Mrs. Cynthia Tobias: My sons did the same thing when they were toddlers in the backseat. I heard, Mike, the strong-willed one, slap his brother, Robert on the leg and I said, “Michael, don’t hit your brother.” He goes, “I didn’t hit my brother.” And I said, “I just heard you hit him as hard as you could.” He goes, “I didn’t hit him as hard as I could. I could’ve hit him a lot harder than that.” (Laughter) …
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: (Laughing) Cynthia Tobias and you’re gonna hear more from her today on “Focus on the Family” with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and we’re gonna help you manage your strong-willed child with some great advice today.
Jim Daly: That clip does capture one of those strong-willed characteristics, doesn’t it? Especially if you have boys if becomes physical really fast. And strong-willed kids particularly, you know, they’ll want to follow things to the letter of the law and if you’re not 100 percent right in what you say, they’re gonna jump on ya. I’ve seen that (Laughing) with our own children.
John: That happened to just this morning, Jim. I said, “So, why do you have your sweatshirt on the floor?” And my son said, “It’s not a sweatshirt; it’s a hoodie.” (Laughter) I said, “A hoodie is a type of sweatshirt.”
John: It’s not 100 percent, so he’s gonna takeoff with me.
Jim: Now you’re into the definition of things.
Jim: These are future lawyers, I think.
John: I hope so.
Jim: But they do find a way to finagle their way right out of trouble.
John: That is so true.
Jim: You know, and we want to return to a popular topic that it seems we can’t talk enough about here and it seems every family has one or maybe even two of these strong-willed children. And you know what? The key thing is, hang in there, mom and dad. It does get better typically with time. So, be of good hope, because these children can grow up to be wonderful leaders and strong in their faith because of those deep convictions that they have.
John: Well, I’m praying that way, Jim (Laughing) and I’m banking on it personally.
Jim: So am I, John and we need to not give up on this point. Hang in there everybody.Just last weekwe aired a two-day broadcast with Cynthia Tobias on this very topic and the response indicated you wanted more and if you missed that, let me encourage you to go online and listen or you can, I think, in an easier way, just download the smartphone app, the “Focus on the Family” broadcast app. That’s often how I listen to the broadcast and that way youcan listen when you have time to listen.
But let me say, after airing that program, we had many additional questions and comments from many of you on things you wish we would’ve covered such as being a single parent, how do I apply Cynthia’s advice? Or even, you know, how do I get my strong-willed kid to do their chores? Very practical advice, so we asked Cynthia if she could join us once again to cover some of those questions that you sent to us. And I gotta say; one thing I love about Cynthia is her background. You know, she worked as a police officer and that, of course, deserves respect right there, but then she was also a teacher and applied those things that she had learned in the classroom. She’s been around these type of children for a long time and she has learned tremendously, both from her own personal experience as a strong-willed person, but also how to deal with them and it gives her a unique perspective on working with kids like this.
John: And she rightly is a very popular speaker, a best-selling author, a number of books, including the revised and updated edition of You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) and that book really is the foundation for our conversation on “Focus on the Family” today.
Jim: Cynthia, it is great to have you back here at Focus on the Family.
Cynthia: Oh, it’s always great to be here. Thank you so much.
Jim: Cynthia, after your last broadcast last time, we received a letter from a mom named Lisa who asked and I can say honestly, this is good for me, too (Laughter), “What do I do when natural consequences don’t work? For instance, my son forgets to wash the dinner dishes night after night. So, I refused to make him breakfast, but that doesn’t seem to change his attitude or his behavior. So, what should I do?”
Cynthia: You know, again, it’s all in how the authority’s communicated. And if it’s an ultimatum and just a simple punishment, it’s not gonna have nearly the same effect as giving me some compelling problems, talking to me. For example, there’s a big difference in saying, “If that bedroom’s not done, we’re not getting an ice cream cone.” Or saying, “Hey, as soon as the bedroom’s clean, we’ll go get the ice cream cone.”
John: Okay, there’s a very fine difference there. People are busy. They’re drivin’. There’s stuff goin’ on. Unpack that a little bit.
Cynthia: The ultimatum doesn’t work. The ultimatum is always, “If you don’t, this will happen.” So, it’s a cause and effect, right? And what I really need is, I need it to be more subtle as a strong-willed child. And I need it to be in a positive way. “As soon as this is done, this can happen.” “Hey, as soon as you get your homework done, we’ll watch that favorite TV show of yours”
Now if the homework doesn’t get done and I go to turn on the TV show, you say, “Oh, sorry. We can’t do it. I wanted to, but the homework’s not done yet.” “Well, that’s not fair.” “Sorry.” And so, I can maintain, ’cause we’ve kinda set it up. But it’s not a[n] “I told you. I told you if you didn’t get the homework done and that’s what you get.”
Cynthia: Anytime you go with that angle instead of natural consequences, which is, you know, “Sorry.” And the other thing to remember with the strong-willed child is, I do sometimes think it’s worth it to pay the consequences. You know, I know I’m gonna suffer. I know I’m gonna be punished, but oh, well.
Jim: Hm. Cynthia, I mean, I’m livin’ it with Trent, my oldest and that is exactly how he would respond. He does need to feel some control over his life and that sometimes means he’s often willing to pay the consequences if he chooses not to do something. I could see him calculating that uh–
Cynthia: Uh-hm, uh-hm.
Jim: –when we confront these things, which brings me to another idea you’ve shared with us in the past about something you learned as a police officer. I think you phrase it, “handing out more tickets, but giving fewer warnings.” What does that mean and as a parent of a strong-willed child? How do we do that?
Cynthia:Well, it’s very easy to just keep warning. “I told you and how many times do I have to tell you and you better not do that. Listen, if you do that again, this is gonna happen.” Because it’s a lot easier, let’s just face it as parents, it’s easier to say that than it is to actually go ahead and mete out the punishment. And so, as a strong-willed kid, pretty soon I get used to the fact that it’s, you know, it’s never gonna happen.
John: It’s rhetoric.
Cynthia:Yes and so, I have to know for sure that it’s gonna happen. And so, sometimes you just need to give out the tickets and give fewer warnings. We talked about with the police incident, if as a police officer, I pull you over and I’m not going to give you a ticket, then you have to sit and endure as much lecture as I want to give, because that is your punishment in place of a ticket.
Cynthia:But if I’m gonna give you a ticket, I’m not allowed to also give you the lecture. It’s one or the other. And for a strong-willed kid, most of us will tell you, we would actually rather have at least figuratively, the ticket, ’cause we get so tired of, “How many times …” And “Didn’t I just say …” Just give me the ticket. Let me calmly sign my name, pay my fine and go my way.
And so, as a parent, you’re just gonna look ridiculous if all you do is, you know, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And you yell and you scream and you warn and you threaten and pretty soon, I lose respect for you and I know that it’s not gonna happen. So, there are times when just calmly and firmly, you give the ticket.
Now the flip side of that is, there are times when the ticket is worth it, so that you as a parent, I think and this is a great ticket and if I give this ticket, she’ll never do it again. And sorry (Laughter), it doesn’t work that way, but the tickets are important, the consequences. And your actions do have consequences, but you of course, always have a choice. You could either do the right thing or you can take the consequences. There really isn’t another option.
So, a strong-willed child respects that and we understand that if I don’t do it, it’s not an option. I can always choose the consequence, but there will be a consequence. And if I don’t know that, then you’re not really preparing me very well for the world.
John: Hm. And I appreciate what you’re saying there, Cynthia, especially in terms of younger children. But I’m wondering, as a dad of a teen, how does this apply? I mean, the teen years are turbulent and they’re full of emotions and insecurities and doubts. And for the strong-willed teen, I’d think those natural exasperations are just intensified. So, tell me what I can do. What areone or two things that I can do to kinda come alongside my teen to help them get through all of this?
Cynthia:Again, it’s those empathetic statements. Being able to say, “Wow, I know that’s kinda boring to do. I can remember how boring it was for me, too. I’m sure sorry. I wish there was another way to do it.” Always focusing on a strength that you can find. You know, even if you have to say, “Whoa, that was a good one. You know, you’re the master of a quick comeback. I think you and I both realize it was inappropriate. [I]can’t let you get by with it, but love the way your mind works.”
Cynthia:“Wish we could …” You know, just kinda pulling it around and reminding me that I’m using my strength, almost everything that annoys us about our kids is still kind of a strength that’s being used inappropriately. So, if we can think, okay, this kid can always outsmart me and it drives me crazy,you can point out, “You’re pretty good at this, but I think you and I both realize–
Cynthia: –that’s not the right direction. How can we switch this?” You know, makin’ it kinda not a big deal, but helping them and then shifting responsibility to them. And again, the questions help shift the responsibility. Is this the grade you wanted? You know, you can’t make me want a better grade. So, if I’m flunking math, you can’t say, “You’ve gotta get a better grade,” ’cause I know that, that’s not true. I don’t have to get a better grade. I could choose to flunk. But you can ask me, “Is this what you wanted?” “Are you happy with these grades? Is this what you expected?” Ask me, because as a teenager, I’m tryin’ to figure out my life anyway and if I can’t figure out how to take responsibility for my own actions and how to get myself motivated, I’m in trouble.
Jim: So, what you’re saying, Cynthia, is that strong-willed children, especially teens, need to feel responsible for their lives and their actions. And you’re teaching them that through this approach to parenting. We did receive a letter from a Mrs. Lau. She’s a teacher and I love that–
Jim: –and wanted to know the best way of approaching the numerous (Laughing) strong-willed children–
John: Poor woman.
Jim: -yeah (Laughing), that she has in her various classes. What advice would you have for that teacher, where they can tell the compliant kids from Mrs. Lau’s numerous strong-willed children?
Cynthia: I was teaching a seminar for a lot of high school teachers in the state of Washington and for this particular one, I’d brought a whole panel of strong-willed kids in, so that they (Laughter) could talk to the teachers and the teachers could ask them questions, right?
And so, one of the frustrated high school teachers asked the panel, you know, “Well, how do I just get you to cooperate and be a good student and just kinda get along with the flow? Why do you have to fight? How do I just get your cooperation? And the strong-willed kid, he said right away, “Just find a way to make me feel unique and special.”
Jim: (Chuckling) That’s a good answer.
Cynthia: And this teacher said, “I’ve got 180 kids every semester. I don’t have time to make everybody feel unique and special.” And without missing a beat, this kid replied, “It’s okay. You don’t have to do it. You asked what it would take.”
John: Oh, that’s powerful.
Cynthia: That’s the energy. You say it takes a lot of energy and it takes a lot of time. Okay. We tell you. You don’t have to do it.
Cynthia: You asked what it would take and that’s what it takes. If you don’t want to pay it, that’s fine, but that’s what it takes.
Jim: Yeah, that’s the honesty of a strong-willed child.
John: To what extent, Cynthia, will that strong-willed child seek out opportunities to be considered unique, if you will? I mean, there’s an attention-seeking drive, isn’t there?
Cynthia: Well, for an extroverted strong-willed child, they may want the attention to be drawn to them. For somebody introverted like me, I don’t want to be like everybody else, but I also don’t necessarily want to stand out in a bad way. So, I will find more subtle ways to fight you, more subtle ways to resist, more subtle ways to set myself apart, still seeking to find some control and you know, in my heart of hearts as a strong-willed kid and I’ve talked to a lot of them, we secretly wonder if maybe there is something wrong with us. Why don’t people like me more? Why do I cause so much trouble? Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I spend all my energy defending my right to be who I am.
And then when I find out, the awareness that I am a strong-willed, but that God gave that to me and that it’s a normal, sort of a natural thing, it’s all in how I use it, all of a sudden, I relax. I lower my defenses and when I’m not spending all my time defending who I am, I have a lot more energy left over to do what’s good for other people, too. And so, it goes back to just awareness, you know, knowing that I’m okay. Then I don’t have to seek bad ways to let people know that I’m okay.
Jim: Hm. In fact, one of the things that someone mentioned to me that I’m doing now with my boys when I tuck ’em in at night, is really reminding them that they’regood enough. And I remember the first time I said that to ’em, they both had the biggest smiles on their faces. I thought it would be a very kind of understated comment. But I remember Troy, my youngest when I said that. “Troy, (Whispering) you’re good enough,” he just lit up like he’d been waiting for me to make that comment. And that’s what you’re driving at.
Jim: They need to know.
Cynthia: In many ways, you know, it’s not that you’re not capable of more, but I’m not always requiring you. You are sufficient. It’s like “My grace is sufficient for you.” You are sufficient. You’re doin’ a great job.
John: Hm. Well, I’m so appreciative of what you’re saying there, Cynthia. And let me just say, our guest on “Focus on the Family” is Cynthia Tobias. And if you’ve missed any of this excellent conversation, we do have downloads and CDs and Cynthia’s book, You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Cynthia, in today’s culture, there’s brokenness. Families are broken. I came from a broken family. My mom and dad divorced. I admired my mom, because as a single-parent mom, she raised five kids. She did remarry, but talk to that single parent. [It] could be a man or a woman. There’s more men raising children now on their own than there used to be. But when you’re a single parent, what uniquenesses are there when you’re raising a strong-willed child. There’s nobody to lean on and talk about–
Cynthia: That’s right.
Jim: –it at night when the kids go to bed. You’re there alone. What should they be doing?
Cynthia: Well, and it’s so overwhelming sometimes as the single parent, because it takes a lot of energy and it takes a lot of time to really work with that strong-willed child. Some of the tips that we give in the book are talking about, for one thing the single parent can do what we talked about earlier. Ask your friends and your resources, you know people who are strong willed that you work with and live with sometimes, even then and you know, another sibling, a parent.
So, you can ask ’em. You know, “Your mind works a lot like this kid’s. What should I be doing? And why didn’t this work? Use the resources. We evensuggest that you might trade strong-willed kids with somebody for a day–
Cynthia: –right? (Laughter) [It’s] just [that] you gotta give ’em back.
Jim: Just to sympathize with each other? (Laughter)
Cynthia: Yeah, you’ve gotta trade back. You can’t let ’em go. But just looking for some resources like that and ways to understand that you don’t have to do it by yourself. And again, for a single parent, depending on the age of the strong-willed child, it’s very helpful, the honesty part and the backing off and just being honest with this child. ‘Cause you know, sometimes this child, they want to play you against the other divorced parent.
Cynthia: And they want to kind of manipulate you and just callin’ their bluff, just let me know you know what’s goin’ on.
Jim: So often when I’ve seen this depicted in the movies, and it just comes to my mind as I think about it, but you’ll have that struggling single-parent mom, you know, in this movie and that teen daughter who’s rebelling. And there’ll be that moment when the teen daughter will turn and say, “I’m not gonna listen to you. You haven’t done so well with your life.” What about the emotion of that, when that strong-willed teen daughter or son turns to you and points out your flaws?
Cynthia: Call my bluff. Call my bluff, ’cause I’m doing it, even though I shouldn’t be. I’m doing it to deliberately get a reaction. And what you can do and again, just turn right back around and say, “Are you just tryin’ to make me feel bad and make me feel guilty?” And make me say, “If I say, ‘Yes,’ then that makes me look pretty bad, doesn’t it? If I say, ‘No,’ you and I both know that either I’m lying or I didn’t realize it was that.” So, I mean, turn it around on me. Instead of reacting in a predictable way, throw me a little off balance by calling my bluff. “If this what you were goin’ for? I’m just curious. Is what you’re goin’ for to try to make me feel bad? Is that it?” ‘Cause I mean, that kinda nails me without really yelling at me.
Jim: Cynthia, the blended family again, for all kinds of reasons, that’s one of the growing segments of our culture. And you know, there’s lots of reasons that, that happens. But let’s just address that head on. You know, that stepfather that comes into the home and there’s a strong-willed child, maybe more than one and it’s conflict all the time.What can a stepparent do to step into that family and manage that better?
Cynthia: Very tough, ’cause this can be a wedge in the marriage right away. You know, I’ve seen it many, many times where it totally destroys the marriage, because you know, you inherit a kid who you didn’t even get to grow up with ’em. They’re not biologically yours. You inherit a strong-willed child. And depend[ing], it could be a strong-willed rebellious teenager and so, you’re already resentful of them coming in on your time. And you know, again, it’s awareness that counts. So, if you’re the parent who understands what’s going on, then right away again, get back to start at the end. “Look, I know we’re gonna have different ways of solving this. Could you and I just decide together, what’s the bottom line?”
Cynthia: “What’s the accountability? Where are we gonna draw the line? What are the go-to-wall issues gonna be?” That I think, is very important for those two parents, aside from the kids, stepkids or real kids, aside from them, decide what you’re gonna go for and come to agreement that way and just recognize with each other, we’re gonna have different philosophies.
Cynthia: And what we have to agree on is where we need to end up.
Jim: Cynthia, the one thing I’ve heard throughout our entire discussion is this idea of communication and again, we as parents, can take the short route, because generally it’s easier. We’re a bit lazy perhaps. We’ve spent all of our energy at work and we get home. And I’m hearing you say, really concentrate on communicating with your child. What you just said there is right on the mark. But we’re out of energy. How do you do that? I mean, you’ve modeled it so well, but how did you find it 7:30, 8 o’clock at night when it’s bedtime? You’re able to sit down with your 14-year-old and say, “Listen, we didn’t have such a good time today” and go through the problem. That takes a lot of thought and a lot of energy. Is that what we’re missing?
Cynthia: You know, the beauty of it is, that if you work on it for a while and you get that relationship, it becomes second nature and it doesn’t take as much energy. I mean, it seems daunting now to a parent who doesn’t have that kind of relationship yet and you’re thinking, “I have three kids,” I have five kids; I don’t have the energy to deal with each one. It’s daunting.
But if you invest the energy now and you do a little practice, at some point not so far down the line, it will suddenly be easier and it won’t take as much time and it won’t take as much effort, because the practice will come easier than you think.
Jim: Hm. So, what you’re saying, Cynthia is that we’ve got to stick with it and keep lovin’ those kids, really no matter what. You know, another family dynamic I want you to address is that of unruly grandchildren. We get a lot of response here from grandparents who find that a very difficult situation. We heard from one woman named Joanne and she was exasperated because she has a strong-willed grandchild that she says drives her nuts (Laughing). That’s a good self-disclosure. But you know, there are a lot of grandparents listening right now who don’t have control over how their kids, their grown kids–
Jim: –are parenting their grandkids. And that’s gotta be a sense of powerlessness, because you know, when they start talking about parenting with their children, it can really lead to some flash points. How do you deal with that?
Cynthia: Well, again, you can model as a grandparent. In fact, in front of your children, that are the parents, you can kind of model at least how you handle the child. Or you can model it with your own grown kids. Sometimes you can’t come across too much as, you know, you can’t just say, “Hey, you need to read this book.”
One of the chapters where we talk about, you know, is it ever too late? And we say, “Well, how can you get your adult grown-up daughter or son to actually understand or read this?” And what I always recommend and it often works, is that you can show them a copy of the book and say, “You know, I just read this book and it explained so much. I think I did a lot of things wrong with you.”
Cynthia: And then you just put it on the coffee table and walk away. Because then in spite of myself, I’m gonna go read the book, ’cause you just sorta had this culpability.
John: It was a great tease.
Cynthia: Yeah. And so again, you can’t come across as grandparents; no, you can’t come across with all the advice that’s not asked for and not solicited. It isn’t welcome. But you can not only model it, but you can say, “You know, I understand so much better now. I wish I had treated you a little differently when you were growing up. You know, turn it around and make it about you and not directed at them. and a lot of times, it’s much more effective.
John: What about the grandparent who has to be around a strong-willed child or gets to be around a strong-willed child, but really doesn’t enjoy the interactions? [He or she] doesn’t know some of the things that you’ve shared in your books and writing and on this program,what are one or two things for that visiting grandparent to keep in mind as they interact with the 7-, 8-, 9-year-old strong-willed kid that they just think is irresponsible, is disrespectful and should just be given a good spanking?
Cynthia: Well, again, you know, you can’t do a lot. Sometimes if you’re just a visiting one and you don’t see them all that often and you don’t want to come in and feel like you’re the big critic, but again, it’s the questions, asking again, you could ask the child’s parents, “I wonder if you’ve ever try …” And don’t say, “I wonder if you’ve ever tried to do this,” ’cause then it sounds like advice.
But “I wonderif you’ve ever noticed that …” Or “I wonder if it would ever work if I did this?” And again, make it about you, make you be the culpable one and so, that you’re not really aiming that spotlight at them. But just, you know, the questions, instead of saying, “You know, he just doesn’t obey. I just think he oughta obey better.” Or you know, “In my day, we would never let a child do …”
Cynthia: Or you know, any of that is gonna be received negatively. So, think about how it could be received positively. And again, make yourself a scapegoat if you have to, to say, “Boy, I think I would really struggle if I had to do this full time like you. I just don’t know how you do it.”And that can sometimes open the conversation.
Jim: Yeah, Cynthia, I love that idea of making the situation more about you and not about the children. I think that is brilliant. Cynthia, I can’t believe we’re out of time already. Let me mention, Cynthia Tobias, author of You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded). I just love that title, John.
John: I do, too, yeah.
Jim: Thanks for being with us again here at “Focus on the Family.”
Cynthia: Thank you.
John: Jim, we covered so very much here today with Cynthia and talked about some hard situations that a lot of parents run into and that includes you and me and it’s been so helpful.
Jim: Well, we are and that’s what I hope brings some authenticity to what we’re talking about. We get to listen to a lot of great advice, John and apply it when we go home each and every night, too. And so, we’re livin’ it with you. And you know what? This is exactly why Focus on the Family exists. We have five major areas we’re trying to tackle each and every day and they are, so you know, evangelism–and that’s letting people know about the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s No. 1.
And then marriage, parenting, advocacy for children. That’s our Option Ultrasound placement and orphan care through foster adoption, foster-care work and then being engaged in the culture. That would be something like Bring Your Bible to School, which we had hundreds of thousands of kids participate in this year. And of course, in the parenting area, this is an example of helping parents do their job better.
Maybe you need someone to talk to as a parent because your situation is difficult right now. We are here for you. You are not alone. If you need advice and you need tools and resources to help you, call us here at Focus on the Family. Let us put an arm around you as a fellow believer in Christ. Maybe you don’t know the Lord. We want you to call us, as well. We’re here for you, too. And we will help you do this job better.
You know, over the last year, more than 740,000 parents told us that Focus helped them build stronger families. That is a significant number and I’m tellin’ ya, it puts a smile on my face, John. But we can’t do it by ourselves. We need your prayers. We need your financial support to be standing together in that gap for these families. And I’m tellin’ ya, so many people have said to me, John, in D.C., you know, the politicians as well as business people, that what we talk about each and every day here, “the family,” is at the foundation of the culture. And that encourages me. We are at Ground Zero together and I hope you feel that, as well. So, let’s do it together. Help us help others today.
John: And to donate generous today or get a copy of Cynthia Tobias’s book, You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded), call 1-800-232-6459 or go to www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And it’d be our privilege to send that book to you as a thank-you gift for your generous donation to this ministry today. We believe strongly in what we’re doing here and if you support the work of Focus on the Family with a gift of any amount today, we’ll make sure that book goes out to you. Again, donate generously when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and join us next time. We’ll have anti-bullying expert, Nancy Rue to offer some practical ways that you can help your child deal with bullies.
Mrs. Nancy Rue: You just take back the power to be yourself. Isn’t that what turning the other cheek is. It’s not, okay, well, go ahead and bully me some more. It’s, you hit me once, go ahead with the thing, but you’re not gettin’ to me with this. I’ve got the power to be who I am.
End of Excerpt
John: Nancy Rue joins us next time on “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, hoping you can join us then.