Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6

Discipline is one of the more difficult components of raising a strong-willed child.

Let's begin with a simple premise we haven't covered yet. Why do we discipline our children? We discipline them to teach them to obey. This is important for a number of reasons. Children are unaware of the dangers of the world. Teaching a preschool child to not go out in the street or to hold your hand in the parking lot is an act of love. Teaching your grade school child to not accept a ride with a stranger or to be discreet when supplying information to a caller is important for his well-being. We make our children mind in order to keep them safe.

I was traveling recently and encountered a situation where discipline was definitely lacking. I was at Chicago O'Hare airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, and I was moving toward the baggage carousel to wait for the arrival of my luggage. The previous flight was very full, and there was a large crowd gathering as the bags began to move around the conveyer. In front of me was a young mother with two children in a double stroller. One was a baby and the other was a boy probably about three years old. As I observed this family, I saw the boy squirming in his seat and heard his mother say, "Sit down, please. Daddy will be right back. You can't get out in this crowd."

The little boy completely ignored his mother and actually seemed to pursue his escape with even more fervor. In a matter of seconds, he was entirely reversed in his seat, standing up, and preparing to bail out of the stroller. "SIT DOWN! You cannot get out of there!!" said the mother sternly.

I wanted to say, "Oh yes he can. Look at him." And before I could even finish my thought, he was out and racing toward the baggage carousel. I lost sight of him almost immediately and imagine that his mother did, too. I'm assuming that somewhere between his point of escape and the Tri-State Tollway, his father intercepted him. His mother could not control him enough to keep him from potential harm. I'm sure I was openmouthed for more than a few seconds as I pondered the possible negative outcome of this young man's breakout. This independent, potentially danger-prone youngster was in charge, and I am willing to guess that his mother was in for big trouble.

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Hebrews 13:17

Disciplining our children is not only for their safety. We also discipline them to teach them respect for others and for property. Jumping on Grandma's couch may not harm the child, but it is not respectful to Grandma or to her property. Teaching our children to respect others helps them to develop into responsible adults, able to interact in our society. I read an issue of the Ladies' Home Journal that contained an article entitled, "The Perils of the Pushover Parent." Not only was this article soundly supporting the necessity of discipline, but it said that "parents who chronically cave in to their kids' whims are actually doing them harm."1 Continuing on, it read:

Kids may relish their grasp on power, but child-rearing experts from across the political spectrum agree that it can be hazardous to their long-term emotional health. "Kids absolutely need structure and limits," says Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Temple University, in Philadelphia, and author of You and Your Adolescent. "Children learn to control their impulses by having rules imposed, then gradually learn to internalize those rules. Kids whose parents have never set limits often have difficulty controlling aggressive impulses, or even mustering the self-control to sit still in school." And a child who has never been allowed to feel frustration or pushed to do something he doesn't like is getting a dangerously lopsided view of the world...

"Adversity and frustration are an inevitable part of life, and to survive in the real world, you must know how to cope with them," says psychologist Diane Eherensaft, Ph.D., author of Spoiling Childhood. "A parent who doesn't teach that skill isn't preparing her child for adulthood, and may be creating a self-centered, unpleasant person who will be unable to make the compromises necessary to establish solid relationships or get along with colleagues."

A child who is disciplined will develop better self-discipline, an attribute that is vital to mature, adult behavior. It is largely the responsibility of you, the parent, to see that discipline is carried out. Don't be a pushover parent.

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. Psalm 143:10.

Finally, and perhaps most important, a child who has learned to obey his parents is more likely to choose to obey God.

"The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin" (Proverbs 10:9)

"Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you" (Deuteronomy 6:3).

"But Samuel replied: 'Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams'" (1 Samuel 15:22).

"This is love for God: to obey his commands" (1 John 5:3).

Undoubtedly, choosing to obey God is a wise and wonderful choice. To reinforce that to your strong-willed child may take extensive time and energy. But that time and energy is well spent. Remember, the assumption that discipline does not work is untrue. The actuality is that the strong-willed child has an increased need for loving discipline. However, don't expect your strong-willed child to appreciate the discipline you administer, at least not when he is young and currently in the situation. Hopefully when he is an adult he will see the benefit of discipline. He may even choose to express his thanks to you. But in the early years don't look for it, expect it, or be disappointed if appreciation is not one of your child's responses to discipline. Remember, he is only a child.


This article was excerpted from Aaron's Way: The Journey of a Strong-Willed Child (Moody Publishers) by Kendra Smiley with Aaron Smiley. Copyright © 2005. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Kendra Smiley is a popular conference speaker, and hosts a daily radio show called Live Life Intentionally. She is a regular contributor to Christian Parenting Today and Hearts at Home magazines. Kendra is the author of five books, including High Wire Mom, and Empowering Choices. She and her husband live on their famiy farm in Illinois.