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


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            Before long, as MacKenzie recalls, the nature view came to play as the cause of the differences in children’s behaviors.  According to this view, “differences in temperament were due largely to hereditary or inborn influences”.  Even though this nature view explains the reasons why children respond differently to the same parenting methods, it does not clarify “why children with extreme traits adapt and adjust better than others” (15).  Once again, the need for a better theory persists.


            MacKenzie emphasizes that neither the nature view nor the nurture view could adequately show the differences in temperaments.  He asserts that “the nurture view overemphasized the role of parenting and left parents feel guilty”.  On the other hand, “[the nature view] underemphasized the role of parenting and left parents feeling helpless and resigned” (15).  The need for a better explanation carried on.


            Fast forward to the 1980s, with the advance in genetic research, experts “proposed an interactive model that incorporated the influences of both nature and nuture”, MacKenzie notes.  This theory suggests that “both nature and nurture contribute, in varying degree, to the development of a child’s temperament”.  MacKenzie says that “the continuous interaction between biological factors (inborn traits) and environmental factors (parenting)” shape the child’s temperament.  He adds that “the child brings his nature into the arena, and parents provide the nurture” (15-16).  It is also worthy to note that this parent-child interaction happens even inside the mother’s womb.  Matt Ridley,  author of the book The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture, awarded for the best science book published in 2003 from the National Academies of Science, explains that the low-active genes of inborn accounted for antisocial behaviors are influenced “by changes in the womb, by the environment, and by other factors” (2003).


            Nobody knows where the direction of the nature-nurture debate heads, but one truth remains: parenting strong-willed children age two to six is a daunting task because parents lack experiences, support, and reliable resources to help them effectively deal with their strong-willed children.    


            Before exploring the nature of a strong-willed child, it is helpful to understand the fundamental temperaments that normal children have.  Dr. Miller Ferrer, the Associate Dean for the UF/IFAS Florida Cooperative Extension Service, and Angela Falcon write the article “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Understanding Your Grandchild's Behavior System - Part 1” in December 2001 to help children caregivers understand the age-appropriate expectations of children.  In this article, she explains that most children display one of three types of temperament: easy, slow to warm-up, and difficult.  According to Miller, an easy child is one who “follows rules most of the time, accepts change easily, and generally remains in a good mood”, a slow to warm-up child is one who is “negative in mood and adjusts slowly to new experiences”, and a difficult child is one who has “many temper tantrums, gets overly excited, argues and does not adapt well to new situations” (2001).  Parenting this difficult child (as the strong-willed child is called by some experts) is what other leading experts want to research.



















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