Break A Strong-Willed Child’s Spirit?
Casey and I went for a walk last week after our workshop. He told me that a well-meaning Mom approached him and said the following:
“God gave us two good children and one strong-willed son. He fights us over everything. We’ve tried to break his spirit for years and nothing has worked. How can we do this?”
I understand how challenging it can be to raise a strong-willed child. We had 1,500 of these kids in our home. I can tell you that it’s impossible to break their spirits. More importantly, why would you want to break your child’s spirit?
I’ll just be honest. This kind of thinking is rampant in many communities and churches. It’s not only misguided. It doesn’t work! In fact, it makes things worse. I guarantee it will cause the following to happen:
(1) Your child will shut down and become defiant in response to being “fixed” or “changed” because he knows that his parents don’t truly understand or accept him as he is.
(2) The power struggles will continue to escalate. Husbands and wives will argue over how to remedy this. Women will be caught between trying to protect the child and undermining their husband. It gets ugly.
(3) Many years later, you will realize you missed your child’s childhood. You will probably have an angry teenager who needs a supportive parent, but the divide is great.
Wrestle with the three questions that kept nagging at me for a couple years before I changed. What if your child is wired or made like this on purpose (what if he isn’t broken, just different)? What if you are frustrating your child’s destiny/purpose by trying to change who your child is? What if instead of changing your child, you are the one who needs to change?
I promise if you put that same energy into changing yourself, you will see your child change more than you ever imagined. Are you willing?
When you begin to understand what motivates your child–and fully accept that he isn’t motivated by the same things you care about (good behavior, good grades, study skills, organization)–you will be able to use that persistent, relentless spirit to accomplish great things. So come be a student of your strong-willed child. Discover what he cares about-and you’ll be shocked at how organized, disciplined, and motivated your child can be.
Consequences and punishment don’t work. I want your thinking to change to this tone:
“Son, my assumption is that you don’t want to lose all your stuff and be in trouble. I know that you know what you did was wrong. So why don’t you grab the soccer ball and I’ll show you three different ways to respond to that situation next time so you have the tools to make better choices.” You become the teacher on your child’s side rather than the frustrated parent barking out consequences.
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