Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Encouragement for Parents of Strong Willed Children

Six years ago, I remember listening to an interview with Kendra Smiley on Focus on the Family.  I was driving towards downtown Augusta, Georgia and was thinking of my friend's teenage son and his strong will.  Little did I know at the time how strong willed my second and third children would be at that time--since they hadn't arrived yet!  I liked what she had to say and tucked what she shared in memory.  What I most remember about the interview was her belief that--every strong willed child is motivated by something, but they will pretend as if they don't care about it.  

For several years, I've remembered that she wrote a book titled Aaron's Way, but for some reason I never picked it up.  Recently, I realized that I was at a point of exhaustion with my two strong willed children.  My oldest has been saying to me, "Mommy, I just want to make your life easier."  What a sweetie.  But, what I needed help with she couldn't help me with.  I needed help with my parenting!

Last week, a book arrived in the mail that I immediately opened up.  It was titled the Journey of a Strong Willed Child by... Kendra Smiley with Dr. Aaron Smiley (her son) and John Smiley (the resident Dad).  I had been looking forward to the arrival of this book for obvious reasons (my burnout and frustration).  I was not disappointed!  In fact, I was so blessed by this book!
In the introduction, Ms. Smiley stated all of the things that I have come to believe about strong willed children (and adults).  These things include the reality that strong willed children do not want to be controlled by others.  This chapter didn't include anything I hadn't heard or read before, but her tone is hopeful--something that all parents of strong willed children need to be and that we often struggle to be!  After the introduction, the book is basically broken down into age groups (0 to 5, elementary, junior high, and then high school).  As I began the second chapter about children 0 to 5, I read her description strong willed children.  Basically, if you give a strong willed child a line, tell them not to cross it, and explain the consequences if they do (and they know you will follow through), then they will cross that line many times after reviewing the consequences.  At the end of the chapter is a note from Aaron, her son, and her husband.  Both perspectives are eye opening!  Aaron makes some very insightful observations, as does John.  Dads will especially enjoy these notes, I think.

There is an old proverb that it is better to teach a person how to fish so that they might eat for a lifetime, rather than giving them a fish that will only feed them for one meal.  In What I began to see in this book as I read through the second chapter is that this book is a framework for how to parent strong willed children, but it is not a formula.  It is not going to give you a quick fix.  It will help you see your child, or in my case children, more accurately.  It will help you realize that your child is not targeting you, but rather testing you.  Testing you over and over and over....  I have heard this in my daughter's voice.  She knows that she causes her dad and me pain over her refusal to eat dinner and she doesn't relish it, but she often doesn't want to (and won't) eat what's put before her either.  I think she is testing me and my husband.  She wants control over what she eats and when she eats it.  We are pretty structured about meals and I generally make very kid friendly meals, but they aren't her choice--so she's not in control of choosing what's going to be on her plate.

I felt that as I read this book that the train of my mind was put back on track.  There are things that I've believed, but had begun to doubt.  I didn't believe that my daughter was targeting me with her behavior, but when I would get upset I'd begun to take things personally.  Maybe you're in that place, too.  When we remind ourselves that they are testing us, we are able to more easily not take their actions personally and be unemotional about disciplining our children.  It's not about us.  It's about them.  Parenting strong willed children is a 24/7 job. They are high maintenance and once we realize they always will be, we can gear up and not expect things to be easier!  As Ms. Smiley says in one of the chapters, it is not a sprint, but a marathon.

I can't even begin to explain all of the pieces that this book has helped me put together, but I'll try by applying them to my situation...
1) My daughter and son need me to discipline them.  Discipline is not the opposite of love.  They need me not to be swayed by their cries for sympathy (I get caught by this with my son.)
2) My daughter and son need me to not discipline in anger.  I need to remember that no one is the perfect parent and how my children act is not about "me".  It is about "them".  I need to love them well and help them learn to develop self control.
3) I need to be aware of the example my actions set for the other strong willed child when I discipline one.
4) Parenting my children is not a job I can check in and out of.  It is a 24/7 job.  I need to gear up and not expect it to be easy!
5) The reason for my desire for my children would learn to obey me is 1) that they might learn to choose God over their rebellious spirits (I was an adult before I realized this).  I also want them to obey so that it might be easier for them to choose to obey God.  I want my children to love the Lord and walk with Him.  It is not a guarantee that they will, but if they learn to submit to my husband and I as their parents, they will also hopefully find it easier to follow directions from other adults.
6) I need to show my children every day that I love them every day and that it is not a burden to parent them.
7) I need to help my children rethink how they see things.  In the past week, this has dramatically changed what I say to my daughter and son.  Instead of simply saying "No." or telling them what to do, I have begun to give a reason--not because I have to explain or justify my actions, but because they need to learn how to understand what's going on.  They still have to do what I've instructed them to do.  
8)  Strong willed Children are black and white and are goal oriented.  I need to set goals for my children in what they do and I need to have my own goals for them which I develop by watching and observing who they are and what they love.

I have said "I" in all of these sentences and I am not in this alone.  My husband is in this parenting boat with me, but he's been very busy this week and we will discuss all of this when his work slows down.  Because my husband isn't able to tackle all of this with me right now, he and my children need me to step up to the plate and do it!  I've heard moms say before "I just can't do it--I don't have any support."  You may not have support right now because your husband has checked out, is deployed, travels frequently, works long hours, or is struggling.  Whatever the reason--I don't know that it matters.  Your children need you just as mine need me.  My husband loves me and I know this and he will get in this boat with me when this time for him has passed.  Of this, I am certain.  But, until then, I need to put all of these things I've learned into action.  My family needs me to.  I had no idea when I began reading this book, what a deep drink of water it would be for me.  

There are two things that I want to specifically mention before I wrap up this review.
1) In the 0 to 5 chapter, Ms. Smiley does recommend spanking as one of the ways to discipline young children, but she doesn't not say it is a requirement or that you must do this.  I know some books take that stand and she does not.  Even if you do not believe in spanking children or spank your children, I would encourage you to read this book.  That is only one small part of one chapter in this book.
2) This book is for parents who desire their children to learn to obey them and develop self discipline.  The desire for them to obey us as parents is rooted in many reasons:  keeping our children safe from danger, so that they might "respect others and their property", develop self discipline, and so that they might be "more likely to choose to obey God" (from pg. 61-62).  Self discipline and self control is very difficult for strong willed children.  It is on the opposite end of the spectrum from a book that I reviewed several years ago on Amazon titled You Can't Make Me, But I Can Be Persuaded.  My review is the only 1 star review for this book.  My review expresses my concerns well.   If you disagree with my concerns in that review, then you will likely not enjoy the Smileys' book.  Book Review: http://www.amazon.com/You-Cant-Make-Persuaded-Strong-Willed/product-reviews/1578561930/ref=cm_cr_dp_hist_1?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addOneStar  

I am thankful that the Smileys wrote this book.  I am thankful that I am growing in my parenting.  I am thankful that my heart and mind no longer feel exhausted and discouraged by my two strong willed children!  But, most of all, I am thankful for the Lord's gracious mercy to me amidst all of my struggles and strong willed nature.  Tears fell from my eyes the other morning when I finished reading this book, because I was reminded that the Lord loves me and that He knew just what I needed to hear this week.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Moody Publishing


Jen said...

Having one VERY strong willed child, I think I this is a must read for me. :)

Anne said...

I hope you enjoy it :) It has really helped me!

Alison said...

This one is on my list for sure!