Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child
Have a strong-willed child? You're lucky! Strong willed children can be a challenge to parent when they’re young, but if sensitively parented, they become terrific teens and young adults. Self-motivated and inner-directed, they go after what they want and are almost impervious to peer pressure. As long as parents resist the impulse to "break their will," strong-willed kids often become leaders.
What exactly is a strong-willed, or spirited, child? Some parents call them "difficult" or “stubborn,” but we could also see them as people of integrity who aren’t easily swayed from their own viewpoints. They want desperately to be right, and sometimes will put that desire above everything else. When their heart is set on something, their brains seem to have a hard time switching gears. They have big, passionate feelings and live at full throttle.
Often, these kids are prone to power-struggles with their parents. However, it takes two to have a power struggle. You don't have to attend every argument to which you're invited! If you can take a deep breath when your buttons get pushed, and remind yourself that you can let your child save face and still get what you want, you can learn to sidestep those power struggles.
Research shows that parents who pay attention can avoid power struggles, even with strong-willed kids, by empathizing as they set limits, giving choices, and clearly offering respect. Adopting a policy of looking for win/win solutions rather than just laying down the law keeps strong-willed children from becoming explosive and teaches them essential skills of negotiation and compromise.
Strong-willed kids feel their integrity is compromised if they're forced to submit to a parent's will. And, really, you don't WANT to raise an obedient child. Morality is doing what's right, no matter what you're told. Obedience is doing what you're told, no matter what's right.
Of course you want your child to do what you say. But not because he is obedient, meaning he always does what someone bigger tells him. No, you want him to do what you say because he trusts YOU, because you are the parent and have his best interests at heart. You want to raise a child who has self-discipline, takes responsibility, and is considerate -- and most important, has the discernment to figure out when to trust and be influenced by someone else.
Breaking a child's will leaves him open to the influence of others that often will not serve him. What's more, it's a betrayal of the spiritual contract we make as parents to nurture our child's unique gifts.
That said, strong-willed kids can be a handful -- high energy, challenging, persistent. How do we protect those fabulous qualities and encourage their cooperation?
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