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


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           Forehand and Long agree that characteristics of being strong-willed are derived from a child’s temperament.  According to these two experts, temperament refers “to a child’s inborn behavioral style or innate tendencies to act in a particular way” (9).  Several sources accept the pioneer work of Chess and Thomas that a child’s temperament is some combinations of the nine temperament traits.  These traits include reactivity (how well a child responds, i.e. withdraw/approach, or positively/negatively, to different situations or events), adaptability (how well a child reacts to new situations or events), persistence (how long a child stays with an activity), mood (general disposition such as being positive, cheerful, serious, analytical, cranky, or negative), activity level (whether a child is always on the move), distractibility (how well a child can concentrate), sensory threshold (how much a child reacts to sounds, smells, and sights), and intensity (how strongly a child reacts to new situations, i.e. happy/frustrated, or smile/cry)(Forehand and Long 11; MacKenzie 11-13; Filipic 2007; Fisher). Typically, a strong-willed child tends to react intensely, have a hard time adapting to transitions, be persistent in her/his needs, and have inconsistent moods (Forehand & Long 11, MacKenzie 5-8).


            A child with high self-esteem tends to be friendly and cooperate, according to Don Bower, an Associate Professor and Human Development Specialist at the University of Georgia, in “123 Grow!: 28-30 months”.  He notes that as some parents fail to recognize the difference between “strong-willed” and self-esteem, they often punish, criticize, and neglect the strong-willed child.  As a result, a strong-willed child usually has low self-esteem and is an underachiever.  He also explains that self-esteem is “the thoughts, feelings, and ideas” that a child possesses, and strong self-esteem originates from loving and caring relationships with other people (1996).


            Forehand and Long recommends that parents consult professionals if they suspect their strong-willed children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (50).  These advices are given since the diagnosis is difficult, often based on the frequency and intensity of specific behaviors, and intricate to distinguish with strong-willed behaviors (43).  These two authors refer to the research conducted by Russell Barkley of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, who discovers that ADHD is developmental disorder of self-control for many children (43).  The authors notice that the core symptoms of ADHD are “inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity” (42).  Inattention refers to the child’s inability to pay attention to details, to sustain attention long enough to complete tasks, as well as the ability to make careless mistakes and being unorganized (44-45).  Impulsivity refers to the child’s inability to wait for instructions before starting an activity, to think before acting out, and to have adequate self-control (45).   Hyperactivity indicates that the child tends to be “more active, fidgety, and restless than other non-ADHD children of the same age” (46).  Later, when these two experts address the likely causes for ADHD, they conclude that they are either genetically heredity (70 percent of the cases), or injury to the brain.  Again, the authors assert that there is no cure for ADHD; however, there are treatments to reduce the symptoms or to find ways to effectively cope with the disorder (50).


On the other hand, Tralle acknowledges that ‘strong-willed’ is very similar to Oppositional Defiant Disorder/Conduct Disorder.  A child who has Oppositional Defiant Disorder is noncompliant, highly irritable, and has more negative moods than other children of the same age.  These children may violate minor rules, have tantrums, argue with authority figures, annoy others, blaming others for their own problems, swear, consistently violate the rights of others, and disregard accepted social norms and rules (Tralle 2007).



















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