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Adults advised to strategize, not scold strong-willed children

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Strong-willed kids are willing to die for their causes — no matter how small — and dealing with them successfully requires strategy, not scolding, a leader in the field of learning styles said.
“You must try to inspire strong-willed kids to do the right thing because if you back them in the corner and say, ‘Do this or else,’ they’re going to choose ‘or else,'” said Cynthia Tobias, an author, speaker and professor in the field of learning styles. She addressed the final sessions of the Oct. 19-22 Preschool/Children National Convention, sponsored by LifeWay Church Resources, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Tobias, founder and CEO of AppLe St., a learning styles educational program firm, knows whereof she speaks.
“It takes one to know one. As a kid, I would have died rather than do something I didn’t want to do. And if I’m willing to die and you’re not, I win. I don’t care if I am dead, I win.
“Which means I’m not your typical child if I’m willing to die for my way.”
Tobias stressed a child with a strong will can be positive, albeit trying.
“It doesn’t have to mean rebellion and defiance. Is it a bad thing? No, it isn’t.”
However, teachers who deal with strong-willed children and parents who live with them could benefit from understanding what pushes their buttons and how to handle them, she said.
“There are five keys to understanding a strong-willed kid’s mind,” Tobias said:
1) Strong-willed children don’t have trouble with authority; they have trouble with how it’s communicated.
“It’s not the authority. It’s how you tell me. You can say, ‘Clean up this mess,’ and get no results or you can say, ‘Let’s clean up this mess’ and usually get action. It’s so small, but it’s so crucial.”
2) Strong-willed children need compelling problems to solve, not chores to do.
“They don’t want your list of chores; they want to know the problem. They don’t want to feel like you’re the boss, and they don’t understand why you get to decide who does what.”
Tobias said strong-willed kids want to know what the point and the problem is and they want to be involved in the solution.
3) It is in the nature of strong-willed children to call your bluff.
“Secretly they hope you will hold to it,” she said.
Tobias told the story of how she demanded that her strong-willed twin son, Michael, 7, put away his toys.
“Of course, he refused. I knew when I said it, it was wrong, but it was too late. Then I heard myself saying, ‘Michael, if you don’t put up these toys, I’m going to give them all away.'”
Michael didn’t put them up, so Tobias had to gather them all up and give them away.
“And these were very expensive toys. He was 4 at the time and, to this day he has never once mentioned those toys.”
The point, Tobias said, is that when you demand something of a strong-willed kid, the chance he or she will call you on it is high. So be careful about what is threatened and be ready to follow through.
“It could hurt you more than it hurts him.”
4) Strong-willed children do not feel compelled to follow rules or demands that do not make sense to them.
“They have problems with arbitrary rules. They have to have good reasons for rules. The rules have to make sense to them.”
5) Strong-willed children don’t need to control adults, but they can’t have all the control taken away from them.
“When you say do something, period, you’ve taken away their choices. God gave them a free will, and they use it.” They’ll drive you crazy if you predictably react. It’s just irresistible to them.”
Tobias offered five strategies for dealing with strong-willed children.
1) Find as many ways as possible to help strong-willed kids feel unique and special.
“The best thing you can notice about them is that they are not like everybody else. They want to be unique and special and feel valued.”
Tobias said the gift of sarcastic humor often found in strong-willed children is not always appreciated when they are young, but can come in very handy as an adult.
“I was a police officer for six years, and I never once had to use profanity. I found my sarcasm worked much better. Strong-willed kids can use that wonderful wit and talent for something good.”
2) Avoid phrases like “you must,” “you have to” or “no way are you going to do … .”
Tobias offered “one magic word that works on strong-willed children 80 percent of the time.”
The word is OK.
Tobias said, “Put your seatbelt on, OK?” works better than a command to fasten a seatbelt.
3) Choose battles.
“Don’t make everything non-negotiable. Ask yourself, Is it worth it? You can’t win with a strong-willed kid because he’s dying for ‘it.’ They’ll drive you crazy if you predictably react. It’s just irresistible to them.”
4) Lighten up, but don’t let up.
“Going easy on the child does not mean you let him get away with things, it means you lighten up with the heavy-handed stuff. Ease up. Be friendly.”
5) Make sure the child knows he or she is loved unconditionally.
“Be sure they know there is nothing they can do that will make you stop loving them. If they know your love is unconditional, they will know God’s love is unconditional as well.”

    About the Author

  • Terri Lackey