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You Can't Make Me
on November 26, 2012
Overall I really liked this book. However, there is one key element I believe is missing, which I will come back to later.
The purpose for this book is to help parents learn to raise their strong-willed children. One thing I got out of this book, which I had not at all expected, was the understanding and realization that I myself was a "strong-willed child" and am still quite the strong-willed person. I'd never really recognized that about myself, because I've always been a generally compliant and submissive person, especially as a child, but this book showed me that being strong-willed is not necessarily about the outward behavior or a pattern of outward defiance. The more I read this book, the more I realized I was reading about myself.
Another thing I found in this book was that nearly all of the suggested parenting strategies are strategies I've already adopted and strive to keep, simply because I try to treat my children the way I myself would like to be treated. It's when I stray from those ideas (usually after being surrounded by ideas in the opposite direction) that my household becomes the most chaotic. One of the things about a SWC (strong-willed child) is that often, punishment backfires and results in a battle of wills. I know this is true for myself-if you try punishment to motivate me, my automatic response is to prove your punishment is not going to work, and as the author states several times, "There is nothing I have to do, except die, which I'm willing to do." I've found this to also be true for my children. I realized a long time ago that taking a mostly non-punitive stance in parenting tended to result in my daughters being far more compliant. It's not about "giving in" or being "permissive", it's about being more creative than punishment. The less I punish and the more I use other ways of teaching, the more peaceful everything is around here. One of my favorite things to point out is that "discipline" and "punishment" are not synonyms, and either can take place without the other.
Another thing about SWCs, in addition to the fact that punishment quickly results in a wall being built, is that the more external pressure there is on an SWC to change, the less they want to. SWCs thrive on their own internal pressure, and not the external pressure. The key to motivating an SWC is not to apply external pressure on them, but to help them build their own internal pressure toward a decision. Simply put, if the SWC doesn't want to do it, likely they won't. The most classic example of this is that of school. In fact, this book described my high school attitudes about school quite exactly. The more pressure there was on me to get good grades, the more I "proved" that I didn't "need" good grades. But when the pressure was off was when I was most likely to thrive. It was the teachers who never asked me why I didn't do my homework that I most wanted to impress, and my grades were always better in those classes.
The next item I think is important for parents to understand about SWCs is that, as the author states, it isn't authority that the SWC has a problem with, but the way in which authority is communicated. As I mentioned, I have an overall compliant and submissive personality, but my strong-will is triggered particularly when those in authority (or those who think they are in authority) try to communicate with me in the wrong way. Say the right thing in the wrong way, and my automatic response is to try to prove you wrong about it.
And that is where my problem with this book comes in. I think it is a great book for teaching parents how to communicate with and inspire their SWC to be more obedient, cooperative, and pleasant. As I stated, nearly everything this book suggested were things I already do as a parent, out of the understanding that these strategies are what would have motivated me more when I was a child. But what this book lacks is instructions for teaching the children to mature past their automatic, strong-willed to the point of stubborn, responses to the "wrong" type of communication. As the parent, it is my job to be the "bigger" person and try to communicate with my children in a way that won't trigger their wall of stubbornness and a battle of wills. But as the parent, it is also my job to teach my children to be the "bigger" person when someone else is provoking that response. It is my job to teach my children to recognize when they're having that automatic reaction to something another person said or did, and teach them to be able to step back and analyze whether or not it is the right response in that situation. Sometimes, it's a good response to have. There are things I believe it is good to be closed-minded about. Stubbornness, or a strong will, used correctly, can be a good thing. Other times, the strong-will can get in the way of wisdom, and it is my job as a parent to teach my children the difference. If you tell me a good idea, but you tell me in the wrong way and I react with stubbornness and a will to prove you wrong, that shows a lack of wisdom and maturity on my part, and will ultimately work to my detriment. This book didn't offer much (if anything?) on teaching children to recognize their natural strong-will responses, which I believe is very important. It's not enough that the parents recognize their child's strong-will personality-the child needs to recognize it also. Only then can the child see that "hey, this person is provoking my strong-will response," and take a moment to step back and analyze what the person is saying instead of how they are saying it. If the person is correct about what they are saying, even if abrasive in how they are saying it, the strong-willed individual needs to let go of the strong desire to prove them wrong. This is teaching the child wisdom and discernment, as well as humility.
Anyway, it was a good book, but I think it needed to go a little deeper. I would recommend it to parents who are really struggling with raising their strong-willed children, with the note that in my opinion, this book really just covers the basics. If the basics are what you need, this is an excellent book. If you're looking for more than that, you may want to look elsewhere.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.