How to Parent a Strong Willed Child

April 18, 2023

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Today's question says, "how do I navigate maintaining a positive relationship with a strong-willed type A daughter? We have a tendency to butt heads and she tends to push the envelope and negotiate everything to her terms."


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "how do I navigate maintaining a positive relationship with a strong-willed type A daughter? We have a tendency to butt heads and she tends to push the envelope and negotiate everything to her terms." Now, this is a great question, and at first glance, it might seem like why are you answering this question on a Foundation Worldview Podcast, Elizabeth? I thought this was about carefully evaluating ideas, not about maintaining positive relationships. Why are you choosing to answer this question? That's also a great question.

I think this question actually fits in really well with what we do at Foundation Worldview because we're seeking to equip kids to carefully evaluate the ideas that they encounter and seek out the truth. The examples that were given in scripture are very clear that truth is always done within the context of relationship. I mean, that's what the gospel is all about. The gospel is all about God reconciling us to himself, that we can be brought into right relationship with him. When you think about Genesis 3, the results of the fall, what were the things that were affected? It was relationship. It was human's relationship with one another, human's relationship with God, even humans relationship with themselves. So talking about how to maintain positive relationships with our children is vital if we are wanting to equip them to carefully evaluate the ideas that they encounter.

So this is the question we're going to dive down deep into today. But before we do that, just ask that if you have found the content of this podcast beneficial that you would like and subscribe to make sure you don't miss any future episodes and also ask that you would consider writing a review and sharing this within your sphere of influence so that we can equip more adults to get our kids carefully evaluating the ideas they encounter.

Now, whenever I hear a question where someone is writing in about a specific situation with a child in their care, I always want to be really, really careful because I'm going to be giving a broad answer where I know that this question involves specific people, real people, real relationships, and I know very, very little about the situation. If this was somebody in my church or someone in my friend group that was coming and asking me this question, I would just ask them lots of follow up questions to find out more details about what's going on in this relationship to make sure that I have enough information where right now I don't have a whole lot of information. I don't even know who wrote this question in.

So I'm going to offer two things that I think are really important and then I'm going to offer just kind of some general advice that I would give. The first thing to do is to pray, to pray, to ask God, to give you wisdom. I think a lot of times prayer we view as our last resort where it really should be our first resort because God is the God of the universe. God has control over all spheres of our lives, and so he's also the God of all wisdom. And so we want to ask him, please God, give me wisdom. Show me things I'm missing in this situation because God can reveal things that no other human would be able to reveal to us. God can also do things that no other human would be able to do.

So I would say the first thing to do is to pray about it, to pray about it. Also pray that God would soften your heart towards this child. Now, those of you who have followed Foundation Worldview for a while, you know that I am not a parent. I am single. I'm not married. I don't have children of my own. My context of working with children has been a decade in the classroom and then just being involved with my nieces and nephews and friends, kids and kids within the body of Christ. But one thing that I've noticed is that a lot of times when parents have personalities that are very different than their children, that they can become very frustrated with that child, and I totally get that. I don't get it from a parent perspective, but I get it from a teacher perspective in that I really struggle a lot of times with students in my classroom who had personalities that I just couldn't understand.

And so I know it's the same frequently with parents that when you have a child that has a very different personality from you, that can be very challenging. It can also be challenging when a child has a very similar personality to you and you feel like your sin is being on display in front of your face through your child. And so I would really ask you to pray that God would soften your heart toward this child because that is a prayer that God will faithfully answer, that Jesus came to turn the hearts of the fathers toward their children. And so just pray, "God, please turn my heart toward this child."

The second thing I would encourage you to do is to root yourself in the local church. Root yourself in the local church, in the local body of Christ, and intentionally build those relationships so that you have people there who really understand you, people who really understand your child, that you're submitting yourself under the authority of the pastors or the elders at your church, and that they can speak wisdom into your life in these situations.

This is something that I see is just so confused right now in the Christian community because I think because we're so transient and we get up and we tend to move to different towns or different states, even different countries every few years, and because we have this false sense of connectedness through social media, I see a lot of people not really being deeply rooted in the local body of Christ where that is where God has primarily called us to invest our time and our relationships. And so people who are wise within your local body of Christ, they're going to be able to guide you and offer you wisdom that I can't because I'm not there with you in your daily lives, unless of course you're one of my friends listening to this. And then please reach out and I'd love to help talk through this with you.

But those are the first two things that I would just really encourage. Pray for wisdom, pray that God would soften your heart towards this child, root yourself in the local church because in your local body, you're going to be able to find wisdom and insight that I can't offer to you because I don't know the exact situation.

Now, just in general to anyone asking this question, I have a strong-willed child. They're very type. They tend to want to negotiate everything on their terms and push the envelope. A few general things that I would recommend that you would do is first that you would pray through the ways in which you have sinned against your child, and then you would actively confess and repent of those sins because we are all going to sin against the children that God has placed in our care.

Why? Because we are sinners hopefully with each year of our lives, as we're submitting ourselves under the authority of God and his word, as his spirit is transforming us more into the image of his son. Hopefully with each passing year, we will sin against our children less and less, but we are never going to be sin less on this side of eternity. So we are going to sin against these children in our care, and it's so important that when we sin against them, that we confess that sin both to God and to that child, and that we repent, that we ask for forgiveness and turn from that sin. Because if we have sinned against these children in our care, which we all have, and we haven't confessed and repented of that, there is a hindrance in that relationship. I've mentioned this before in the podcast, but when we look at the narrative in Genesis chapter 3, which is of the fall of mankind, we see that immediately after Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree as they rebelled against God, we see three relationships broken down.

First, the relationship between one another that they realized they were naked and they hid from one another. And so sin breaks down our relationship with one another. Then second, we see the brokenness of their relationship with God that they ran and they hid from God. And then third, we see the brokenness of even their relationship with themselves, their understanding of who they were, that rather than confessing and repenting of their sin, when God confronted them, they shifted the blame and started blaming others in this situation. And so sin always cuts down relationship. So if you want to actively have a positive relationship with the child or children that God has placed in your care, you have to make sure that you are confessing and repenting anytime you sin against this child.

And you know what the great news is? We don't have to walk around worried about like, "oh, did I sin against my child today? Am I going to sin against my child?" No, no, no. We're not supposed to walk around with this attitude of fear over that, but we are supposed to walk around with an attitude of humility, humility, a correct understanding that yes, we are going to sin and we can trust that the Holy Spirit who resides in us, who is the deposit guaranteeing our redemption, that he is going to convict us when we sin against the children God has placed in our care.

I'm sure all of you, or at least most of you listening, have experienced that. I know I have that when I sin against someone, even if I try to justify that the Holy Spirit just won't let me alone about it. Sometimes for me it's been days or even weeks, I can remember a few situations where it's even been months of me fighting against the conviction of the Holy Spirit and saying, "no, that wasn't sin. That wasn't sin. I needed to do that because of this." And the Holy Spirit just won't let me rest. But the great news is in 1 John 1:9, it says, "if we confess our sins, he's faithful and we will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Okay, so we have the promise of forgiveness. That's the first thing that I would say.

Make sure that on your end, there's no sin on your part that is hindering your relationship with your child. Now there's going to be sin on your child's part that is hindering his or her relationship with you. And in those times, it's really important that we make sure that we are not just letting our child get away with his or her sin, that we're being honest. When you rolled your eyes, when you slammed that door, when you disobeyed me, when you lied about this, that was wrong. We need to make sure that there's consequences for that and that they also understand that there is forgiveness and there's forgiveness because of what Jesus has done for us. So that's the first thing, okay, confession and repentance.

And the second thing I would encourage you to do is make sure that you're setting appropriate expectations for this child. All children are different, and so all our interactions with all children are going to be different, but we need to actively seek out wisdom for what are appropriate expectations for this child. If we have a three-year-old and we're expecting that three-year-old to be completely self controlled and be able to sit down on the sofa still for 20 minutes, I mean, that is a completely unrealistic expectation. Three-year-olds are just exploring their sin nature. There's going to be lots of tantrums, there's going to be lots of crying.

It's not that we just lift up our hands and say, "oh, well, I'll just let her have a tantrum for the next half hour." No, there needs to be consequences for that, but we need to understand that that's what's going to happen when they're three and when they're three, they can't sit down and sit still for 20 minutes at a time. That's just not an appropriate expectation. So making sure that we're having appropriate developmental expectations for them in that we need to figure out which battles are worth fighting and which battles are not worth fighting. Because there's some things where our kids might be stubborn and rebellious, and we might just have to lift up our hands and say, you know what? I'm just going to let them deal with the consequences of that rebellion. And we see that even in scripture in Romans 1, it makes clear that the way that God punishes societies when they choose to worship and serve the creature rather than the creator is he gives them over to a debased mind.

That's what we're seeing in our culture right now. Why is it that our culture is so sex crazed and is just you reveling in just debauchery and just all sorts of sexual sin? It's because God gives us over to a debased mind when we rebel against him. And so there's certain battles with our children that we just need to say, "you know what? I'm just going to let them see the natural consequences rather than fighting this battle."

My mom, I think, did a pretty good job of this when we were growing up. My brother, during a certain season of his life, I think he was like five or six, so he was pretty young. He was very stubborn on what he would and would not wear, and we would walk to school every day because we lived probably only about a half mile from our elementary school, and we were growing up in New York, so it's very cold. There's frequently feet of snow on the ground, and we would walk to school every day, and my brother was just insistent that he wanted to wear shorts in the middle of January. And for a few days, my mom fought him on it, and eventually she was like, okay, this is a battle that's just not worth fighting. And so eventually she said, my brother said he wanted to wear shorts. And my mom said, "okay, Tim, you understand it's cold outside and if we get halfway to school and you're cold, we're not turning around and if you get to school and you're cold, I am not coming back to school with a pair of pants for you." And he said, "okay."

And sure enough, we're walking and probably 17 degree weather, and my brother's little legs are exposed, and we get a block away from home and my brother starts crying and begging to go home and put on the pants, and my mom's like, "nope, that's what you said you wanted. That's the agreement that we made." So she brought him to school and had to explain to the teachers why he was so inappropriately dressed and he never asked to wear shorts again in the winter.

And then I think of myself when I was growing up, I really struggled with, anytime I didn't get what I wanted, I would pout and I would kind of just have a miserable attitude, and I would have a pity party and my mom would try to help me correct that attitude. But it was just a sin struggle that I struggled with for a long time, even into my teens and my early twenties. I struggled with that, and my mom just realized somewhere along the way that it was not a battle worth fighting, that when I was miserable and when I was pouting and rolling my eyes and sighing loudly and trying to make everybody feel as miserable as I was, my mom would just say, "okay, Elizabeth, you can choose to do that. You can go to your room and do that. You're not going to make everybody here miserable." So it was just not a battle that was worth fighting.

So we have to ask God for wisdom and discernment in what are the battles that are worth fighting, and what are the battles that are not worth fighting? There are certain battles that are worth fighting, that respecting authority, our children obeying when we tell them something that they need to do. That's a battle that's worth fighting for. Why? Because it's a biblical command for children to obey their parents. Now, we're not going to put unrealistic expectations on them. We're not going to be authoritarian. We're not going to command them to do ridiculous things. But when we ask them to do something they need to obey, they need to learn how to respect authority. So that is a battle that is fighting when we're talking about actually having time in scripture. Maybe we have a child that doesn't enjoy spending time in scripture or doesn't like when we have a family devotional time. Well, they might not like that, but that's something that they are going to have to be involved in because we know that that's ultimately for their good.

When they make a commitment to something, when they tell someone that they're going to be somewhere they need to follow through on that commitment that if something better comes up along the way, they can't just pull back and say, "oh, sorry, I can't do that because they want to do something else." Following through on commitments is a really important thing. So all of these things that are really important to their development into adults that know how to live a healthy God-honoring life, those are battles that are, I would say, are typically worth fighting.

Now, again, I don't know the person who wrote in this question. I don't know the situation. That's again, why I would encourage you two things, prayer and being rooted in your local body of Christ, because God can give you wisdom that no one else can, and those in your local body of Christ are going to know you and are going to know your family in a way that other people do not, and they're going to have wisdom and insight into what you should do.

Just a few other resources that I think are really helpful for situations like this, the series by Paul David Tripp, a parenting series called Getting to the Heart of Parenting. I think you have to buy DVDs for it, but it's a great series on talking about how to parent in every season of life through the lens of the gospel. So getting to the Heart of Parenting by Paul David Tripp. There's another series called Visionary Parenting that's put out by Rob and Amy Reno of Visionary Family Ministries. They do a great job of talking about how to really have the heart of your child, that your child really trusts you with sharing his or her heart. So maintaining those positive relationships. So again, that's Visionary Parenting by Visionary Family Ministries. And then Parenting with Love and Logic. That's another series that can be really helpful. It is put out by Christians. Not all versions of it are Christian versions of it. They have some that are secular versions that can be used in schools, but it goes a lot into brain research and talking about how our brain process information and how we can present things to our children in a way that's going to help with the way that God has designed their brain.

Well, that's a wrap for this episode. But as always, as we leave our time together, my prayer is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children that He's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.

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