Nurturing My Nest Blog

Routines and Rhythms of Homemaking
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You Can’t Make Me, But I Might Be Persuaded

Speaking as a parent of a strong-willed child (SWC), I can communicate as one who has been in the trenches. The wonderful part of this is that I can fully confirm that this type of child is likely intelligent and full of potential. While parenting this personality can be altogether demanding, frustrating and intensely maddening. It also gives you the front row seat to a highly driven, strong individual. Consider your words and actions carefully. This blog offers hope and encouragement. This child’s potential is even greater that you might imagine.

Perhaps the title peaked your interest because you know a strong-willed child. Perhaps you have a strong-willed child. Perhaps you were the strong-willed child. One of the most helpful books that I read as a parent was You Can’t Make Me, But I Can Be Persuaded by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. Admittedly, I was gobbling books and advice on this topic just as fast as I could manage because I had just such a child. In my effort to parent well, I needed wisdom on this topic…fast! Due to the limit of space, this blog only tackles a small portion of the insight offered in this book. You might want to hurry and order this book if this is a hot topic for you.

In an effort to establish boundaries or definitions, consider the question, “How strong-willed are you?” or “How strong-willed is your child?” Assess the extent of will by answering these questions.
This strong-willed individual…

  • Almost never accepts words like “impossible” or phrases like “it can’t be done.”
  • Can move like lightning speed from being a warm, loving person to being a cold, immovable force.
  • May argue the point into the ground, sometimes just to see how far into the ground the point will go.
  • When bored, has been known to create a crisis rather than to have a day go by without incident
  • Considers rules to be more like guidelines (i.e., “As long as I’m abiding by the ‘spirit of the law’, Why are you being so picky?”)
  • Shows great creativity and resourcefulness – seems to always find a way to accomplish a goal.
  • Can turn what seems to be the smallest issue into a grand crusade or a raging controversy.
  • Doesn’t do things just because “you’re supposed to” – It needs to matter personally.
  • Refuses to obey unconditionally – seems to always have a few terms of negotiation before complying.
  • Not afraid to try the unknown or conquer the unfamiliar. Although each SWC (strong-willed child) chooses his or her own risks, they all seem to possess the confidence to try new things.
  • Takes what was meant to be the simplest request and interpret it as an offensive ultimatum.
  • May not actually apologize, but always always makes things right.

Being a strong-willed person does not have to be a negative trait. It takes grit to change the world. It is a great gift to have a child with firm convictions, a high spirit and a sense of adventure. Often the SWC is way down the road in doing a great thing with another is standing back trying to gather their courage. Granted, raising this magnificent child will afford an abundance of opportunities to develop patience and creative discipline techniques. Early in life a strong willed child emerges as it is evident that no one can make him or her do anything they don’t want to do.

How do I build a positive relationship with my strong-willed child?

“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others…You can develop a healthy robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” James 3: 17-18

As parents, my husband and I always communicate that our children are important to us. We will always love them no matter what they choose to do. As parents of five grown children, we know first hand that they are their own people. They will hurt us deeply. They will make decisions that self-sabotage. They will often make us immensely proud. They will exceed our hopes and dreams for them. They will be their own people. At every turn we always want to preserve our relationship with them. We care deeply. If they know we care. We love them no matter what.

As we explore this topic, it is important to note that even the child with the strongest will responds more to love and genuine kindness than to creative and flakey responses.

A few practical solutions:

  • Try “trading.” When encountering a road block, invite a trade. If your SWC does not want to do what you are asking, invite her offer another solution that accomplishes the same goal. This is where wisdom and forethought is key. Identify the carrot that propels your child. Identify his or her “why.”
  • Ask for a buy-in on an artificial deadline. When a large project is looming, you know that everything cannot be finished at the last minute. Establish an artificial deadline or two or three. Do this together as your SWC is like to be suspicious as you work toward these markers. Remember that the promise of a reward is more motivating that the threat of a penalty. As they mature teach them to do this on their own.
  • Offer “emergency road service.” If your SWC runs into a brick wall, offer some emergency outs while keeping a standard of responsibility. If these situation causes unnecessary effort on your part, say, “What can I expect from you that will make me feel better about taking care of this last minute emergency?” In other words, agree to help, but find out what they are willing to give you for your help. It might seem like a game, but this is how they play. Strategy is key.
  • Teach your SWC to motivate themselves. This is so valuable. Train them to identify their goals and values and map out a plan to get there.
  • Self motivation is key in propelling these kids to success in academics. Say you are looking a poor academic results. You might ask, “Did you mean to fail this test?” Assuming they say no, ask them what they expected. Ask what they want to do in order to receive a different result. Invite them to establish a goal and navigate a plan to accomplish their goal.
  • Don’t demand that your SWC try to improve everything at once.
  • Explore the WHY behind everything as the SWC swivels on this question.

You can enforce rules, but not compliance. This is why the SWC screams “You can’t MAKE me.” Other personalities simply cannot understand this stance. Peace might be their stronger value.

Life is series of choices. Explain that all of us have to make choices. On a serious note, I have to choose to believe in Christ as the substitute for my sin. God does not force me to make this choice. He gives me options. Choices have consequences.

Strong personalities hear statements as orders issued for the purpose of gaining control over them instead of just the directives of suggestions as they were intended.

In Parenting with Love and Logic, Foster Cline and Jim Fay illustrate this best in their examples of “Fighting Words” versus “Thinking Words.”

  • Child says something loud and unkind to the parents.
    • Fighting Words: “Don’t you talk to me in that tone of voice.”
    • Thinking Words: “You sound upset. I’ll be glad to listen when your voice is as soft at mine.”
  • Child is dawdling with her homework.
    • Fighting Words: “You get to work on your studying.”
    • Thinking Words: “Feel free to join us for some television when your studying is done.”
  • Two kids are fighting.
    • Fighting Words: “Be nice to each other. Quit fighting.”
    • Thinking Words: “You guys are welcome to come back as soon as you work that out.”
  • Child won’t do his chores.
    • Fighting Words: “I want that grass cut right now.”
    • Thinking Words: ” I’ll be taking you to your soccer game as soon as the lawn is cut.”

How can you implement some of these ideas? Think about the top three things you argue with with your SWC. Write down what you say. Try writing down a more “thinking” phrase that you can say in these situations. Strategize. Practice. Repeat.

It all comes back to relationships.

They are motivated by the relationship we offer them as parents.

They are motivated to be Christ-followers by the relationship that God offers, not by the punishment that they will avoid.

One of my favorite songs is “Find Us Faithful” by Steve Green. The chorus reads “May all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe and the lives we lead inspire them to believe.”

So, there is it.

If you want to motivate me, inspire me.

If you want to direct me, lead the way.

If you want to encourage my ambition, ignite the fire with your enthusiasm.

The quality of my relationship with my child largely determines the quality of my relationship with God. I am drawn to God because of who He is, not out of the fear of what He could do to me. In the end, it is my love, not my sermons that will draw my child close or bring them back to God and to me.

(Much of this content drawn from Cynthia Ulrich Tobias’ book You Can’t Make Me, But I Can Be Persuaded.)

PC: Photo at top of Leah Vance Simpson taken by Bob Vance in St. Lucia, West Indies, circa 1970

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