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How To Discipline A Strong-Willed Child

Strong-willed people have great potential. I should know. I am one. In fact, everyone in my family is a strong-willed person. I have a strong-willed mother, a strong-willed father, strong-willed siblings. I married a strong-willed guy and all 4 of my children were strong-willed. And guess what? When I did foster care, treatment cares for youth ages 12 to 18, the majority of them were. You guessed it strong-willed.

So, I have a lot of experience working with strong-willed people. And I've got to tell you strong-willed people can be amazing. In fact, they are amazing they just don't know yet how to channel that will in the right direction. I feel like strong-willed children get a bad wrap. Parents need to recognize if they have strong-willed children that that will of that child is going to be the very thing that can make them a leader of other people.

It's going to be that very thing that will set them apart. Make them more productive in the workforce and make them more dedicated to their own family relationships one day. So, long as we don't let the strong will go wild. When I was 14 years old, I was at my friend's house one day and we were talking about planning a party for all of our friends. And when you're 14 and you're talking about planning a party for boys and girls and all the kids in the area and they're going to get together, they're going to play games have fun probably night games too, it's exciting. After we planned it, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to go to this party.

When I was 14 years old, all I ever did was fight with my parents especially my dad. My dad kept telling me that he was the boss and that's why I needed to listen to him. But I was strong-willed and so that didn't mean anything to me. In fact, every time I would say, "Well, why can't I do something?" And he would say, "I'm the boss. That's why." I would think, "That's so weak." Honestly, I think he just didn't know what to say to me anymore.

Because my attitude problem was probably so bad and my strong will made it so that I was going to fight against almost everything. Well, when I told my friend and her mother that I probably wouldn't be able to go to the party because my dad's never letting me do anything anymore, see I didn't understand that my disobedience and my strong-willed nature was actually decreasing my freedom. 

How about this we postpone the party for 2 weeks", she said. And you go home and every time they tell you to do something or not do something say okay and be okay. Which one of those 2 is the harder? For sure the be okay. But because I was so strong-willed, I was determined to show her that her suggestion would not work that I was not going to be allowed to go to the party. 

So, I said to her, "Okay. I'll show you that it won't work. But you can't talk to my dad." And she smiled and she said, "Oh, I'm not talking to your dad." And I said, "Okay." So, I went home and that night it was my dish night. I did not like dishes. In fact, I was classic. I come up with a new excuse all the time for why I didn't have to do them. So, my mother said, "You know, Nicholeen, it's your dish night." And I recognized, "Aha, that's an instruction." And at that moment I told myself, "Here it is, you need to say okay and be okay." So, I said, "Okay." And I stood up and started doing dishes. My parents looked at each other in surprise. They just didn't see it coming. 

Obedience, I'm sure they were thinking in their minds, "She wants something out of this, out of us. What is she doing?" Well, a day or 2 later, my mother told me that I needed to clean my room. I hadn't cleaned my room for months. She kept walking by just shutting the door. But this time I said, "Okay." And I started cleaning my room. As she sat there in the doorway of my room leaning against the doorframe. And as I was cleaning my room pretending I didn't see her watching me, there was a thought that came into my mind. In fact, it was words. It sounded kind of like my voice but a little deeper. And it said, "I am so powerful." And I went "That's true. I am so powerful. 

I have just chosen to say okay and be okay. I'm happy. I've picked it. Nobody can ever make me not happy again." This was total empowerment for me. So, I determined from that day forward when my parents told me to do something or not to do something, I was going to say okay and be okay and choose happiness. And I was going to get whatever I wanted. Aha! You see my heart was not fully changed yet. And I know that's what we want for all of our strong-willed children for their hearts to go in the right direction. But the thing is, is that was a step. I had recognized a truth. Strong-willed children want to know the truth. If you say to them, "I'm the boss", that's not true. 

I can make a choice. I know I can make a choice. In fact, there are many circumstances where I'm the boss of my younger siblings or I'm the boss of me. So, you can't just say you're the boss and try to dominate me. It's not true. It's just a power trick. And any tricks are easily exposed to a strong-willed person. Because they're usually very smart. So, once I started finding the truth, the truth was I could choose to say okay and be okay. I could fix my relationship with my parents. Life changed for me. My bond with my parents became dear. The dearest thing to me.

We had open communication finally after years of not. We were honest with each other. We solved problems better. All because I learned to say okay and be okay. And of course, I was able to go to the party. So, it worked. My friend's mother was right. Strong-willed people want the truth. That's the one thing you probably need to know the most about strong-willed people. They see through all the tricks. Don't do tricks, just change yourself. Be authentic and help them get exposed to the truth they need which means you probably will have to use skills that you can rely on that are rooted in true principles. Manipulations do not work with strong-willed children.

So, what does work? You've got to teach them the skills that they can use to get their way and to get understood. They need that. Think of the basic skill that I learned that changed my whole life. Not only do they need to know the skills that they need to use, but they also need to know the skills that you are going to use to help them when they're having a problem. And when they need to focus their will on controlling themselves instead. Additionally, they need to have a plan for themselves. Who are they becoming? Where are they going? Oftentimes, I talk about having a family vision. In this book, Parenting A House United, where I talk about all of the skills they need to know and the skills that they need to know that we're going to use and some of the rules of 3 skills which we're going to spend a lot of time with her, it's important for each individual to have a personal vision too of who they're becoming and what life's going to look like for them. 

What are their personal freedoms going to feel like and look like and how connections with family members are going to be a part of that. Strong will people especially need to feel that and make those plans. Because they often think of themselves kind of like an island amidst all of these other people. They really do feel like no one gets them and no one knows what they really need. Strong-willed people need to have someone invest some time in them. They need to teach them ahead of time. Not just throw things at them in the minute. Because a strong-willed person, if you throw things at them in the minute might just become oppositional and not listen to you.

Because their dialogue in their head is that you don't understand, you don't know how they think or what they need. And so, that's why they're forcing the issue so much and going against you. But if you pre-teach them ahead of time all of these skills that they need to know then when it comes to the moment you can say, "Okay, I'm going to use these skills. Remember we've talked about these before." All of a sudden it's okay. You're not throwing something at them to try to manipulate them. Here's the thing: Strong-willed people manipulate a lot of other people.

They want the truth but they don't always live in the place of truth. They oftentimes are very manipulative and so they assume other people are trying to manipulate them before they assume that those people are trying to do them any good. And I know I'm speaking in a way that suggests every strong-willed person the same. They're not. I know that. Each person is different. But by and large, I know because I'm surrounded by a lot of strong-willed people.

That's what they have a tendency to think. They think the worst before they think the best. The last idea that I want to share with you before we get to talking about the rule of 3 which is an important skill for strong-willed people is we need to be consistent with our correcting and our praising and our teaching of strong-willed people. Don't just throw it out at a minute when they are feeling like nobody cares or understands or that they're trying to push their way. It needs to be happening all the time when they're not following instructions in the morning but they're not necessarily being oppositional in any way, correct it. Allow them to accept the correction and accept the negative consequence. And praise when they do well.

Keep this constant consistent dialogue going for them all the time so that they get the maximum amount of opportunity to analyze themselves, that's vital for them. The more they analyze themselves, the more they feel attached to what's happening to them and to the people around them. It's a funny thing with a strong-willed person. When they're really feeling oppositional, they're oftentimes also feeling very, very alone and detached from people around them because the dialogue is only involving something that they think is possibly a personal attack or somebody not caring to take the time to understand. So, what about this rule of 3 for strong-willed children? Disciplining strong-willed children needs to have a stopping place.

Because especially if parents are strong-willed and children are strong-willed, there could be a power struggle that keeps going for a while. And parents could escalate negative consequences again and again and again. "Oh, you're grounded for the rest of your life." Maybe they would say. Obviously, they're not going to do that. Nobody's gonna ground someone for the rest of their life. They can't. That's just emotional talking. That's just more strong will, more power struggles occurring. But what that tells us is that a parent who would say something like that has no idea what to do left. They have pushed and pushed, the child has pushed and pushed they have hit maximum ability to potentially affect that person for good or help them choose to make the right choice.

Well, I don't think it's good to put ourselves in a situation where we have to try to come up with the most shocking thing to say or do to the other person. Remember, they need to know everything that we will do or will say before we even do it. So, with the rule of 3, nothing is different. They need to know exactly what we will say and will do in this interaction. The rule of 3 basically means that we do 3 things 3 times. We do a pre-teach. And all of these things are talked about in this book, Parenting A House United. So, please get more information because this is in no way exhaustive of how to use this. And this skill is one of the most difficult skills that we use.

But it's vital for helping a strong person will really go to that logical place and recognize their role in an interaction. So, pre-teaching, and then we give instruction. Instructions are one of the 4 basic skills. So, these children's books each teach one of the 4 basic skills. This one teaches following instructions. This one teaches accepting no answers, accepting consequences, and disagreeing appropriately. A person needs to learn all 4 of these four basic skills to be able to self-govern themselves completely. So, we give instruction they know that skill it's a basic skill, it's got five steps and they've done it tons and tons of times. Then we do a correction. 

Corrections are heavy on descriptions. We describe what happened, what should have happened what they earned, and then we practice things the right way. We infuse a lot of praise into that interaction as well so that it's a very positive interaction, the correction. It doesn't have to feel negative. So that's important too. This is something that should have a good tone a feeling of love and calmness, compassion and understanding when you do it but it is a quick thing to help the person go quickly from emotional place to logical place. The most important part of the rule of 3 is the pre-teach. So, you need to know your negative consequences to do a proper pre-teach. In our family, we have three negative consequences.

We have major maintenance which is a large chore that would be age-appropriate for the person. Oh, and by the way, we do not use the rule of 3 with little teeny children. That is when we use a calm down place and another type of correction. Please refer to some of our courses and other materials for that. Anyway, so we only use this with children that are a little older usually ages 5 and 6 and older. But when they're 5, 6, 7, we even modify it. I'm not going to talk about those modifications. At this stage, just the main basic rule of 3 consequences which are major maintenance which is a large tour. Might take you to know thirty minutes or an hour.

Something like that. Then we have 2 sodas. And that's not drinks. Those are problem-solving exercises that we do with the children. They're actually a written exercise. That's the second consequence that they can earn. They can earn 2 of those. And then finally, they can choose to lose their privileges for 24 hours. That is different than you might think. That does not mean that they just sit around all day for 24 hours. No, there are certain things that they do during this time of losing their privileges for 24 hours. I don't have the time in this article to get into all of our family economies.

But you just need to know what your negative consequences are. So, the pre-teach sounds like this: "I'm going to give you an instruction, if you choose not to follow the first instruction, then you will choose to earn major maintenance. Then I will give you a second instruction, if you choose not to follow the second instruction, then you will choose to earn two sodas which are problem-solving exercises. Then I'll give you a third instruction. If you choose not to follow the third instruction, then you will choose to lose your privileges for 24 hours. Here is your first instruction..." So that's all the pre-teach. That's the most important part of the interaction and we do that pre-teach 3 times.

But it varies just a little bit because each time we give the instruction, we don't have to talk about the first instruction that we're going to give or the second instruction that we're going to give, right? We just remove that first little part and start with where we're really at. So, then we give instruction and I usually always give calming instruction. Although you don't have to. But I say I need you to close your eyes and take three deep breaths, okay? And then if they say okay I praise them and we move on. And they didn't earn anything for the rule of 3.

Now, they might have earned other things before that. That's a whole other situation we could talk about. But I would just congratulate them for choosing calmness. The whole point of the rule of 3 is to help a person choose calmness. Strong-willed people have a tendency to fuel themselves emotionally. They need a way to pull themselves to the frontal cortex so that they can choose calmness. This is what the rule of 3 is for. If they don't follow the instructions, we do a correction. That's a 7-step process that we teach people how to do. This rule of three interactions can take up to about 7... And not 7. About 10 minutes.

It shouldn't take any longer than 10 minutes. If so, parents are stalling too much and the child will just continue to manipulate. In fact, their anxiety will get worse if you go too slow through the interaction. Sometimes, they choose even if they go through the whole thing, they choose to accept all those negative consequences. That doesn't mean it was a failure. What that means is they need to see that they can accept that negative consequence of loss of privileges for 24 hours and the other 2. They need to see that they can accept those things so that they can then choose the next time fully with full knowledge.

Many people have to go all the way through the rule of 3 multiple times before they'll say, "Why am I doing that? Because either I get calm and I talk to mom or dad or I go all the way through this or these negative consequences and then I get calm then talk to mom and dad." And I usually point that out to them. It's better if we just get calm and talk because that's where we're going to end anyway. We've covered a lot and you're probably feeling like there's more that I could still cover that you need.

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