Helping Strong-Willed Kids

by James Rudy Gray

Children in a family cannot be treated the same because they are not the same. They can and should be treated fairly.

Parents would certainly deal with a compliant child differently than they would a strong-willed child. There are many other differences that distinguish children as individuals within a family.

The family environment in a Christian home should be one that is positive. That does not eliminate spanking, discipline, etc., but it does emphasize that the atmosphere of the home is positive and therefore helps a child feel more secure.

A young nine-year old boy was basically holding his parents hostage by his temper tantrums and possessive behavior. He has a younger brother and sister who demonstrated no behavioral problems. The first born, however, began sleeping with his parents and would not return to his own room. He would embarrass the family at restaurants because he was the first one to finish eating. His loud and inappropriate comments disrupted the rest of the family. When he did not get his way he would "pitch a fit." People suggested to the parents that he may be ADHD; however, he was an A-student at school with no behavioral problems.

This behavior was new to the family. It started when he walked in on his parents during a time of sexual intimacy. He had questions and was told that they were wrestling. He loved professional wrestling to the point he was a fanatic about it. After this encounter, he began coming to their bed at night AND THE PARENTS ALLOWED IT. Finally, his behavior grew so bad that they sought counseling.

This young boy had found a way to exercise both power and control over his parents. Boundaries were absent. It is amazing today to see so many "Christian" kids growing up in Christian homes where there are no boundaries. Boundaries are excellent for helping a child build security and develop character. However, boundaries must be clearly explained and they must be fair. Consequences for breaking the boundaries must be clearly understood and absolutely enforced. The key is consistency.

John Cloud and Henry Townsend, two Christian therapists, have written several books on boundaries and any of these would be good reading for parents struggling with boundaries. Dr. Jane Bluestein is a self-esteem expert who specializes in building adult-child relationships. In her book, Parents, Teens, and Boundaries, she writes, "You will be tested. Count on it. In fact, hope for it. It will be a great chance for you to practice behaviors that are consistent with the boundaries you set. And it will be a great learning experience for your kids."

The young boy with the boundary issues mentioned earlier was given clear boundaries and consequences for breaking the boundaries. He didn't waste any time testing the limits. His parents enforced the boundaries. Over a short period of time, his behavior changed. He moved back into his own room. During the period of learning for this young man, he discovered that the boundaries were there and that if he chose to break them, he incurred the consequences. The child does not have to keep the boundaries, but if he breaks them he does have to pay the consequences. It is his choice.

Boundaries can help build security in a child. However, constant criticism and negative feedback can yield some negative traits in a person, like perfectionism, low self-esteem, and a sense of inadequacy. So it is important to keep the atmosphere of the home positive. Dr. Bluestein says parents should "create a positive environment in which the consequences of taking risks and making bad choices don't threaten your child's safety or worth."

There are so many challenges to bringing up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in our time. But there have always been challenges. Christian parents may need some help in the process, but in the end the parents have the privilege and responsibility of building a positive and loving home environment where truth is taught and good behavior is both expected and rewarded.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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