The early signs of a budding leader are often things like determination, resourcefulness, and persistence. Unfortunately, some children demonstrate these qualities in ways that create conflict and resistance. They may argue relentlessly, have their own agenda, are stubborn, and expect others to do what they want. Budding leaders are often known for their ability to see how others, including parents, should fit into their goals and objectives. Although those qualities will serve them well over time, the lack of maturity and character often makes these children difficult to live with.
Sometimes called “strong-willed” kids, these children have good qualities and lots of potential but they must learn the basics of good leadership. For example, all good leaders need to learn how to follow. They also need to learn to consider the desires and needs of the people they’d like to lead. Determined children benefit from strong-willed parents who can teach them important life skills. That doesn’t mean facing off with your child with anger. It means training your child to have the good qualities necessary to be a strong and thoughtful leader instead of a tyrant.
JESUS WORKED WITH STRONG-WILLED KIDS
Trying to teach his disciples about good leadership, Jesus told them in Matthew 20:25-26, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Several qualities must be part of a child’s life in order for strong leadership to be a positive asset.
Give your child a vision for his strengths by discussing the leadership traits you see. You might say, “I can tell that you’re going to be a leader someday. You have courage and strength. Sometimes though, I see that you misuse these qualities and they appear more like stubbornness or defiance. (Read more about this idea here: Parent to your child’s strengths in order to address their weaknesses.) I’m going to be looking for ways to help you bring some balance to your leadership so that you can be most effective as you grow and develop.”
Look for ways to make the boundaries clear. Leaders sometimes cross the line of what’s appropriate in order to get their way. You’ll realize this because you feel violated or angry. Don’t use your anger to solve the problem, but rather use it as an indicator that your child has strayed beyond what’s appropriate in relationships. In the same way that a car stays in the lane in order to be successful on the road, there are certain limits to a child’s initiative and determination. Violation of the relational “lane lines” often appears to other people as being overbearing, rude, inconsiderate, demanding, and stubborn.
CROSSING THE LINE
When you see that your child has crossed the line and is being demanding, use the situation as a teaching opportunity. Children often don’t understand where the lines are and some are unskilled at picking up on social cues. Take time to teach your child where the line is. (See Badgering,Whining, Arguing – just say No.)
For example, continuing to argue after you’ve said no is rude. Bossing another child around is demanding. Regularly telling a parent to wait while he gets to the next level in the video game is self-centered. Each of these demonstrations of poor leadership needs firm boundaries and careful discussion to provide greater wisdom for the child. Setting up clear boundaries affords your strong-willed child the structure needed to learn how to use self-control and determination appropriately.
When you’re dealing with a particular situation and correction is required, avoid getting into a yelling match with your child. It’s not uncommon for children with a strong personality to grow frustrated and angry when things don’t go their way. Don’t allow yourself to jump into the battle. Children quickly learn how to push their parents’ buttons, so it’s important that you remain calm and don’t engage in a conversation that’s out of control.
TRAINING TAKES WORK
Be willing to discipline even in awkward situations. One of the hardest times to deal with a discipline issue is out in public. Unfortunately, both strong-willed children and compliant children alike have a tendency to test the boundaries in public. Although it’s usually inconvenient, it’s often important to address the situation when your child has crossed the line, even if that means leaving the area or event.
Parenting a child with a strong will is challenging! It requires a great deal of commitment and intentionality. But by very nature, strong-willed kids are self-motivated. That’s a good thing. They don’t need your incentives to keep them moving. Setting up clear boundaries for your child will help create a sense of stability and training as you move through day-to-day routines. It’s important to find situations where you can encourage your child’s strengths. Remember that God can use your child’s determination and strong will to do a mighty work in his kingdom, and he has chosen you to help mold your child’s heart along the way.
For more information about raising a strong-willed child, read the book Parenting is Heart Work by Dr Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN BSN.