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Practical Advice for Parenting Strong-Willed Children (Part 2 of 2)

Practical Advice for Parenting Strong-Willed Children (Part 2 of 2)

Educator and author Cynthia Tobias offers encouragement and practical advice for the difficult scenarios faced by frustrated parents of strong-willed children, ranging from very young to adult. (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date: October 9, 2012


Cynthia Tobias: I was pretty easy to get along with, didn’t fight you confrontationally. So, you point your bony finger in my face and you back me into the corner and you say, do it or else. And then I’ll just else. Because I know there’s nothing I really have to do except die, which I’m willing to do. If I’m willing to die and you’re not, I win. OK, I’m dead, but I win, I don’t care if I have to die to do it, do you understand? I don’t care if I have to die to do it.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Well, a strong statement from a strong-willed individual, Cynthia Tobias. And you’ll hear more from her today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Cynthia is so good at nailing down how the strong-willed child thinks and acts. And of course, being one, self-proclaimed one as she does, she knows exactly how they think and act. And then she offers us guidance as a parent, as a teacher, as a former police officer, on how to handle it as a parent. If you didn’t hear the program last time, you got to download it or get the CD because it’s relevant right where you’re at as a parent with that strong-willed child. Cynthia has lots of great tips and every parent is going to benefit. And if you’re a grandparent, this is the one you want to pass along to your adult children who are raising those grandkids for you. We said it last time. This is one of our most popular programs, which is why we wanted to come back to it. And it got a huge response.

In fact, let me read a comment we received from a parent named Deborah who shared this. She said, “I heard your two-day broadcast with Cynthia Tobias, and it was an answer to my prayers. I’ve been changed and there has been peace in my home for a month since I heard the broadcast. You gave me so much insight into the way my almost 14-year-old strong willed daughter thinks. I have applied some of the strategies you spoke of and there is peace. I can’t thank the Lord enough for using you to bless me so much.:

Uh, John, that touches my heart. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do each and every day here at Focus on the Family. And I want to say thanks to those of you who have supported the ministry. If you haven’t supported Focus on the Family in a while, may I ask you to participate with us in blessing others and helping them have a healthier, more God-centric home? That’s what we’re up to each and every day.

John: Yeah, we really do want to help. And your partnership is vital. You can donate, get the download or CD of this presentation and more at Focus on the or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

And the conversation is based on Cynthia’s book. You Can’t Make Me, (But I Can Be Persuaded). And here now is today’s Focus on the Family.

Jim: Cynthia, last time we were talking about that parent that has hit that natural boiling point. I mean, this is yet another grocery store moment–

John and Cynthia: Hm.

Jim: –where they’ve said no to that candy bar and it sounds like I’m speaking from experience–

John: This is–

Jim: –which I am.

John: –a friend of yours (Laughter), right?

Jim: That’s a friend of mine. (Laughter) But you know, you just get to that point and you’ve said it as many times as you can say it and they’re not listening to ya and you’re saying, what am I gonna do? And you hit that boiling point, your natural human emotions. Bang! You snap. And last time you gave us three quick ways to manage that. Let’s hit those again as a recap from last time.

Cynthia: Sure. We call it the “Strong-Willed Child Emergency Kit.” And that is, your first step is to back off; get a little perspective, just back off, walk away if you have to just a little ways. The second one is to figure out what the point is. What am I trying to accomplish? Is there another way to get there? So, can I just, you know, dial it back just a little? And then the third way is to just be honest, to say, “Look, I’m not gonna be able to do this here. I’m gonna say something I regret, so I need to back off again.” Just honesty.

John: And that sounds like you’re giving up right there.

Cynthia: It does in some ways. But here, and I don’t know if this’ll be all that popular with the parents who are listening, ’cause let me just tell you one thing. As a strong-willed child, the honesty in a strong-willed parent I had to apply to myself, is… it’s harder to do to ourselves. If I’m the strong-willed parent and I’ve got a strong-willed kid and we’re goin’ toe to toe, I don’t want to lose. I’m not gonna lose. And that kid’s not gonna lose, right? And so, one of us has to be able to figure out how to do this.

And one clear example I remember when I was a police officer. You know, I’m a young, impetuous, 26-, 27-year-old police officer. I’m the only woman on the force for several years and so, I’m feelin’ pretty good in my uniform and I pull this guy over for, you know, he just didn’t completely stop. And so, I’m thinkin’ in my head, I’ll just kinda give him a warning and just tell him that’s not what he should do. So, I walked up to the car and before I could even say a word, he says to me, “Why’d you pull me over? You can’t give me a ticket. You just can’t even give me a ticket. You’re not even a real cop. You’re only a woman.”

Jim: Ooh!

John: Ouch!

Jim: That wasn’t a very smart thing to say.

John: Them’s fightin’ words (Laughter).

Jim: That’s right. (Laughter)

Cynthia: And so, you know what I did, right? I said, “You’re right, I’m not going to give you a ticket. I’m going to give you three.” (Laughter)

Jim: Oh, my. (Laughter)

Cynthia: And he goes, What?” And I said, “Yeah, the tread on your ties, a failure to notify the department of licensing about the change of address within 30 da[ys]. ” I mean, I was doing little chippy things, right? Well, what happened immediately was things escalated quickly.

Jim: Hm.

Cynthia: In fact, you know, he got out of the car and I mean, it turned into a fight–

John: Oh, my.

Cynthia: –and back up and he ended up in jail. And you know, the bottom line, it’s my fault.

Jim: Hm.

Cynthia: It was my fault. I let it escalate. I let him bait me. And I learned then as I’ve learned through the years over and over, that those who anger you control you. So, the moment he made me angry, the moment he made me lose my cool and escalate and let him have it, I lost. He won. He was now in control and even though I eventually got to put him jail and go, “Ha! So there!” nobody really won from that.

And you know, every parent knows that that’s true. You don’t feel good when you lose it and you snap and you just say, “You’re grounded for life!” Or “I’m taking away everything that you care about. And I’m…” You know, you can make horrible punishments and you don’t feel good about that.

Jim: Hm.

Cynthia: You lost it and you let that kid know, I can be weak; I can give in, and so, I can’t count on you. As a strong-willed kid, I need to count on you to be solid. I need to know that you’re gonna hold steady and if you scream and yell at me, you’re not holding steady. That’s why your calm, firm voice says, “Nice try. We’re not gonna do it.” And you don’t lose your cool. ‘Cause as a strong-willed kid, if I know the buttons to push to make you angry, I will push them.

Jim: Just about every day. (Laughter)

Cynthia: Every day. Every chance I get.

John: Hm.

Jim: Cynthia, when you’re in that moment, I mean what’s so important and what you’re saying that’s so critical is, to de-escalate.

Cynthia: Yes.

Jim: And everybody wins in that situation when you can actually take the energy out of the process. I have tried to remember that when, you know, Trent and I are havin’ our little parental problem. (Chuckling) And you know, to put a smile on your face and to put–

Cynthia: That’s right.

Jim: –an arm around him and say, “Listen, you know, mom’s just askin’ you to do this. Can you honor mom by doing that?”

Cynthia: Exactly and then that melts me then.

Jim: And they do jump in. What I notice with Trent, which is so wonderful, he usually gets around to doin’ it. But to your point of control, he wants to do it when he wants to do it within a reasonable amount of time. And now we’ve begun to relax about that. So, if we’d say, you know, “We really would like you to mow the lawn,” I say, “Can you just get it done sometime this afternoon?”

Cynthia: Yeah.

Jim: And he gets it done and I don’t stay harping on him. “You know, it’s 1 o’clock and you haven’t got it done yet.” “Well, you said sometime this afternoon.” But you need to find ways to let them have some of that control, don’t you?

Cynthia: Yeah. And you know, the other little secret is, to empathize, you know. “I know that you hate doin’ that and I wish there was another way around it. I sure appreciate you doin’ it. Do you think you can have that done by [this afternoon]?” I mean, as long as you know I hate it, then I’ll probably do it better for you.

John: Hm.

Cynthia: But when you just act like it’s my job to do it and I just better do it and just, you know pull myself together, there’s something about the empathy. Again, it goes to the relationship–

Jim: Uh-hm.

Cynthia: — where you and I can look at each other and you say, “I know it’s a bummer, isn’t it?”

Jim: You know, some of this, it almost sounds like respect, as well.

Cynthia: It’s all respect.

Jim: And it’s hard for a parent to understand that. I think I had to learn that. And believe me, even though I’m giving you good examples (Laughing), it doesn’t always work that way. I–

Cynthia: Yes, I know that, too.

Jim: –I’ve got plenty of poor examples in my parenting.

Cynthia: Me, too.

Jim: But it does come down to realizing that this is a human being. You gave birth to this human being, but you need to respect your child in that way. Be honest with them. Talk with them. Don’t simply control them like a robot.

Cynthia: That’s right. And as parents, we don’t often realize it, but they’re watching us very closely. And they’re talking to us the same way we’ve been talking to them.

John: Uh-hm.

Cynthia: But as the parent, that’s unacceptable to us. You can’t treat me that way. You cannot treat me with such disrespect, without realizing our responsibility as a parent is, we have to model it for them. How else will they know to practice? And that’s when the introspection comes in with the parent who shouldn’t have to kowtow to my child. That child–

Jim: I don’t answer to you.

Cynthia: –should just do [what I want]. I don’t answer to you; they answer to me. (Laughter) And then you think, well, I don’t know. I think you get what you give. And it’s hard; it’s–

Jim: Yeah.

Cynthia: –it’s hard to sometimes deal with that.

Jim: Cynthia, one thing that I’ve observed as well is, it’s hard to pick the battles. Everything can look like the big stuff, when in reality, there’s probably only a handful of things that are the real big   things.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: And then a lot of–

Cynthia: That’s right.

Jim: –it, it’s the little stuff. And we tend to sweat the little stuff maybe even more than the big stuff. But give us the examples of how we go about discerning what are the big battles and what are the ones that we don’t need to win?

Cynthia: Right and this is a classic, of course. And all of us as parents have to decide, what am I gonna go to the wall for?

John: Uh-hm.

Cynthia: ‘Cause I can’t go to the wall for everything or I’m not gonna get anything. If you make everything a big, fat hairy deal, then everything will turn into a big, fat hairy deal. And you will fight a battle on everything. So, just decide what[‘s important]. In our home, physical safety is always a go-to-the-wall issue. It’s not gonna be negotiable whether you walk out in traffic or whether you don’t wear a seat belt. So, physical safety I’ll go to the wall for.

Spiritual and moral values, I’m not gonna make those negotiable. I’m not gonna let you lie or cheat or steal or hurt somebody. I’m going to the wall for those. Now if I’m gonna get those, I’ve gotta back off of other things, exactly what you wear, exactly what you say or how you say it, I can’t have everything. So, as parents, it’s hard, but you have to figure out, is this one really worth it? Because you’re not gonna get everything and you may lose the stuff that was really worth it if you’re gonna harp on the stuff that wasn’t.

Jim: Hm.

Cynthia: And the classic example, when Mike and Rob were about 8, Mike, my strong-willed son at the breakfast table he says to his brother, “Hey, Rob, pass me the cereal.” And I said, “Mike, what do you say?” “Robert, pass me the cereal. Do it now.” (Laughter) That’s it.

John: Not the words–

Jim: That’s not quite–

John: –you were thinkin’. (Laughter)

Jim: –what you thought.

Cynthia: “Michael Tobias!” And he goes, “I’m not gonna say that word. You can’t make me say that word. If I have to say that word, I’m just not gonna eat breakfast.” And I said, “That’s fine, Michael Tobias, because this is worth it to me. I’m not going to raise a rude, ill-mannered, ill-behaved child. This one’s worth it.” And he got up and he stomped down the hall and he went into his bedroom and he slammed the door. And he wasn’t even in there a minute before he stomped back down the hall and sat at the table and then he went, “Please!” (Laughter)

Now you know, as a parent what I’m thinking, right? I’m thinking, that’s not how we say it. Let’s start over. But I did then what I did at least a couple times a week. I mean, he’s 21 now, right. I covered, physically covered my mouth–

Jim: Um.

Cynthia: –and didn’t let myself say anything, ’cause I realized I just won–

John: Hm.

Cynthia: –my go-to-the-wall issue. If I’m gonna keep pressin’, if I’m gonna keep kibitzin’, I’m gonna keep pickin’ at him for exactly how he does it, I’m gonna lose it all. We have to as parents, put your hand over your mouth sometimes. Just think, did I get the really crucial point here? And does it really have to be exactly my way? ‘Cause if it does, everything’s gonna disintegrate and it’s not worth it.

Jim: And, in fact, what happens if you can’t do that, the child then sees you as renegotiating the deal constantly.

Cynthia: Right.

Jim: That’s what’s funny. I mean, Trent is actually said that to me. “You keep renegotiating it! You told me to say please, I said please. You didn’t say I had to say please kindly.”

John: Mm-hm.

Cynthia: That’s right.

Jim: I mean they get, they get back to that exactness, don’t they?

Cynthia: That’s right because the letter of law can always get you. I can always get you with that. And it’s, again, it’s a sense of humor. You know, the “nice try,” and you know…if you can just… If I do something outrageous that angers you, just enrages you, if before you just jump on me, “I can’t believe you just said that and you better…” If before you do that you can give me a fire escape – just a little one – you can say, “Nice try. I thought you were serious.” And then I have a moment where I can say, “Oh, yea. Sorry.” And really, the majority of the time you’ll be surprised how often I will take that “out.”

But one of my favorite stories, my friend, Sharon, in Greenville, South Carolina, she… her strong-willed son, Brandon, when he was about sixteen… Now Sharon, she’s a by-the-book mom, but she’d been really practicing. And Brandon, he was about a ninth grader, and she picked him up after school and he’d been, you know, he was all ramped up in conversation with his friends and stuff. And he got in the car and he tossed his backpack in the back seat. And he got in the car and Sharon said, “So, Brandon, how was your day at school?” He said, “It was great, chick.”

Jim and John: Chuckling.

Jim: That doesn’t go down well in South Carolina.

Cynthia: She’s got…no. She’s got her hand over her mouth right away, right? And Brandon, he’s frozen in fear ’cause he just realizes what he has said.

John: Hm.

Cynthia: He…he didn’t even think before he said it. He’s frozen in fear. So, Sharon, she pulls herself together for a few seconds and then she says to him, “That’s Mrs. Chick to you.”


Cynthia: And he said, “Oh, mom! I’m sorry…” Now, see, if he hadn’t said, “Oh, mom! I’m sorry,” then she would have had to go ahead and enforce the disrespect rule. You have to do that. Sometimes you have to do it the hard way. But she gave him just that moment that said, “You didn’t mean that, right?” In a sense, he caught it. He got a chance to correct it himself. He got control.

Jim: Right.

Cynthia: And control of himself. And instead of having a bony finger, he had a relationship with a mom who understood, for a moment, that he got carried away and he didn’t really mean it. And she gave him just a second of, a few seconds…

Jim: Mm…

Cynthia: …to make it right.

Jim: Cynthia, we haven’t talked about this last time or this time, but the siblings of a strong-willed child. Let’s talk about that dynamic because often that strong-willed child can consume all the oxygen in the home. I mean, it’s all about them all the time. And then you got little junior (Chuckling), next to big brother and how do we insure that we’re protecting that child in the proper way emotionally, sometimes even physically?

Cynthia: Of course, one of the things you just do with all your kids is, you know, continually reinforce strengths, and point out strengths in front of your brother or sister and encourage them to recognize the strengths and that they’re different.

When it comes to the strong-willed child, you’re right. A lot of times there’s a whole lot more goin’ on with the strong-willed child and this more compliant brother or sister doesn’t get the attention. What I did… Robert was the compliant twin. He’s two minutes younger than his twin (Laughter) brother, Mike, right. And Robert tells everybody it’s the best two minutes of his life. (Laughter)

Jim: That says it right there, doesn’t it? (Laughter)

Cynthia: That says it all, doesn’t it? And when he was younger, I think he was probably about 2nd or 3rd grade and his brother constantly, you know, getting attention and stuff. And I kinda drew him aside one morning and I put my arm around him and I said, “Robert, do you have any idea how valuable you’re gonna be when you grow up?” He says, “What do you mean?” And I said, “You’re gonna be able to work almost anyplace you want, because you will have incredible experience–

Jim: Uh-hm.

Cynthia: –and ability to work with strong-willed people. You’ve practiced with the best, your brother, your mother. I mean, you’re learning every day how to bring out the best in somebody really strong-willed and a strong personality. And he goes, “Yeah. I guess maybe you’re right.” And you know, it’s really come true in many ways as he’s gone through [life]. I try to reinforce that in him and to say, “You know, what you’re learning is how to deal with a strong personality. That is a good strength to have and it’ll be valuable to you later.” So again, just reinforcing. It’s not all… that I have to have all that much attention as a more compliant child, it’s just the attention I get is encouraging and it’s positive and it’s strong.

John: Hm. Well, we do want you to continue the conversation through the Facebook page. Jim, you mentioned, we had a lot of interaction last year when we aired a presentation from Cynthia. And that’s why we’re coming back to it today. As we talk, Cynthia, about the dynamics in the home, address some of those things that strong-willed kids do to their siblings. Because everything’s a battle, not just for the parent, but with the siblings, as well, isn’t it?

Cynthia: Well, you know, you could talk to my sister who’s five years younger than me, right and she’s the compliant person. Compliant doesn’t mean weak, all right? It doesn’t mean that you’re a namby-pamby.

Jim: Right. It’s a different personality–

Cynthia: It’s a different–

Jim: –trait.

Cynthia: –personality. It’s like the other hand. It’s “compliant” is “to complete.” And so, but you know, I could’ve been perceived as the bully growing up, but I was the leader, definitely the leader and I was the boss kind of with her. And people ask her often and say, “Weren’t you kind of resentful that your sister, you know, kind of pushed you around and told you everything to do?” And she just smiles sweetly to this day and she says, “Oh, no.” She said, “I knew that I would never get in trouble. She said, “Anytime (Laughter) there was every any trouble (Chuckling), I could always say, ‘It’s Cindy’s fault.’ And my mom–

Jim: You were trouble.

Cynthia: –knew [it] was true.” (Laughter)

Jim: You were providin’ cover.

Cynthia: Exactly, I did.

John: Well, and strong-willed kids do tend to get most of the discipline, don’t they?

Cynthia: We do tend… I mean if we take the bullet. It’s okay, ’cause–

Jim: Well, and–

Cynthia: –we’re willing to.

Jim: –parents will jump to the obvious. It had to be you.

Cynthia: That’s right.

Jim: And you’re the one that stole the cookie. Fess up. That can be hard, too–

Cynthia: Right.

Jim: –because a parent needs to be careful not to put undeserved guilt–

John: Hm.

Jim: –onto that–

Cynthia: Right.

Jim: –strong-willed child when, you know, I’ve had that dialogue in our home where Trent will say, “Hey, Troy did it, not me.” (Laughter)

Cynthia: Yeah. And again, here you want to shift some responsibility, and by asking some questions, you’ll be in a better position. You can say, “Wow, you really hurt your sister’s feelings. Did you mean to do that?” See and if I say, “No,” then I could say, “I didn’t think so. How did you want to make that right?” Now what you’re doing is, you’re shifting responsibility and control to me and I’m recognizing that, yeah, I did hurt somebody’s feelings.

Now if I say, “Did you mean to hurt your sister’s feelings?” And the kid says, “Yes,” well, now we’ve got a different situation. We’re gonna have to do it the hard way. But the hard way doesn’t happen nearly as often if you shift responsibility and recognition to me as the strong-willed kid, “Yeah, I guess I did get a little bossy.”

Jim: In fact, Cynthia, in your book, You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded), you give 10 tips and I think we should post these on the website, John.

John: Oh, great idea.

Jim: I won’t mention them all–

John: Yeah.

Jim: –here, but some of them, if you have a strong-willed child, these are gonna hit you, because they did with me. One, value my ability to see the world from a unique perspective. Now that’s beautiful. That’s that identity and that respect–

Cynthia: Right.

Jim: –that we talked about. Two, you mention, remember we need compelling problems to solve, not just chores to do. We talked about that. Three, ask for my input. Keep me in the information loop.

Cynthia: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, if you had that strong-willed child, you’re seeing your child in these. What are the others that you think are critical? I mean you have 10 there. Do you want to run through the other seven?

Cynthia: Right, you know, we talk about protect the relationship ’cause you’re not gonna get much of anything with me if we don’t have one. And we talk about, smile at me more often. And this you have to practice. Smile when you don’t feel like it.

Jim: That’s hard to do.

Cynthia: It is.

Jim: That’s Christian and that’s hard (Laughter).

Cynthia: It is, but even scientifically they say, if you smile, it starts out fake, but it kinda turns into genuine.

John and Jim: Hm.

Cynthia: We talk about, don’t let me push you around, but don’t push me around either.

Jim: Talk about that for a minute. Don’t let me push you around, but don’t push me around either. Boy, I can resonate with that with Trent. Can you, John?

John: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s a natural thing for a parent to do, is to say, “You will.”

Jim: Yeah.

John: And that’s what you’re talking–

Cynthia: Right.

John: –about here.

Cynthia: Right, because it’s efficient, right. We already know what the deal is and we know what has to happen here, so just do it. And it takes a lot more time and a lot more effort to stop and let me try a little and ask a little and argue with you a little. It’s much more frustrating.

Speak to me respectfully, but firmly, No. 7. And that’s just really, really important. And that takes the most practice, but if you can stay calm, then you’ve won so many battles. More than you think. And then of course, choose your battles. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

John: Hm.

Cynthia: Give me some control over my own life and circumstances. And you know, here especially we find kids, for instance, kids that are foster kids or kids that have been through divorce, kids that have suffered the loss of a parent, those are things that take control away from me as a strong-willed child. I have lost control over my life. I’ve lost control over so much. I’ve been abandoned. Things haven’t worked out. I’ve got an alcoholic parent. So, I seek to control whatever I can, even it’s this small thing, even if it’s a negative thing.

Jim: Hm.

Cynthia: So, any way you can build in giving me some control over my circumstances. And then No. 10, which is so important and what God does to us all the time is, you know, remind me you love me, even when you have to correct me, even when I have to learn the hard way. If you could just remind me. You know, you’re so special to me. You are so important to me and I don’t know if I’ve told you lately, but one of the things I love about you is [fill in the blank]. If you could just remind me–

Jim: Hm.

Cynthia: –how much you love me, it makes all the difference in the world.

Jim: Well, those are, you know, 10 beautiful things that you have in your book. For the last few minutes here, talk about that strong-willed child that’s the grown adult, maybe in their 20s and they’re back home. I mean, the economy right now, there are a lot of people that are in that seat. How does a parent (Laughter) of an adult strong-willed child, how do you set the ground rules there for what will and what will not be tolerated?

Cynthia: It’s tough, isn’t it, ’cause you know, part of you is glad to see the child; part of you is not so glad to see the child. (Laughter) You want your child to succeed and you’ve got a lot of ideas for how they could do that, right? But they’re 21 or they’re 26 or they’re 30. And I’m not all that receptive as a strong-willed adult, a young adult, not that receptive to your ideas anymore, ’cause you know, I feel like I have my own ideas and you’re quick to say, “Well, obviously your ideas didn’t work.” And there’s that poster that says, you know, a lot of kids who leave home to set the world on fire, come back for more matches. (Laughter) That’s where they are. (Laughter) And we are more than happy to give it to them, right?

But again, here it’s really important. Now you’re dealing with a young adult. So, the honesty, the transparency, you know, sit down at the table and say, you know, “We’re happy to have you stay here while you get on your feet. Let’s talk about what you think is fair, you know. Maybe we’re not gonna charge you rent, for example, but what do you think is fair as far as what you might give us in exchange for [this]. And how will we know that you’re working on [moving forward].” you know. Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions, instead of saying, “Well, look, you can live here, but you’re gonna need to do this. And I think it’s only fair that you do [this].” You have to resist the temptation with that young adult, who [is] supposed to be thinking for themselves. You remind them how much you love them and how much you’re supporting them and how happy you are that they’re there.

But you know, instead of bugging them and nagging them, you just ask. You know, “Would you like me to remind you about this?” And “How would you like to have this?” And with that again, authority in your voice that says, you know, “It’s really not an option.”

Jim: Hm.

Cynthia: “I’m just kinda giving you this–

Jim: Yeah.

Cynthia: –opportunity to tell me what you want.”

Jim: Well, I love that illustration of putting your hand over your mouth–

Cynthia: Yeah, I still do that.

Jim: –as a parent. I mean, (Laughter) that’s good. That’s good.

John: What I hear you saying and Jim, you have said this time and again during the past few years that we’ve been in the studio together, the relationship with that child, that’s what you want.

Jim: It’s definitely more important than the rules. I know that sounds counterintuitive, because we as Christians particularly, we want to live by the rules. We’re called to live by these righteous standards. But you know what? God is a God of relationship–

Cynthia: That’s right.

Jim: –first and foremost. And if you’re struggling with the rules, He wants to walk alongside ya to improve that area of your life. If we’re really honest with ourselves, even as adults, even as parents, that’s true. And so, how do we mirror that to our children so that they know they are unconditionally loved, that there’s expectations there, but that fundamentally, my relationship to you as your mother or your father is-

Cynthia: That’s right.

Jim: –core. Let’s end with that, Cynthia. What are your thoughts about that?

Cynthia: Well, you know, Tim Kimmel wrote a book about Why Christian Kids Rebel–

John: Uh-hm.

Cynthia: –and you know, I have my strong-willed son who’s kind of rebelling a little bit in some ways now, too. And what’s gonna bring him back is not gonna be the sermons and not gonna be the lectures and not gonna be the reminders of what sin is and what sin isn’t. What keeps him close to me is the relationship that we’ve built. And it’s very difficult sometimes as a Christian parent, ’cause your heart just aches that this child is making these mistakes.

But when you think about what Christ does for us, I serve Him because of the relationship. I don’t serve Him because of the hammer and because of the eternal damnation if I don’t. Now that’s a bonus that I don’t get that. Don’t get me wrong. But the thing that draws me and if you really think about what’s gonna draw them to the church? What’s gonna draw them to Christ and to the foot of the cross? It’s not gonna be a bony finger. It’s gonna be the love and the consistency and the unconditional relationship that we give them.

Jim: In fact, in Romans 2:4 it says, “It’s God’s kindness that leads one to repentance.”

Cynthia: That’s right.

Jim: And you can put the parent in there, as well. It’s a parent’s kindness that leads a child to repentance.

Cynthia: Right. And one word of encouragement to parents of strong-willed rebellious kids, you know, God’s the perfect Father, but He still has wayward children.

Jim: (Laughing) Well–

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: –Cynthia Tobias, that is a good place to end. Your book, You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded), love the title, thank you for being with us–

Cynthia: Oh, it’s great.

Jim: –on “Focus on the Family.”

Cynthia: Thank you.

John: You know, every time I hear Cynthia Tobias on Focus on the Family, I’m reminded of some of the nuance involved with parenting a strong-willed child, and she really knows how to unpack and simplify those concepts she shared.

Jim: I agree, John. Cynthia has such great wisdom and depth, and I think a lot of that comes from her having been one of those strong-willed children herself. She knows how they think because she is one. And that’s why we wanted to come back to this program because I know it’s going to help parents who are struggling in this particular area. And we want to be there for you to get practical resources into your hands so you can apply them in your home.

And I want to say thanks to those of you who have supported Focus this past year to give that kind of hope to families. If you haven’t supported the ministry in a while let me ask you to consider doing that today. Together let’s help families finish the year strong.

John: Yeah. You can give families hope when you donate today by calling 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or donate at And this reminder, when you make a generous gift of any amount today, we’ll say thank you for being a part of the support team by sending a copy of Cynthia’s book. You Can’t Make Me, (But I Can Be Persuaded).

Jim: And because of some very generous friends who love bringing hope to families, your gift will be doubled when you give today.

John: Well, thank you for joining us today for Focus on the Family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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