That strong-willed child


I’ll leave you to read the original article, but here’s the jist:

  • If you have a strong-willed child, good!
  • Never try to force her to obey you.
  • Make “deals” by giving “choices” even about non-negotiable things (example: “Ok, do you want to go to the shops now or in 10 minutes?”)
  • “Enforce” routines (how are you supposed to do this without demanding your child obeys you?)
  • Never enter a power-struggle – that’s lowering yourself to your child’s level

and so forth and so on.

I don’t want to be funny but I seriously have to wonder whether the Dr who has written this “advice” even has a weak-willed child of her own!

“Obedience leads to holocaust”.  No.  Politics led to that.  Not obedience.  If you have the “choice” of going to the front and fighting or being executed as a traitor (and they were merciless with their death penalty for deserters), you soon make the “obedient choice”.  It’s called trying to stay alive. It has nothing more to do with morality, only with terror.  And it is most certainly not a result of any kind of faulty parenting.  Some people shouldn’t divert into politics with their “parenting” articles.

Obedience leads to, for instance, obeying laws you don’t necessarily understand.  Like, in the case of a real primitive, why I shouldn’t skip that red traffic light.  It’s so inconvenient to have to wait at the light and I want to make my own decisions.  Why should I obey when I disagree?

Let’s look at this on various levels.

Toddler, tantrum age:  “Mommy, want chocky.”

Mother: “No. You see, Annie, chocolate will upset your tummy and you haven’t had supper yet.”

Toddler:  “Want chocky NOW!”  (raised voice; surprised glances from fellow shoppers.)

Mom (negotiates) : “No, Annie, not now.  Later.  If you are good now, you can have TWO chockies later on.  AFTER supper.”

Todler (screams) : “Want chocky!  Waaaaaahhhh!!”

Mother (mortified because people are looking and she wants her child to make her own choices) : “Alright, Annie, just this once.  But you must promise to eat your supper.”

Toddler (continues screaming until chocky is safely in her hand being munched).

What has toddler learnt?  Mommy will back down if I scream loudly enough, and if enough other people will be around.

Sorry, Dr Whatnot, but a toddler must NEVER win the tantrum age. The ones who do, turn into prime manipulators for life.  To unleash such a horror upon humanity means you’ve failed your job – to raise them well.

Another example:  School-aged kid.

Mom:  “Time to start your homework.”

Daughter (idles around and doesn’t get started.)

Mom:  “If you do your homework now, there will be a treat later.”

(EPIC FAIL already.  Daughter hears:  “If”.  Learns:  Doing homework is negotiable.  Natural result:  Daughter doesn’t bother getting started on homework just for some nondescript vague promise of “treats later”.  Treats?  Seriously?  For what?  For doing what you’re supposed to?  Give me a break!)

Third example:  Teenager.

Mom:  “Annie, where are you going?”

A:  “Out.”

Mom:  “Can you tell me where you will be?”

A:  “With my friends.”

Mom:  “You don’t mean that Clarence and Jim?”

A:  “Mom, do you ever hear me talk about any other friends?  Duh!”

Mom:  “I don’t like Jim, he is on drugs.”

A: “Mom, don’t be so judgmental.  Everyone is on drugs these days.”

Mom:  (wanting teenager to make her own choices, this is a principle) :  “Alright, you know where to draw the line.  Have you studied for that test tomorrow?”

A:  “No.”

Mom:  “Aren’t you going to study?”

A:  “Mom, who ever studies for a test these days?  Don’t be so old-fashioned!”  (leaves)

Mom: “I hope she is not on drugs…”

(FAIL, Mom, of course she is.  You allowed her to get away with everything, always.  You didn’t teach her right from wrong, only “feel-good” from “don’t-wanna”.  What do you expect?)

Own choice kid:  “Mom, I don’t want to do my math homework.”

Own choice mom:  “That’s alright, Johnny, I’ll write a note to the teacher.”

Excuse me?

Dear Dr, if you have a strong-willed child you have an absolute duty to her and everyone around her to make her learn to be obedient!  That is, unless you are really meaning to raise a manipulating, self-obsessed, narcissistic crook with no moral compass whatsoever.  And I don’t even say “moral” in the religious sense; only in the law-abiding sense of the word.

“I’ll make my own choices and drive on the opposite side of the highway today.”  – “I’ll make my own choices and not pay my taxes.” – “I’ll make my own choices and put a bullet into my neighbour’s dog because his barking irritates me.”  – “I’ll make my own choices and drag you out of your car and beat you up because you didn’t immediately move over to the left-hand lane when I wanted to overtake you.  No matter that you were already at the speed limit and I wanted to go even faster; I make my own choices about this.”


The Dr needs to understand first and foremost that a child is not an adult.  The psyche of a child goes through various phases, most of which are typified by self-interest.  The understanding grows as a child grows; but you cannot reason with a child (or even adolescent) the same as with an adult.  Heck, you can’t even reason with a lot of adults as though they were adults.

A strong-willed child will always try to push the boundaries.  Not setting any boundaries, making everything “negotiable” because you believe in your child’s mythical “inner compass” (that it is your job to instill into him) will result in chaos.  Even making exceptions to otherwise inflexible rules can throw a willful child; “why am I allowed to watch TV before having done my homework today?  Maybe Mommy has changed her mind about that rule?  I’ll do it again tomorrow!”  And tomorrow Mommy will have twice the fight trying to reestablish an established rule.

Yes, having a willful child is good – but a humongous parenting challenge, as you are tasked with turning that narcissistic little powerhouse into a strong-minded, honest, upright and caring individual (without losing your mind in the process).  Don’t worry about her getting ahead in life – worry about how many people’s heads she’ll step on to get there!

Ok, I just have to turn one of these scenes around for you:

Toddler in shop:  “Want chocky!”

Mother:  “No.”

Toddler:  “WANT CHOCKY!!”

Mother. “No!”

Toddler:  “Chockyyyy!!!!  Waaaaaahhhhh!!!”  (wails loudly.)

Mother:  “No ways!”  (thinks: Kid, I said ‘no’, which part of that don’t you understand?)

Shoppers:  (stare)

Mother (laughs, shrugs) :  “Sorry, folks… you know:  Tantrum age.”

Toddler (quietens down in shock).  This is not made up.  This is precisely what happened.  And there is no need for you, young mother, to be embarrassed about not giving in to your child in tantrum age.  Anyway, those other shoppers are strangers.  What do you care about more, their opinion – or having a well-raised child?

The reader will note that no toddlers were harmed in the writing of the above passage.

….gipsika over.  And out.  Like a candle.


6 thoughts on “That strong-willed child

  1. I never wanted any child of mine to be ‘obedient’, but rather, as soon as they were capable of thinking, to think through the consequences of what they were doing. “I don’t want to do my maths homework.” Okay so don’t so it, and see where it gets you – the next step in the subject will be harder, because you’re hazy on the principles of the current step, plus you’ll be out of practice at working independently. That isn’t an example of anything I actually said, but hypothetical, a demonstration of a principle.

    ‘Obedient’ people don’t think, they simply say “Jawohl, mein Fuehrer”. Education isn’t about fostering ‘obedience’ – in fact I believe good education will foster the diametric opposite, what I call ‘creative disobedience’, and that is a social necessity. The important word is ‘creative’. Or I could say ‘constructive disobedience’ – its through this creative, constructive urge that we no longer live in medieval serfdom; if we did not have the gumption and bottle to think and act for ourselves, the powerful would never give way.

    Here’s another approach:

    “Mum, I don’t want to do my maths homework!”

    “Okay, how can I help you to do it?”

    Note: NOT “How can I help you do it?” but “How can I help you TO do it?” This is a matter of ‘constructive *obedience*’ if you like, a case of turning a task into an exercise in *self* discipline rather than imposed discipline.

    “Oh mum, everybody does drugs!”

    I told my offspring on many occasions, “Look, I’ve got your back, but if you do anything stupid I’m going to let you take the full consequences.” Actually, I would have stepped in well before there were any serious consequences, but I wasn’t going to tell them that!

    “Mum, nobody studies for a test these days?”

    “Just because a million-billion flies eat shit doesn’t mean YOU have to!” That was my answer to quite a few stupid statements about what ‘everybody’/’nobody’ does these days. It has become one of our family sayings.

    All this gives the impression I was a perfect parent. I was not and am not. I suffer from severe depression and other conditions, and am difficult to live with at the best of times. Also I get stuff wrong. But I think my principles have always been sound.

    • “Pick up those socks of yours you’ve just chucked down in the livingroom.”
      (“Jawohl, mein Fuehrer?” Can’t decide which one is a bigger provocation.)

      There are homeschooling sites that suggest withholding food until the child complies. Hmm. Food for thought.

      “Okay, sweetie, you don’t have to pick up your socks. Ever. You won’t have to do your math either. I respect your strong will.” Hmmm. Can’t see myself in the role of doormat.

    • Not quite what I had in mind. Am I really that bad at expressing myself? The comment “Jawohl, mein Fuerher” would not be addressed to me, but to some dictator or other in adult life (I would have been ‘meine Fuehrerin’ anyway!). ‘Respecting’ the ‘strong will’ of a child who refuses to do maths isn’t it either; letting a child SEE, as early as possible, the awful consequences of f***ing up is.

    • 😀 Yes it probably just came across in a weird way. “Meine Fuehrerin” has no impact at all… 😉

      Let’s put it this way: It’s up to the parent to discern where to allow a child to bear the full brunt of the consequences of willfulness (rather, obsequiousness and gross teenage rebellion) and where to put one’s foot down. When it’s about flunking a test, I do allow my willful one to experience life, and all the emotions that go with that. But it doesn’t touch her in the least if she disobeys about the socks on my livingroom floor – unless I turn into the “Fuehrer” and whack her one. Somehow I get the idea we’re arguing the same point of view.

      Also, there are degrees of allowing life to dish out those lessons. I once met a woman who allowed her 2-year-old to do whatever she pleased, including burn herself on the stove and stick her fingers in the plug box. I call that child neglect, not natural consequence. Children of mammals have parents for a reason. There used to be an evolutionary advantage to that.

  2. Reblogged this on Life & Law and commented:
    Interesting take. Although I think the jist of the “choice” method is to still get the child to do what is needed but psychologically positioning their choices so the child reaches the right conclusion, but thinks they’ve done so of their own free will 😉 e.g. You want child to put on shoes before going to school; child doesn’t want shoes; you offer the child a choice of 3 different pair of shoes, and child picks their favorite pair. Outcome = child has put on shoes but, because several choices were presented, child feels the act was entirely voluntary. Voila.

    • 🙂 Yup. In certain cases I did that. Often, young children don’t feel like putting on a jersey for school when it is actually quite nippy out there. So I tell them to go outside and stand in the wind a little and come back to tell me what they have decided. But sometimes they decided the wrong thing, in which case the choice is taken away and “dragon Mom” comes out…

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