One of the biggest problems with strong willed children is the issue of power or control (as reflected in characteristic 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 12). This is due to their need to know who the boss is – and their subsequent desire to fill the opening if there is any possibility it is not currently occupied by a dominating force. They really do want to be the boss and will fight to obtain the position. (Now I have to admit, I remember thinking it would be so cool to be in charge when I was a child. I actually looked forward to the day I would be an adult and “the boss”. But now I look at the job and cringe. What was I thinking? This isn’t any fun, really.) I often caught myself saying to the SWC in my home “I really don’t want to win. God tells me I have to win because I am your parent. So I can’t give up….” This always gave him a pause, and actually sometimes ended the struggle of the moment because every child knows it is unwise to fight with God.
The fight for control is manifest in many different behaviors and scenarios:
~ Often the SWC will get a charge out of the fight itself, just to see if they can wear you down and get you to give in.
~ Sometimes it is due to their inability to admit they were wrong.
~ It may be seen as the opportunity to make someone else angry or get them to explode.
~ Occasionally it is stubborn refusal to obey.
~ Sometimes it is out of a desire to influence the environment and make a decision of their own choosing.
~ It could be to get attention - negative attention is still attention.
~ Sometimes it is simply to win.
Whatever the motive, the result is the same - parent and child locked into a dispute so intensely that winning and losing becomes the main concern rather than gaining sensible outcomes or meeting the needs of the situation.
The problem is often we as parents do give up and allow our SWC to set the agenda for us. As mentioned earlier, we can fight with our SWC 24-7, so we run the risk of getting worn down. I just knew that if I gave into my SWC and changed my mind, the next time it would be a bigger fight and I might give in again. I often made decisions to do things myself in an effort to avoid the fight (I will placate myself at this point to say I was choosing my battles not giving in). So we need to stop and think before we make a request of our SWC or respond to one of their requests. Think: Am I automatically saying no out of convenience or habit? Is this a point worth dying over? Can we meet in the middle and both be happy? What could I lose if I change my mind?
There are solutions that can assist us in the power struggle with our tenacious offspring.
1) Negotiation – I know I covered this in an earlier blog: January 11, 2010.
2) A choice within boundaries – This solution gives our SWC the opportunity to choose. The problem is if you don’t give them some guidelines/choices they may choose something we cannot provide - or allow - leading us into a battle of the wills.
3) Expectations with deadlines – This gives the child the details of the expectation with the freedom to address it in the manner they choose.
It is wiser to focus on what YOU will do, not TELL them what to do. Strong willed individuals bristle under ultimatums. “YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” literally courses through their brain. It is the backbone of the strong willed personality. But somewhere deep inside is an individual that will often bend over backwards to help someone out. Teachers are often very successful at working with SWC if they simply ask them to help with tasks in the classroom. If we apply this technique in the home we will find there is a softer side to our SWC - that of assisting.
The other piece of control that we must consider is concerning other adults in our child’s life. These are the adults that have to prove they are in charge, typically by being overly harsh, critical, or cruel. These adults regularly risk the relationship with our child in attempts to achieve conformity through any means. Conformity is rarely seen in SWC because they have such creativity, and when an adult attempts to force particular behaviors from the SWC they will always revolt. If you are in charge, a child assumes that it is a given position and there is really no need for you - as an adult - to prove it. But SWC have an uncanny sense for insecure adults; it may be the way they walk, talk, the turn of head, or possibly the way they smell. Regardless, SWC always know when an adult is weak, probably by the adult’s use of ultimatums. These particular adults may eventually crumble under the tenacity of the SWC but in the battle will harm the relationship by continuing to struggle. A SWC thinks something like this: “If you have to prove you are the boss, you must question your own authority and ability to control me. Give me a little while and I will find your weakness, proving that you are ultimately correct and not capable of being the boss.” Let us keep in mind that strong willed children grow up and become strong willed adults. Strong willed adults know they are in charge of the child merely by position - it is a given, so why waste time proving we are in charge? We simply display it. But this is not true for the “I gotta prove I am the adult here” mentality. And these are the individuals that will lock into the battle of wills with a SWC not looking at the bigger picture of healthy development. Because of the possible detrimental effect these adults can have on a SWC I always suggest shielding them as much as possible from extended contact.
Let me conclude this blog with a slightly humorous story (although at the time I did not find it in the least bit funny.) When my family was young we had two dogs that needed cleaning up after in the yard. As the diligent parent I continuously looked for teachable moments in which I could instill responsibility in my offspring. (Ok, maybe I hated doing the “dog-doo-duty” and was really hoping to push it off on my unsuspecting children, but at least it looked like a good lesson to the rest of the world…) At dinner I declared I would pay an increase of allowance to the individual that would assume the weekly responsibility of “dog-doo-duty.” Being a little entrepreneur, my son (around 4 years old at the time) asked the outlines of said duty and the subsequent financial payoff. I really hated the job so I offered $10 for the task, at which my loving spouse declared he would do it for $10 and not pay more than $5 to our aspiring offspring. This began the struggle of the century - one my son remembers to this day - which lasted more than an hour when finally I asked “Son, what are you trying to prove?” At this point he firmly planted his feet, put his little fists on his hips (kind of a Peter Pan stance from the movie “Hook”) and declared full voice “I am darn well gonna win!” I have planted that image indelibly in my mind to help me remember the calling of my little strong willed boy in this great vast world….”I am darn going to win”….may you also remember.