Parenting is one of those things that you are never truly prepared for. No matter how excited and ready you think you are for it, there’s going to be at least some aspect of it that totally throws you for a loop. For us, we thought we had it going on! You know, before we had our kids! Actually, we were still pretty prideful even for the first two years with our oldest. He is like the model child of high standards set for all our children to follow. Bless their hearts. I even thought I was going to write a book about parenting back then saying, “If everyone just did exactly what we did, then they would have perfect children like ours too.” Wrong. Wrong. I have never been more wrong.
Our second son came along, the strong-willed one, and we quickly learned that we have no idea what we’re doing here, and I threw that book out. If I ever write a book on parenting, it will certainly NOT be about what awesome parents we are and how we do everything perfectly. We learned our lesson. Pride comes before the fall. We fell, and we fell hard. We have struggled for years learning how to do this parenting thing again as all of our original ideals were easily turned upside down, shaken up, and had to be reassembled into something new with child #2. In case you didn’t know, all children are different, and you have to parent them all differently as well.
Our strong-willed child is four now. I really don’t like calling him that because those words tend to give off a negative connotation in these early years, but it is what it is, and we are just doing our best to steer it in the right direction so that he’ll use it for good as he gets older. We know that it really is a GOOD thing, and that will begin to show up when he’s a little older. My husband has often said, “I wish we could all be like Linkin. He just does his own thing and does not even care what anyone else thinks about it.” It true. He has his own ideas about EVERYTHING. He is super smart and intelligent… especially in the ways that he thinks. I often just wish I could see what’s going on inside his brain because he is just so creative and often totally unexpected in HOW he thinks about things and processes things.
But as a parent, it puzzles me. I feel that he is so intelligent sometimes that he is always one step ahead of me in his thinking and his scheming… which can be a scary feeling for a parent. Sure, I do have some wisdom myself and the experience that 28 years of life has given me, but it often doesn’t feel like enough.
It doesn’t feel like enough when he finds a loophole or argument in literally everything I ask of him. Obedience doesn’t come easily for him. Accepting that fact hasn’t been easy for us as parents. We expected our children to just obey because we are the ones in charge, and they are the children. We knew it wouldn’t just happen naturally, but we thought if we were consistent enough by following up their disobedience with a consequence and discipline, they would learn. But the truth is – it WASN’T working. Our method of discipline wasn’t what THIS child needed.
We’d always heard that with strong-willed children, your will as the parent has to be stronger. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve never read the popular book by Dr. James Dobson that everyone recommends, but I always took that quote to mean something different. As it turns out, “strong” doesn’t necessarily mean what we think it means. I’ve looked up the definition for you to demonstrate this point. Thank you, Google.
“Able to withstand great force or pressure”
Synonyms: secure, well-built, indestructible, well fortified, well protected, solid,
-(of a person’s constitution) not easily affected by disease or heardship
-not easily disturbed, upset, or affected
-(of a person’s character) showing determination, self-control, and good judgement
-firmly held or established
Being strong as a parent is not about exerting great force and performing physically demanding tasks. It’s about being strong enough to weather the storm, that is your child. It’s about having a good solid, foundation and being sturdy enough ourselves, as the parents, that we can endure the hardships that parenting brings us through.
Now, I never want to come across as “I’ve got this all figured out.” In fact, that would be very untrue. I feel that God gives us our children, and he uses them to teach us. We THINK we are training and teaching our children, but really they teach us so much more. God uses these little humans to teach us and shape us, and I’m so thankful that He does. I’m so thankful that He loves me too much to leave me the way that I am, the way I often feel about my children as well. Here are some of the things He has taught me recently.
10 Parenting Strategies I’ve Learned By Having a Strong-Willed Child:
1. I’ve learned to not give up.
I’m so glad that God had never thrown his hands up and given up on me… Lord knows there have been plenty of opportunities where He surely could have. So we just can’t do that with our child either.
Just the other day my husband, Justin, said to me, “I wonder what things we are just so stubborn about that God is just up there shaking his head wondering when we’re gonna learn to trust Him.” It’s so true. We are just as stubborn and strong-willed as our child, and God has never once given up on us.
2. I’ve learned to give grace and patience.
As much grace and patience has been given to us, is how much grace and patience should be given to others… including our own children.
(I’ll give you a hint… it’s a lot.) It doesn’t mean that I let them get away with every bit of disobedience, but I’ve learned that it’s about disciplining them in a different way to teach them the same lesson. God has never been harsh with me to teach me a lesson. I’ve suffered the natural consequences, sure… but he’s always given me grace and been patient with me. I can do the same for my child.
3. I’ve learned how to be gentle.
I’ve learned that I should keep gently steering their wills in the right direction, especially the strong ones. We have to be especially gentle with those. Harsh punishments aren’t always the best way for a child as each child will respond differently to these things. Sometimes when a will is strong, these harsh approaches only make those wills stronger and harder to turn. I have personally found that the more gentle we are, the more easily the wills begin to turn.
4. I’ve learned that I should let go of anger.
It’s easy to get angry when our children just don’t obey or they have plans of their own that aren’t lining up with ours. You might even think it’s righteous anger, as we did, because “you are the parent” after all, but I would like to challenge that and encourage you to take a different approach the next time you feel angry with your child. Think instead about how God would respond to your own disobedience to Him… and in turn, pray and ask how He would have you respond to your child. You might find yourself getting angry less often, the more you practice this.
5. I’ve learned to love my children unconditionally.
I want my children to know that there is absolutely nothing they can do that would make you stop loving them. It’s the way that God is with us, and our children need to feel this from us as their parents.
6. I’ve learned how to be my children’s safe place to express their thoughts and feelings.
In addition to letting them know that I love them, no matter what, I want to be the one that is always going to listen to them and hear what they have to say. I don’t always have a practical or appropriate response either. Sometimes, I just let them talk, and am there to listen.
Before language skills were where they are now, this was much harder for us. I saw that strong will working, and I had to ask questions to try to figure out how my child was feeling and why he was acting out a certain way… “Are you tired? Are you angry? Do you feel sad? Are you hungry?” Now he is at an age where he can begin to tell me himself what’s going on and how he’s feeling.
It’s important that we don’t just brush these things off. We can let our child be free to have hard moments, moments of strong emotion, real feelings – as long as we steer those in a way that’s not hurting anyone else. (Remember – sometimes we have real feelings and emotions too, hard days.) It’s good to have real feelings and learn how to express them in healthy ways. It’s taken me most of my life to learn how to do this, so I want my children to hopefully learn it sooner than I have.
I also think this is going to be so important when we hit those teenage years. If your child doesn’t find you as their safe place to confide things as a young child, they surely won’t do it when they’re older. If you are worried about how you will respond to what they tell you and fear that you won’t understand and might even reprimand them for those things, they will instead keep those feelings inside instead of learning how to deal with them in appropriate ways. You are their parent, but part of that job is listening and helping to gently guide them to find appropriate responses to their real feelings and behaviors.
7. I’ve learned to submit my own will to that of my Heavenly Father.
Just like we can be that safe place for our child, God is always that safe place for us. We can tell Him our thoughts and feelings, and He is always there to listen. Then, we can take time to hear what He says to us too, and see how He gently directs us into handling things in the best way. We can let Him lead us in our parenting.
8. I’ve learned to see my children as God sees them.
God is such a creative God, and He’s done a remarkable job with each and every one of His creations, especially people -His favorite things that He has made. We can seek out the positive in our children. Look for the great personality traits and the gifts and talents they have been given. Thank God for these things. Praise Him for how he has made each of your children unique and special. Let them hear you doing this. Call out the positive traits and behaviors you see in them, and pray these things over them as well.
I challenge you to try your best to only speak positively about your children. It doesn’t mean that you have to lie, but it does mean that you should be actively seeking out the positive things you see in them instead. Don’t call your children “bad”. Yes, all children are born bad and sinful beings. We all were born bad. (Romans 3:23) It’s our job as parents to teach them to be “good”. When you continue to call them bad and let them hear you say this, they claim that as their identity and accept it to be who they are. Continuing to call children bad is just an excuse to be lazy and not parent them well, in my opinion.
9. I’ve learned how to develop a Family I.D. that gives our family and parenting direction.
We did this through a church small group we lead, and you can read more about it here. Ask God to give you a specific vision and mission for your family. This will help you so much in your parenting, because it gives you direction and a language to use with your children as you parent them. It gives you specific and strategic words to pray over them as well. We know we should pray for our children, but we sometimes don’t know how so this helps us to do that. We know we should steer and guide our children, but how can we if we don’t know which direction we’re headed? This vision gives you that direction, and the mission gives you a plan to carry out that vision and a specific route to take with your family.
10. I’ve learned to be proactive in my parenting and to use the spiritual tools I’ve been given as a Christian.
As parents, and Christians in general, we have to always be prepared to engage in the spiritual battle that is at hand. We have to be on guard ourselves. We have to be in the Word daily and girded up with truth so that we have the tools we need to fight… the spiritual armor of God. We have to do this ourselves, so that we can teach it to our children. We have to lay the foundation in our homes so that when we walk outside those doors and send our children out, they are ready to fight too. You know that the battle our children are facing today is even harder than the one we faced as kids, right? Our kids are being targeted so that they grow up to think things such as “sin” are normal and accepted. We have to keep a vigilant eye out for things they are being exposed to in media, in conversations with their peers, in their educations, etc.
I’m definitely not perfect at these 10 things, and there are days I still struggle with getting angry or not being gently when I should. None of us are perfect, but we can learn from our mistakes and grow from them. We definitely don’t have it all figured out as parents, but we are learning. Each new child we receive from God is an opportunity for us to learn something new that He has for us. We are blessed, and we are thankful for these lessons learned and for these special blessings we call children. We are thankful for God’s grace for us and the direction He gives us daily. We celebrate these things as often as we can! I hope this has influenced you in some way. I’d love to hear from you if it has or if there’s something you’ve learned from parenting a strong-willed child.