other words, she was not going to say she was sorry. My husband told her again, this time with a warning that she would get a swat if she didn’t apologize. He walked her over to the sitter. Julie just stood there defiantly. She got a swat. My husband repeated the ultimatum, again Julie refused to apologize. We went through that same scenario several times before finally, that defiant heart broke and Julie apologized to the sitter. It was the breakthrough we had been waiting for. Julie’s heart softened that day and we began to see a difference.
The second key situation was when we found out Julie had been taking money from the change jar without permission. I called her father on the phone and told him, asking him to pray and ask God how to address the situation. My husband was pretty upset, but he did as I asked and he went to the Lord in prayer about how to deal with Julie. The Lord told him, “Give it all to her. Give her all the money in the change jar.” When my husband got home he pulled Julie aside and told her what the Lord had said. “You are my daughter,” my husband told her, “all I have is yours, and all you have to do is ask.” Julie broke down sobbing and asked for forgiveness for taking the money.
I don’t think there is any “right” way to discipline a strong willed child, in that there is no pat answer or formula, but what I do know is that God has the answers. He will guide and direct you as you go through the process. He will give you creative solutions. Let the punishment fit the crime. Find out what matters to that child and use it to help teach them.
For example, Julie loved to go places. That is why she was so upset that day she wasn’t going to get to go to the party. “Just give me 10 spankings,” she had begged, “but please don’t let me miss the party.” Don’t make idle threats that you can’t carry through with. For example, “If you do that again, you will be grounded for the rest of your life.” Only make punishments that you are prepared to carry out. For example, “If you don’t stop whining we are going to leave this store and go home.” Do: always follow through. Don’t ignore the behavior until you can’t take it anymore or let them wear you down. Choose your battles. Be prepared to work through the process to the end. Love unconditionally and trust the Lord for His strength and His guidance.
Remember, it’s only a short season! One day, you too will look at your child with pride and thank the Lord for the awesome woman or man of God they have become.