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


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Furthermore, various experts (Coie & Dodge 1998; Hartup & Abecassis 2002; Underwood 2003) observe normal aggressive behaviors in children that parents should expect.  They say young preschoolers between the ages of two and three “tend to behave aggressively after parents have set limits”.  When preschooler reach age three, these experts add, they tend to retaliate “in response to frustration or attack”.  These preschoolers may naturally and reactively “kick or hit” to attain what they want, these authors say.  Older preschoolers, these experts elaborate, show aggression “in response to peer conflict …, use verbal aggression”, and aggressive arguments that are more hostile and noxious to others.  Also, these experts state that as the child reaches age four, aggression and temper tantrum peak out and then decrease to almost nonexistent.  By the time the child reaches school age, “individual differences in aggression appear to be related to family factors such as socio-economic status, parenting style, and to how children cognitively process social information” (qtd. in LeCroy 2007).


Most experts seem to overlook the value of fulfilling one fundamental strong-willed child’s need: play activity.  Ginsburg Kenneth (2007) of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in a study entitled: "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds", states that "free and unstructured play is healthy and - in fact - essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient".  As the result of this play activity, the frequency of strong-willed children’s misbehaviors is significantly reduced.


Even though there are a few professionals with questionable credentials in the field of child development, numerous respectable and reliable experts offer effective parenting methods for parents with strong-willed children.  One method is offered by the child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan at George Washington University Medical School.  He explains that a child’s misbehavior is resulted from the child’s “sensory-motor profile” or how the child perceives and reacts to the surrounding environment.  He categorizes the strong-willed child as one of the five overlapping groups: “the highly sensitive child, the self-absorbed child, the defiant child, the inattentive child and the active/aggressive child”.   For each child category, he prescribes a specific parenting style.  For example, as the self-absorbed child is under-responsive to stimulation, he suggests parents to enthusiastically approach him or her to stimulate emotions.  Other experts agree with Greenspan about the involvement of sensory problems in a child’s misbehavior.   However, these experts claim that his focus is too narrow as the “causes of difficult behavior are complex and intertwined” (qtd. in Goodnow 1995).   


















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