Question: My son certainly fits your definition of the “strong-willed child.” But tell me how to get him through these tough years. He is tough as nails. What specific suggestions do you have for us?
Answer: Here is a summary of some approaches or ideas that I think are important:
• You should not blame yourself for the temperament with which your child was born. He (or she) is simply a tough kid to handle, and your task is to rise to the challenge.
• He is in greater danger because of his inclination to test the limits and scale the walls. Your utmost diligence and wisdom will be required to deal with him.
• If you fail to understand his lust for power and independence, you can exhaust your resources and bog down in guilt. It will benefit no one.
• For parents who have just begun, take charge of your babies. Hold tightly to the reins of authority in the early days, and build an attitude of respect during your brief window of opportunity. You will need every ounce of “awe” you can get during the years to come. Once you have established your right to lead, begin to let go systematically, year by year.
• Don’t panic, even during the storms of adolescence. Better times are ahead.
• Don’t let your son get too far from you emotionally. Stay in touch. Don’t write him off, even when every impulse is to do just that. He needs you now more than ever before.
• Give him time to find himself, even if he appears not to be searching.
• Most importantly, I urge you to hold your children before the Lord in fervent prayer throughout their years at home. I am convinced that there is no other source of confidence and wisdom in parenting.
There is not enough knowledge in the books, mine or anyone else’s, to counteract the evil that surrounds our kids today. Teenagers are confronted by drugs, alcohol, sex and foul language wherever they turn.
And, of course, the peer pressure on them is enormous.
And a concluding word: remember that anyone can raise the easy kid. Guiding a strong-willed child through the rebellious years takes a pro with a lot of love to give. I’ll bet you’re up to the task!
Question: Did either of your children experience night terrors?
Answer: No, but our daughter once had a very unusual nightmare. When she was four years old, she woke up screaming at about midnight. When I came to her bed, she told me excitedly that the wall was about to collapse on her.
“It’s falling! It’s falling, Daddy! The wall is falling!” she screamed.
She was obviously very frightened by the dream. I took her hand and said, “Danae, feel that wall. It has been there a long time. It isn’t going to fall. You are OK. Now go back to sleep.”
As she settled down in the covers, I went back to bed and was quickly asleep again.
But six hours later, a powerful earthquake rattled the city of Los Angeles and shook my wife and me right out of bed.
I rushed to Danae’s room to bundle her up and get her out of the way of that wall, which was jumping and shaking like crazy.
Did our four-year-old have some kind of forewarning of the earthquake in the midnight hours?
I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this: I made up my mind that day to believe her the next time she told me the wall was going to fall.
James Dobson is founder and Chairman Emeritus of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995 (www.focusonthefamily.org).