The strong-willed child (SWC) was not a familiar term, but I heard it somewhere and it stayed at the back of my mind.
From my understanding, the SWC has a sense of determination and a stubbornness to stick to a principle, no matter what.
The question that played on my mind was, should this be ignored or simply accepted as the child’s personality? Or should it be encouraged, in the hope that it might be the makings of a strong, future leader?
But what if it prevents the child from being guided accordingly—is it something to keep under control to avoid painful power struggles in the future?
It is challenging for me to come to grips with the SWC. When I was growing up, the norm was obedience. It was not acceptable to argue or debate with your parents. I wouldn’t call it blind obedience but rather respect for authority.
Obeying one’s elders was done out of love and full trust in our parents’ decisions. Judging from how most of us turned out, it would appear that our parents were right.
However, these are different times. Most children today have much more leeway than their parents ever had—in terms of expressing their opinions, not to mention a lot more confidence. We have given our children incredible tools for learning and, in the information age, it is second nature for them to question things and seek more knowledge to understand what they are facing.
Taking these things into consideration, my initial idea of an SWC must be revisited and reevaluated. While it is easier to dismiss the SWC as stubborn or “pasaway,” it would be more beneficial for all parties to take a step back (and a deep breath!) and get to know them from a less emotional point of view.
The quiet child
The SWC is, for instance, not necessarily the loud little girl having a tantrum in the middle of the mall. On the contrary, she can have an unbreakable sense of calmness, and is more likely to be the quiet child in the corner standing firm with her decisions.
The SWC has a fierce desire to make decisions for oneself and is unafraid of suffering the consequences. Rather than learning from parental advice, the SWC seems to learn best from experience. While other children crave direction, the SWC refuses to be told what to do. It is this particular trait that sets most parents off and causes the proverbial power struggle.
Breaking the child’s will
It can be tempting to do whatever it takes to “break” the will of the child and teach him or her to be obedient. However, experts caution against this, as obedience should come as a response to trust and respect.
Demanding obedience teaches a child to simply obey whoever is bigger and stronger, and leaves the child vulnerable to be abused and taken advantage of.
I feel there is also something heartbreaking in seeing a child’s spirit crushed before it has the chance to reach its potential.
This is not to say that obedience should be tossed aside entirely. I’m a big fan of obedience and inculcating it early on in childhood. Blatant disregard of rules and disrespect for authority are certainly cause for discipline and should not go unnoticed.
But I have come to realize that asking questions or not immediately obeying are not tantamount to disobedience.
It’s certainly a challenge and up to the parents to find a way to protect the child’s sense of curiosity and integrity, as they teach the importance of obedience, cooperation, being open to learning and respecting authority.
It is a tall order for parents, but not impossible if they know what they are dealing with and understand how to relate to the SWC.
It is frustrating to deal with a child who refuses to listen, when we all just want what is best for him or her. It is especially difficult in the heat of the moment, but by empathizing and understanding, rather than reacting and blindly enforcing something, parents can set more effective limits that the SWC willingly obeys.
For example, to relate better to a desire to make his or her own decisions, the SWC can be given the parents’ preapproved choices on what the child is supposed to do, while giving the SWC a feeling of ownership over the decision. For example: doing homework before taking a bath, or the other way around.
For older SWC, nonnegotiable things can be properly talked about, but with the agreement that, in the end, the SWC must respect the parents’ decision. Hopefully, the child will be mature enough to see the importance of doing as the parents have asked.
As with any child, it will all boil down to a strong connection and frequent communication to direct that strong will to the right channels.
A friend, who, though no longer a child, is still what I call SWC—a strong-willed character who recalled that, growing up, it was her strong will that allowed her to withstand all forms of peer pressure, and which continues to guide her to stand by her convictions today.
Despite the challenges, we hope that children will have a strong enough sense of self to help them stand up for what they believe in. That sense of empowerment and confidence cannot be taught by any book, but what a marvelous gift for the children to carry into adulthood.