Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: Q&A–About that Strong-willed Child

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imagesI have a question for you, that I hope and pray you will have a few minutes to respond to. I remember at TFE a couple years back, you spoke about one of your children having a strong willed nature. I remember the phrase, “45 minutes here, and another 45 minutes there, and so on,” regarding discipline. I have had some strong willed children, but my 2 year-old son takes the cake. I was wondering if you could share some practical advice from your dealings, that you think I could benefit from. I would really appreciate your sage advice….Tara

Hey Tara,

Now I know that you know lots more than I do about child-rearing since God only gave me two, but I will give a few suggestions that I am sure you are already doing. In my experience (and according to the Word) strict, consistent discipline is the only thing that I have found to be effective and, with the strong-willed (i.e. consistently disobedient child) it just takes a whole lot more persistence and determination on the part of the parents. That child tests the mettle of the parents and, really, what kind of parent you are doesn’t even start to reveal itself till you’ve had the big challenge of a consistent “war” with a child. Dealing with this is not for the faint of heart, as you know. It is worse, if you have a strong-willed child who is also manipulative and, even though this may not be surfacing yet, I have not seen a strong-willed child who is not also constantly trying to “play” you. (At two, it is probably “It was an accident” and at eight or ten it’s “You are spanking me too hard. You are hurting me.” or “You need to calm down, Mom.” —all manipulative ploys and they can tell when they are breaking you down. Most of this I have come to be confident about because my adult child is now very open with me and remembers those tactics very well. =))

In our experience, “time out” is hardly worth doing. To us, it seemed to prolong the behavior, demand a lot of attention from parents to enforce, and have very limited positive consequences. At two, we spanked and spanked and spanked—not for forgetting to obey or for carelessness, but only for blatant disobedience, rebellious back-talk or lying. Both kids just knew that those three infractions were going to get a penalty that was very uncomfortable, physically, from the time they were about six months old (at six months it was just a little hand pop and, of course, was only for screaming at us when we tried to put them in the car seat or buckle them in the high chair) till they were about twelve years old. Every.Single.Time. Now I know this is not rocket-science, but this is what we found worked. Just consistently doing this. You probably are already ahead of the game here, but I cannot tell you how many parents we know who have not ever been consistent in this process, but when they do it for the first time, it works! It takes about two weeks of tormenting living and then life gets a whole lot better and they call us and say, “We are so glad we did this, even though we wanted to give up several times during the first two weeks.”

As you have probably already heard me say, we are really pretty set on the “process” of spanking. That is, rather than going to physically remove the child from the “temptation” as you spank him, you spank him and then put him right back into whatever the action was. Then re-issue the command and see if he learned to obey from that first spanking. If he obeys the second time, that’s great. You praise him. If he disobeys the second time, you spank again and then put him back in the same scenario, once again re-issuing the command.  You just have to do this over and over and over until you, the parent, win. Every.Single.Time. Winning, of course, is getting the commanded action. Of course, the most important thing to remember is that the child can never “win”. You have to always win. This is torture for most parents. But it is short-lived torture. The over-all tenor of the home gets a lot happier in short order when this system is enacted. It’s important that the child knows this spanking will occur no matter what the outward circumstances are. If you are in a restaurant, it will happen. If you are in the church building, it will happen. When they are five, you can tell them it will happen when you get home IF you are positive you can remember to do it when you get home. But when they are two it has to happen within a couple of minutes, at least, of the infraction (just long enough to get to the restroom or car, if necessary.) I have parents all the time tell me it gives children low self-esteem and shames them to spank them in public. I believe it gives them low self-esteem if they understand (and they eventually do) that you do not care enough about their behavior and souls to be consistent when there may be some external risk of embarrassment or even legal action. They have to know that you will sacrifice whatever it takes that is pleasurable for you to be the kind of loving disciplinarian that God wants you to be. Once when our kids were older, it was an anniversary night away for which we had already paid the hotel cost, but we told this child that his/her behavior was not such that we could leave him/her that day. That child still tells us that that day was a very important day in his/her training.

When the strong-willed child got older, there were some more positive things that we did to make him/her know that we were willing to make investments of time and money to be with him/her, because he/she was fun and because he/she and his/her sibling were the most valuable heritage God had given us. But I will save those for another time, since this is a book and since your baby is two. I know it is cliche, but let me emphasize that the child with the iron will can be the Daniel, the Shadrach Meshach or Abednego, the Joseph—the one who will literally die before giving in to sin. I have seen that blessed process occur—the trip from refusing to flinch in self-will at the threat of punishment to the refusing to flinch in HIS will in the face of persecution. It takes a lot of foresight and faith. It takes not doing what seems the most reasonable and easy right now, for what you can have for His glory in the long run.

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