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Author, latest, You Can’t Make Me! (But I Can Be Persuaded) (2012)

Founder, manager, and CEO of Apple St. L.L.C. and president of Learning Styles Unlimited, Inc

Popular speaker at workshops, classes, and seminars for businesses, government agencies, churches, and school districts

Children: College-age twin boys


Parenting a Strong-willed Child

Many parents suspect their strong-willed child is deliberately trying to drive them crazy. Difficult to discipline and seemingly impossible to motivate, these children present unique, exhausting, and often-frustrating challenges to those who love them. Cynthia Tobias knows a thing or two about raising a strong-willed child (SWC). Not only was she a SWC herself, but she reared twin boys, one of which was the quintessential SWC. In addition, in her role as an author and educator, she’s helped thousands of parents and educators learn how to bring out the best in their SWCs.

Cynthia says you see SWC everywhere. At first glance, strong-willed children might seem like they’re just stubborn, defiant, difficult and augmentative, but that’s not actually the definition of strong-will; those words describe bad behaviors as a result of strong will. “Strong will, in of itself, is a very positive trait,” Cynthia says. “A strong-willed person is not easily daunted or discouraged, holds firm convictions, and doesn’t often accept defeat. A person using strong will in positive ways is fiercely loyal, determined to succeed, and often extraordinarily devoted to accomplishing goals.” The firm convictions, high spirits, a sense of adventure—all the makings of a great adult, are wonderful qualities, and Cynthia wants to help parents bring out those qualities in their children, in a positive way. So how do you bring out the best in the SWC? Cynthia offers the following suggestions:

Top Ten Tips for Bringing Out the Best
in a Strong-Willed Child of Any Age

1. Value my ability to see the world from a unique perspective.
Find ways to appreciate and make the most of my strengths, even when I annoy you.

2. Remember, we need compelling problems to solve, not just chores to do.
Don’t be the “big boss.” I’ll respect your authority more when you tell me the point.

3. Ask for my input; keep me in the information loop.
Give me some ownership in the process and the outcome.

4. Protect our relationship—you won’t get much from me without one.
Respect and value who I am, and I’ll cooperate with you most of the time.

5. Smile at me more often.
Keep your sense of humor and try to smile, even when you don’t like me.

6. Don’t let me push you around, but don’t push me around either.
Don’t be afraid to stand up to me; just don’t run over me.

7. Speak to me respectfully, but firmly.
Use your voice wisely; it’s a powerful resource.

8. Choose your battles—don’t sweat the small stuff.
Decide what’s really worth it.

9. Give me some control over my own life and circumstances.
Allow me to share control without surrendering your authority.

10. Remind me how much you love me.
Find subtle ways to keep reminding me your love will always be there.

Excerpted from You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias Copyright © 2012 by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias.

Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Cynthia says it is common for parents to come to her saying they feel like failures because of their child’s rebellion. She’s always quick to remind them that although God is the perfect father, even He has rebellious children. And while some might see the disobedience that often comes with misguided strong-will simply as sin, Cynthia says there’s more to it than that. “God is the one who designed us with a free will in the first place,” she says. “Doesn’t it stand to reason that He would work within His own parameters? I believe God wants to use the strong will He placed in so many of us. Sin is still sin, whether it is being committed by a compliant person or a strong-willed person.” She says strong-will isn’t the issue. “The issue is the line between right and wrong.” She says parents and teachers often believe SWCs delight in breaking rules and getting away with doing wrong things, but insists that is not a SWC trait; it’s sin. Instead, the SWC views right and wrong differently than a more compliant person. “To most SWCs, rules are basically guidelines,” Cynthia says. “It’s not arrogance on our part—we just believe we’re capable of figuring out what the point of a rule is, and sometimes we use another method of accomplishing that goal.” In other words, the SWC might bend the rules, or at least, interpret them differently.

Many parents are concerned about the eternal well-being of their SWC, and rightfully so. However, in the same way that the SWC might not respond well to the normal rules and consequences in daily life, Cynthia says SWC are motivated to surrender their lives to God in a specific way , as well. “We are motivated by the relationship God offers us, not by the punishment we can avoid,” she says. “What attracts the SWC to God is the relationship and the opportunity to be loved and understood by the One who know us best… God wants each of us to come to Him and to serve Him in a way that enhances the very personality He created within us.”

Cynthia offers parents some guidelines to put into place if their SWC is on the verge of a meltdown:

• Make sure you have a relationship your SWC wants to preserve.

• Back off. She says a SWC won’t respond well if backed into a corner. “If you’re yelling and screaming and threatening, it will only make things worse.” She suggests taking a deep breath and walking away. “Refuse to be pulled into the argument or baited into losing your cool.”

• Ask yourself, “What’s the point?” – Make sure you have a clear perspective of what you’re trying to accomplish. “As a SWC, I need rules to make sense to me,” Cynthia says. “If you can give me ownership and responsibility and help me find a way to maintain control over my own actions and decisions, you may find me surprisingly cooperative.”

• Be honest. Shoot strait with me—don’t blow smoke or bluff. Cynthia says if you messed up in the way you dealt with your SWC, ask for a do-over. “I’ll respect you for that and may even go ahead and do what you want me to,” she says.

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