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


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Experts often accede that strong-willed children are unique individuals with their own rights and needs, just like any other children and adults.  Are we accepting children as unique individuals or attempting to change them to fit parents’ needs?  For example, MacKenzie advices parents to apply logical sequences when kids do not cooperate with other kids by separating these kids temporarily (179).   However, in the real world, many adults are not cooperating or gregarious with each other.  During the years of working as a software engineer, I encounter many aggressive, obnoxious senior colleagues whose behaviors include calling names and using vulgar language in team meetings.  Yet, these senior workers are group leaders, or managers who earn respect from upper management.  By teaching children absolute obedience, are we as parents and child development experts equipping children the right tools to cope with our tough world in adulthood?  Would parents’ expectations change if they are affluent enough to allow certain strong-willed children’s ‘difficult’ behaviors to manifest? 


Furthermore, some of the advice given by experts is too general and do not take into account the development stages of children.  For instance, as the strong-willed child damages an item in the house due to carelessness, MacKenzie recommends parents to let the strong-willed child experience the “natural consequence” by making him or her feel the loss before replacing the damaged item (172).   However, if the child is two or three years-old, it is more likely that he or she will not miss the damaged item at all.


Moreover, various experts’ advice is not applicable to children who are late talkers.  As parents attempt to resolve behavioral issues with the strong-willed child, extensive use of the spoken language is a prerequisite.  If the child does not talk, he or she is unlikely to understand the message, and communication will break down.  As a result, misbehaviors are not dealt with.


            Parents often wonder why their children are strong-willed.  The answer for this question lies in the controversial nature-nurture debate over causes for differences in personality and temperament that has been disputed by experts for centuries.   Yet, the answer is still unclear.  MacKenzie points out those experts agree that both genetic and environmental factors considerably impact the development of temperament.  What scientists do not know is the exact percentage of how each factor influenced temperament, he notes.  As the debate continues, we carefully review the thinking and research that leads us to the present (14).


            In the middle of the twentieth century, MacKenzie indicates that most experts believed environmental influences such as parental teaching to be the cause for the differences in children’s temperament.  Whenever a child misbehaved, it was always the parents’ faults.  Children’s behaviors were parents’ onus of responsibility (14).  MacKenzie shows that this nurture view was soon found with flaws as parents pointed out the inconsistency.  If parents applied the same parenting method, all children should behave the same.  Yet, some obeyed and others disobeyed.  Soon afterward, researchers realized that environmental influences alone could not explain the differences in children’s behaviors.  The search for answers raged on (15).

















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