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


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Most experts agree that the development of willfulness comes from the interaction between the child’s misbehaviors and his or her parents discipline’s approach (Forehand and Long 15; MacKenzie 20; Pickhardt 2005).  These experts elaborate that it is not entirely the parents’ faults for causing the misbehaviors; it is just the parents’ natural response to a child’s misbehaviors.   Because of constantly facing with frustrations of managing the strong-willed child, parents tend to scream or use ineffective parenting strategies.  As a result, the child’s behaviors deteriorate (Forehand and Long 15).

Tralle maintains that the presence of a strong-willed child in a family may disrupt the delicate balance of the family.  The stress stemmed from assiduously dealing with challenging behaviors exasperates the relationship of the parents to the child, the relationship of the child to the other children, and the relationship of the parents to each other (2007).  The evidence that supports this claim is from the careful study of Jimmy Meyers, a Liberty University (an evangelical, accredited university) Doctoral Student.  In his thesis project, “Understanding the Influences of Parenting with Oppositional Defiant Disorder on The Marital Relationship: a Phenomenological Study”, submitted in 2006, he concludes that parents of the willful child often experience disagreements over parenting methods, increased stress levels, disruption of religious faith or practice, poor communication, reduction of sexual and nonsexual intimacy, restricted social activity, increased levels of resentment, and increased frequencies of repining behaviors (4).  Also, he identifies three positive effects resulted from parenting a strong-willed child that include “being forced to ‘be on the same page,’ being better parents for the other children in the home, and strengthening of religious faith” (4).


Ferrer and Falcone (2002) and Sandra Bailey (2004), Ph.D. and a Family and Human Development Specialist, stress that in order to effectively manage strong-willed children, parents must understand the age-appropriate expectations of children.  They say that before attributing and handling a strong-willed child’s misbehavior, it is helpful that parents determine the reasons for that misbehavior.  They subsequently indicate that factors that may cause a child to misbehave include negative feelings from past experiences or traumatic events, side effects of illness and medications, physical or mental disability, adverse consequences derived from the mother’s substance abuse during pregnancy, and basic needs not met.  They also point out that as children face different challenges at every stage of their growth, parents can effectively guide them if they know the characteristics of their stage of development.  Finally, Ferrer and Falcone (2002) elaborate the age-related characteristics for children from 2 to 6 years.


For infants from birth to 12 months, [they] require physical touch like cuddling, stroking, and rocking for physical and emotional growth, communicate through crying, smiling, cooing, and babbling, explore by putting objects in mouth, need stimulation through touch, sounds, and textures, and soothe themselves by sucking hands and fingers.  For t oddlers from 1 to 3 years old, [they] like to explore and are very curious, seek independence, are impatient, do not understand sharing, have a hard time expressing their emotions and, therefore, have temper tantrums.  For p reschoolers from 3 to 5 years old, [they] ask lots of questions, enjoy pretend games and have imaginary friends, are learning to be more cooperative with other children, have extreme mood changes, are proud of their ability to complete more tasks on their own.   For s chool-age children from 6 to 12 years old, [they] begin to question rules of parents, enjoy being with their friends, have an increased interest in out-of-school activities, find it hard to deal with criticism and failure, and may like to tease and criticize each other (Ferrer and Falcone 2002).



















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