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Parents question future with strong-willed child


QUESTION: What are the long-range implications of raising a strong-willed child? What can we expect as the years go by?

DR. DOBSON: Well, I can give you a few encouraging conclusions from our study. The tendencies of strong-willed children (SWCs) are to return to parental values when they reach adulthood. Parents told us that 85 percent of their grown SWCs (24 years of age and older) came back to what they had been taught – entirely or at least “somewhat.” That is good news. Only 15 percent were so headstrong that they rejected their family’s core values into their mid-20s. In those exceptional cases, I’ll wager that other problems and sources of pain were involved.

What this means, in effect, is that these tough-minded kids will argue and fight and complain throughout their years at home, but the majority will turn around when they reach young adulthood and do what their parents most desired. That should be reassuring. Furthermore, if we could have evaluated these individuals at 35 instead of 24 years of age, even fewer would still be in rebellion against parental values.

Second, raising a strong-willed child (or a house full of them) can be a lonely job for parents. You can begin to feel like yours is the only family that has gone through these struggles. Don’t believe it. In another study of 3,000 parents, we found that 85 percent of families had at least one strong-willed child. This is parenthood. This is human nature.

Third, I urge you as parents of strong-willed children not to feel “cheated” or depressed by the assignment of raising such individuals. You are not an exception or the butt of some cruel cosmic joke. All human beings arrive with a generous assortment of flaws, including the very compliant child.

Yes, it is more difficult to raise an independent little fellow or gal, but you can do it! You can, through prayer and supplication before the Lord, bring him or her to that period of harmony in early adulthood that makes the effort worthwhile. I also believe that you can increase the odds of transmitting your values to these individuals by following some time-honored principles found in Scripture. So hang in there! Nothing of value in life comes easily anyway.

Hold tightly to Solomon’s encouraging words: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV).

QUESTION: My husband is a good man, but he gets angry at the kids and says things that he later regrets. Help me convince him to be careful about these off-the-cuff comments.

DR. DOBSON: Psychologist and author Abraham Maslow once said, “It takes nine affirming comments to make up for each critical comment we give to our children.” I believe he is right. All normal human beings respond negatively to criticism and rejection. Conversely, some of us crave affirmation so much that we’ll do almost anything to get it.

Children are especially vulnerable to those who use affirmation to manipulate them. As someone said, “Whoever gives your kids praise and attention has power over them.” That could be a drug dealer, a gang member, or anyone who could harm them. People with evil intentions know how to use praise to get what they want from lonely kids.

This is, in fact, the technique routinely used by pedophiles to abuse their victims sexually. Each sexual exploitation lasts for seven years, typically, before the truth comes to light. And how does he accomplish that? A highly skilled pedophile can enter a room full of children and instantly spot those who are vulnerable to affirmation. He can have those needy kids under his control in five minutes or less.

All human beings have deep psychological needs for love, belonging, and affection. If you don’t meet those longings in your children, I can assure you someone else will.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO. 80903; or Questions and answers are excerpted from The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide and Bringing Up Boys, both published by Tyndale House. Copyright 2006 James Dobson Inc.