How can we encourage and praise our strong-willed children?
Our oldest child, Skyler, was a spirited toddler. She was vocal, determined (she started walking at 9 months), extremely active and perceptive. We thought that we had our hands full with her, until her brother came along.
Our second child, Elijah, was a strong-willed child right from the start. He was persistent and liked things done his way all the time. He made his spirited sister look like a compliant child by comparison and has kept us on our toes with his constant need to define and negotiate boundaries.
Anyone who has been a parent will tell you that parenting is hard work. After more than a decade of parenting three children with strong yet different personalities, I have ended many a day feeling emotionally drained and utterly exhausted!
Appreciate their Unique Personalities
Elijah is now seven years old, and I have come to appreciate how his thorny exterior hides a loving and sensitive interior. This little boy of mine is often misunderstood in his persistent quest to be respected. With him, we have learnt that yelling orders and demanding for absolute obedience are ineffective. Instead, giving him an extra dose of patience and affection has worked for us.
Learning expert Cynthia Ulrich Tobias explains that the strong-willed child isn’t looking to challenge authority more than the need to feel like they have a sense of control over their life.
I clearly remember one morning when Elijah was just three and a half years old. As we rushed to get the children to kindergarten, he was unhappy with everything, from having to wake up to putting on his school uniform. He fought me on my choice of school shoes for him that day and the last straw came when he insisted on eating his sister’s half-eaten kaya bun instead of a new piece. To me, it was the most ridiculous request I had heard all morning and I was adamant not to let him have his way. He ended up kicking and screaming non-stop from our front door all the way to school.
That incident taught me the importance of picking my battles — identifying which ones are necessary to ‘fight’ and which ones to let go of. In our family, disobedience, disrespect and personal safety are non-negotiables.
Strong-willed children come in many forms. While Elijah is a textbook strong-willed child, Skyler is affable, friendly and easy-going for the most part, but has shown a level of stubbornness that can be attributed to her innate strong-mindedness.
Engage and Encourage in Creative Ways
Skyler’s strong-willed nature was apparent last year when she decided to stop learning Mandarin as she no longer enjoyed the process. The night before her exam, she sat at the table refusing to revise. She refused to be persuaded, even when warned that she might fail if she didn’t make an effort to study. I realised then, that she would rather fail than alter her decision. We let her go to bed early that evening, and knew that we had to make a drastic change if we wanted to encourage our daughter to learn.
Being strong-willed ourselves, we understood the value that our spirited child placed on having freedom of choice. So now, instead of instructing her on what to revise, we ask her to choose the questions she would like to practice. For example, we tell her that she needs to complete five math questions for a specific topic, but give her the freedom to choose which questions to do. Giving Skyler a measure of autonomy helps her feel in control of her learning, and made her more receptive to our feedback as parents.
Identify Parenting Strengths and Weaknesses
Parenting has been a journey in understanding myself better. According to Dr. James Dobson, in his book The New Strong-Willed Child, “The temperaments of children tend to reflect those of their parents”. I am quite certain that our children inherited theirs from two strong-willed parents. It is not surprising then, that all three of them are similarly tough-minded!
I have become more aware of the fine line between irritation and anger, when it comes to managing my own emotions. I try to catch myself before I let my feelings get the better of me. There have been many times when my children have pushed my buttons but I have taken this advice to heart, “The moment when I am most repelled by a child’s behaviour that is my sign to draw the very closest to that child.” This reminds me to take a deep breath and offer affection to my strong-willed child. While I don’t always succeed, our children now know the routine — we always come back after we calm down. The child will come back with an apology after having time to cool off and we always close the discussion with a hug and reassurance of our unconditional love for them. Building a good parent-child relationship is paramount to us. It forms the foundation of trust that will enable us to offer wisdom and constructive feedback to our children as they grow older.
And so we arm ourselves with a sense of humour, words of encouragement, a healthy dose of affection and trust that these strongly-independent children of ours will grow up to be courageous adults who dare to make a difference in their world.
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Even with our very different personalities, there’s still a large part of me that takes after my Mum
Thank you for being our mother—for your years of devotion and your many sleepless nights worrying over our future and praying for our hearts.
You and I cannot be more different in our personalities; you, the advocate of structure and discipline, and me, the laid-back daydreamer. You used to say that I couldn’t kill an ant even if I tried. My relaxed attitude towards everything must have been a source of great stress for you when I was growing up.
I remember when I was about 5, you signed me up for one of those colouring competitions where we had to present our best work on the spot. The room in which the competition was held in had a big viewing window for parents and I must have been daydreaming because you were so mad with me at the end of it. I never completed my colouring and obviously never came close to winning but it didn’t bother me one bit!
I may not have understood it then, but now that I am a parent, I’ve learnt to appreciate the value of structure and discipline. As a result of the foundation that you’ve given me, I know that providing my children with a structured environment gives them a sense of stability. At the same time, I also believe in giving them the freedom to discover themselves within that structure. In this way, my children get a little bit of me as well as a little bit of you!
Mum, you have been gifted with magic fingers and creativity. You must have gotten it from Grandma because she, too, was a whiz with her hands. From cooking to crafting anything out of nothing—you could give Martha Stewart a run for her money. My primary school art and craft abilities fell way short of your standards of perfection. As such, you could not stomach sitting idly by while I, in my signature laid-back, non-urgent demeanor, attempted art and craft assignments. You ended up finishing almost all of my art homework (save those that we had to finish in school) and my flawless pieces were often even selected for display by my teachers!
Even though it frustrated me growing up, I have come to admire your strong belief in taking pride in all that we do and because of you, I am an advocate of teaching my children to live life with a spirit of excellence. I hope that they glean from you the value of accomplishing things to the best of their abilities and that they, like you, take pride in the work of their hands.
I am so sorry that it’s taken me this long to say thank you for being my mother. Thank you Mum, for loving us to the best of your abilities, for giving up your career to care for us and for only wanting the best in life for us. Time has taught me to look out for the gems in others, and in you I see compassion, hospitality, selflessness and a loving heart.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Used with permission from Focus on the Family Singapore. This article was first published here.
Stay-At-Home-Mom, Sue-Ann is hiding a ‘dirty’ little secret from her 3 children. Her idea of the perfect meal: chocolates for breakfast, cotton candy for lunch and television for dinner!
In January 2016. Mdm. Janie Chang, 61, felt unwell and went to see a doctor. The doctor ordered a series of tests, after which she was diagnosed with stage 4, cancer of the nose. The cancer had spread down to the lymph nodes in her neck and shoulders. The news was a huge blow to Mdm. Chang who was the fourth person in her family to be stricken with cancer. The disease had already claimed the life of her mother.
When Mdm. Chang’s brother (Pastor Danny Ching) heard the news, he immediately activated prayer amongst the staff and cell group members in the church.
Mdm. Chang subsequently received treatment at the National Cancer Centre where she was recommended an intensive combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments – 6 cycles of chemotherapy and 33 sessions of radiotherapy in all. The sessions often left Mdm. Chang feeling exhausted, drained and weak. However, the knowledge that members of our church were praying for her, gave her a sense of assurance even in her weakened physical state.
May 2016. After Mdm. Chang had completed 2 cycles of chemotherapy, she underwent another diagnostic test. This time, the test results showed that no more cancer cells were found in her body and further treatment was unnecessary!
God’s mighty miracle is evidenced by Mdm. Chang’s medical reports (see below). Through His grace, Mdm. Chang has been healed. Praise the Lord, our God!
Mdm. Chang and her nephew.
January 2016 : Cancer cells detected
May 2016. Cancer cells COULD NOT BE detected!
Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
The recent spate of tragic events in our region awakened many to the stark reminder that our time on this earth is limited. In our pursuit of contentment, many of us are lulled into a false sense of believing that we must do more, have more, and achieve more in order to be content. In actual fact, contentment is a state of internal satisfaction, that no amount of money, food or material gain can buy.
We may not have any power to control time but we can be in control over the time that we have been given by treasuring every new day as a precious gift from the Lord.
It is important to remember that life isn’t just about accomplishments or amassing material wealth. Instead, it’s about the people who have been placed in our families and our communities that matter most.
As we head into this Father’s day weekend, these tips might help us make the most use of our time with the ones we love:
#1 Be Present
To be present means to put away any distractions – devices like mobile phones, tablets and computers – so that we can engage in real conversations. Ask meaningful questions and be intent in listening to the answers.
#2 Make Time to Plan
Spending at least 30 minutes before starting your day (or before going to bed the night before) to plan your schedule can help you to use your time wisely. Without a rough plan, you could find yourself running in circles and wasting precious time.
#3 Advocate Family Time
Make a commitment to set aside a fixed day and time to spend as a family. Again, “be present” during this time together and remember that the objective of Family Time is to enjoy each other’s company.
#4 Rest Effectively
Giving ourselves enough rest is essential to making the most use of our time and being able to enjoy our time with loved ones. Rest is akin to nourishing our bodies with food, air and water.
Being grateful for our treasures of time will help us embrace the gift of each new day and count all our blessings. In the words of a good friend, “I am grateful for my wife, that I have a home, a job that I enjoy, a family and a community…for my freedom to worship, my freedom to speak reasonably freely, for the food I eat. I am grateful to live in a land where no one begrudges me the right to live.”
Everyone has his or her own idea of what motherhood looks like. For many, motherhood represents a seemingly never-ending season of sleepless nights. For others, it marks a lifetime of devotion (sometimes even at the expense of one’s own personal growth).
As for me, my current vision of motherhood looks more like this: 3-hourly diaper changes, being patient with a tantruming 4-year old, dancing wildly with my 7-year old to her favourite tunes, nursing a pre-schooler’s bruised ego after losing to his sister at a game of UNO, coaxing a 4-month old to sleep through the night and teaching a primary schooler, discouraged by the endless task of schoolwork and tests, to take on her responsibilities of being a student with a glad heart.
When my days seem long and my nights even longer, I am often tempted to wonder what life might be like without the immense task of having 3 spirited little individuals to mother. But something holds me back from indulging in that thought. It is the whisper of a small voice telling me to “breathe” – a humble reminder that my children each represent a unique miracle of God, created by His very hands. And so, when I am most challenged and feel like I’m losing control, I take a deep breath, close my eyes and ask God to show me His heart. Instead, He shows me mine, the heart of a mother who started out overflowing with love for her newborn babies but then got caught up in the grind of daily life.
The contrast between His heart and mine leaves me awestruck at how enormous our Heavenly Father’s heart for us is and I am encouraged to keep on trying, trying my best to love unconditionally; to delight in my children even when they are at their most disobedient.
I will wear my heart – my mother’s heart – without fear. A heart that has been transformed by my Heavenly Father and called to speak life into the hearts of the children He has chosen for me to mother. I look at my 3 who are full of life, full of depth, full of joy, and my heart is brimming with a love far more generous than my own.
To Skyler, Elijah and Zeke, I endeavour to mother you with my eyes fixed on God’s love for me; that I may use His wisdom to disciple you 3 to be honourable in character, to employ His sensitivity to know when to let go and to pursue His heart so that I may know how to love you for a lifetime.
Sue -Ann is a mother of 3 who is in constant pursuit of the calm in the chaotic. She drinks a little too much bubble-tea for her own good and secretly spends her mornings in pyjamas while her children are in school.