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Willful Children and True Love

Jul 1, 1996

My daughter is 6 years old and is very strong minded. We are unsure whether we are being too strong and thus bringing her willfulness upon ourselves or too soft and allowing her to get away with too much. Can you offer any suggestions that we can use to resolve what course to take in the area of discipline and training? Regards.
David Cooper

Our third child, Ranin, (a 5 1/2 year old boy), is also very strong minded, so I know of what you speak. When Ranin was 2, we said that he was "a will with no purpose." Now, he has lots of purposes -- all of them very critical to his immediate happiness. He's a very loving boy, but he also has a very, very strong temper. He gets angry in a flash. I told my wife that he was the kind of boy who typically might get beaten down by parents, school systems, and society in general, perhaps bringing about a violent reaction later on in life.

Ranin's tendency toward excessive anger could damage him significantly. On the other hand, his capacity for love is very deep. Our task is to help him recognize the value of love, and the detrimental effects of anger. He gets angry because he wants something that he can't get. His first reaction after his desire is foiled is to react with anger and scowls. His second reaction is to stay angry -- and unless we train him properly, he may grow up to be a very unhappy adult who always wants "his way."

"Wanting one's way" is the key to the puzzle. We all have desires that stimulate our will to pursue the fulfillment of our desires. Our will may be rock hard in its focus on a certain goal, but it will crumble when our root desire changes. I believe therefore, that the way to guide a willful child is to help them understand what their "true" desire really is.

Children follow their desires because they want to be happy after their desire is fulfilled. The bottom line for them is to determine what makes them the happiest. That something will be more desirable than something that brings them lesser happiness. Of course children don't sit by the window every day thinking philosophical thoughts about the source of their happiness. Ranin, for example, is very elemental and reactive about his "wants." Still, children can be guided to reflect about their desires.

I don't think that this process is limited to children. Paul Meyer, in "The Power of Goal Setting", recommends that we all sit down with a pad of paper and write down all of our goals, from the smallest to the largest -- and then prioritize the ones we really want. This exercise brings a remarkable clarity to our perspective about our life.

Children may be too young to engage in list making (after all, they want to be a fireman one day and a doctor the next.) They absolutely can be educated about their desires as they relate to love. If we, as adults, can determine that living a life of true love is the most important thing that we can do, we should have no trouble teaching our children the same values. Building relationships of love with other people will bring our children great, great happiness. What is involved in this process?

With Ranin, (and our other children), we follow a two step method. The first item is to consistently teach him that love itself is the most wonderful thing in the world. We do this by expressing love to him (with words and actions), and by talking about love endlessly. We ask him questions such as, "What's the most wonderful thing in the world?" And he answers, "True love!"

The second item is to teach him how to establish relationships of true love with his brothers and sister, and with other people. When he becomes overwhelmed with his own desires, subsequently getting angry, we explain to him that true love is better than anger, and that if he wants to be a boy of true love then he shouldn't get angry. Our goal is to train him to think, reflect, pray and then transform his emotions from anger to love. We've seen significant progress over the last year. My wife wrote a column / short story about this called "Ranin and the Red Thumb". It's posted on our web page.

This type of method may work with your daughter also. Her desire to fulfill her will is not a problem. The real issue is to teach her that the desire to build relationships of true love with others is more important than smaller, individual desires. With this viewpoint, she will be able to modify her other desires in favor of her own, primary desire for true love.

Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”

~ Deus est auctor amoris et decoris. ~

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Peter Falkenberg Brown
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