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


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MacKenzie takes an approach different than that of Forehand and Long.  Although many of the lying principles are the same between these experts, MacKenzie rather focuses upon firmly setting limits on strong-willed children.  His main objective is help parents to establish a ‘fit’ between the child’s actual behavior and parents’ realistic expectations of the child’s behaviors.  Since the child’s temperament is immutable, parents can change their own temperaments and guidance methods to effectively handle the strong-willed child (23-25).   He strongly advices parents to avoid ‘permissive’ and ‘punitive’ methods since these methods will not be effective on strong-willed children (43-67).  He justifies that with the punitive approach (parents being firm, but not respectful), parents may have to assume the roles of “police detective, judge, jailer, referee, and probation officer” (45).  As a result, this approach “doesn’t teach positive lessons about responsibility, problem solving, or respectful communication” (50), MacKenzie says.  Similarly, he shows that parents who use the permissive approach (parents being respectful, but not being firm) “constantly shift gear and use verbal tactics to convince and persuade children to cooperate” (55).  As a matter of fact, a research (qtd. in Shute 2008) since the 1960s has found that permissive parents tend to have children with problems in schools and drugs and alcohol abuse dilemmas as teenagers.  Similarly, another research performed by Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University, reports that today’s children and teenagers display more symptoms of depression and anxiety than those children of earlier generations.  Consequently, MacKenzie explains, the strong-willed child sees this permissive parenting style as an opportunity to “tune out, ignore, challenge, defy, argue, debate, dawdle, procrastinate, or just digging [his/her] heels and push for the walls” (55).  Instead of these parenting styles, MacKenzie insists that parents should maintain an approach that balances between firmness and respect (68-74).  He names this approach a ‘democratic approach’ that is “a win-win method of problem solving that combines firmness with respect and accomplishes all of [parents’] basic training goals” (68).


Moreover, MacKenzie argues that discipline is different from punishment (47).  He claims that punishment “doesn’t teach positive lessons about responsibility, problem solving, or respectful communication” (47).  He, Bailey (2004), and Robert Hendren, a professor of psychiatry at the Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute at the University of California-Davis and president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (qtd. in Shute 2008), assert that parents can effectively communicate their expectations by using a message that is directed toward the child’s behavior and is in a calm manner, clear, firm, specific, and direct, followed by consequences for noncompliance (131-138).


Other suggested parental tools by MacKenzie include taking a cool down period as both parents and child are in fiery arguments, offering limited choices when the strong-willed child challenges parents’ rules, using a timer when the challenging kid dawdles, and avoiding to be drawn into arguments and discussions (139-160).  He also advices parents to enforce rules by applying immediate, consistent, logically related, and proportional consequences followed by a clean slate and forgiveness (164-170).  To effectively execute the consequences, he recommends parents to use natural consequences (letting children experience the consequences of their own actions) when children lose an item due to carelessness, habitually forget their own tasks, dawdle and procrastinate (172-175).  He also suggests parents to repeatedly use logical consequences when children make a mess, fail to put away toys, destroy items, abuse privileges, fail to complete chores, whine or nag, or hurt others (177-184).  All of these advices from MacKenzie are also shared by Bailey (2005) who adds that these techniques are more appropriate for school-age children.


MacKenzie and Bailey (2005) also tells parents to motivate and teach the strong-willed child to be cooperative and obedient by using positive messages, exploring choices, and role-modeling corrective behavior since “limits alone may not be enough to motivate strong-willed children to head in the intended direction” (MacKenzie 207-216).  In addition, MacKenzie urges parents to encourage better behavior and independence so that there is likelihood that the child’s cooperation will continue (217-219).  Besides agreeing with MacKenzie on using positive language to teach child to be independent, Bailey (2004) offers more discipline tips for parents with preschoolers.  She says parents should provide a safe environment for the “active and busy” preschooler to explore his or her surroundings, limit stimulations such as television, games, and toys so that the child does not throw tantrums, and establish a daily routine so that preschoolers can “gauge time”.


















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