Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Parenting Isn't for Cowards: Training Strong-Willed Children


I just finished reading James Dobson's Parenting Isn't for Cowards. For the second time.

Yes, we've been having a bit of trouble with our girls lately. Maybe it's the new baby. Maybe it's the fact that the bigger girls are now roomies. Maybe it's their ages. Or maybe it's the fact that they're both so strong-willed.

Whatever it is, their whining, blatant disobedience, temper tantrums, and continual meltdowns have left their daddy and me desperate. Seriously, if there were such a thing as boot camp for toddlers, they would be on the first bus.

So, after the third week of frustration, I pulled out Dobson's book looking for a little advice on how best to handle their behavior. I needed some Godly counsel on what to do with our two "angels" because with strong-willed children, you want to reign in that determination and zeal for power and not entirely squelch it. It's a fine line.

Here are some of Dobson's suggestions for dealing with strong-willed children:

1. Take charge of a strong-willed child during the early years of his life. Don't be harsh or stern but confident and steady in your leadership. If you believe you are the boss, then so will your child.

I really struggle with not being too hard on the children. At times--especially when I'm tired--I am too tough on the girls and tend to be a bit authoritarian. Good behavior and respect for authority often become more important to me than the content of their hearts. Their external behavior is reflective of what's in their hearts, and my focus should instead be on filling those hearts with God's Word.

2. If a child "is allowed by indulgence to develop 'habits' of defiance and disrespect during his early childhood, those characteristics will haunt him for the next twenty years" (75).

Disrespect is a pet peeve of mine. If one of our children does not treat an elder with the honor and respect he or she deserves, then she will be quickly reprimanded and punished. Defiance is also not tolerated. However, I have noticed that I am a lot more lax with the younger sibling than her big sister and need to really work on being more consistent and fair. 

3. Overlook childish behavior and irresponsibility but never ignore direct challenges to your authority as mother or father.

This suggestion is another aspect of mothering that I struggle with because I tend to expect too much from our children. My lofty expectations are unrealistic and unjust at times. For example, I should not expect a three-year-old to watch her sister and then get mad at her when little sister draws all over her bedspread. I have to remember our children's ages and maturity levels and if they are not directly defying my authority, then I need to let it go.

However, when our 19-month-old tells me, "No," she is going to get a little swat on the leg. Direct challenges to authority will be met with appropriate punishment depending on the child's age and maturity level.

4. Pray fervently for your children.

This is something I do daily and on bad days sometimes hourly. Who else but the God of all Creation can give me the wisdom and direction I need to lead our children where they need to go?

So what else did I take away from Parenting Isn't For Cowards?

In addition to the four suggestions I listed above, there were five items that I learned:
(1) Stay on your kids, especially when they're little. Consistency is key.
(2) Be firm but loving and nurturing in your discipline.
(3) Teach your kids about God, and instill in them faith.
(4) Don't be too tough on yourself as a parent. Remember that your children are their own individual people and will make their own choices despite how you have raised them.
(5) Know when you are facing parent burnout and find ways to recharge.

Because I have been feeling burnout a lot recently and Dobson's chapter really resonated with me, I intend to touch on #5 more in-depth in a post later this week.

How about you? Do you have a strong-willed child? If so, what have you found are the best ways to discipline him or her?

Blessings to you!


For comments or questions, contact me at: growinginhisglory@gmail.com

Find Growing in His Glory on Facebook.

I would love to see more of you!  If you are encouraged by what you read here and would like to have posts from Growing in His Glory delivered to your inbox daily, simply click here.  Or you can subscribe in a reader of your choice in the right sidebar.

This post is linked to:


  1. Great advice. I love Dr. Dobson! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Dr. Dobson has excellent parenting advice. After the Bible, he's my go-to source. Glad you stopped by!

  2. Jennifer. JarrellMay 29, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    Well sweetie here goes ny story..Sara was not to hard on me when she was a todler even though she is very strong willed. she new when we said no we meant it and we never had fit throwing or talking back or asking something over and over and over until your blue in the face not her but you..Its sad to say but I have learned with her that I have to be consentent with her and keep her on a schedule with everything. When she got about 4 we noticed things here and there and over the years it has taken ti a child of 2 years old. behavior. we stay so bzy and some times its just nit worth the fight..And that's where I went wrong..
    It is worth the fight..Hold to you position and don't back down like I have because I. the end I'm trying to fix what I have let get out of control ...

  3. Great breakdown of the book. I have a strong-willed son, and there are hours that seem like they will never end followed by hours of great love and fun. I agree with the point about burnout and can't wait to see what you took away from the book on this. So glad you linked up WLW

    Marissa @ forfunreadinglist

    1. Marissa, thanks for stopping by. Hope you will read my latest post on parent burnout. Blessings to you!

  4. I also surfed in from WLW and so glad I did. Your points were so encouraging.

    God bless you and thanks for opening your heart to us.

    Patty from www.fanta4two.com

    1. Thank you, Patty. Being a mom has definitely been an eye-opening experience. I hope my posts are encouraging to other moms going through similar struggles. So glad you stopped by!

  5. Popping over from Proverbs 31 - Great stuff here. I'm leaving this open so I can refer to it all day long. I have a 2 1/2 year old....and that explains it all. haha!!! - A Little R & R http://jukiczr.blogspot.com

    1. Yes, strong-willed children are a bit of a handful as I'm learning each day with my two. Glad you stopped by and I hope you will visit again soon. Blessings to you!

  6. As a bit of encouragement, I can attest to the absolute need for consistency. My now 20yr old daughter has been self disciplining since she was about 12. She would come tell on herself, because the "knowledge" of expected behavior became her conscience. She was an absolute handful, between coloring on the TV screen because she didn't like the color of the flowers on a show, to flushing every fish in the fish tanks she could catch (flushed several $300 fish). In the end, she has become a respectful, hard working young woman that holds the people in her life to a higher standard, instead of folding to peer pressure, or being the leader of a gang...LOL. Every girl she graduated with has ink, but her. She has even convinced one of her friends to turn to God and love herself enough to get it removed. Your children really will surprise you as they grow, and you will survive them!

    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement! At least there is hope that one day our girls will stop exerting their will and start using that drive for the good of others and to God's glory. Thank you so much for sharing about your daughter. What a great testimony! Blessings to you!

  7. My 3 year old daughter and 4 year old son are both very strong willed and they are so close in age that we have struggled with bickering lately. This sounds like a great book to read, I may have to check into finding a copy of it. Thanks for such an encouraging blog post!

    1. You're welcome, Brandi. I can't think of a single book by Dr. Dobson that hasn't been excellent. I highly recommend it.

      Thanks for stopping by!