The Strong-Willed Child
By Ashley Alden
My son is three years old. He is hilarious, busy, and has energy to fuel at least three other kids (or at least it seems that way)! He already has a very strong personality. He loves people, but he also loves the idea of being in charge. Recently he was a little too “bossy” in his tone, even though he was only playing and pretending to be a police officer. In that moment I needed some wisdom. How could I get across the idea of respect for authority in a way that would make sense to him? Suddenly it hit me, and I said, “Do you know who is in charge of all the police officers? The police chief! And mommy is your police chief.” The lightbulb instantly went on in his head, his tone changed, and he said, “Oh yes, mommy police chief” and that was pretty much that. God had helped me “speak his language” in a way that his strong-willed heart could understand.
Maybe you have a kid like mine, or maybe you have a few of them in your Sunday school or other church class. They’re not hard to miss—they like to tell others what to do, they often want their way, and they are usually good at persuasively arguing their position. Sometimes they can be disrespectful and disruptive in class.
What can you do when you have strong-willed children in your class? First, keep in mind that God gave them the personality they have. Kids with strong personalities become leaders and influencers, whether in positive or negative ways. The apostle Paul is an example of a strong-willed personality, and look at how God used his life! If you have a strong-willed child in your life or class, it is hugely helpful to recognize that 1) his or her personality is a gift from God and 2) you have the privilege to help mold that personality and point that child to Jesus. A strong-willed child transformed by Jesus can and will change the world!
“Do you know who is in charge of all the police officers? The police chief! And mommy is your police chief.”
Secondly, give the strong-willed child in your class the opportunities to lead that they crave. Your classroom can be a safe place for them to test their leadership wings under your supervision. If they are older, they can help you distribute supplies, sit with younger kids (if appropriate), help with games or activities, or even do some of the teaching (at your discretion and with training, of course). You don’t want them to lead too much too fast, but as you pray for God’s help, He will show you ways to involve the strong-willed ones and help develop their leadership skills.
Third, do your best to build a relationship with them. Recently at my Good News Club® in a local elementary school, the fifth graders were very “chatty” while the teacher was talking. It was distracting and disrespectful. But instead of just telling them to “be quiet and listen,” I took the time to talk with them. I didn’t know them very well, and I wanted to see where they were coming from. In the course of our conversation I discovered that they were bored—they “knew all this stuff” and didn’t think they were learning anything new. I gently encouraged them that they could always learn new things, especially about God and the Bible. I also told them the younger kids were looking up to them and they could help by setting a good example. Then, a few weeks later one of the fifth-grade girls expressed a desire to help teach. In essence, she wants to lead! We’ll be looking for ways to involve these older kids and also build relationships with them in the weeks ahead.
Your classroom can be a safe place for them to test their leadership wings under your supervision.
Those are some overarching principles for strong-willed kids. But let’s talk about some specifics, especially if the strong-willed ones are causing a disruption.
- Make sure you have clear classroom rules. Children of all personalities crave boundaries, and boundaries are even more important for strong personalities. Review the rules every week and make keeping the rules a fun experience (see our blog post on “Kids can OBEY and Play” for some good ideas).
- Enforce the rules with appropriate consequences. What happens when the rules aren’t followed? Every class and church is different. Talk with your leadership team to discern what is appropriate for your church or class, and then enforce the rules with love.
- Do your best to combat boredom in class! Sometimes kids act out because they are bored, tired, or have just been sitting too long. When kids are interested in your class, they sometimes forget to be disruptive!
- Encourage parents. They might have good ideas for strategies that help with their child. They also need to know when their child does really well in class! It’s easy to look at the negative, but parents need encouragement too. One mom thanked my friend for saying nice things about her son after class and expressed how meaningful that was to her. Praise can go a long way! If you’re struggling in class with a child, chances are the parents are too. Look for ways to encourage and come alongside those parents or guardians as you all seek to influence their child for Christ.
Strong-willed children are a gift. They will go far in reaching the world for Christ if they can be reached for Christ themselves. Sometimes that’s hard to remember in the middle of class when they’re disruptive or challenging. But as you seek God’s wisdom and help He will enable you to be an enormous influence in the lives of those children and parents. Do you have any tips or questions about teaching the strong-willed child? Comment below with your ideas or questions!
Need Some More Ideas?
For more ideas on how to reward these kids for their good behavior check out this blog post.