After many years of working with thousands of children with determined temperaments (including my own child), I have learned a few things. Some of you may see my thoughts as profound and some of you may see my thoughts as foolish. Either way, if you have a determined (sometimes called stubborn, strong-willed, or difficult) child, I urge you to seriously consider what I have learned.
Control and the Determined Child
First and most importantly, I have learned that the determined child desperately wants her parents to be in control; however, she does not want to give up whatever control she has. Take a moment, re-read that, and let that sink in: the determined child desperately wants her parents to be in control; however, she does not want to give up whatever control she has. This is a true paradox that causes many frustrations for the child and her parent.
Because the determined child does not want to lose whatever control she has, there are times that, in order to stay true to herself, she must impulsively disobey. If you are a parent of one of these children, I am sure you have experienced it. You encourage her every step of the way to get up and get out the door to go to school in the morning. The more you persuade (aka “nag”) the determined child, the slower she seems to work toward the goal of leaving by 7:30 so you can get her to school on time and you can get to work on time. She’s struggling to maintain whatever control she has over the situation. At this point, some of you would say that she just needs a good swat on the rear to get her moving. You either do not have a truly determined child or you have not learned how to truly persuade your determined child. Which brings me to my next point.
It’s Not Fair!
It’s not fair! It’s not fair that some people have perfectly well-behaved perfect little angel children who always think before they speak or act, and yet you (and I) have a determined child. It’s not fair that these same people give us disgusted looks when our child throws a temper tantrum when its time to leave the park or the store because she doesn’t want to lose whatever control she has. Finally, it is not fair that the determined child requires a different type of discipline.
I have learned that what works with the child who has an easy-going or anxious temperament will never ever work with the determined child no matter how many times or ways you yell, scream, push, or punish. I have also learned that trying to implement a different type of discipline is often difficult (but not impossible) for parents of difficult determined children. This is especially true of parents who have been taught that “parents must win every disagreement with their child because…because…” Here’s where it gets tricky: these parents often can’t tell you “because what”: they end up saying something like, “Just because I AM the parent!” or “Just because that’s how my parents did it and their parents before them did it!” We parents do a lot of crazy things just because of family traditions. This brings me to my next point.
In order to truly help our determined child, we have to break some traditions (even if we come from a long line of Texas Aggies where traditions are traditions that should never be broken). We can avoid constant battles that constantly spin out of control and actually use our determined child’s determination to get more done in a more timely manner. In the words of a famous motivational speaker, “If you keep on doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve been getting.” Which (you guessed it) brings me to my next point.
How’s what you’ve been doing to try to control your determined child working? Are you ready to make a change? I know, I know, change is hard! But, what are your other choices? Some of you may be financially able to send your child off to military school to which I say, “Good for you! I hope that works out for you and your child!” Many of us cannot afford such measures (in more ways than one).
Our God-Given Responsibility
As parents we are charged to train up a child in accordance with his or her bent (also known as temperament). I believe that, for whatever reason, God entrusted us with the child we have and it’s our job to help her become the person God meant for her to be. I believe that God did not give us the child we have in order to punish us. I trust that God did not get mixed up and give you the kid your neighbor was supposed to have. God was not sleeping on the day your determined child came into this world (and yes, she came to the world with her God-given determined temperament for a reason). One of our jobs is to figure out why God gave us this child (other than to keep us humble): We do this by determining what makes our child determined and then determining how we can mold our child’s determination into a strong will for what her Maker wants her to do with her life. When we see our responsibility in this light, God will give us the wisdom and tools to train up our child according to her determined bent.
What Can We Change?