Saturday, February 12, 2011

The New Strong-Willed Child

I thought I would post on this subject since I am at the beginning of a new learning curve in this journey.
I recently started read Dr. James Dobson's The New Strong Willed Child. It is a revised version of the 30 year old classic that many parents have come to know and love. In the last 30 years as you can imagine there have been developments in what we know about child development and of course Dr. Dobson has seen some things work more than other thus he decided to revise the book.

Let me start by sharing about my own strong-willed prince here at home. He has driven me to tears on many occasions which may surprise some who remember what I was like as a child. I only have 1 friend who has a child who has a comparable strength of will.
Cole is an amazing, smart, discerning, honest, thoughtful boy. He also has an iron clad will that I would love to break through with out breaking his spirit. I have questioned so many times; is he normal, does he need testing, behavior modification? Am I doing something wrong? Am I a bad mom? I don't recall dropping him on his head as a baby but sometimes I wish I had that to blame. He isn't bad but he will give you a run for your money and there doesn't seem to be any reason for it.

I am now on chapter 4 of this new book. Let me tell you that it is EXTREMELY validating! I may mistakes as much as any parent but it is really great to know that Cole's struggles are not a direct result of some critical missed parenting error. How do I know what this book says to be true? The book is very helpful in giving us some insight as far as what life might look like from the point of view of one of these children. As I read some of these pearls of insight it all sounded strangely familiar and even comfortable. Yes, I was also a very strong-willed child. I was the kid who when I threatened to run away and my parents said "go ahead" it never occurred to me not to follow through with my threat. I made it to Nana's house (about 5 miles) at the age of 6 or 7.
Let me please share some bit of insight to you who perhaps see but can't understand our struggles with Cole and for those of you with a child just like Cole and maybe this will give you some encouragement. Let me remind you that I had forgotten and have been reminded and can confirm that as a strong-willed child this is indeed the case. These children do not have a behavioral problem, it simply does not occur to them to not challenge anything they are told. Punishment is really hard because it isn't punishment from his point of view; it's just another challenge. Challenges are fun, this isn't an epic battle for Cole like it might be for me; it's like letting a wild horse stretch it's legs for him. Cole sees everything in a very black and white fashion and it makes sense to him and he can't possibly understand why everyone wouldn't see it his way and he WILL enforce it if challenged. As you can imagine this attitude not only creates friction at home but his poor friends and teachers have and will also encounter it.
OK, so I understand my kid a little better, now what do I do about it? From what I can tell the only thing to do is to hang on for the ride and be persistent. It's exhausting and there are daily battles, I actually didn't know that there are actually some parents some parents who don't have several power struggles incorporated into their day everyday, such a life seems pretty alien to me. As parents Aaron and I have goals for our children we want to instill in them values which we have decided are important. This is the general job description for a parent but it appears that if you have a strong willed child the only thing to do is keep pounding against that rock hard personality of your child because the consequences of not doing so are much worse than the daily grinding battle that wears on a family.
I am so thankful for this new and wonderful insight and for the fact that we have a huge family support network. Our parents live in our town and they are wonderful about taking at least 1 child every single weekend for us. It may seem like a lot to some people but this is our saving grace. Without this bit of relief to gather ourselves and reset our hearts and minds I think the strain on our family and on our marriage would be much greater. God gave us these children to raise up and it gives me some comfort that at least he knew what he was giving us.
The light at the end of the tunnel for me is that Cole's will is SO strong and think of what a warrior he will be if he uses his will for God rather than against the world. This is my motivation and this is what really gets me through even the most trying days. I have seen what happens when Cole intercedes in prayer for people including our whole family and a certain 50mph head on collision that we all walked away from. I have seen the great things that he does when he is allowed to put his strong mind to work and I know that in the end it will all be worth it. I also know that these are all easy things to say right now because Cole is at his grandparents as I write this. I know that I need an almost daily reminder by midday to keep my own heart and mind in the right place as I butt heads with him for the 100th time.
If you don't have a child like this then I hope you now have some insight into our daily lives and that before you form well meaning opinions of us you now have some understanding. If you have a child like Cole all I can say is from one parent to another; hang in there and be encouraged that God knew what he was giving you and you can do this through him. It's all worth it!


  1. Like you said, he is honest and he has a good heart and that is all that really matters! Two of my sisters-in-law have had a child like that and the next child in line was a lot easier, which is what you seem to have with Davin. God knows what we can handle and he tests us but he also gives us a break in some where he challenges us with others. I love Cole and Davin. They are so good to JR!

  2. A strong willed child usually has the potential to make a good leader later on. So you might have quite a gem on your hands if you can only keep channeling that energy and will into productive things--and survive in the process.