Raising the Opinionated (Strong Willed) Child – Part I

I was one of those mothers who’s firstborn child made her look really good.  My firstborn was (and still is) a really easy kid, really laid back, and geared at pleasing.  When my eldest was very little, a friend shared that she seemed to be an ornament that I carried around with me to make the world more lovely.  She made me look so good that I had almost come to believe that I was the world’s greatest parent.

As a matter of fact, my first two children were really easy.   When the second one came along and was equally obedient, polite, gentle, and brilliant, he confirmed my suspicions about the world’s greatest parent thing.

What I asked them to do, they did.  When I told them where we were going, they were excited about it.  When I told them to go to bed, they did without fussing.  They made eye contact when being introduced, were quiet when I needed them to be, and were flexible with my schedule.

And then my third came along.  He was different from day one.  He was born with opinions about everything.  He cared about when he ate, he cared about the condition of his diaper, he cared about who was holding him, he cared about the position of his head and how he was being held.  He wasn’t a cranky child, per se, but just one that came into the world with ideas about how the world should listen to him.

He made parenting an adventure.

And then my fourth came along.  From day one, she ruled the roost.  She was a healthy baby, but from months 3 – 10, she cried constantly if she wasn’t being held.  (I’m not kidding.  I played a “game” with her during that time where I could pick her up and the crying instantly stopped, or I could put her down and the crying instantly started.)  And being that she was my fourth child and I had 3 others to care for, she wasn’t held all that often.  Those months were very, very loud.

If I thought that my third born had opinions, I found that I was redefining what that meant based on my fourth child.  My youngest came born to rule, and she let everyone know it.

Very early on in the life of my youngest, we realized that we had to completely relearn how to parent.  Things that I took for granted with the other 3 were now complicated.  Ways that I enforced discipline had to be modified.  Styles and tones of communication had to change.

For example, through some unspoken but modeled form of communication, the older 3 knew not to talk to waiters when we ate out – it complicated the ordering process.  We, as parents, found out what they wanted and, in a streamlined manner, ordered for them.   And if the waiter asked if we wanted dessert, we eliminated the screaming of “I do!  I do!” by communicating on behalf of our whole family.

However, when our youngest was old enough to talk, she spoke to waiters, bypassing the system that we had honed for 7 years.  She didn’t see a difference between herself and the adult in front of her.

And boy, did she have opinions.  They were vocal, insistent, and strong.

Some people call kids like my 3rd and 4th strong willed.  I choose to say it is having strong opinions.  The difference to me is perspective.

Strong willed has been portrayed as negative.  A strong will is just asking to be broken, to be put in its place.  It is a challenge to the authority of adults and must be taught who is boss.

But I believe that the opinions, leadership, and strength of a classic strong willed child are gifts that will lead them directly into the will of God.  If we break them, sideline them, or communicate how frustrating they are, then we are running the risk of destroying the very gift that God has placed in them to accomplish things greater than we can imagine.  Their passion, emotion, stubbornness, etc are exactly the kind of traits that can be used in radical ways – and I want to be able to step back and know that I did nothing but encourage and shape those gifts.

In the next post that I publish, I’ll give some specific examples of how I believe that can be accomplished.  I hope that you hang in there with me (it is a long post) to read what techniques can be used to keep yourself positive in the face of combativeness, and how to steward the gifts of the kids in your life!

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