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Parenting Tools: Understanding and Coping with the Strong-Willed Child


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Most child development experts share similar techniques and principles except James Dobson, a child psychologist turned evangelist and politician, and founder of the Christian organization Focus on the Family.   According to Eileen Welsome (2006) of the Denver’s Magazine, in her article “And on the Eighth Day, Dr. Dobson Created Himself”, she describes Dobson as “the most influential Christian in America” who “lecture[s] millions of parents on how to spank their children and advise[s] President George W. Bush on how to spank the Supreme Court.”   As a child, Welsome says, he was physically (shoes, belt, and once, a 16-pound girdle) and mentally abused by his parents.   As a licensed child psychologist, he devotes all of his time to run his ministry which brings in about $140 millions a year through a vast network of radio, television, books, magazines, videos, audio recordings, and websites that reach over 220 millions people worldwide, Welsome reports.  In regard to other child development experts, he repudiates the American Psychologist Association.   In addition, his book The New Strong-Willed Child sold more than two millions copies (Dobson 2004).  It is this book that Dobson offers advices to parents with strong-willed children.


Even though some of Dobson’s techniques and principles are similar to other experts, most of his advices are unconventional, controversial, and biased.  Dobson agrees with most experts that “willfulness is built into the nature of some kids” (39).  But he proceeds to explain such willful temperaments are given by God and described in the Scripture (45).  To parent the strong-willed child, he recommends parents to “teach respect for authority while children are very young” (51), “define the boundaries before they are enforced” (56), “distinguish between willful defiance and childish irresponsibility” (57), “reassure and teach after the confrontation is over” (58), “avoid impossible demands”, and “let love be your guide” (59).  He also encourages parents to “shape the will” but “protect the spirit” of the strong-willed child (65-76), be calm when coping with misbehaviors (77-91), and apply discipline appropriately to different stages of the child development (93-117).  In addition, he endorses the controversial use of corporal punishment, i.e. spanking, on the strong-willed child (119-138).  This view is contrary to the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and numerous experts who assert that spanking is inappropriate and ineffective as it is a form of punishment that can increase misbehaviors in children and be detrimental to the child (qtd. in Holden 2001).  Throughout his book, Dobson (2004) often refers to the Bible to explain some misbehavior, teach religion, or tell parents to seek guidance from God.


All experts have unanimously agreed that parenting a strong-willed child is a very difficult task for parents.  These experts also agree that there is hopes as parents sagaciously seek out ways to improve their parenting skills.  The parenting methods given by Forehand and Long and MacKenzie are clinical proven, and highly recommended by leading experts across the world.  Parents are strongly advised to follow their approaches, but should apply the advices with discretion as the directions are not absolute and each strong-willed child is unique.  On the other hand, Dobson’s parenting methods are highly subjective and apocryphal.  As he no longer clinically practices in the field of child development psychology, it is clear that his teaching advices are simply for the benefit of his own organization.  Numerous parents, even Christian parents, in various online forums denounce his teaching.  Those parents who still wish to follow his teaching should be extremely careful with his advices.  Perhaps parents should remember these words from an unknown author when parenting the strong-willed child:


“A hundred years from now it will not matter what sort of house I lived in, what my bank account was, or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child”  (qtd. in Forehand and Long 251).




















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