1. I was a strong-willed child, too.
2. Strong-willed people get things done.
3. It is not a bad thing. At all.
Even though I am not technically the first born in my family, I did and do function as the first born in character traits (plus there is an extensive gap between me and the next sibling up, so that statistically adds to the potential for first born traits). I used to think I was more like a middle-child, but as I have grown I have realized that it is the first born description that usually fits me most accurately.
I was reading Born to Win, by Dr Kevin Leman to better understand my first born, who happens to be the strong-willed one, and I laughed throughout because he was also describing me!
I think for a long time I was afraid to say that my daughter could be described as having a strong will. Maybe I thought it would reflect poorly on my mothering. Maybe I thought it wasn’t possible with all of the loving and consistent discipline and training we were giving her. Maybe I thought it was actually a bad thing. Maybe I felt badly for the moms who said their child was considered strong willed.
Thankfully I realized that these thoughts were really erroneous.
I have realized, by God’s grace, that a strong will is not a bad thing at all. Here is what is important: To whom is that will submitted?
A strong will submitted to oneself and one’s own devices can indeed be frustrating for the parent and possibly everyone around and can lead to serious bad choices, selfishness, and many other woes.
However, a strong will submitted to the Lord can be a powerful force of boldness, conviction, and passion for the Lord and others. This kind of person, once committed to Him, can accomplish great things that others simply won’t.
Look at the apostle Paul. He was very committed to what he thought was right when he persecuted the early church. Then, after his conversion to Christ, he made a major impact on that same group of people. Through him God wrote 13 books of the New Testament! My guess is that, in modern-day vernacular, he would have been labeled a strong-willed person. What amazing ways Paul was used by God.
Another great read that helped me not only realize this, but also to better know and love my child is You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded), by Cynthia Tobias. This book really helped me realize some things I was doing to frustrate my child. The author also provides some great helps in how to reach children with strong wills and ways to bring out the best in them.
While I don’t think my strong-willed child is an extreme case, I have noticed a huge difference in her when I have taken the time to learn more about her and seek to understand her more. Also I strive to not take all decision-making and control away from her. She does need to know that her parents are in charge, but there are some areas that I don’t have to control 100%.
For example, she likes to dress creatively. Sometimes things don’t match. Sometimes she wears a fancy dress to a picnic. What I require is modesty, but beyond that I try to have little say in what she wears. She does of course need guidance in this area sometimes, and I help in those times. However, I don’t tell her what to wear most of the time. This is an area where she can be free to be herself and be creative.
There have been other times that she wanted to be creative with something and do it in a way that I would not. Instead of enforcing my way I have noticed that it is most encouraging to her to let her (as much as is reasonable) be creative and be herself.
Of course, I am not saying that she can run the house or that she gets away with whatever she wants. Quite the contrary, I allow her to have her way in areas that are not really a big deal if I step back and look at it. In the areas that are a big deal, she does need to submit and obey.
Finally, I recently read The 5 Love Languages of Children, by Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Ross Campbell. I have to admit, I thought that since I already knew the general idea of the five love languages (physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service) that I didn’t really need to read the book. I am so glad I tossed that silly notion aside and read this! I realized that I had my strong-willed child all wrong when it came to love languages. Since reading this book, I have been more intentional about loving her in ways she best understands and receives.
It is amazing how much of a difference I have seen in her!
None of these ideas are formulas that without fail lead to success. I have been praying and asking God for help in reaching my strong-willed beauty in a way that really ministered to her and honored Him. As she is getting older, I didn’t want her to drift away from us. I wanted to really love her and raise her like she needs and like He wants. I had recently become frustrated with her and felt discouraged.
However I rejoice in how the Lord has used these new discoveries to help me step back and take a breath, listen to my daughter more, and speak her language to her. It’s remarkable.
One more thing: I am not big on labels. I want to encourage my daughter regarding how beneficial a strong will submitted to the Lord can be without emphasizing any label of “strong-willed child.” I really believe that that would be detrimental to her progress.
Of course, she is very young, and we still have a lot of growing to do. But, praise the Lord, I am very encouraged now, and I really think she is, too. I wanted to share this and these resources mentioned above to encourage others with strong-willed children. There may be many factors in play, but don’t give up. Learn, pray, and love your child. They need that from you.