Getting the strong-willed child to obey


You can listen to the audio recording of today’s post here.

A strong-willed child will not be backed into a corner. They are always positioning themselves to maintain a certain level of control. The more out of control they feel, the stronger their reaction becomes.

When Andrew was a toddler, the strong will was too much to handle. I would enter into battle with him determined to win. To show this child who was really in charge. Until God began to teach me through my own strong-willed nature.

Andrew has a passion for baseball. A true love for the game. His love for the game combined with his uber social nature makes any day that ends with baseball a good day. If Andrew knows he has practice or a game, he will dress in his uniform hours before he needs to. This is why the events that unfolded caught me by utter surprise.

I told Andrew we would be leaving for practice soon and instructed him to get ready. He began to moan and complain. Excuses fell from his lips about alleged ailments that would prevent him from practicing. It was so drastically out of character, that I fell for the first 2 ailments. Then I noticed that I’d solve an issue only to have a new mysterious ailment arise.

Strong-willed children like to cut to the chase. So I laid it out there. “Andrew, what is going on? You love baseball, but today you are looking for excuses not to go. What’s going on?”

It was a new team. A new group of kids and coaches. But this has never bothered him in the past. I’d been at each practice and knew that nothing had happened to him to cause this shift.

“I just don’t want to go!”

We entered into an hours worth of debate. Me instructing him that he made the choice to play on this team. We’d made a commitment. We wouldn’t quit simply because he didn’t feel like playing now. He could choose not to play after this commitment is over. I called my husband for advice. Multiple times.

My husband and voice of reason reminded me that if I allowed Andrew to back out of his commitment out of fear of failure or for whatever reasons, I’m only setting myself up for a tougher battle next time Andrew faces a situation that looks too big and scary for him.

Andrew began to dig his heels in. “I’m NOT going to practice.” With a non-strong-willed child, this isn’t so much of an issue. With my other boys, you simply tell them the consequence for disobedience, and they oblige. Even if not happy about it. With Andrew…not the case.

“Mom, I don’t care. I’ll take any punishment you give me. No matter what, I’m NOT going.”

Deep breath. Deep breath. I began to give myself talks of encouragement. You are the parent. You are in charge, not the child. God, help!

Then the worst happened. He already needed no real excuse to not want to go. Then we realized his equipment was in his dad’s car. Now we entered a new level of freaking out. At this point I’m grabbing big brother’s glove, another brother’s helmet, another brother’s bat.

“Mom, no, this is embarrassing. I’m too embarrassed.”

“Andrew, that is silly. It’s not a big deal. We are late. Let’s go.”

A strong-willed child doesn’t care about time when being forced to go where they don’t want to go. In their head, they aren’t going anyway.

Sweat is now pouring down my back. “Andrew, I really don’t have time for this. Get in the car right now!”

“Fine, I’ll get in the car, but I’m NOT getting out of the car.”

A strong-willed child will always look for how they can maintain control. He might obey, but he still attempts to control the final outcome. Ultimately, he wants to be the boss of him and he thinks he knows best. This is the point I have to remind myself that for his spiritual good, I have to teach him to desire to live under the control of God’s will not his own.

We race away as I begin to thank God for this small act of obedience. In the middle of my praising God, Andrew begins to panic from the back seat. “Mom, turn around. Right now. Turn around. I’m not going. You can’t make me go. Turn around!”

For the 5 minutes of the drive, I tried the rational lines of communication. But if you have a strong-willed child, you know that rationalization never works. When panic set in, Andrew was unable to hear logic and reason. He didn’t care about consequences. He wanted his way.

In his younger years, I would have jumped in my heart to that point of anger. Why won’t this child obey? Why can’t he just do what I say? I’d become frustrated. Often lose my own senses of logic and reason and focus simply on getting him to do what I wanted. It’s funny because it is like a game of battle of the strong wills. We each just want our own way.

There is a difference in a strong-willed 2 year old and a strong willed 7 1/2 year old. A 2 year old will often at some point give in. Or physically you can force them by picking them up and taking them where you want them to go. I can’t physically pick up Andrew anymore. I can’t physically force him out of the car to go where I want him to go.

In all actuality, I’m not in control. Control. This illusion. As a parent, we think we have control. With a more passive child, we believe that we have the secret to parenting figured out. We can even look at other seemingly out of control kids and think the parents should take a cue from us and get those kids in line. I know this because my first two kids were compliant and obedient. Andrew is obedient, but strong-willed. If he didn’t love God as intensely as he does, I can’t imagine how much harder these struggles would become.

Control is like grasping at the air. Parenting isn’t about controlling. It’s about molding, shaping, guiding. More than anything it’s training a child to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

But in the heat of the moment, if I’m honest, I just want the child to obey. I want to train them to love God in the sweeter moments of life. When we are 15 minutes late to practice, I just want them to obey. God doesn’t parent like this. He is less concerned with outward obedience and conformance and more concerned with the heart that arrives there.

We pull into the parking lot and begin a 30 minute, yes a 30 minute, battle. He laid right there on the seat and cried for 30 straight minutes. I tried all kinds of discussions and rationalizations. My husband drove all the way to the field to bring him his own equipment. I was very clear about the consequences he would face for choosing this type of behavior. He didn’t care.

The thing that surprised me is that while I was frustrated, I felt more sad for him than anything. This child loves baseball. He loves being with other kids. He just kept saying over and over how he was embarrassed. And embarrassment is the worst feeling in the world for this child. A fear of embarrassment was causing this.

I looked on him with sadness. I saw how satan was attempting to steal this child’s joy and passion away from him by using fear tactics. And I got angry. Fuming angry. Not at my child, but at the enemy of my child’s soul.

At some point Andrew agreed to get out of the car and walk towards the field. Along the way, he collapsed on the grass multiple times. I felt the burning stares of parents as they looked on our situation from afar. I imagined their thoughts about my parenting. I imagined them saying things like, “Poor child. His mom forcing him to play baseball. He’s so young. He shouldn’t be forced to play.” I imagined them saying, “Can’t she control her child.” Or “Kids these days are just pushed too hard.” Or “If that were my kid, I wouldn’t stand for that type of display.” All kinds of things went through my head. Guess what the root of that was? Fear. Embarrassment. The same emotions taunting Andrew were chasing me as well. I’ve simply had more experience dealing with them.

Out of my fear of what others thought of my parenting, I would get down as close to his ear as I could imagine and through gritted teeth say, “Andrew, you need to get up and walk onto that field. We are now 30 minutes late. You are letting your team down. There is no reason for this.”

Actually, there was a reason. Fear. Embarrasment. Who is the author of that? Satan.

That is when it struck me. Andrew was being controlled by satan’s tactics. Andrew wasn’t in control. He just thought he was.

At this point we were halfway between the parking lot and the field. He planted his feet firmly in the grass, looked at the field, looked at the parking lot, then looked me square in the eyes. His swollen eyes looked deep into my heart. “Mommy, I’m not going. No matter what. I’m not going.”

“Andrew, I need you to listen to me. Who do you love more than anything in this world?”


“Who hates God?”


“Who wants more than anything for you to be scared and embarrassed? And who wants to keep you from doing what brings you so much joy? Who wants you to miss out on playing the sport you love with other kids you love?”


“Satan comes to kill, steal, and destroy. Right now you are letting him control you. You decide right now to show satan who is boss. Satan is not the boss. You are a child of God. You have the power of the Holy Spirit inside of you. Because of that, satan is not the boss. Show him who is boss, Andrew.”

That strong-willed nature that dwells so strongly in him, straightened his chest and stood a little taller. “I need a tissue first.”

“Ok, hold on.” I raced to the bathroom before he changed his mind. The strong-willed child always looks for some area to control. Like agreeing in his own way to go, but only after getting his way of getting a tissue (which he really didn’t need). And that strong-willed nature doesn’t want to be controlled by anything not of God. That strong will would show satan that God was actually in control.

I watched as he walked onto that field. 35 minutes late. An hour of intense battle. But it was worth the fight.

The fight is for their walk with the Lord. It’s for their confidence in Him. It’s for their need to see that God is in control and when we walk in obedience to Him, blessing awaits us.

At the end of the day, we don’t control our kids. It’s an illusion. The desire of our heart is for them to live under the control and influence of God alone. Not desiring to maintain their control, but to recognize the One who loves them fiercely and desires for them to recognize when satan is attacking them. And in those moments fight back out of that strong will and show satan who is really boss.