Effective discipline methods vary for every child, especially for the strong-willed child. Some children respond with a simple request for changed behavior while others are a bit more stubborn and won’t budge for anything. My first born has been my compliant one. She loves pleasing her dad and me, so obedience comes naturally to her. But my son is built differently. Commands are immediately countered with a firm “no” and independence runs through his veins. My husband and I quickly realized that the way we parented him would have to be drastically different than our first.
A friend introduced us to a method called Responsibility-Centered Discipline by Larry Thompson. Although this method works well for all children, we found it especially effective for our strong-willed son. What I liked most about this discipline is that there are guidelines, and you as the parent can personalize each discipline-centered conversation.
The way to remember the method is “Give ’em five” because there are five parts to the process. They all focus on the child understanding his/her responsibility in the situation.
The child needs to feel seen and heard. This is essential for the child to calm down and be able to have clear communication. Many people jump to phase two too soon, but be certain you express that you are aware of your child’s feelings. “I see that you are frustrated” or “Thank you for sharing with me that you are angry.” Phrases like this show that you support the emotions but not the behavior.
Sometimes the behavioral problem isn’t understood by the child. She can’t change her behavior if the expectation wasn’t clear. Share or clarify the assumption you have for your child. “When you make a big mess, I expect you to clean up after yourself.” or “When you feel upset with your brother, use your words.”
Then review where things went wrong by walking your child through the scenario. “I asked you to clean up your mess, and you stomped your feet and said ‘no!'” It’s important for your child to know what he did wrong, so he is less likely to have a breakdown the next time around. “When you were angry, you hit and kicked in response.” This is the moment when the child is supposed to take responsibility for his behavior.
It’s hard to convince strong-willed children to do much of anything without expressing the benefit. Why should they change their behavior unless there is something positive to gain? It’s not always selfish. Some children are convinced that it’s beneficial to them just to make mom and dad happy. Others want to know their personal benefit. No matter the motivation, this part is vital! “When you clean up your mess, you have more time to do other things you love! A lot of time is wasted when we argue.” Sometimes a change in perspective is all the child needs! “Hitting your brother is going to break trust and cause more problems down the road than if you were to talk it out instead.”
Having closure is crucial to many processes and methods. The same goes for Responsibility-Centered Discipline. What choice is the child going to make? How will this conversation impact future scenarios like these? Keep going through these steps until both you and the child feel comfortable with the outcome.
Remember, behaviors won’t change over night, but keep playing around with this method and watch for positive outcomes.
Tell us in the comments, what methods do YOU use for your strong-willed children?