Here’s a good example of a great article that I saw on the internet. “Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child” by Dr. Laura Marham. There are a lot of good articles on parenting, ones in which there are a lot of great tips that we can glean and learn from. As far as I can tell, Dr. Markham is not a Christian, though, and her psychology is not biblically based. So how does a Christian read a good article like this? Basically, we need to have a proper understanding of Scripture and the doctrines found in the Bible. Without that, we have no basis for filtering out the error from the truth. Here were my thoughts as I read the article.
I agree that strong-willed children are a challenge that don’t need to be fought against and suppressed, but rather shaped and molded to hone that strength into the proper character qualities. But I would disagree with the strategy of always finding a win-win situation for you and the child. We must include the Christian perspective that obedience is not just about mom & dad knowing what’s best, but rather it’s about learning to submit to proper authority and ultimately to God’s authority. Kid’s who don’t learn to obey, will have trouble with authority figures. Think about the implications of that. Learning to obey is a foundational skill that kids must learn. I probably wouldn’t allow the child to take SO MUCH control of himself as Dr. Markham recommends. Sometimes, it’s good for a child to just obey. They don’t need to be given the reason or to be shown how to make this decision. God doesn’t always tell us the reasons why, does He? For years after a situation, we may not know why…we may never know why. We ought to prepare our kids for how God truly works with His people. “Because I said so” is a perfectly biblical reason that a child should obey. (Eph. 6:1) Dr. Markham calls that old-school. I call it biblical.
Another good thought from Dr. Markham is the need for children to feel love from their parents. I do think it’s good to let the kids know that mommy & daddy really do love them even when they may not understand. However, sometimes they need to know that it’s not all about them. In fact, God should be the #1 priority in the family. Mommy & Daddy are #2. The kids’ position is #3. Sometimes it’s helpful to remind them of that, and remind them (especially older kids) that when they become a mommy or a daddy, then they get to have position #2. But they need to be secure in that knowledge that no one else will ever have position #3 in the family! No other child, and no other person. If Mommy & Daddy love each other the best and make God the priority in their lives so that those “positions” are secure, then they will know that their “place” is secure too.
Many times, one of my kids will say, “I want to [fill in the blank]” and I will simply say, “That would be fun, wouldn’t it? I would love to [fill in the blank] today, too. But mommy needs to do this now. I have this job that I have to get done. We will do that another time.” (I’m careful not to commit to something unless I know I can follow through.) But at least they know that I heard them, I understand their opinion on the matter and I even empathize. That’s how I understand things when I pray to God and have a request. I know that God sees what must be done and what needs to happen, and I don’t always see. So I defer to His sovereignty over whatever situation it is. That understanding doesn’t happen overnight. Let’s help kids understand that relationship of a Dependent to a loving Benefactor. God makes leaders out of those who obey His commands, not those who are the most skillful at leading and negotiating. Examples abound in Scripture, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” (Eph. 6:1) Not because mommy & daddy love him, but because that is God’s law.
Also, the philosophy in the article is that mankind is basically good (humanism) and given the right circumstances, a child will be successful in life. But we know that the Bible teaches that mankind is basically sinful and is at enmity against God. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5) So when Dr. Markham says, “Kids behave because they want to please us”, that is not always true. We know that from experience! Kids have a sin nature that must be overcome. And that’s difficult to do before they themselves are saved by God’s grace and then have the Holy Spirit to help them. In my experience with my four preschool kids, they behave when they know it’s right. So I show them what is right, not necessarily how it benefits them. They don’t necessarily want to do anything other than indulge their own desires. This is again, where obedience must be learned. I teach them simple truths like, “We need to do the right thing no matter what.” Even if they don’t feel like it!
Another issue here, and one that I see on Dr. Markham’s website, is that she advocates creating this “super-bond” between the parent and child. And I guess all of that love and support will help the child through life. Of course we know as Christians, that each individual has soul liberty before God. We may be the perfect parents, but our child may decide, of his own free will, to rebel and turn against God. Love and support are not enough, we must pray for our children that God will change their little sinful hearts into hearts oriented toward God. And conversely, it is possible for God to take a person who had the worst background with the harshest, meanest parents, and turn that person into a vessel for Him. While I appreciate the need to love our children (Ephesians 6:1-5) and not exasperate them. I also see a danger in not letting the kids develop independence apart from mom & dad, even at a young age. When they are very young they will necessarily need the most support and direction, but I say, give them every opportunity to function apart from me! Practice makes perfect. I don’t want my kids to need me at all as an adult. Rather I want them to simply enjoy our love and fellowship as adults, giving advice when asked. Our kids are arrows that are to be shaped and crafted so that we can launch them. (Psalm 127:4) What if God calls one of your kids into the ministry? Will it seem natural to them to leave mom & dad and just go? Or will it be a struggle to cut those apron strings? What about when your kids find a wonderful mate whom they marry? Will you be able to step back and let them make their own family? Or will you become the mother-in-law that no one wants. It should be natural for them to want to GO and do God’s will. It should not be a struggle to stay. So the whole concept of “attachment” or “connection” parenting does not bring into account that we are to help the kids relate to God…not to us.
These principles apply to each of my kids, not just the strong-willed ones. If a child learns to obey and behave and make good choices because it’s right and because that is God’s will…that is the child God will use in some way. He may or may not be a leader, but God will be pleased.
Here’s a better source about Strong-Willed children. >> “Surviving the Strong-Willed Child” by Focus on the Family.