Category Archives: Parenting

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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The Disconnected Child

One of the hardest aspects of parenting is watching your kids suffer.  Some have had to bear watching their kids physically suffer, while others have to watch their kids emotionally suffer.

I have had four healthy kids who, other than the occasional broken bones and/or stitches, have stayed clear of hospitals.  I am so thankful for that.

But I have walked with one of my children who felt like an outsider, who didn’t really connect with other kids, and who didn’t understand why life felt so harsh to him.  He tried really hard, felt very deeply, and suffered immensely when all of his best attempts at connecting failed.

I prayed and prayed for that little guy.  One time in prayer, God gave me the phrase “circle of 3”, which represented what he was feeling with his siblings. With the exception of him, his siblings had a tight circle of friendship.  They got along well and played creatively and spontaneously.  Their relationship seemed so close and so effortless.  But to this son, it felt like their circle excluded him.

It wasn’t that they were intentionally sidelining him.  In fact, they tried endlessly to include him; but his behavior while playing – taking over, changing the rules, intensely competing – had them walking away frustrated every time.

My response was to train.  It was to show him the socially acceptable responses to interaction.  It was to give him tools with which to cope.  It was to have endless conversations about whether or not he wanted to compete and win, or simply play to have fun and have buddies.  I had him analyzing his goals with people.  I had him realizing how his actions made people respond.

My goal was to steer.  I kind of visualized my role as if I was his tour guide and I was steering him away from all of the potholes in his path.  I felt like it was my job to make his way easier, often times anticipating what his natural response would be and then redirecting him to act otherwise.  After all, I had been there.  I knew what would be received and what would be shunned.  I felt that I could help him by steering him to change his motivations and actions.

Until.  I had a conversation with an older woman about my son.  Her wise wisdom stopped me in my tracks and brought me to tears.  She said that his story was his unique story, and my job wasn’t to stand in front of him and tell him where to go.  She said that his story might include suffering, and that I wasn’t to step in to change that or him.  She counseled that if I took that posture, I would communicate to him that he wasn’t good enough as he was, and he would never learn to navigate life himself.  However, if I stood beside him, even through the hurt and pain and simply loved him with compassion and companionship, he would learn to conquer his issues himself, and he would learn to lean heavily on his God.

I had been shouldering the future of my son on myself alone.  Whether he succeeded or failed had been on me.  With this new piece of advice, I realized that the future of my son was between my son and God.  There was no child that I could force to be his friend.  There was no circumstance that I could arrange that would keep him from hurting.  There was nothing I could do to alleviate his loneliness. EXCEPT to be there with him.

I committed to quit trying to change him.  I still shared with him tools that I thought would help, and I still shared with him answers to his questions when he asked.  But more often than not, I simply stood beside him as he worked through the pain and frustration, encouraging him, praying with him, hugging him and cheering him on.  It was the hardest thing to see him fail and fall down, to see him be rejected and misunderstood – but it was his story, and I wanted my role in his story to be that of unconditional support.

I can tell you that, through his journey, he has discovered so many keys to relying on God and to connecting with others.  If you know my kids, or met them in the future, you would never guess which one this story was about. The transformation is entire and complete, with him being a magnet to young kids that look up to him, and him having a vital role in inner-city outreach. There is no longer a “circle of 3”.

In no way am I taking credit for that.  The reason that I end with that note is to give peace to those struggling with these issues as well, and to testify that sometimes the best solution is training and steering, but sometimes, the best solution is walking alongside in quiet, unconditional support.


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Our Family Ways (6)

“We serve one another, humbly thinking of the needs of others first.”

The act of serving has a huge value in God’s kingdom.  So much so that Jesus said, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
– Mark 10:44 -45 (NIV)

There is a subtle different between being a servant and choosing to serve.  Choosing to serving implies that you are in control in the decision as to whether or not you serve.  You serve on your own terms in your own way.  While being a servant means that you approach every situation looking for opportunities to serve.

Jesus calls us to BE a servant.

Two of my kids are natural servers – two are really not.
Two have an easy time giving and being generous – two really do not.

While there is lots of grace in our home for each kids’ personality, there isn’t a free pass from the responsibility of being a servant.  We try to do for others without expecting them to do anything for us in return.

For example, one of my sons has an easier time of serving than the other one does.  However, it is the one that doesn’t naturally enjoy serving that has connected with a few neighbors and readily serves them.  He has intentionally stretched himself in this area to where it feels quite normal for him to jump up and take care of their needs as he sees them.

To encourage the kids in this value when they were younger, I had a reward system.  When someone in the family was especially generous or served them, they were to tell me so that I could place a button in their cup.  When they had a certain amount of buttons (25), they were rewarded with a trip to a dollar store, or the dollar section of Target.

While I don’t believing in bribing your kids – at all – I do think there is a place to provide motivation for the development of a new habit, and having a reward system in place really helps.

Ask yourself (and your family) these questions:
If you had your own personal servant, how would you expect to be treated?
If you were a personal servant, how would you expect to be treated?
What is each emily member’s most outstanding skills, talents and qualities?
What part of a physical body does each family member best represent?

For more suggestions along your journey to raise delightful servants, or to increase your capacity to serve, refer to the book “Our 24 Family Ways” by Clay Clarkson.

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Family Way #5

“We love one another, treating others with kindness, gentleness and respect.”

This is such a hard one!  Or maybe it is just for my family…

We seem to be so polite, gentle, patient and respectful to others outside our family.  My kids make me look like a brilliant mom among others.  They are so kind and creative with little kids, and they are polite and mature with adults.

Don’t get me wrong:  this is not an act.

My kids are genuinely giving and selflessly interact with little children, even when they’d rather be doing something else.  They understand the struggle of parents with little ones (maybe after watching me crash and burn so many times!) and will go out of their way to give parents a chance to have time away with their spouses, time talking with other adults, or just a few hours of quiet time by themselves.

Just last night we got a call for a babysitting job.  The couple wanted to go to a movie and needed a little time together.  At first, all of the kids said, “no,” because they each were doing something.  However, my youngest quickly called the couple back to let them know that she’d do it.  When I asked why, she said that they probably  needed time together and that she could do what she was doing some other time.

And as for adults, I never fear when my kids interact with someone older than them.  For the record, this wasn’t always the case, but as they’ve matured, they’ve become great communicators and comfortably sit in their place of honoring authority (some more comfortably than others).

However, catch us on a bad (or even normal) day in our home, and it seems that we reserve the impatient, cranky, sarcastic, and short-tempered actions for each other.

There is rarely a day that I am not saying to one of my kids, “Did you treat your brother/sister with gentleness, kindness and respect?”

We ask the questions:
What are some ways to say “I love you” without speaking any words?
If love was glue, who/what would be stuck to you?
What are the most loving things you’ve ever done?
If acts of love were money, would you be rich or poor?
How has God expressed His love for us?
What does God’s love for us motivate us to do?
How can you lay down your life for your friends/family?
What grievances/offenses in your family must be forgiven?

How we treat others reveals whether or not we truly love them.  You don’t love because you “feel” loving, but because you choose to act in a loving way.  Think about loving on those around you today!


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Rules versus Relationship

I think I would’ve been a good judge.  Maybe even a Supreme Court justice.  I am one of those who believes in rules and truly attempts to follow even the slightest suggestion.

And as you would expect, I know all about creating and maintaining rules for my family.
No, you can’t eat that right now.
No, you can’t play on the computer right now.
No, your friends can’t come over this evening.
No, you can’t buy that toy.

I hate to admit this, and please don’t judge, but when my eldest was younger, I had a lot of rules for her that I drilled with her as you would math facts.  One of them was that I believed that it was important for her to answer me if I called for her, even if she was in another room.  I would call to her and expect her to answer, “Coming!”  If she didn’t answer – even if she obeyed and came to me when I called – I’d send her back down the hallway and try it again.  We repeated that drill, along with way too many others, during her young years.  She was the best rehearsed 2 year old on the block!

However, being a rules keeper often means missing the relational aspect of things.  At the stage of being a new mommy, I was very concerned with doing it right, and sometimes lost focus on creating the right conditions conducive for a great relationship.

I had a change of philosophy after being able to watch a friend of mine manage her 6 children.  I watched her lovingly shift between enforcing a rule and embracing the relationship.  I watched her let things slide (gasp!) for the good of connecting deeply with her kids.  She was committed to obedience, but was more committed to establishing a connection with her little ones.

So what have I done to create relationship?  The question really should be more specific:  What have I done to create relationship today?  This hour?  This minute?  Because relationship is built through the little things that happen on a daily basis.  It is the moments of full-attention listening.  It is the stories read over and over again.  It is the one-on-one time dedicated to connecting.  It is the thoroughly studying of your kids’ personality styles and learning styles.  It is investing in their interests and dreams.

Opportunity is an excellent launching pad for relationship.  ‎Kids always want to try something, and we are often tempted to tell them “no.”  But relationship is fostered when we find an acceptable way for them to try it.

In a series I published earlier on romance, I give several suggestions on how to create better relationship with your family.  I linked to the first post, but there are 5 posts in all.  If you are interested and have time, you can look them up to get more ideas.

Rules are fine.  They bring order and structure.  They are easy to understand, and typically easy to attain.  Relationship, however, is what makes someone want to obey your rules.  Strive for relationship.


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Note To Self…

A year or two ago I was in Chuck E. Cheese’s and had a moment.

My kids are way past the target age-range for Chuck E. Cheese, but on this day, we were entertaining someone else’s little one who was exactly the target age.

(May I say that I am not a natural babysitter?  Even as a teenager, I didn’t like it.  I did it, but even then, felt out of my element.  If you ask me to watch your kids, I’ll probably do it…but we’ll most likely end up at a place like Chuck E. Cheese where there’s lots to entertain the little people.)

At the “moment” moment, the child we were watching was off with one of my kids climbing through tunnels or riding a mini carousel, and I was sitting at one of their booths doing some prep work for school.

It wasn’t long before I was distracted by a sweet little toddler and her mama walking through the maze of video games.  I could see on this mama’s face a large measure of angst and stress.  I have no idea what was presently causing that, or even if everyone else could see it.  It might’ve just been the spiritual eyes I had at that moment to see past her countenance and into her heart.

At any rate, within moments of recognizing the weight that this mama was carrying, I was taken back in time about 15 years when I was that lady, chasing my toddler through the light and sounds of the entertainment zone.  I was the one following my gorgeous little girl as she explored and played.  And I was the one who, in the midst of a relaxed, playful moment, had worry and angst on my face.

There have been very few moments in my life where the past has played back to me like a movie, but this was one of those times.

There I was, present 40 year old me, watching my 20 year old self follow my little one around.  I saw the strain of the future on my face.  I could read the insecurities, the pressure, the doubt, and fretting, right alongside of the joy and amazement that I was carrying.

I wanted to take my 20 year old self by the shoulders, get her to look me straight in the eyes, and tell myself that no amount of worry, strain, or fretting was going to change the outcome of my little girl’s life.  In fact, releasing those things would allow both she and I to enjoy the moment in a much richer fashion.

I wanted to point out to her that the little one she was following was across the room as a beautiful grown lady, full of great character, love and grace. I wanted to tell her what a great job she was doing.   I wanted to tell her that the lovely young lady that we were talking about didn’t evolve because she, as a parent, had done everything perfectly or had disciplined just the right way, or had read enough to her, or had her memorize enough scripture, or got her in the right dance classes or Spanish classes, etc.  That little toddler grew into a godly young woman because of God’s grace, and because her dad and I had loved her well.

I wanted to tell my 20 year old self to relax.  To stop and enjoy, thoroughly roll in, stretch out in, and live in each moment.  I wanted to tell her to pray more, and off-load her worries on Him.  I wanted to tell her to play more – to be spontaneous and quick to laugh.  I wanted to tell her that the little phases of disobedience, forgetfulness, disrespectfulness, etc that her kids would go through were healthy, normal and temporary, and not to spend so much energy fighting to maintain control of the situation.

In short, I wanted to share all of my experience, perspective and lessons learned of the past 20 years with her so that her path may be a little easier, but for sure, more enjoyable.  I think there is a book in that moment for me to write at some time.

But for now, I want to pass on the gift of perspective.  Whatever stage you’re in right now, there will be a 20 year older self from the future wanting to send some messages to you.  Messages of calming, messages of warning, messages of help.  See if you can tap into those today.


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Family Language Part 4

The starting place for an explanation on Family Language is Genesis 11:6. 
“The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.'”

One of my goals as a parent is to create a home where my husband and children feel warm and understood and can communicate with ease.  One of the tools that I’ve used to create that is the concept of Family Language – the use of shared experiences as reference points that aide in a sense of community and understanding.

So far in this series I have spoken about how reading to your kids accomplishes this goal, and how using family travel effectively accomplishes this.  I’m going to throw a few more suggestions out that I’ve found efficient in helping us feel connected.

#3  Creating memories.  One of the tools that I’ve used to create family memories is scrapbooking.  You can look back to a post I’ve written about this topic to hear why I got started, but what I’ve found is that in my ability to capture memories in photos and journalling together, we have a tangible reference point at which to gather.  That ability to know the history of who we are as a family is a huge stabilizing factor in communicating easily.

Besides this, one of my husband’s passions is having pictures of our family and our activities up around the house.  In his home, pictures weren’t put up.  He felt that it played a part in the scattering of his family relationships and in a lack of achoring to who they were as a family.  Therefore, he champions picture taking and getting the photos placed in frames.

Another event that we put in place in our home to create memories is Family Day.  This day began soon after we moved to the northeast from our previous home in the south.  The kids and I were talking about celebrating who we were as a family, as well as encouraging each other as we had sad days because of our move, and the idea was birthed.  What we do is celebrate all day on June 1st, the anniversary of our landing in the northeast.  On that day is when we hold family elections and we have a secret gift exchange.  It is our way to celebrate who we are, remember what great things have happened to us in the past year, and plan and dream for the new year.

#4  Telling stories of your family’s history. This suggestion is very closely related to the suggestion above.  We talk often about both my husband’s and my family history, as well as talking through shared experiences of our own family.  Laughing together over silly things we did or said, celebrating again over the victories we’ve shared, and talking about the major decisions we’ve made over the years is so anchoring and binding.  Besides, it reminds all of the family members how we’ve pulled together to create the life that we presently live.

#5  Watch movies/TV shows together so that you can discuss them.  This seems like an obvious suggestion, but if you’re going to spend family time with media, do it together to make them shared experiences. 

Just tonight I sat with my teen kids and watched Anastasia, because we’d never seen it before (and somehow it got into our Netflix queue).  It would’ve been so much easier and so much more productive if I had set up the video for them and then scooted out; however, I would’ve missed cuddles as well as discussions about the spiritual aspects of the movie.  And I guarantee you, there will be quotes repeated from the movie for days that I wouldn’t understand if I hadn’t taken the time to watch the movie with them.

When it all boils down to it, that is what Family Language is all about.  It is getting all of the secret jokes,  it is being on the “in” of family conversations, and it is knowing each other’s experiences enough to have an ease in understanding and being understood.  It is creating for your family the mentality that these people GET me.   

Some of this happens automatically.  Some of it would never happen without intentionality.  I encourage you to follow through with the thoughts that have come to your mind over the past few days as to how to accomplish this for your family.  And then drop me a line so that I can either publish your ideas (with permission, of course) or steal them for my own family!  We all are better together and with each other’s ideas.

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