My mom said I was a strong-willed child. That is good because if I hadn’t been stubborn or persistent or tenacious or whatever you want to call it, my daughter would have run over me again and again. Or I would have let her get away with things and then she wouldn’t have learned so many lessons: to obey, to persist, to follow through. One day, my 3 year old daughter was trying to have her own way and I was having none of it! She was a strong-willed child who was bound and determined to get her way. I needed to find a way to teach her, but not break her spirit. I needed a task that we could conquer together. I honestly feel the Lord helped me come us with the following task. Our task was going to be to walk to a tree 50 feet away, touch it, and walk back to the house. I explained to my daughter what we were going to do and we started out. All the time I was talking to her and encouraging her. “Come on,” I’d say, “All we have to do is walk to the tree and touch it, and then we are done. We can go play. Come on, we can do this!”
It took us an hour! Why? She was completely unwilling to put herself under my authority. She fought me the whole way. She was working against the plan. I was holding her hand but she would throw herself down and cry. I would pick her up and get her set on her feet again and we’d start toward the tree again. One step closer, more crying, set her up again and keep going. Over and over again. I could have said, “Well, this isn’t working,” and just stopped. Or I could have said, “Maybe she doesn’t understand the plan here. This is just frustrating for both of us.”
Moms, you have to know your children. I knew she understood. I knew it wasn’t working-yet. But I knew I had to keep going because there was more at stake than the frustration of the moment. There were a whole lot of life lessons that started right then and continued for the next 18 years. That walk to the tree represented a lot more than walking to a tree. Think about that: what you do with your children has lots of life lessons and implications for the future.
Finally we got to that tree- we touched it- that is I held her hand and touched it to the tree (she was not going to do it on her own.) Then we walked back to the house, with her still sniffling and crying. Still she would throw herself down, even on the way back to the house. I would pick her up and get her set on her feet again and we’d head back to the house. Finally we made it. She was tired and I was tired, exhausted really from both the physicality of picking her up over and over and having her walk to the tree. It really would have been easier to give up, but I felt that the lesson needed to be learned and she was worth it.
You can guess how it went over the next day when I introduced the task again. It was the same negative behavior. It took a long time to get to the tree and back to the house. We were both tired, again.
And we walked to the tree the next day. And the next. And the next. But finally something got through that little girl’s head: Mommy means it. Mommy said this is what we are going to do and she won’t back down. Mommy is telling me the truth- once we get to the tree I can go do something else. I am valuable enough to Mommy that she isn’t giving up on me- she keeps working with me.
So, Mom, if you are discouraged, if things don’t seem to be getting through to your child, ask the Lord to help you think of an approach that will work with your child. It may be walking to a tree. And if it is, walk to that tree everyday.