Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Strong Willed Child

You may have read my comment last week where I joked that Martin and I had been looking at books on "The Strong Willed Child" while on our date to Borders.  I have written a little about it before, but it is a hard topic to share.  Admitting you have a strong willed child can either bring criticism upon the parents (because people assume the parents are doing something wrong), or it can bring preconceived ideas about your child into a playdate or other situations where that child could be treated differently.  I have never wanted Micah to be looked upon as different or difficult.

At the same time, though, I feel like parents need support, and they need to be a support to one another in situations that feel beyond our control.  In finally admitting to others that my child has certain behavioral issues that are very difficult, I have found love and support and encouragement when I needed it most.  My hope is that chronicling this journey through my blog would also encourage others.

In doing some research on Strong-Willed Children (SWC), I have found that there are a lot of helpful books and resources out there, and that parents of SWC often end up finding each other and becoming great friends :)  We first noticed Micah's tendency towards being strong-willed at birth, but it really came into play around 18 months and I finally started journaling about it at age 2:

Journal Entry -  (age 2 years, 1 month)
"He is independent and wants to do his agenda, not ours...He is very stubborn and tests me constantly.  For example, I tell him not to touch Jaden.  He stares at me, takes one finger and touches Jaden really fast, and then runs away."

Then he turned three, and I thought "Yippee!  Those days are behind  us!"

Journal Entry - (age 3 years, 10 days)
"Micah is still not potty trained (after about 5 months of trying).  He does not want us telling him when to sit on the potty or go.  We know he CAN do it; he just doesn't want to."

Journal Entry - (age 3 years, 2 1/2 months old)
"Micah is officially potty trained at 38 months old - WHEW!  This kid has brought both of us to tears with the potty training thing."  (We started potty training at 2 1/2)

Now, those two examples are not what brought us to think we had a SWC.  But they are just two examples of hundreds.  In reading through two great books on the topic, I am learning so much that is encouraging, and finally receiving some tools we need to move forward.  One book is:

Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child by Robert MacKenzie, and
Parenting the Strong-Willed Child by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long.

Both books are amazing and I feel are helping us understand Micah so much better.  I have read Dr. James Dobson's book "The New Strong-Willed Child" which also has some great tips, but these two books give more of a step-by-step process for dealing with specific behaviors.  When others (without a strong-willed child) hear that you have a strong-willed child, many people start recommending books on Christian parenting, which do not deal specifically with SWC.  Truth be told, SWC need a completely different type of approach than your general stubborn kid.

Here are some quotes from a good article about SWC:

"The SWC knows there's nothing he really has to do. So when parents issue edicts and ultimatums, the SWC will take the consequences rather than do what he's told. The SWC wants to have a sense of control over his or her life. If you find you're in a constant battle of wills with your child, there's a pretty good chance that your child, and possibly you, are strong willed."

"The difference really is about temperament. A defiant child has trouble with authority. But a SWC will fight against the way authority is communicated. The SWC wants to have a say in things. He or she typically won't resist the idea of authority." 

This is true and just scratches the surface of what life can be like with a SWC.  We now have two boys with two very different personalities, and it is interesting to watch how we parent both boys and they respond so differently to us.  What works for one does not work for the other.

I will write more about this subject the more I learn about it, but let me just encourage you - if you have a child that does not have diagnosable behavioral issues (and yes, we have had evaluations done), or if you know something else is going on, but can't figure out quite what it is, read these two books to see if your child might respond to these methods.  And of course, I cannot overemphasize the power of prayer.  I think I pray more for myself right now, that God would give me wisdom and patience, than I do that God would change my child's behavior.

Micah is actually a very loving and kind child, who has virtually no behavioral issues at school or church (his teachers frequently tell me he is the obedient and well-behaved child).  His behavioral problems almost all manifest only at home, where he is most comfortable.  Micah's behavior does not change our fierce love for him; we love our boy more than we can explain and know that God created him with this fiery passion that will be used for Him one day.  Our job is to accept the way God made him, help mold and shape his behavior, and direct it towards God's purposes for His life. But WOW, is this easier said than done.


  1. Your last paragraph says it all! :) Praying for you on this journey!!

  2. okay, I just skimmed this but WE ARE SO IN THE SAME BOAT (luke).
    And I found Dobson's book to be useless. Will be looking into the others you mentioned :) Praying for you and your SWC.
    Sometimes when I'm having a bad day with Luke and my mom can hear him in the background, she'll say something like "Is he acting like 'Luke'?" and I find that really offensive. "No. He's trying to get some control, thankyouverymuch."
    Anyway, TOTALLY understand and will read this post again when everyone's in bed :)

  3. Hang in there Jaimie, because you hit it right on the nose. God made Micah this way and He will use Micah exactly the way he is for His glory. You and Martin are wonderful parents, no doubt about it. We are praying for you as you seek God's face in this situation. We're here if you need us.... or just our ear.... or just our shoulder :-)