A Book Describing how to Deal with the Strong-Willed Child Might be a Good Investment
JilI was actually emailing me about her teenage stepson, but mentioned her three-year-old son Adam.
“Adam is nothing like my other children,” Jill wrote in her email. “At times he can be a lovely child, but there are times when he is uncooperative, stubborn, and frequently angry. If he is doing something he’s not supposed to be doing, nothing we say or do will get him to stop. Yelling doesn’t work; you just have to physically restrain him and then he goes crazy.”
Jill went on to say that when Adam gets mad he screams obscenities, says he doesn’t have to do what his parents want him to do, and sometimes hits his parents or grandparents when he’s angry.
As I communicated more with Jill, she referred to Adam as strong-willed, and there seemed little question that she was right. Adam seemed to be the kind of child Nicholas Long and Rex Forehand described in their book “Parenting the Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Proven Five-Week Program for Parents of Two- to Six-Year-Olds.”
In a previous column, I quoted Nicholas Long, professor of Pediatrics and Director of Pediatric Psychology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s Hospital, in describing strong-willed children and the factors that may contribute to more challenging children. However, figuring out whether your child is strong-willed or not is simply the first step.
The more important part of the book is the program to help parents of difficult children.
“The program was designed by Rex (Forehand) more than 30 years ago to help the parents of noncompliant children,” Nicholas Long told me in a phone interview not too long ago. Since then, Forehand and Long have been evaluating the six-week class while teaching it to parents. The program teaches parents five core skills, including giving attention providing praise and rewards, ignoring misbehaviors, giving instructions, and using time-out.
During the first week of the program, parents of strong-willed children are taught how to give attention to their kids. “We teach about rewards and praise,” Long said, “and both are very effective. However, some parents attend to the wrong behaviors or even praise excessively. In the beginning of the program we want them to learn to attend.”
There is a difference between praise and attending to your child’s behavior. Attending means to describe your child’s behavior or even imitate it. And it involves no praise. It simply lets your child know that you are interested in the positive behavior your child does. “Our goal with parents is to get them to use three or four statements for every praise statement,” he said.
After learning about attending and cutting down on praise, or learning to use praise more effectively, Long said that they next teach parents about rewards. “Some parents have problems with the concept of rewards,” Long said, “and some prefer to think that they encourage instead of giving rewards. We call it rewards. A reward is anything offered to bring about a desired goal by parents.”
In addition, the program teaches parents how to ignore many of the obnoxious behaviors of the strong-willed child. “This,” Long says, “is a very important skill to learn.”
Next, they teach clear and effective instructions to challenging children. Often, parents of strong-willed children give instructions which are vague and unclear. Or they may be difficult or impossible to comply with. Or they might be the kind of instructions which distract the child. By teaching about effective instructions, parents have a better chance of gaining compliance and cooperation from their child.
Finally, the program teaches parents how to use time-out. Like any other punishments or discipline techniques, parents can make mistakes when administering a time-out. Their chapter on time-out, clearly described in the third edition of their book, will help you avoid the common mistakes parents make with time-out.
The results of the research over many years of this program show that it is highly effective. If you have a strong-willed child, like Adam, “Parenting the Strong-Willed Child,” may be an important investment in helping your child and eliminating stress in your life.