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Strong-willed kids get a bad rap, author says

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Strong-willed kids get a bad rap these days, Cynthia Tobias, author, speaker, CEO of her own company and a self-acknowledged strong-willed adult, said.

“Sometimes when we’re dealing with a stubborn, mule-headed kid, it’s hard to believe that a strong will is not automatically a negative trait,” Tobias told preschool and children’s music leaders attending the Church Music Leadership Conference, June 14-20 at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico.

“But it’s definitely not a negative trait. You want your kids to have a good dose of strong will. That’s how a kid holds up and makes it through life,” said the founder of Apple St. (Applied Learning Styles), Sumner, Wash., and author of “You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded): Strategies for Bringing Out the Best in Your Strong-Willed Child.”

Strong-willed kids have been called bad kids all their lives because they don’t automatically do as they are told, she said.

“But God has a lot of respect for what he built in us in the first place,” Tobias said. “Being streetwise, edgy and having a quick wit are OK if those things can bring honor and glory to God.”

Tobias said strong-willed kids are willing to die for their causes.

“I learned at 18 months that nobody can make me digest peas. Maybe they can force one or two in my mouth, and maybe I’ll accidentally swallow one, but you can’t make me keep it down. That’s up to me.”

Parents and teachers cannot force strong-willed kids to obey them, she said.

“God is the only one who can force you to obey against your free will, but he never has. You have the final say whether you give the control to God or whether you keep it and perish.”

It’s easier to get a strong-willed kid to comply with a request than to try to force him or her to do something, she said.

“Comply is obey because you choose to, not because you have to.”

Tobias said parents and teachers who deal frequently with strong-willed kids might ask themselves, “What’s the point?” when trying to win an argument.

Ask three questions, she advised. What needs to be accomplished? Is there another way to reach the goal? and What’s the bottom line?

Tobias said the issue with strong-willed kids is not authority but “how the authority is communicated.”

“You can’t point your finger in my face and say, ‘You have to obey me.'”

But you can persuade a strong-willed kid to do what you want, she said.

“There is a magic word that will work about 80 percent of the time. The word is ‘OK?’ ‘Put your seatbelt on, OK?'”

Strong-willed kids don’t expect or want to get by with bad behavior, she said.

“That would be weakness on your part. It’s the respect that matters to them.”

Tobias urged teachers and parents of strong-willed children not to give up.

“You may be the only one left who still sees hope and promise in that child,” she said. “Even if you’ve about had it, and you’re about at the end of your rope, don’t give up. There are no accidents. God paid you such a compliment if you have [or teach] a strong-willed child.”

Tobias believes strong-willed children are among the most capable at changing the world.

“They don’t want to be like everybody else. They strive to find ways to be different. They want to shake up the status quo, even though the status quo wants to shake them up and hold them down.”

She offered five key strategies for dealing with strong-willed children:

— Choose your battles. Don’t make everything non-negotiable. “Is this a battle worth fighting? Choose the things you want to go to the wall for and leave the rest alone,” she counseled.

— Lighten up, but don’t let up. “Ask them, ‘Are you annoying me on purpose? If you are, you are so good at it.’ Smile more often. When you are a strong-willed child, nobody is all that happy to see you when you walk in the room.”

— Ask more questions and issue fewer orders. “Are you about done with your homework? Are you going to mow the lawn before dinner? Are you about ready to go or do you want to be late?”

— Hand out more tickets and give fewer warnings. “Take more action and show less anger.”

— Make sure your strong-willed child always knows your love is unconditional. “They have to know no matter how they act that you are still going to be there for them.”

Tobias’ books can be found on her website at www.applest.com. The Church Music Leadership Conference was sponsored by the music ministries department of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: STRONG-WILLED SPEAKER.

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  • Terri Lackey