The focus of discipline should be about the child’s attitude behind the behaviour. Here are tips on handling your strong-willed child.
Most parenting resources are geared towards disciplining the strong-willed child when they are toddlers because early childhood is the time for parents to establish their authority and set definite boundaries. As the child grows older, it gets harder but not impossible.
According to bestselling author and trusted family counsellor, Dr James Dobson, “the goal in dealing with a difficult child is to shape the will without breaking the spirit”.[i] The focus of discipline should not only be the child’s behaviour but also, the attitudes motivating it.
These principles still apply regardless of your child’s age, and it is important you continue practising them.
1. Stay calm and confident, have a proper plan of action in mind.
Express your expectations and the consequences for not meeting them in advance, so they are known and understood. Implementation of the consequences must be prompt and consistent. Keep your cool if your strong-willed child challenges these standards.
Don’t give your child an opportunity to seize control of the situation. This may mean not being embarrassed to confront unacceptable behaviour in public places or in front of others. For example, if your child throws a tantrum at the supermarket, cut the trip short by escorting your child to the car and heading home. Make it clear that they cannot accompany you on further outings until their behaviour improves.
2. Watch for strategies that will divide you and your spouse.
Most strong-willed children will favour the “softer” parent over the “stricter” one. You and your spouse must be on the same page in your discipline approaches.
3. Match disobedient behaviours with appropriate consequences.
The consequences will need to change as the child matures, otherwise the ineffectiveness of the punishment will escalate the situation. Consider implementing timeouts, suspending certain privileges (such as computer or TV time) or confiscating a favourite game or toy for a predetermined time.
4. Reassure the child of your love after the confrontation.
After the unaccepted behaviour is addressed and appropriate consequences meted out, especially if it resulted in tears for the child, your child will probably want to be loved and reassured. Extend your arms, hold them close and reassure them of your love and care. This is a teachable moment when the motivation of your discipline can be further explained gently, and when they are probably more receptive to the correction.
5. Stay in touch with your child’s feelings.
Cultivate an awareness of the day-to-day details of your child’s life at home and at school. Take time to talk about any fears and anxieties that may be lurking behind your child’s defiant exterior. See if you can gain any insight into circumstances that may be driving the disobedient behaviour. You can let your child know you are genuinely concerned for their well-being, and teach some basic skills for managing negative emotions and maintaining positive relationships with other people.
© 2016 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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[i] “The New Strong-Willed Child” by Dr. James Dobson ©2004 Tyndale House Publishers Inc.