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


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Many other child development experts also share MacKenzie’s techniques and methods on parenting the strong-willed child.  Alan Kazdin, Yale psychology professor and President of the American Psychological Association, and Michelle Macias, professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggest parent to avoid harsh punishment, “reacting harshly or inconsistently to misbehavior or …endlessly trying to reason with a child”, ensure a child’s safety before ignoring his or her tantrum, and use “specific, enthusiastic, and immediate” praises, and brief timeouts or withdrawal of privileges.  Kazdin also recommends parents to reserve times for “practice sessions and [repetitive] positive reinforcement” so that these techniques “become the foundation for behavioral change” (qtd. in Boodman 2008).  


In addition, Joann Anderson, a Certified Mental Health Counselor, in her article “Living with Strong-Willed Children”, advocates parents to avoid “being buddy” with strong-willed children, and limit and be selective in the television programs watched by strong-willed children.  It is unclear why Anderson recommends parents not to befriend with the strong-willed child.  However, this view is contrary to that of Forehand and Long whose advices is to build a ‘friendship’ with the strong-willed child (157).  According to these two authors, befriending with the strong-willed child help parents to establish an open and effective communication channel in which parents can use to help the child with problem solving by “examining alternatives with [the child]” (157).  Moreover, they insist that such friendship makes parents role models instead of others (157).  They also reassure parents not to be afraid of losing authority over the strong-willed child as these parents “are in a position to guide [the child] toward sound decisions” (158).


Likewise, Denise J. Brandon, PhD, University of Tennessee Extension Family & Consumer Sciences offers more specific advices for parents to cope with the strong-willed child.  She suggests parents to create laughter, use “I-statements”, keep eye contact during conversation, and use the “When [the child finishes a specified task]/Then [the child can do his/her own thing]” rule.


Similarly, in the article “Managing the Strong-Willed Child” of the Parenting Assisting Line (PAL) web site of the University of Alabama, the authors’ recommendations for parents with strong-willed children on parenting tips are extremely similar to those of Forehand, Long, and MacKenzie.  Parents should “act more-talk less”, show the child what to expect and the consequences when not complied, consistently follow through stated consequences, be direct, use positive enforcement, and avoid “negative loop” (“PAL”).   This negative loop is what MacKenzie calls a ‘family dance’ where parents and the strong-willed child engage in situations that result in repeating cycles of “escalating conflicts and power struggles” (100).




















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